Hydroponic towers are a game changer. They made it possible to grow more than ten plants in a square meter! I was once curious about how it works, which plants work best with it, and what its advantages and disadvantages are. So I’m sure you are as well!
A hydroponic tower is a subtype of vertical hydroponics in which water flows through the roots from the top. When compared to soil gardening and other hydroponic systems, it can produce up to triple the harvest using less space and water. But it has higher initial and operating costs, is more susceptible to outages, and is less compatible with plant types.
Is it attainable to build your own hydroponic tower? Are pipes an excellent and risk-free material for these towers? Is it preferable to use metal ones? Continue reading to find out if this is possible!
Hydroponic towers are a variant of hydroponics, set vertically, and used to grow numerous plants in a small space. The system is composed of a tower body, top perforated reservoir, nutrient water reservoir, submersible water pump, water hose, net cups, and LED grow lights.
The nutrient water reservoir houses the hydroponic solution which provides the plants with the essential nutrients they need for optimum growth and development. They are usually placed at the bottom of the hydroponic tower.
The submersible water pump transports the water from the nutrient water reservoir to the top of the hydroponic tower. It is located inside the nutrient water reservoir. It uses electricity which produces pressure thereby causing water mobility.
The water hose serves as the hydroponic solution’s channel from the nutrient water reservoir to the top perforated reservoir. The water hose (or sometimes a smaller tube) is either located at the side or inside the tower body.
The perforated reservoir, located at the top of the tower body, temporarily accumulates the hydroponic solution before it showers down the roots of the hydroponic plant.
The tower body holds the net cups containing the plants. It is the largest channel in the system for nutrient water to flow through the plant’s roots.
What is the best net cup angle for hydroponic towers?
Explore more on this topic in our article on best net cup angle.
The light-emitting diode (LED) grow lights mimic the sunlight and provide light energy for the plant’s food-making process and needs.
The nutrient water reservoir of a hydroponic tower is filled with a solution enriched with plant-growth nutrients. This solution is transported to a top perforated reservoir via a water hose and a submersible water pump. The water then returns to the reservoir and is circulated throughout the system.
You may be wondering, where should you locate the hydroponic tower?
Hydroponic towers are usually located indoors, but can also grow well in greenhouse conditions. They are usually applied in commercial settings to take advantage of the minimal space requirements.
Hydroponic towers are advantageous because they require less space, conserve water resources, yield more harvest, have less incidence of plant diseases, and can be operated all year round.
Why is it used? It is used by most gardeners because it is a space saver that can be flexible. It can produce plants wherever you place the system!
Another question from your end might be, are hydroponic systems good? Read forward to find out!
Because they can be set up vertically and can stand 1.5 to 2 meters tall, hydroponic towers take up less space.
An interesting thing about this system is that its system structure lets you grow 15 to 30 plants in just a small space, let us say, 1-meter square space. Thus, this is best for people living in rented apartments, small condominiums, or even a dirty kitchen!
In some designs, such as the one below on Amazon you can even grow 80 plants. Mind-blowing!
Hydroponic towers use water more efficiently since the hydroponic solution circulates through the system. They use at least 70% less water compared to conventional methods of gardening.
You may wonder why!
As mentioned, this hydroponic system circulates the water until it is used up by the plants. This is contrary to soil gardening, wherein when you water your plants, you need to get more water the next time you water them, because the water is already absorbed by the soil.
Higher quantity and quality of harvest are produced in hydroponic tower systems. This is due to its lower space requirement and susceptibility to damaging plant pathogens.
You can harvest more plants in a hydroponic tower since it can house more plants in a small space. This is also possible because plants grown in hydroponic towers are less susceptible to diseases. With less plant damage due to diseases, plants are favored to yield more!
Because the roots of plants grown in hydroponic water are housed inside a pipe and are not exposed to possible sources of microorganisms such as the soil, they are less vulnerable to diseases.
Since the conditions for a hydroponic tower are highly maintained and controlled at certain levels, the plants grown in this system are less likely to develop plant pathogens like root rot.
They are also grown in an oxygen-rich set-up (because the roots are not fully submerged in water), thus these common hydroponic diseases are not a huge concern.
Hydroponic towers can give you harvest all year because the plants in them are in a controlled environment.
This is the best part! You can simply adjust the required temperature, relative humidity, and light exposure for your desired plant and start growing it right away.
Plants like lettuce, kale, and basil do not need to be grown at a specific time of year. You can simply grow them indoors with a hydroponic tower! Isn’t it amazing?
On the downside, hydroponic towers consume more electricity, making them vulnerable to power outages. Building and/or purchasing one has high upfront costs. This system is also unsuitable for growing a variety of plant species namely vines, roots, trees, and shrubs.
Hydroponic towers require the use of an electricity-driven submersible water pump and LED grow lights for optimum plant production.
You may ask, will a hydroponic tower still run without electricity? The quick answer is no! This is because the water pump, which transports water throughout the system, is run by electricity.
When there is a power outage, hydroponic towers are highly affected. Thus, a hydroponic tower grower must take precautionary measures such as acquiring a generator.
However, there are simpler ways to adapt to power outages. So as long as you are prepared, your towers will keep operating even during a blackout.
Learn how to do this in our article on power outages in hydroponics.
High initial costs in hydroponic towers are attributed to the raw materials needed to produce a system. Some of its raw materials that have a high cost are water pumps, PVC pipes, and LED grow lights.
Having a DIY hydroponic tower would cost within the range of 100 to 200 USD.
Here is an example of a submersible water pump on Amazon that can produce a water pressure and flow of 3000 liters per hour.
You can use this PVC pipe on Amazon as your tower body! (More details at the end of this article.)
You may also opt to use this powerful LED grow light on Amazon for your hydroponic tower plants!
However, if you want convenience, you can also buy a ready-to-use system like the one below on Amazon.
Unlike other hydroponic systems, hydroponic towers are not ideal for growing root vegetables, vining plants, bushes, and bonsai trees.
So, you may be wondering, “which plants are best for my hydroponic tower?”
Leafy vegetables, fruiting vegetables, herbs, and flowering plants are the best plants to grow in a hydroponic tower system.
On the other hand, root vegetables, bushes, vining plants, and trees are not ideal for hydroponic tower plant production. Root vegetables will not be able to grow freely in a net cup. Bushes, vining plants, and trees require a lot of space.
Using polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes as a tower body is one of the easiest ways to build a hydroponic tower. Recycled plastic buckets can also be used as a nutrient water reservoir.
If you are planning to do a hydroponic tower yourself, you will need the following materials:
- PVC pipe (diameter: 4 in; tall: 10 ft)
- PVC pipe (diameter: ½ in; tall: 10 ft)
- 5-gallon plastic bucket
- 4.25-inch drain cover
- 4-inch PVC drain cap
- Schedule 40 PVC couplings (diameter: 4 in)
- Adapter PVC fitting (diameter: ½)
- Schedule 40 Adapter (diameter: 4 in)
- Submersible pump (800 gallons/hour; 3000 liters/hour)
- Net cups
- Coconut coir
- Heat gun
- Plastic bottle for forming holes
- Saw (electric or regular)
There are plenty of videos online detailing a step-by-step guide that can assist you in building your hydroponic tower. But in simple explanation, one just needs to know each part and assemble them. You can also follow the steps below.
- Mark 2 to 3-inch lines in different spots in the PVC pipe (4-in diameter) where you can insert the net cups for the hydroponic plants.
- Using an electric (or regular) saw, slice these line marks.
- Heat the sliced line marks in the PVC pipe using a heat gun.
- When they are heated and melted, press a sturdy bottle inward, until the hole can already house your net cup.
- Repeat these steps to every line mark.
- In a 5-gallon bucket lid, create a hole that will fit the PVC pipe (4-inch diameter).
- Create a hole for the wirings of the submersible pipe. (Noted: It is suggested to place this hole on the top portion of the bucket to avoid contact with water).
- Insert the ½-in diameter PVC pipe into the slot in the submersible water pump (Note: Use the connectors, i.e. fittings, couplings, and adapters when necessary).
- Locate the submersible pump (with ½ PVC) inside the bucket. (At this point, you must be holding a long pipe with a pump on its end)
- Insert your output in step #2 into the 4-in diameter DIY tower body then finally into the hole created in the 5-gallon bucket.
- Let this setup stand by filling the nutrient water reservoir with water.
- Put the drainage cap and cover above the pipes.
- Test the water flow by turning on the pump. The water must transport to the top of the pipe, and pour down like rain.
- Transplant your hydroponic plants into the net pot with growing mediums.
- Insert each net pot with plants into each hole created in the tower body.
What is the difference between hydroponics and a hydroponic tower?
Hydroponics is the general term for growing plants in water. Whereas, a hydroponic tower is a subtype of hydroponics that grows plants vertically by pouring water from the top.
Is PVC safe for hydroponics?
Polyvinyl chloride or PVCs are not harmful to hydroponic plants. These compounds have undergone extensive testing. However, the PVC used in hydroponics should be rigid or unplasticized. Because they do not contain BPAs or phthalates, they are food safe. Learn more about this in our article on PVCs.
Are hydroponic towers better than deep water culture hydroponics?
In terms of disease vulnerability, harvest quality, and quantity, hydroponic towers outperform deep water culture hydroponics. Deep water culture, on the other hand, has advantages in terms of initial and operating costs, plant compatibility, and ease of adaptation to power outages.
In hydroponic towers, the nutrient water flows from the top basin into the tower body and showers down along the root system. The system consists of a tower body, top perforated reservoir, nutrient water reservoir, submersible water pump, water hose, net cups, and light emitting diode grow lights.
Hydroponic towers are advantageous because they take up less space, save water, produce more harvest, have a lower incidence of plant diseases, and can be used all year. One can also build a hydroponic tower by themselves using polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes.
As a drawback, hydroponic towers consume more electricity, making them vulnerable to power outages. The initial costs of building and purchasing one system are high as well. Lastly, this system is also ineffective for growing a wide range of plant species, including vines, roots, trees, and shrubs.
- “Building a Vertical Hydroponic Tower” by Singh, H. and Dunn, B. in Oklahoma State University
- “State of the Art of Urban Smart Vertical Farming Automation System: Advanced Topologies, Issues and Recommendations” by Md Saad, M.H. et al. in Electronics
- “Vertical farming increases lettuce yield per unit area compared to conventional horizontal hydroponics” by Touliatos et al in Food and Energy Security