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DIY Hydroponics - How to use a Wick Feed Hydroponics System

Wick Feed HydroponicsOver the years I have used many different types of hydroponics systems, each of them was an adventure in their own way and I have enjoyed using all of them but my very first efforts were using wick feed pots. I first looked seriously at hydroponics when level three water restrictions were imposed in the area that I live, with water restrictions at level three and destined to go higher I was no longer permitted to water my soil vegetable garden which at the time measured 10 metres by 3 metres and consumed a lot of water, particularly in our hot Australian summers. Needless to say I was devastated and when I had to go buy vegetables I was horrified by how much the price had increased. It had been many years since I'd had to buy my veges. A friend suggested looking at hydroponics as a way to conserve water and still enjoy the peace and tranquility that comes with ones own garden. Not to mention the savings! We are still under water restrictions now, many years down the track but my family and I enjoy fresh vegetables every day thanks to simple wick feed hydroponics, which I still use extensively to this day.

I have never attempted to make my own wick feed pots because they are cheap to buy and if well cared for will last a good many years. They would be very easy to make if you had the motivation. They come in a variety of sizes ranging from single plant pots to larger size pots for trees (yes, trees!) and a variety of planter tubs or troughs are available for multiple plants. They are often marketed as self watering pots and are made by a number of different manufacturers in a variety of materials, predominantly plastic. It is essential that you choose a suitable sized self watering pot so your plant does not dry out too quickly. A reservoir that provides for a day or two of growth is ideal.

Looking at our pictures to the right of this text, particularly the top two, you can see that a wick feed pot is very much like an ordinary plant pot except that the bottom does not have drain holes but a single slot at the high water mark so that when the reservoir is filled the excess nutrient solution drains out. A plastic insert goes into the bottom of the pot to keep the medium out of the reservoir and this insert has a number of cones that protrude into the reservoir so that the nutrient solution can climb into the medium above by capillary action. There are also holes or slots in the insert so that roots may grow directly into the reservoir and the plant may drink directly.

Planting out your Wick Feed Hydroponics System

My preferred medium for wick feed systems is a 90/10 mixture of perlite and vermiculite. Perlite is the white one and vermiculite is the brownish one. The 90 percent is the perlite which aborbs water well and drains fairly quickly and the vermiculite is the remaining 10 percent. Vermiculite tends to hold water for longer than perlite and it is worth noting that if you use vermiculite only your medium will be a soggy mess most of the time. Its great for wick feed systems when added to perlite as it keeps the perlite a little moister than it otherwise would be and makes the overall moisture content of your mix closer to the ideal. There are other types of growing medium that you can use such as peat moss or even soil. The perlite/vermiculite mix is cheap and easily available.

Rinse and drain your perlite/vermiculite mix first to get rid of the dust and make it easier to work with. Fill the wick feed pot up with your medium making sure that the cones in the insert of the pot are evenly filled but dont squash it in there as this will reduce the effectiveness of the capillary action that draws the nutrient from the reservoir into the growing medium. Because the cherry tomato in our example here is destined to grow outside we need to address the problem of the growing medium being blown out of the pot by the wind. This is easily fixed by filling the pot up to about 2" from the top with our perlite/vermiculite mix. Our seedling, which was started in a rockwool cube, is placed on top of the mix and then topped off with hydroclay. Note that the top of the rockwool cube is visible and the hydroclay is just used to fill around the sides. Our happy little cherry tomato will shoot its roots directly down into the perlite/vermiculite mix.

Growing in your Wick Feed Hydroponics System

Can you see the Wick Feed Pot in there?Once planted out wick feed systems require little maintainence other than watering with nutrient solution. The nutrient strength should be suitable for the plant you are growing and our hydroponic nutrient strength guide will provide guidance for the requirements of your particular crop. Some debate rages about whether you should fill the reservoir from the slot in the side or water the pot from the top. I have always watered the top of the pot and let the solution fill the reservoir till just overflowing and it has done me in good stead. Water the plant with plain water once a week to avoid nutrient build up. Can anyone spot the pot in the picture of our cherry tomato to the right?