What exactly is a wick hydroponics system? Wick system hydroponics is one of the most basic hydroponic systems out there, making it a superb choice for beginners wishing to dip their toes into the world of hydroponics. It allows users to get a taste of growing tasty organic plants year-round without getting too caught up in the daunting technical side and high initial start-up costs of other more complex systems.
Let’s look at what sets hydroponic wick systems apart from some of the other systems available.
What Is Wick Hydroponics?
Of all the major hydroponic systems out there, the wick system is nearly the most basic. It is classified as a passive system, meaning that there are no moving parts to maintain such as in other systems such as ebb and flow or a drip system. It does not require any machinery such as pumps, motors, or the implementation of any impressive feats of engineering and planning.
As such it is quite rudimentary in comparison to some of the other systems, which gives it an edge in terms of ease of set-up and maintenance but will limit the variety of plants you can successfully grow.
How Does Wick Hydroponics Work?
The basic functional action behind wick systems is that of capillary action. Plantlife depends on capillary action to draw up water into the roots. Capillary action is the movement of water within a porous material due to adhesion, cohesion, and surface tension. This mechanism allows the spread of water and nutrients through plants. Wicks hydroponic systems draw up water and nutrients from a reservoir of water using capillary action to plants that sit in some form of growing medium, that isn’t soil.
Each plant will have at least one, preferably two wicks connecting it to the reservoir which usually sits immediately below the plants for maximum efficacy. That’s all there is to this basic method of hydroponics.
Key Components of a Wick System
The main components of a wick system are the wick, the reservoir, the grow tray, and the aeration system.
The Grow Tray
Unlike in other hydroponic systems, the grow tray in a wicks system doesn’t use net pots to hold the growing medium in place. The growing medium fills up the entire tray and seedlings are often planted directly into the medium itself. This allows a greater amount of ease in the set-up and maintenance process.
The reservoir is where your supply of nutrient-dense water that nourishes your plants is kept. Since the overall efficiency of a hydroponic wick system depends on how quickly and efficiently water can travel up the wick and into the plants, you will need to make sure that you regularly check and top up the water and nutrient levels in your reservoir.
Aim to refill your reservoir roughly every week as the amount of nutrients present in the reservoir will diminish as the plants absorb them.
Wick hydroponics is dependent on, well, the wick. The reservoir is connected to the grow tray by a series of two or more wicks which transport the nutrients to the plant roots via capillary action. You can use just about any material to function as a hydroponic wick. Bear in mind that you want a material that is absorbent enough to get the water and nutrient solution to your plants and won’t be subject to rot.
Whatever you use it’s prudent to periodically check your wick for rot or mildew which could be damaging to your plants.
Some common items used for wicks are;
- Any kind of fibrous rope,
- Propylene felt strips,
- Tiki torch wicks,
- Mop head strands,
- Wool felt,
- Strips of fabric from disused clothing
This list is by no means exhaustive and you can use any material to hand provided it is absorbent and doesn’t rot easily. The number of wicks you need is dependent upon the absorbancy of the wicks themselves and the number and types of plants that you’re growing.
The shorter the distance between the wick and the plant’s roots, the more effective your system will be as it will allow a higher amount of nutrients to be utilized by the plants.
The Aeration System
To maintain healthy plants, the roots must receive a constant supply of oxygen. The most popular aeration system consists of an air stone and pump, much like those commonly used in home aquariums. Active hydroponic systems also use air stones to oxygenate the plant roots between waterings, but it is perhaps even more important in a wick system because the roots never have a chance to dry out by themselves.
What Kind of Grow Medium to Use?
For a wick hydroponic system to work it’s imperative you choose the correct growing medium. Coconut coir, vermiculite, and perlite are popular options. Other soilless mixes will work well provided they have good wicking capabilities and don’t get overly soggy as traditional soil can. What’s important is that you chose a medium that will be efficient at absorbing and retaining water. Wicks systems are comparatively slow at absorbing water when compared to other active systems.
If you plan on growing more than one plant, you will more than likely chose to have all your plants growing together in one large tray. In this case, the whole tray will be filled with the growing medium. Whatever your choice of growing medium, it’s vital that you flush it out with water periodically to avoid the buildup of excess nutrients which could be damaging to your plants.
What Plants Grow Well With a Wick System?
Wick systems work well with plants that require little water and aren’t heavy feeders. These could include herbs such as rosemary and low maintenance leafy greens such as lettuce. Thirsty plants that require a lot of feeding such as tomatoes tend to not do too well in a wick system as they require more nutrients and water than this basic system can provide.
Pros and Cons of Wick Hydroponics
- The relative ease of setup and maintenance in comparison to more complex active systems.
- Low start-up and maintenance costs
- Little special knowledge or equipment is needed, making it attractive to those new to the world of hydroponics.
Some drawbacks to consider
- The wick system is not as effective at delivering water and nutrients to plants as some of the other hydroponic systems available.
- Is unsuitable for larger, hungry, and thirsty plants, limiting what you are likely to have success with to a smaller range than some other more effective hydroponic systems.
- The Hydroponics Wick system can be prone to a build-up of excess nutrients in the growing medium or even in the wick itself.
The Final Word
Hydroponic wick systems hold a special place in the world of hydroponics. Its limitations are directly correlated to its relative ease of setup and maintenance. It provides a gentle easing into the world of hydroponics. Mastering this system will give you the confidence to try bigger and more complex systems allowing you to grow a greater quantity and variety of edibles.