I have been running a top feed drip system for a while now with good results. So I want to share how my drip system is set up. It is a very easy DIY hydroponics system to set up and maintain and it produces well.
What Are The Advantages Of A Top Feed Drip System?
- With my drip system over watering is a thing of the past
- You can use smaller pots
- You need less nutrients
- Your grow medium is reusable
- Easy and cheap to set up and maintain
Top Feed Drip System Setup
My top feed drip system is a pretty easy DIY hydroponics system and once you have everything you need it can be set up in minutes. It is also easy to maintain and if you need to take off it can run itself for a few days.
My system sits in a 2×4 Botanicare flood tray. But it will work in any size tray. You can even run it in a cheap concrete mixing tub from home depot.
You will need a set of flood and drain fittings too. I recommend these because the inside is threaded. You will need this to hook your drip manifold up and some brands dont have this.
I am currently running 8 1 gallon pots but again you can run more or less. I would like to see if there is an advantage to using larger pots but dont have conclusive results one way or the other yet.
Your medium will be grow stones or hydroton although perlite could work in a pinch if you can contain it. I prefer grow stones. They are superior to hydroton and are made from recycled glass. They are better for the environment, more porous and dont roll all over the place. Hydroton is made from heat expanded clay but it is strip mined and that is bad for the environment.
GrowStones went out of business but fortunately BuddyStones are identical and what I now use
I use a drip manifold with 8 outlets. Either a Floraflex or Octabubbler will work fine. The cheap Orbit manifolds at Lowes or Home Depot dont work well. I found out the hard way. Luckily I caught the problem early and no real damage was done but these cheap manifolds can not deliver enough water to run my system properly. I use the open flow manifold and run open ended tubing because drippers tend to clog.
You are going to need 1/4″ O.D. tubing to run your irrigation lines. I recommend the flexible tubing Flora Flex sells. That hard black tubing sold at home improvement stores is really hard to work with and really is not much cheaper than the good stuff.It is important to cut all your lines the same length so they all put out the same amount of water. You will not be using drippers. Just run open ended tubing to each pot and secure it in place with dripper stakes or some other way.
I was running on a continuous cycle timer and irrigating for 1-2 minutes every 3-4 hours. You can use a cheaper timer as long as it allows you to control the watering cycle. A light timer is minimum 15 minutes on and this may not give you enough control. But recently I decided to try running top feed drip 24/7 and not using a timer at all. So you can skip buying a timer if you are feeling adventurous.
I was using a short cycle timer but they can be expensive. However with Growstones or hydroton you can irrigate for 15 minutes every few hours. Also I think it is beneficial to run this type of hydroponic system once or twice at night too.
You Need A Reservoir And A Submersible Pump
You are going to need a nutrient reservoir. I use one of those black and yellow 27 gallon totes you can get at any home improvement store. They only cost about $13 so not a major expense.
I actually use 2. Instead of using a flood table I put one on each end of my flood tray to support it. My trays flood fittings go directly into one of the totes that I use as my reservoir. You will want at least a 20 gallon res or else you will end up having to fill it too often.
I have used these 396 GPA for years. Cheap and bullet proof.
Also you do not need air stones and you dont want to use them. No noisy air pumps! Yay! You will have a constant waterfall effect that will provide plenty of oxygen and air stones can mess with your pH.
You do want to try to keep your res temperatures at 72 or lower with 68 being ideal. Although this type of system is not prone to pythium like DWC, cooler water can hold more dissolved oxygen.
You can experiment with your watering cycles and this top feed drip system is very adaptable. You should not have any issues with over watering no matter what cycle you run.I have been running less when plants are small and increasing water as they grow.
On the other hand it is important to make sure your plants get enough water because the media can not hold a large amount of water especially as plants get larger.
I would run 1 minute on and 4 hours off as a minimum and that would be for small plants. You will want to increase it as they grow larger.
You should make sure you are watering until you have good run off otherwise you could have issues with salt build up.
With a top feed drip system you will need to work out your own watering cycle. Every grow has different pot sizes.pump sizes, stage of plant growth etc. There is no one right cycle.
Support Your Plants
Make sure your plants are well supported with a trellis or plant stake. Your plants will produce very fine feeder roots.
Because they dont have to search far for food they will not produce big thick roots like in soil or coco. The plants need support otherwise you can break the roots if the tops move around too much.
Feeding Top Feed Drip Hydroponic Systems
First, this top feed drip system is true hydroponics. What that means is things grow fast! It also means things can go south just as fast. You will definitely need a TDS meter and pH pen at the minimum. It is critical that you monitor what is going on inside your reservoir.
The best solution I have found is a 24/7 nutrient monitor
The probes sit permanently in your reservoir so you will always know what is going on at a glance.
I have been using this monitor for several years now and it is very accurate and although I do recalibrate every 6 months it never needs adjustment. When I bought it I thought it was a unneeded gimmick but now I would not grow without one.
Your plants are getting fed continually with a nutrient solution. The energy they would expend growing roots and searching for food can now go to growing bud. What this means is they need less nutrients than you use in a feed and water type system. Anything over 1000 ppm is asking for trouble unless you know the variety is a very heavy feeder. Most plants will do fine at 650-750 ppm.
Likewise your pH needs to be monitored so you dont have a lock out. I start around 5.6 and let it range to about 6.3 before I bring it back down.
Your Nutrient Reservoir
Since you will be topping this up on a regular basis you might wonder how I deal with topping up and doing res changes. Here is an article I wrote on a sister site of mine: http://420grower.org/changing-your-nutrient-reservoir/
About Hydroponic Nutrients
Nutrients need to be suitable for hydroponic use. You will want to stay away from heavy organics that might clog your drip lines or cause unwanted stuff to grow in your reservoir. Most good brands will work in this kind of system. My preferred nutrient line is House And Garden Aqua Flakes and my second choice would be Canna Aqua which I have found to be very pH stable.
Stay Tuned For More Updates
Unfortunately YouTube deleted my old channel. Here is one of my current top feed drip system grows
DIY Top Feed Drip Hydroponic System Day 35 Update
So here is an update on my grow system and my watering schedule. As explained earlier this system is easy to set up and not very expensive or difficult to build.
I started running my top feed drip system 24/7 and ran into a few problems. My plants took to it just fine but with the pump running continually my reservoir temperatures got too high for my liking.
This closet sits off my main living area and it tends to run warm. Water temperatures went over 73 so I decided to run an intermittent cycle. My other closet runs 10 degrees cooler so it will work just fine in there.
I settled for 15 minutes on every hour day and night. The plants are loving it and my res stays at 68 – 72 degrees which is fine.
My ppm and pH were rising each day at first. Eventually after adding some PH DOWN and more water everything stabilized after about 3 days. Why this happened is from not running enough flow.
Grow stones might be inert but you can still get salt build up if they get dry. So it is important to make sure a top feed drip system supplies enough flow and a good amount of water is running through them. You will increase the flow as the plants get larger. That way what you have in your grow medium will be the same ppms and pH as what you are feeding them. Salt can build up much more easily when media becomes dry so keep them moist and you can do a light top flush mid flower to control any build up.
Here is a current grow with a top feed drip system: