Hydroponic Wick System | Detailed Information
The following information will give you a better understanding of the wick system and where it fits in with the other hydroponic systems. As a quick overview, this wick system is one of the simplest and easiest to understand. It has three a few main parts:
Most hydroponic systems need a large container to store the nutrient solution before it makes it to the growing medium and the wick system is no different. The size of the container is dependent on the size of the plants (or the number of plants). You want it to be large enough that the plants can use the nutrients over time and you don’t have to refill it every single day. Pick a small size and keep an eye on it. You can always increase the size of the container at a later point.
Keep in mind that you will still need to flush the container and the growing medium every so often to limit the amount of nutrient salt buildup, the explosion of microorganisms, and to ensure that disease doesn’t spread. Make sure it is easy enough to complete the basic maintenance tasks.
The fundamental agent in a hydroponics system is the nutrient solution. We cover this topic in depth on our nutrient solution page, but we can give a quick overview here as well. These nutrients differ quite a bit from the standard soil chemistry. It does not have CEC or organic matter and the pH can get out of bounds quickly if the plants only absorb a certain type of nutrient. The liquid usually contains quite a bit of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium and the manufacturers do a good job designing the concentration to work correctly for your plants. Just ask them or an expert at the garden store when you are purchasing your own.
This doesn’t need to be fancy. A simple cotton rope, a piece of string, or felt will work great. It just has to allow capillary action to transport the nutrient solution from the reservoir to the growing medium. You will want to experiment with different types, lengths, and materials to find one that works the best with your plants.
The number of wicks that you use is also important. If you don’t have enough the plants will have a hard time receiving the nutrients they need to be successful. It doesn’t hurt to have more than enough wicks since the plants will not absorb more nutrients than they need. You will most likely need 3-5 wicks unless you have a very small system.
You will want to find a growing medium that is suited for wicking. The most common types of medium are coco coir or perlite. Just make sure to choose something that can hold a lot of moisture so the wick system can keep your plants fed and healthy.
The wick hydroponic system is one of the easiest systems to get up and running quickly. You only need a few materials and all of them can be sourced at your local hardware store or garden center. It is the most common system found in school classrooms and is great for someone who is learning about hydroponics or is just starting their own garden.
There aren’t any moving pieces (it is classified as a passive system) which makes the system very dependable. Just make sure to clean the reservoir at the correct time and you won’t run into any problems.
Lastly, it doesn’t require a lot of space. With a small container and growing tray an entire system can be as large as a common house plant.
The largest disadvantage when using the wick system is the size of plants that you can support. Any plants that require a lot of water (or a large enough) can’t be supported through this mechanism. The number of nutrients that it can supply to the plants is limited by the number of wicks and the capillary action speed. Unfortunately, it is a pretty slow process and it may not be able to keep up with the requirements.
Another issue is the fact that the wicks can’t discriminate between the nutrients that the plants really need. It is an equal opportunity transport agent and will move all nutrients from the reservoir to the growing medium. If the plants don’t absorb a certain type of nutrient it will remain in the growing medium until it is flushed. This can lead to a toxic environment where the plants can’t thrive. Keep an eye on this and make sure to flush the growing medium every so often to remove the toxins.
Any plant that has a low water and the nutrient requirement is great for this system. Lettuce and herbs are the most common, but any plants that are similar will work fine. Stay away from high feeders like tomatoes or peppers. When in doubt, ask an expert at your local garden center or send us a note.
The wick system is great for those who are just starting their hydroponics adventure and is a great learning tool for kids. It is inexpensive and you will have growing plants in no time. If you have any questions or comments please drop us a line and we will answer them as soon as we can.