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Deep Water Culture Systems

Deep Water Culture System

There are many different ways of growing hydroponically but Deep Water Culture Systems (DWC) are one of the simplest and most popular methods of hydroponic gardening today. In DWC, the plants’ roots literally dangle straight into the nutrient rich water. Now, for those of you who have been continually warned about over-watering plants, this may seem a little odd. Surely permanently submerging Deep Water Culture with very healthy rootsroots in water is a bad thing for all but aquatic plants, right? Well, it turns out that if you bubble enough air into the water and keep it at the right temperature, roots will thrive. Add some mineral-based nutrients and you have a powerhouse hydroponic growing method! These systems are used for large, high producing plants like tomatoes or cucumbers and are great for commercial growers.

Parts of Deep Water Culture Systems

Before we get into the nitty gritty details, let’s get a high-level overview of this type of system. In a DWC system, a plant’s roots are suspended in a well-oxygenated solution composed of water and nutrients.

There are three critical parts of this solution:

  • Oxygen: Because the roots are submerged in water and not soil (which has gaps and holes where air resides), the water needs to be well oxygenated so the plant doesn’t drown. This is accomplished with an air pump and air stone.
  • Water: Think of this system as if you’re growing in soil and permanently watering your plants – which is one of the reasons growing hydroponically is so beneficial – you never need to ‘water’ again.
  • Nutrients: A good quality soil contains all of the micro and macro nutrients that a plant needs to survive and thrive. Because we have no soil, we need to supplement the oxygen-rich water with nutrients so our plants can grow.DWC Cherry Tomatoes

This method is called Deep Water Culture for two reasons. One, you typically grow with a reservoir that can hold a decent amount of water. More water means more stability in your nutrient solution, which means less monitoring and maintenance for you! However, some people choose to use single, standalone systems because they are inexpensive and easy for the DIYer.

The second reason is because of how much of the root mass you submerge in the water. Other methods expose your plant’s root zone to air and drench them in water just a few times a day (ebb and flow systems are a good example of this). In deep water culture, most of your plant’s root system is submerged 24/7 – hence the name!

Advantages of Deep Water Culture

  • Reduced risk of pests – Since a DWC setup doesn’t use any growing medium, there is little risk of bugs and other pests
  • Plants can grow larger – The lack of growing medium in a DWC allows your plants to take advantage of all the available space and nutrients to grow as large as possible.
  • Low-Maintenance – Once a DWC system is set up and running, it requires very little everyday maintenance. You can even leave it alone for quite a while as long as the reservoir doesn’t run dry.
  • Watering is less difficult – A DWC system is fully automated, which means you don’t need to worry about under or overwatering your plants. Once set up properly, your DWC will always supply the right amount of nutrients and oxygen to your plants.

Types of Deep Water Culture Systems

DWC Stand Alone SketchOne difference of using a DWC system as compared to growing in a medium such as soil is the reservoir. In a standalone setup, plants themselves will be suspended above individual reservoirs containing the feeding solution, while the roots will stretch down where they will be fully immersed in the nutrient-rich “deep water”. Since the roots should not receive any light (to prevent issues such as the growth of algae), the reservoir is normally a light-proof container. These simpler systems for single plants may consist of one reservoir, a small pump, and an air stone for one plant.

DWC Recirculating System

The more common and easiest type of DWC system is the Recirculating system. Recirculating DWC systems make use of one large tank that is connected to a number of individual smaller reservoirs for each plant. The feeding solution is fed from the large tank to each of the plants, and is recirculated back into the tank. Some systems may just have one air pump and an air stone in the large tank, while others may have an air stone in each container for each plant. Air stones create bubbles to ensure proper gas exchange. The more air the roots get, the faster and larger the plants grow.

The Recirculating system is commonly used for large grows for those that not only want to feed their family but also sell to market gardens, stores in the off-season and restaurants.

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Bubble Brothers 6-Site DWC Hydroponic System

Bubble Brothers 6-Site DWC Hydroponic System

Bubble Brothers – the practical hydroponic system that delivers professional results! Bubble Brothers deep water culture (DWC) systems are perfect whether you’re a green-thumb or you’re just “a little green” when it comes to hydroponics. Regarded as one of the easiest hydroponic methods, DWC self-contained systems are simple to operate, economical to maintain, and deliver all of the benefits hydroponic gardening is known for such as faster growth, bigger yields, and better flavors!

Aeration is the key to DWC performance, which is why Bubble Brothers systems include a larger commercial pump and higher quality air stones than similar systems. Bubble Brothers outperforms similar units because these components provide the increased oxygenation and better diffusion that is truly needed to produce amazing plants in no time. The Bubble Brothers 6-site system accommodates six medium size plants and comes with high-quality clay-pebble grow medium. Complete instructions and hydro tips included!

The Bubble Brothers complete 6-site DWC hydroponic system by HTGSupply includes: (6) Space-saving 3.5-gallon low-profile buckets, (6) 6″ net-pot lids, (1) 951-gph high-power commercial air pump with 6-way divider, (6) larger 2″ premium air stones, (1) 50′ roll 1/4″ air tubing. It comes complete with 10-liter bag of high-quality clay pebble grow medium and electrical (air pump): 41 watts, .42 amps @ 120v. Assembled buckets measure: 10-7/8″ Tall x 12″ Wide (each) ; Assembly instructions included.

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to use
  • Great customer service

Cons:

  • When plants are small you will have to water them from the top as the roots won’t reach the water in the reservoir
  • Many complained that the pump is LOUD. This can easily be fixed by replacing it with one from your local pet store.
  • No way to check the water level without moving the plant and looking inside.
  • Pots are a little small (only 3.5 gallon) so it will limit the size of plants you can grow in them.

Darlene’s Opinion: This is a good starter system for the price.

Click HERE to view in Amazon.

Deep Water Culture (DWC) Hydroponic Bubbler Bucket Kit by PowerGrow ® Systems (4) 5 Gallon – 10″ Buckets

Deep Water Culture (DWC) Hydroponic Bubbler Bucket Kit by PowerGrow ® Systems

Looking for an inexpensive and easy way to grow hydroponically? The PowerGrow ® Systems Deep Water Culture System is the answer! Super easy to use, the DWC system allows you to get up and growing in no time, with very little effort. The PowerGrow Deep Water Culture System includes everything you need for a complete system. In a Deep Water Culture system, the plant roots are immersed in an oxygen infused and nutrient rich water reservoir (a 5 gallon FDA approved bucket). The oxygen rich solution helps build healthy root systems faster and more efficiently than soil which results in superior plant growth and production. The PowerGrow Deep Water Culture System includes the following: (4) 5 Gallon FDA Approved Buckets, (4) 10″ Net Pot Bucket Lids, high power Oxygen/Air Pump, Air Tubing, (4) Oxygen dispersing Air Stones, Blue Water Level Indicator + Drain, Complete Instructions, 1 Year Warranty. The PowerGrow Deep Water kits are easily expandable as well so you garden limits are virtually endless. With the PowerGrow brand, you also get the quality assurance of a 1-year Manufacturers USA warranty.

  • Easy to use complete Deep Water Culture Hydroponic System! 4 Growing Sites
  • Deep Water Kit Includes Air pump, air lines, air stones, 10″ basket lids, (4) 5 gallon FDA buckets + 1 Year USA Warranty
  • Each Deep Water Culture bucket includes a water level indicator and drain so water changes are easy
  • Easily grow plants to maturity with the PowerGrow Deep Water Culture Kit – Made in the USA
  • Lets you grow 4 different plants to maturity in one system

Pros:

  • Larger buckets will grow larger plants
  • Air stones in each bucket will give greatly improved aeration to roots
  • Water level indicator and drain will make water changes easy

Cons:

  • Does not come with media so you will have to buy your own hydroton but that is pretty cheap
  • When plants are small you will have to water them from the top as the roots won’t reach the water in the reservoir

Darlene’s Opinion: This is worth the slightly higher cost of the previous system due to the improvements noted under the “cons” section.

Click HERE to see on Amazon

General Hydroponics GH4720 Farm Controller

General Hydroponics GH4720 Farm ControllerThe WaterFarm 8-pack is eight WaterFarm module units connected to one General Hydroponics Controller: an integrated 13 gallon reservoir and an 8 gallon controller unit. The Controller will keep each unit topped off with the correct level of nutrient for low maintenance. The nutrient solution is circulated by GH’s Dual Diaphragm Air Pump. Includes all the necessary hardware, supplies and General Hydroponics Flora Series nutrients. The grower can arrange the WaterFarm units in a design that is suitable for any environment. Pack them tight or space them out for your growing situation. The WaterFarm 8-Pack is the system for big growers. Can be expanded to a maximum of 12 grow sites for one controller.

Pros:

  • Top feeding so no hand feeding needed
  • Large tank so refilling of individual pots unnecessary
  • Scalable to larger or smaller size (more or less pots)

Cons:

  • Complaints of holes not drilled and pieces missing – irregular quality control

Click HERE to find out more on Amazon

Darlene’s Opinion: I like this system but it’s a shame that most customers found little things that needed fixing as mentioned in the cons area. Not difficult if you can DIY some things. This would be excellent for larger grows for market.

Hydroponic Recirculating Deep Water Culture System with Root Spa. (4) 5 Gallon Buckets + 1 Control

Hydroponic Recirculating Deep Water Culture System with Root SpaThis recirculating system includes: (4) 5 gallon modules with 6″ Net Pots (1) 5 gallon Control Module with lid, 15L 4-port air pump (Qty:1), 4″ round air stones (Qty:4), air line and water line harness (Qty:1), module return lines, 400 gph water pump (Qty:1), starter kit of hydrocorn and rockwool growing mediums, Nutrient Start-Up kit, and Instructions. It requires no tools and only a small amount of vegetable oil to assemble. This is a Recirculating Deep Water Culture system with root spa in each module. It circulates the nutrient-rich water throughout the system drawing from the bottom of the modules and feeding through the top of the modules. This ensures nutrients are constantly maintained at the optimum levels and never get a chance to settle on the bottom.

  • Oxygenation ~ Each module provides plants with highly oxygenated and nutrient enriched water that circulates below the plants for the best results and minimal effort.
  • “Blackout” modules with custom lid ~ Light entering the grow module encourages algae growth so this system is designed to keep light out of the modules.
  • Deep Water Culture ~ The roots are suspended in the reservoir beneath the net pot(s). The roots bathe in an oxygenated, nutrient-rich solution throughout the entire grow cycle.; which increases yield and reduces grow time.
  • RECIRCULATING ~ Oxygenated, nutrient-rich water is constantly circulated throughout the system ensuring that the heavy nutrients do not settle on the bottom. The solution is drawn from the bottom of each module to the control module where it is then recirculated to the top of each module. The roots are suspended in the reservoir beneath the net pot and are constantly watered with and bathe in an oxygenated, nutrient-rich solution throughout the entire grow cycle.
  • Garden hose drain adapter ~ An exclusive feature not found on any other system. The H2OToGro system uses the existing water pump to flush the reservoir through the included garden hose fitting. Simply connect the garden hose, swap the reservoir lines and plug in the pump. Perfect for systems in confined areas, the ability to connect a common garden hose makes reservoir changes simple and convenient.

Pros:

  • Large pots for large plants
  • Waters from the top and recirculates
  • Easy to drain and clean

Cons:

I am going to quote from a review in Amazon that seems to cover it all: “Works okay but I’ve had to make several modifications to make it work well. The return flow does get plugged up as the roots grow so this will be the area for the first mod you will want to make (Hint: what is at the bottom of a planter that this is obviously missing?). Oh, wait, the lid won’t actually stay on… forgot – that’s the first mod (you do want the lid to stay on). Also, after you have flushed the system a couple of times you will begin to realize the value of a simple two-way valve. And finally, a pair of balancing valves so that the two back grow tanks get top flow without forcing too much water into the first two (and splashing out of the tank). And now, you will have a good top flow recirculating system. (The return flow and drain placement would be the only other thing to address to enable a more complete drain and flush of the system (about an inch remains at the bottom of the tanks).:

Darlene’s Opinion: Not a bad unit as long as you are familiar enough with such a system to be able to make the needed modifications. Frankly, I think that the General Hydroponics unit above would be better.

Click HERE to see on Amazon.

Conclusion

Deep Water culture is the way to go for ease of use and growing large plants for market, restaurant or commercial purposes. A small unit would be fine for the family’s tomatoes and cucumber needs, however. I wanted to show you these units to get you thinking of larger scale production. There is no reason why a basement or attic space couldn’t make you some money all year around!

Please leave your comments below and get the conversation going!  Also be sure to follow for upcoming articles.

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Darlene Thompson

After having lived in Canada's most northerly territory of Nunavut where outdoor gardening is nigh impossible, I started down my adventure of indoor gardening. I hope you find the various methods as exciting as I do!

25 Comments

  1. I also live in Canada. I live in British Columbia, where farming is abundant. But I’m not an outdoor person, so an indoor gardening type of technique is perfect for me. I like that you’ve gone creative with your gardening techniques. How well do you find your plants growing indoor? 

    What really intrigues me is that it will keep the pests and other little critters away and there’s very little maintenance it will require. Some people have a green thumb that is very productive, but unfortunately, mine isn’t. So I require a gardening system where little to no maintenance is required.

    • Hi Jagi!  I, too, have had mixed results with gardening in soil although I’ve been doing it since my early teens.  I must say that I have had wonderful and consistent results with hydroponics as I can control ALL of the variables.

  2. Hi Darlene, I must say that this article is very helpful and informative. I never grow a plants wit deep water system but now I see that it is more than great to start doing it. I would use it primarily because a plant can grow large with its full size instead of small. Thank you for sharing, I will seriously think about this.

  3. Hi,

    Thanks for this informative article about Deep Water Culture System. I heard a few times about this system but didn’t have enough knowledge. But after reading this article, now I understand how Deep Water Culture System Works. Not only that your article blows my mind and its make me amazed how people can grow tree if they still have no garden or enough space gardening. I love this idea.I am going to start gardening by this process now, but only I need the necessary kits which you have the good recommendations as well. So I am definitely going with this.

    • Hi Nazum – I’m so glad you are finally going to take the plunge.  Make sure you send pictures of your beautiful plants!

  4. Thanks for this a great system for the price I’m a long-time indoor gardener and I usually build my own Deep Water Culture systems from parts. This time around I decided to buy this system to save some time and I’m very glad I did because it was eye opening. I’ve been looking for ways to experiment on hydroponics and this is my perfect chance and I hope not to get disappointed. Thanks alot.

    • Thank you, Seun!  I truly believe that these are the best types of hydroponics systems out there.  Happy growing!

  5. Excellent article, thank you.  I hadn’t heard of gardening systems in water before!  Well outside of plants that are supposed to be, like the bamboo we had was in rocks and water.  So how in the heck does this not ‘overwater’ your plants?  Is it the soil that causes the problem with overwatering?  I mean I know you said it’s because of the right amount of water, oxygen, and nutrients, but I actually have no idea why too much water is bad for plants.  I just know it is!  (I’ve drowned a plant before).

    Hmm, curious.  I don’t think this system could be used for cacti.  I’d have to look that up!  I’m curious.  I’ve always got to figure out WHY it works like this.  You made me think, thanks for this!

    • Hi Selenity!  No, I would not recommend this system for cacti but for any food plants it would be perfect.  The secret is the aeration.  That is why the pumps and air stones are so important.  This actually gets MORE air to the roots than in soil and gives them a perfect environment to grow in.  They will grow much faster and much healthier than in soil.

  6. I like the sound of dwc systems. Could you explain More about air stones? Is it just a stone that releases Air into the water somehow? I like your word play on The Green Thumb or just a little green. Thanks for pointing out the irregular quality control. That is an issue with a lot of things out there and I think it’s better to go with companies that have better quality control. Then there’s less risk of having to return something.

    • Hiya Jen!   Have you ever seen an aquarium for fish and a stone with bubbles coming out of it?  That is an air stone.  Generally the ones for DWC are larger as you need lots of air inside the water for the plants’ optimal health.  Believe it or not, roots need LOTS of air to grow properly and so to then give you awesome top growth.

  7. I have a ‘black’ not a ‘green’ thumb; everything I plant seems to die quickly. I tend to under or over water; can’t seem to find the balance. Using hydroponics is the answer for me, I finally have success with growing tomatoes, etc.

    • Hiya Vicky! I’m so glad to hear your success story. I, too, have murdered many a plant in soil from over or under watering! Fortunately, in hydroponics this becomes virtually impossible. I’m so glad to hear of your success!

  8. I have a ‘black’ thumb and not a ‘green’ thumb; everything I plant I tend to under or over water so hydroponics was the answer for me.

  9. Excellent article, I love this educative and informative write-up of Deep Water Culture, you made mention that there are many different ways of growing hydroponically, but Deep Water Culture Systems (DWC) is one of the simplest and most popular methods of hydroponic gardening today,that is great and out of the product I prefer,Hydroponic Recirculating Deep Water Culture System with Root Spa. With a year warranty, the product is exciting, thank you for sharing,

    • Hi Abayomi!  I prefer the recirculating types as well.  Filling individual buckets is just SO not my thing!  A central tank system is MUCH easier and more effective.  I totally agree with your choice!

  10. I think Farm Controller Deep Water Culture system may be too big for the tiny bit of indoor growing space I have available. I’d definitely have to plump for one of the smaller options.  Having said that I have learned a lot from reading this article that has helped me understand some basic principles I was not aware of previously in regards to this growing medium. I am only just looking into this recently.

    As I say, the space I have is small and I live near/under that space – I assume the pumps need to run all the time and I was wondering are they noisy?

    Thank you for such a well-written article I learned a lot from your clear explanation of this growing technique.

    • Hiya Kay!  With the recirculating systems the pumps can be quite noisy.  Now, you can always put styrophome or something like that under them.  However, if you are going to go for a stand alone systems – which you may have to as they are smaller for your smaller space – then you don’t have to worry about the noise as they do not require pumps.  All they need are airstones and those are very quiet.  Just think about how quiet an airstone is in a fish aquarium.

  11. This is a perfect review for anyone who wants to kick Start indoor planting. This systems are all productive and innovative I must confess. Due to my environment, this is the best way to grow my cucumbers and my tomatoes. With this innovative techniques my love for growing plants have been reignited by this post. I need to get the recirculating Deep water culture system for myself in no time.

    Thanks for this educative and enlightening review.

    • Hiya Willy!  I’m so glad to have reignited your passion for plants.  There’s nothing like eating something fresh and delicious that you grew yourself!

  12. I so much adore home gardening and I have practising some. I started with pumpkin but nnature was by my side until I seek the help of an expert. Despite that, I haven’t come across any method of plant like hydroponics system before.  I can’t believe this method of planting exist. So, plant can survive without soil. Is there a specific plant that can survive inside this deep water culture system? I wish to try one of your recommendation and see how it works. This is a very informative review. My friends must know about this.

    • Hey Stella!  Thank you for your comments.  Actually, DWC could do pumpkins just fine!  You would just need to provide a support for the heavy vines.  You can use hydroponics on any kind of food plants except for root vegetables.  DWC would be perfect for any kind of large plants like vining plants or tomatoes.  Check out my other articles for different hydroponic methods for smaller crops.  And most of all…  Have fun with it!

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