Exploring the Types of Hydroponic Systems: Which is Best for You?

Hydroponics, the method of growing plants without soil, has gained popularity as it is sustainable, efficient, and produces high yields in small spaces. There are different hydroponic systems that offer various advantages, depending on the desired outcomes of what you’d like to grow, how much you’d like to grow, and how much time you plan to invest. Here’s a summary of the most common hydroponic systems to help you decide which one might be best for you.

Drip System

The drip system involves dripping the nutrient solution directly onto the roots of each plant through a network of tubes. The drip system works like a faucet dripping water at a very slow and steady pace and is often used commercially for flowering plants. Each drip from the faucet would be like a small amount of nutrient solution being applied perfectly to the plant roots. The drip system is a popular system as it works with various plant types and sizes.

Pros of the Drip System include:

  • Delivered accurate and precise nutrients to plant roots
  • Since the system recirculates water, it is an efficient use of water
  • A variety of plants can be fed via a drip system, so versatility is high.

Cons of the Drip System include:

  • The initial setup of a drip system can be a bit cumbersome
  • Drip systems are prone to clogging and are often hard to clean; therefore requiring more maintenance.

Ebb and Flow

This method (also called flood and drain) momentarily floods the plant roots with nutrients, and then drains the solution back into the reservoir, letting the roots breathe and delivering oxygen and nutrients at once. The system uses a submerged pump and a timer that the user sets to engage at various times throughout the day, depending on the type and size of the plants, humidity, temperature, etc. The Ebb and Flow method is commonly used for nursery-stage plants in commercial operations to grow a wide variety of plants and microgreens.

 Pros of the Ebb and Flow method:

  • Relatively low setup costs
  • Promotes oxygenation of roots
  • Highly versatile
  • Can be easily automated via a timer.

Cons of the Ebb and Flow method:

  • Takes time to setup properly
  • Requires a timer and pump, so higher risk of issues with equipment
  • Roots can rot if they are not managed properly.


Aeroponics is like a spa day for plants, continuously nourishing plants with a nutrient mist. Plant roots are suspended in the air, and a fine mist of nutrient solution is sprayed onto the dangling roots. In aeroponics systems, seeds are “planted” in pieces of foam, packed into tiny pots, and exposed to light on one end and the nutrient mist on the other end. This high-tech method provides high levels of oxygen to the plants, which promotes faster growth. This method is mainly employed in vertical farms that can grow fresh food efficiently in small spaces. Our Flex Farms use the Aeroponic method to give plants the nutrients they need to thrive.  Aeroponics is best for high-tech enthusiasts and people looking for rapid growth in their system.

 Pros of Aeroponics:

  • Roots are exposed to high levels of oxygen, promoting rapid growth
  • Large quantities of food can be grown in small spaces.
  • Highly water-efficient – system uses 95% less irrigation than plants grown in soil.

Cons of Aeroponics:

  • The system’s initial setup can be costly
  • Requires access to a power source at all times to keep the system running
  • Our Flex Farms can grow a variety of crops, but some aeroponic systems are limited to only growing certain crops, like microgreens
  • Since the system is high-tech, it may require more maintenance and careful control than other systems.


The Aquaponic method is an advanced method that combines hydroponics with aquaculture, which is raising fish. This system creates an environment where plants and fish can thrive mutually. In aquaponics, the waste produced by the fish provides nutrients for the plants, and then the plants filter the water for the fish providing a symbiotic environment. The aquaponic method is best suited for people who are interested in managing and exploring sustainable and cooperative ecosystems.

Pros of aquaponics:

  • The method is uber-sustainable and eco-friendly
  • Provides benefits to both plants and fish.

Cons of aquaponics:

  • As there is co-existing, this method requires careful balance and management of the ecosystem at hand
  • Food safety is harder to control in this system
  • The more intricate system can be more complicated to set up and maintain.

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

While using the NFT method, the nutrient solution flows consistently over the roots of the plant. This provides the roots with constant access to both nutrients and oxygen. Think of a lazy river of hydroponics - roots lounging in a shallow stream of nutrients that continuously flows past them. The NFT method is best for growing leafy greens in small spaces and is the most used commercial method; used in greenhouses and indoors.

Pros of NFT:

  • Delivers continuous and consistent nutrients
  • Uses low amounts of water
  • An efficient method to use in small spaces.

Cons of NFT:

  • Requires accurate setup and maintenance
  • Is only suitable for plants that do not have extensive root systems as plants are nourished in shallow channels.

Wick System

The Wick system is one of the more simple hydroponic systems to adopt. A wick, typically made of felt or rope, draws the nutrient solution from a reservoir up to the roots of the plant (like a candle drawing wax up its wick). This method is low-tech and easy to set up, making it ideal for beginners and best suited for smaller plants that have low nutrient requirements.

Pros of the Wick System:

  • Low maintenance, simple to use and set up
  • Simple parts to the system; no pumps or tubes necessary.

Cons of the Wick System::

  • Can only be used to grow small plants
  • Nutrient delivery is slower and not as efficient as other systems.

Deep Water Culture (DWC)

In Deep Water Culture, plants are suspended above the nutrient solution while their roots are submerged in the nutrients. An air pump oxygenates the solution, which promotes healthy growth. Think of plants floating on rafts with their roots dunking in nutrient-rich water. This method is straightforward, simple to put into place and a popular method for beginners. DWC is one of the more common commercial applications, especially when combined with aquaponics.

Pros of DWC:

  • System setup is simple
  • Plant roots are easily offered an oxygenated and nutrient-rich solution
  • Rapid plant growth is typical.

Cons of DWC:

  • Roots can rot if they are not properly oxygenated
  • If used in vertical farming, this method can be hard to engineer, costly and difficult to maintain
  • The system requires regular monitoring and maintenance to ensure proper health.

At Fork Farms, we are experts in vertical farming systems where multiple layers of plants are stacked in a vertical arrangement, maximizing space usage. Our Flex Farm is a fully self-contained vertical hydroponic farming system that combines NFT, drip and aeroponics to feed plants in our farms. Our method is unique and efficient as it incorporates benefits of all three methods. We utilize a drop system where our irrigation line acts as an open flow drip system. Nutrients are added directly to the water supply that runs down the root zone like an inverted NFT system. This allows the roots to be exposed to the high amount of oxygen that aeroponic systems offer with less maintenance and headache. 

Mobile systems, like the Flex Farm, offer versatility and convenience, allowing you to move your garden to optimize light and space. It's like a food truck for fresh greens, delivering fresh produce straight from the source. Flex Farms need only nine square feet of space to grow 25 pounds of lettuce every 28 days. Plus, the systems are amazing teaching tools providing numerous learning opportunities for K-12 students in the areas of STEM, nutrition, sustainability, and more. Indoor mobile hydroponic systems are best for scale production, educational purposes, and providing fresh food from harvest to plate in only minutes.


Choosing the right hydroponic system depends on your specific needs, the types of plants you want to grow, and your level of expertise. Whether you prefer a simple wick system, high-tech aeroponics, or sustainable aquaponics, hydroponics offers a method to suit every gardener. All methods allow for efficient and productive gardening in various environments. Dive into the world of growing without soil and discover the benefits of hydroponic gardening for yourself. Visit us at Fork Farms to learn more about hydroponic systems and find out what would be best for your needs.

Introducing the Flex Farm

Fork Farms offers the most efficient, scalable, and transformative indoor, vertical hydroponic technology on the planet.

How To Get Started?

Our most popular product, the Flex Farm is available for purchase directly from our website. 

  • The Flex Farm is $4,995 and can be used in spaces from classrooms, food pantries, lunchrooms, businesses, non-profits, homes, and beyond! 
  • Talk to a Team Member: If you are looking for more information, connect with one of our team members using the form and they will be in touch to talk all things Fork Farms.  
  • Buy Online: You can purchase a Flex Farm, which includes three months of growing supplies, curriculum, growing resources, community and more.