Hydroponics I

Course CodeBHT224
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Learn to Grow Plants using Hydroponics

  • Work in a hydroponic farm, hydroponic shop or start a hydroponic business
  • Lay a foundation for serious and effective plant production in any climate or location (Hydroponics has been effectively carried out in deserts, the arctic, humid tropics)
  • Learn from internationally renowned experts (eg. Our principal John Mason is a well known hydroponic author & has been teaching hydroponics since the early 1970's)


 Hydroponics is the art of growing plants without soil. It is the perfect way to avoid heavy, back breaking work, such as digging. Pests, diseases and weeds are generally much easier to control. Over the past few decades hydroponics has proven an ideal method for both keen amateur gardeners and commercial growers looking for an alternative way of producing plants.

Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction
    • Scope and nature of Hydroponics
    • Wick Systems
    • Water Culture
    • Ebb and Flow (or flood and drain system)
    • Drip (with either a recovery or non-recovery process)
    • N.F.T. (Nutrient Film Technique)
    • Aeroponic Systems
    • Hydroponics as a Global Industry
    • Comparison with Soil Culture
    • Resources for more information
  2. How a Plant Grows
    • Introduction to Plant growth
    • Plant Structure
    • Biochemistry and Hydroponics
    • Biochemical Processes; Photosynthesis, Nutrient Uptake
    • Nutrients
    • Nitrogen
    • Phosphorus
    • Potassium
    • Calcium and Magnesium
    • Sulphur, Iron, Zinc, Copper, Molybdenum, Carbon, Chlorine, Aluminium, Sodium
    • pH
    • Hydroponic Nutrient Solutions
    • Preparing Nutrient Solutions
  3. Hydroponic Systems
    • What makes up a System
    • Location, Container, Water and Nutrient Application, Root Media etc
    • Two simple systems
    • Soil less media mixes
    • Rock wool; advantages, disadvantages, manufacture, propagation blocks, rockwool applications, etc.
    • NFT Systems
    • Solution Dispensation Methods and Techniques
  4. Nutrition and Nutrition management
    • Understanding Nutrient Formulae
    • Writing Chemical Names
    • What Nutrients Does a Plant Need
    • Calculating Formulae
    • Mixing Nutrients
    • Symptoms of Nutrient Deficiency
    • Dutch Recommendations for Nutrient Formulae
    • Summary of Fertilisers or chemicals used in Hydroponic Nutrient Formulae
    • Managing pH
    • Managing Conductivity
  5. Plant Culture
    • Preparing a Flow Chart for Managing a Hydroponic Crop
    • Salinity Controllers
    • pH Controllers
    • Post Harvest Management of Crops; cooling, drying, Canning, Control Atmosphere Storage, Relative Humidity Storage, Freezing, Vacuum Storage, etc.
    • Pest and Disease Management in Controlled Environments
    • Fungal Problems and Management
    • Major Pest and Disease Disorders; viruses, bacteria, fungi, nematode
    • Diagnosis of Crop Disorders
    • Pests
    • Inspecting an Unhealthy Plant
    • Difficult to Diagnose Problems
    • Integrated Pest Management
    • Review of Diseases
    • Review of Pests
  6. Hydroponic Vegetable Production
    • Introduction
    • Commercial Cultivation of Vegetables
    • Propagating Vegetables
    • Seed Germination of Vegetables and Herbs
    • Optimum temperatures for different Vegetables
    • Time from planting to harvest for different Vegetables
    • Tomatoes in Hydroponics
    • Eggplant in Hydroponics
    • Hydroponic Lettuce
    • Review of Vegetable Families (groups)
    • Fresh Cut Herbs in Hydroponics
    • Nutrient Solution for Herbs
    • Selected Herb Crops; mint, parsley, thyme, dill basil, chives, etc.
  7. Hydroponic Cut Flower Production
    • Introduction
    • Carbon Dioxide enrichment
    • Culture of Specific Hydroponic Crops
    • Carnation
    • Gerbera
    • Gladioli
    • Rose
    • Indoor Plant Crops in Hydroponics
  8. Solid Media vs. Nutrient Film
    • NFT
    • Header Tank or Direct Pumping
    • Solution Delivery
    • Capillary Matting
    • Channel Width and Length
    • Slope
    • Temperature
    • Types of Media for Aggregate Culture
    • Vermiculite
    • Sand
    • Perlite
    • Expanded Plastics
    • Expanded Clay
    • Scoria
    • Peat Moss
    • Coir Fibre
    • Composted Bark
    • Review of selected Indoor Plants in Hydroponics
    • African Violet
    • Anthurium
    • Aphelandra,
    • Bromeliad
    • Caladium
    • Dieffenbachia
    • Ferns, Ficus, Palms, etc
  9. Greenhouse Operation and Management
    • Growing Crops in Greenhouses
    • Solar Energy Applications
    • Greenhouse Shape, Orientation, Size, etc
    • Active Solar Heating Systems
    • Examples of Solar Greenhouses; case studies
    • What to Grow
    • Environmental Factors and how to Control them
    • Heaters
    • Light Factors
    • Managing water with Plants
    • Other Cultural Considerations; pollination, fruit cracking, ventilation, temperature, etc.
  10. Special Assignment
    • Planning the Establishment or Management of a Hydroponic Enterprise

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Explain different hydroponic systems.
  • Select appropriate media for specified hydroponic crops.
  • Describe the equipment used in hydroponic systems.
  • Determine the management of nutrition in hydroponic systems.
  • Explain the management of a greenhouse in the production of a hydroponic crop.
  • Plan the establishment of hydroponic facility to satisfy specified criteria, both commercial and cultural.
  • Develop a management plan for a hydroponic facility.


There are lots of different ways you can grow plants hydroponically; some simple, some complex. This booklet provides you with a range of different ideas for different hydroponic systems which you might develop, either on a small or large scale. Each system has its own advantages and disadvantages over the others.

  • Some are better for growing particular types of plants than others.
  • Some are more or less expensive to build, or operate, than others.
  • Some are more suited to small scale hobby growing
  • Others are suitable on either a small or large scale

By studying these different systems you will develop an appreciation for the diversity of approaches to developing hydroponic systems.

If you can think laterally and be innovative, there is nothing stopping you developing your own unique system.

This course lays a solid foundation and gives you the knowledge and tools you need to apply yourself to whatever situation you encounter.

Study Hydroponics and learn to grow:

  • Cut Flowers
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Herbs
  • Indoor Plants
  • any other plants you want to grow
 SUGGESTED READING -books written by our principal John Mason and the staff


Anything that can be grown in soil can be grown in hydroponics.

Traditionally though; most people begin with vegetables, herbs, strawberries or cut flowers such as roses and carnations. All of these things are grown both by amateurs, and commercially.



Hydroponics can be used to grow herbs anywhere, inside or out, on a veranda or balcony, on a roof or vertically on a wall. You don’t need soil, or a lot of room to have a source of fresh herbs for the kitchen - all year round. 
Most of the herbs you find in the supermarket such as basil, dill, parsley, mint, thyme, tarragon etc., have been grown hydroponically. Sometimes they are sold as bunches and sometimes in pots that you can place on the window sill, so you can snip leaves as you need them – in either case they are not usually a cheap option. 
Why not try growing them yourself? It’s not as hard as you might think. Hydroponics is a great solution if you are interested in gardening, but lack the will or physical strength to till the soil. Be warned though, a hydroponic herb garden can become an all-consuming hobby – but that is a small price to pay for all those healthy, fresh herbs, gathered from your lush balcony or veranda garden! 


For some, it’s just another thing to try, but there are other reasons:
  • People with limited mobility (disabled or elderly) can continue gardening in hydroponics when their physical condition may have stopped them gardening in the soil.
  • Pests and diseases can be more easily controlled.
  • It allows more possibilities in a smaller space (even a small balcony can be turned into an abundant hydroponic garden).
  • Plants can be grown indoors.
  • The environmental conditions can be controlled to produce herbs year round e.g. in a greenhouse.
  • Hydroponics can be environmentally friendly, if done properly.
  • It takes up less room and yield is higher than traditional vegetable gardens.
  • Can be set up anywhere.
  • Plants grow faster.
  • Plants can be grown out of season.
  • Easy to maintain; no weeding.
  • Easy to access; no bending as the system can be built at any comfortable height.
  • Plants are prone to fewer pests and diseases – fewer pesticides are used on hydroponically grown crops.
  • If done properly the hydroponically grown plant will be getting all the nutrients it needs to thrive and to provide nutritious herbs; plants grown in soil are very much ‘hit and miss’ when it comes to accessing all the nutrients they need for healthy growth and to produce nutritious plants. 
  • Water saving as the water is recycled. 
  • No pollution from nutrients; nutrients recycled or disposed of correctly rather than allowed to leach from the soil into waterways.
  • The main problem associated with growing herbs hydroponically is in producing plants that have the same or similar flavour to those grown in the ground. The key to this is the amount of nutrients used in the solution you feed your plants – using too much can result in large leaves that have little flavour, not enough and your herbs will be stunted and not thrive.  
  • May be expensive to purchase and set up; the hydroponics system will usually need specific plumbing and power. 
  • Correct nutrient levels must be maintained as must constant water and power supply.
  • A steeper learning curve – greater technical knowledge is needed at the setting up phase. 

What is the Best Growing System?

There are lots of possibilities. Here are just some:
  • Nutrient Film Technique (NFT): water, which includes nutrients, flows constantly (film) over the plant’s root system – this is usually done through a PVC pipe; plants, held in perorated/net pots (baskets) containing growing medium (e.g. scoria, rockwool etc.), are inserted into holes along the top of the pipe. A tank is situated below the pipe contains water and nutrients which are pumped to the pipes and recycled back into the tank. 
  • Ebb and Flow: plants in containers (eg perforated/net pots) filled with aggregate or rock wool cubes) are placed into a tray. The tray is situated above a tank/tub that holds water and nutrients which is pumped to the tray at intervals using a timer. The tray fills with the nutrient rich water, as the timer switches in, and then drains the solution back into the holding tank. The roots remain damp but are never saturated.
  • Aeroponics: no aggregate is used – plants are suspended in a tray above a nutrient holding tank – the plant’s roots are misted intermittently with a nutrient solution from the tank. 
  • Capillary Systems –Nutrient solution is supplied to some sort of absorbent material below the plants. It soaks into the material and is absorbed upwards to the root zone. This way the roots (in theory) never get too wet or too dry.
There are many ways in which these hydroponic systems are applied, as there are many types of set-ups available today ranging from the complex and expensive, (up to thousands of dollars), through to simple and cheap two pot herb or vegetable growing set-ups, that you can buy. The latter are a good starting point, especially for those with limited space and limited funds. You can add extra pots as needed to your system – it is a great way to see if this is for you, or if you only want to grow a couple of herbs.  
Most systems though include:
  • Tubs, trays or pipes in which to suspend your plants plus a tank or tub as a reservoir.
  • Pots, net pots or grow cubes (e.g. rockwool).
  • A pump (simple one for a small system and relatively inexpensive).
  • An air pump and air stone to aerate/oxygenate the water in the tank.
  • Nutrient solution.
  • pH control to keep your solution at the correct pH. Timer (not always needed – depends on the system.
  • Inert growing media.
What herbs are best?
The only herbs that do not seem to thrive in hydroponics are woody herbs such as rosemary, savoury and thyme. Rosemary is grown hydroponically though, but it may not live as long or produce as well as it would in the ground, so if you want to grow it - you are best choosing a variety that produces lots of flat prostrate new growth such as Rosmarinus ‘Huntington Carpet’. This is also the case for thyme, it will grow hydroponically, but you may not get a very big harvest; rhizomes such as ginger and bulbs such as garlic are best avoided – but most other herbs will thrive.
Points to consider for success
The following points are the main things to consider when growing herbs hydroponically:
  • Feed in moderation both in frequency and strength; lush growth is an indicator of lack of flavour. You may need to experiment when you grow your herbs hydroponically: taste each herb to make sure they still have the flavour you would expect from soil-grown plants.  
  • Herbs prefer a growing temperature between 21°C and 27°C
  • The growing medium should not be soggy.
  • Humidity of 40-50% is ideal.
  • Pick your herbs often to keep new shoots appearing.
  • To maintain healthy plant growth change you solution about every 3-4 weeks as by then it will be almost exhausted.