What type of hydroponic system should I buy that can go indoors and outdoors?
A: What a great gift idea! I hope this thoughtful response will satisfy a thoughtful wife.
Without knowing the size of the growing area and number of plants your husband will be growing throughout the year, my answer is focused rather on the key information you provided: the desire to build a flexible, low-cost growing system that can utilize natural (that is, organic) nutrients.
While there are a number of commercially made systems available that meet your criteria, I would recommend a do-it-yourself project to save as much money as possible. Two types of systems can be built relatively cheaply, will be highly effective indoors and out and can effectively deliver organic nutrients: drip irrigation and the nutrient film technique (NFT).
Drip irrigation technology (e.g. tubing, barbed tees, emitters, etc.) can be reconfigured in an infinite number of ways depending on your changing growing conditions. Combined with a suitable substrate, drip irrigation can provide organic nutrients provided that the tubes are flushed periodically with pure water to prevent the build-up of non-soluble material.
With NFT, plants are grown in tubes or channels where a thin film of nutrient solution passes constantly across the bottom of the root zone; this perpetual motion sufficiently oxygenates the solution—decreasing the probability of an outbreak of bad bacteria—and provides plants with enough nutritious moisture in the event of an otherwise devastating heat wave.
Both irrigation systems can be used to grow small or large plants. With drip irrigation, your choice of container size will largely influence the ultimate size of the plant, whereas with NFT, your choice of tube (e.g. pvc pipe, vinyl gutter) will dictate the ultimate size of the plant. One key thing to keep in mind is that planting arrangements are ultimately infinite with drip technology, whereas plant spacing is typically static in NFT once the tubes have been drilled.
Unfortunately, this answer is vague, primarily because hydroponic horticulture as a field of study is so complex. But take my word for it: you really won’t go wrong if you invest in a basic drip irrigation or NFT system.
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