GENERAL HYDRO WATER FARM 8 BUCKET KIT W/RES
I have used quite a few hydro systems in the past. Some of them have been from General Hydroponics. General Hydro are usually solid systems since they have been around since the beginning of time. The waterfarm is the most basic... and arguably the most reliable hydro system available.
Now you could build a system similar to this using 5gal bato buckets with large netpot lids. That is actually a set up I will show you guys how to do in the future. It's a little more expensive, a little more expandable but it also takes some know how and drilling, piping etc.. etc.. I am showing off the Waterfarm system because it comes almost complete out of the box and can be shipped UPS and put together in about 15-20min.
The Water Farm from GH was one of the original self contained hydroponic systems available in the world. It hasn't changed much since its inception sometime in the late 70's or early 80's I think. Originally a self contained unit, one of the things that has come in time (thank god) is the kits that they started to sell. Rather than having to deal with mixing nutrients for each and every individual bucket (plant), you can do up to 8 of them with the 8 Spot GH Water Farm Kit. This still lacks the expandability that I would prefer (Now bankrupt C.A.P. had an ebb and gro system that could handle up to 48 (36 worked better) buckets in one controller.
So the Water Farm 8 Kit is not bad for your middle tier growers. I would say an 4X8 area is the max you should use system for (one plant per 4sqft). However, if we get another one and just a larger main reservoir we can use a single res to top off the rest of the systems. I found a crazy deal online for $334.72 which must have been a mistake because my local hydro store showed me their wholesale prices and it was less than they paid for it. Free Shipping and no Tax. These usually go for the $400-$500 range but I am not complaining.
So, now that you have a 8 site waterfarm system (or more if you combined more than one)
Now, this system is considered a drip hydroponic system with reservoir control. This is as about as basic as you can get. It is the oldest type of hydro system but that does not mean that it is not still a great setup.
The basics in this system is that there is a constant level of nutrient in the bottom of every waterfarm. On top of the waterfarm master bucket is a smaller insert which will hold the substrate (usually Hydroton or expanded clay) as well as the root system for your plant. On top of the upper bucket and Hydroton is a drip ring which is connected to a siphon that goes down to the lower bucket where the nutrient lies. Using an air pump nutrient is forced up the column and drips through the ring in the top saturating the plant and the root system in Hydroton or the substrate of your choice. Thus nutrients come from the bottom, drip at the top and fall through the roots thus watering your plants.
Each single waterfarm bucket is interconnected to another by a 1/2" hose. They are chained together and finally connected to the controller unit. The controller unit is simple and fool-proof it uses a float valve similar to what you have in your toilet bowl.. it maintains nutrient solution at a constant level. As your plants use the water/nutrient solution and the level drops in one of the waterfarm systems, gravity will try and equalize (because they are all interconnected) the water level in each bucket to remain the same. As the water level falls in the entire system and the controller unit (which is on the same level as the other waterfarm buckets) the float valve will open. The reservoir on top of the controller is connected to the float valve and will fill (by gravity) the controller unit, thus replenishing the nutrient solution and keeping everything at the same fluid level as before.
The beauty of this system is that only one piece (the air pump) is electrical. Everything else is mechanical and gravity fed. Most more modern designed systems need pumps and solenoid controllers all of which are subject to failure.
Now you understand how this unit can easily be expanded with more buckets and a larger reservoir.