Ebb and Flow Hydroponic Systems
Ebb and Flow is another way to describe flood and drain systems. This type of setup is used quite commonly among home growers. They are inexpensive to construct and have proven to be quite successful in growing plants. Not to mention, there is no one, set way that you have to make this system. As long as the basic process (ebb and flow) is in place, growers have a lot of freedom to decide on how it can be created.
What is an Ebb and Flow System Made Up Of?
One of the reasons that home growers prefer such a method is because they can utilize almost any items that they find around their house. Trash cans, buckets, large soda bottles, and ice chests can all be various components of such a system.
The two main components here are the growing tray and the reservoir. The growing tray will contain growing media and will house the roots of the plant. Another container will be the reservoir and this is where the nutrient solution will be stored. The growing tray and the reservoir will be connected via a tube. This is what will be used to flood the tray.
There will be another tube that connects the reservoir and the grow tray. Here, however, this tube will be used for overflow and is usually placed about two inches above the growing media. For the best results, the outflow tube needs to be larger than that of the tube pumping water in. This will ensure that all of the water that enters the system will leave it.
Another important aspect is the submergible pump. The pump will be responsible for forcing the water from the reservoir into the tube and into the growing tray. This pump will be monitored with a light timer that will instruct it when to turn on and off.
How Does It Work?
This just leaves the question of how the system works. When the pump is turned on, the water moves from the reservoir into the growing tray. It begins to fill the tray, soaking the growing media and the roots with all of the water and nutrients that they require.
At some point, the water will reach the level of the outflow tube. The outflow tube is responsible for maintaining the water in the tray at a specific level. When the pump is turned off, the water is further drained out of the system, through the fill line and back into the reservoir. This continues until there is no more solution in the tray.
Now, there are many different combinations that growers can use to create an ebb and flow system suited to their plants. This kind of setup is typically most useful for plants that range from small to medium sized. However, if the construction is modified and that the flooding and drainage containers are made larger, bigger plants can be grown as well.
This is what a basic ebb and flow system consists of. As you can see, there are numerous ways to set one up.
1) Ebb and Flow using Plant Containers
There are three main types of ebb and flow systems that can be constructed. The design that you choose is largely dependent on how you want to water the plants. If you wish to flood multiple plants, in various containers, at the same time, then you are going to require a specific method. Here is what you need to know about such a setup:
How the System is Constructed
The most important thing to understand about how this setup works is that the containers are placed in a position above the reservoir. This is so that the drainage system can function properly. When the grow containers are positioned at a higher level, the natural force of gravity will cause the water to drain out.
All of the containers are connected via tubing through which the nutrient solution will be forced through. The containers can be made from anything as long as there is an opening for the water to come through from the base tubes. Even upturned soda bottles can be used as containers.
On one end of the system, there is the inlet tube which is known as the fill line. This is connected to the pump that is on the opposite side of the system. The fill line is responsible for bringing the nutrient solution into the setup and taking it away as well.
On the other end of the ebb and flow system, there is just one outflow tube. This is where the excess water drains out of and returns back to the reservoir. To make the design simpler, this outflow tube is connected to the base that, in turn, links all of the containers. This allows the outflow to drain the all of the excess water from all of the containers.
The positioning of the outflow tube is quite important. This is because it will determine the level of the water inside the containers. By adjusting the height of the outflow tube, growers are able to automatically change the level of the water in all of the containers.
How Does It Work?
When the pump is turned on, the water from the reservoir moves through the inlet tube, through the connecting base tube, and into each of the containers. Here, there is a certain water level maintained so that the growing media and the roots are able to absorb the nutrients and the water.
When the water level reaches that of the overflow tube, the excess liquid begins to drain out. This water is moved back into the reservoir. As mentioned, gravity plays a role in ensuring that all of the water is drained out once the pump is switched off. Since the reservoir is placed below the containers, the water has a natural tendency to move in a downwards direction.
This is a relatively easy ebb and flow system to setup. It helps to ensure that multiple containers are all exposed to the same level of nutrient solution. The system is also great for ensuring that the water is drained away from the containers and back into the reservoirs as well. It is certainly a well-functioning and efficient system, particularly for smaller plants.
2) Flooding Tray Design Ebb and Flow
The Flooding Tray Design is yet another way that the ebb and flow system can be constructed. With this system, multiple plants can be submerged in nutrient solution at the same time, in the same tray. This setup works well when growers don’t have a permanent place for the plants. They can remain in this tray until they are ready to be moved to another environment. Here is a closer look at how this flooding tray design works:
How It is Designed
For this system, a shallow tray or container is utilized. This container is typically set on a table or other flat, elevated surface. Below this, there is the reservoir to make the pumping in and pumping out of the water that much simpler.
There are two tubes at the bottom of this tray. The tubes are on opposing sides of the tray. One of these is the fill line which is connected to the pump. The other is the outflow tube. This positioning is done so that the water will actually equally invade every part of the tray, giving all of the plants an equal chance of submersion.
As with all ebb and flow systems, the overflow tube is responsible for the water level inside of the tray. When the flooding begins, it will determine just how high the level will get. Thus, the level can be easily adjusted by changing the height of the tube.
How Does It Function?
In many ways, this system is reminiscent to plants potted in soil. This is because within the tray, there are pots, each containing their own plant. The difference here, however, is that the plants are not potted inside soil. Instead, their buckets or pots contain growing media.
Once the pump is turned on, the water enters through the fill line and slowly begins to fill up the tray. It is only after the water level reaches that of the outflow tube that the excess water begins to drain from the tube and into the reservoir once more. Once the pump has been turned off, the water leaves through the fill line. This allows the water to be fully drained from the system.
This system, for the most part, is meant for temporary use. Once the plants begin to grow, they should be moved to a more permanent hydroponic system. These setups will be better equipped for the larger plants.
There is one particular disadvantage associated with this ebb and flow design. Such a setup actually encourages the growth of algae. Since the tray is open to the light, it can reach to the bottom of the tray where the nutrient solution is. This encourages the growth of algae within the tray. The algae isn’t necessarily damaging to the plant but do tend to use up a very important resource – oxygen. This means that there is less for the growing plants. To prevent this from happening, the tray needs to be cleaned out fairly regularly.
This is how the flooding tray design for the ebb and flow system works.
3) Surge Tank Flood and Drain Ebb and Flow Systems
Flood and Drain, or Ebb and Flow, hydroponic systems are highly popular among home growers. These systems are relatively easy to build for just about anyone, and these systems can be built with material that’s typically found in homes. Growing plants is really easy and inexpensive as well when using this system. Ebb and Flow systems can be used both indoors and outdoors. Growers who are familiar with building hydroponic systems can customize flood and drain systems to suit their liking.
How Flood and Drain Systems Works
These systems work pretty much like the name sounds. The system floods the root system of the plant with a nutrient solution or a growth medium. This happens periodically, not continuously. This allows the plants to grow quickly and without requiring rigorous care in general.
The main part of a flood and drain hydroponic system consists of the containers or the reservoir where the plants grow. There’s a mechanism to have water pumped into this growth area. A timer is connected to the pump to control when the system is flooded and for how long. The fountain or pond pump and tubing are submersible. The watery nutrient solution is similarly pumped until the main tray is covered to the overflow mark, which is typically placed about 2 inches high.
Once the solution reaches the overflow mark, the system drains it and recirculates. The pump can be manually shut off to completely drain the reservoir.
Serge Tank Flood and Drain Systems
Serge type flood and drain systems are typically used when a growth region requires more vertical space. With regular flood and drain systems, the reservoir is always placed lower than the drain so that the draining can be conveniently gravity assisted. In Serge tank systems, the reservoir can be placed above the drain system. It requires more parts than regular systems, so Serge tanks systems typically cost a bit more than usual. The advantage with Serge systems is that water levels in all growth containers can be maintained at similar levels, thus ensuring even growth.
How to Build a Flood and Drain System at Home
Any grower can build a flood and drain system at home. You will require containers for plants, a reservoir container for the nutrient solution, submersible pumps and tubes, timer for the pump, additional tubes, overflow tube, and growth medium. If you are building a Serge tank system, then you will require more parts including a Serge tank.
You don’t have to buy expensive parts. You can use things like soda bottles, ice chests, or storage totes to hold the water. You can use tubing for ponds for the system. Care has to be taken when fixing the overflow tube, however. Make sure the overflow tube can receive air without causing any spills. Using a T-connector above the overflow line will definitely help. This will also prevent air pockets from manifesting inside the system. Air pockets hinder proper flooding and draining.
The overflow tube should also be bigger than the inlet tube that sends in water from the pump. This helps the system maintain the right pressure for gravity assisted draining. A larger overflow system is not necessary for Serge tank systems, however.