Hydroponics I

Study Hydroponics with the experts - great introductory course that will set you on the right path for a career in this field.

Course Code: BHT224
Fee Code: S3
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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A great start for anyone serious about hydroponics - farmers, suppliers, manufacturers, passionate amateurs or anyone else.

Do you want to learn:

  • how to grow using hydroponics?
  • how to set up hydroponic systems?
  • about nutrient use in hydroponic systems?

This course provides an opportunity to interact with and learn from some of the most experienced hydroponic experts available. Our principal John Mason, is author of Commercial Hydroponics (now in it's 8th printing) and tutors include Dr Lyn Morgan, author and commercial hydroponic consultant.

Hydroponic Production is in many respects far more environmentally friendly, and sustainable than many other ways of growing horticultural crops. It usually involves using closed systems (so waste products cannot escape, uncontrolled, into the environment); and even though it can be relatively costly to set up, it can produce a lot more per square metre than growing in soil (hence it doesn't have such a large footprint on the environment).

  • Hydroponic production can adapt to climate change if need be
  • Hydroponic production is less likely to contribute to climate change than some other forms of horticulture

If you are serious about hydroponics; whether as a business, or a step toward self sufficiency; this course can be an excellent starting point.

Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction
    • hydroponic systems
    • global industry
    • comparision to growing in soil
    • resources and contacts.
  2. How a Plant Grows
    • plant structure
    • biochemistry
    • biochemical cell processes
    • mechanisms of nutrient uptake
    • photosynthesis; minerals and nutrients
    • the role of pH in plant growth
    • hydroponic nutrient solutions
    • preparing nutrient solutions.
  3. Hydroponic Systems
    • location
    • equipment
    • systems
    • soilless mixes
    • rockwool
    • rockwool manufacture
    • rockwool properties
    • development of propagating blocks
    • propagation applications
    • recommended practices for propagation
    • nutrient film techniques
    • alternative layouts for NFT
    • methods of solution dispensation, closed and open systems; techniques.
  4. Nutrition & Nutrition management
    • understanding nutrient formulae
    • atoms, elements & compounds
    • chemical names
    • what does a plant need
    • calculating formulae
    • mixing nutrients
    • symptoms of nutrient deficiency
    • recommendations
    • adjusting the pH
    • using electrical conductivity measures
    • conductivity
    • conductivity and hydroponics.
  5. Plant Culture
    • flow charting the crop
    • controllers
    • salinity controllers
    • pH controllers
    • post harvest storage
    • cooling
    • drying
    • canning/bottling
    • controlled atmosphere storage
    • relative humidity
    • vacuum storage
    • freeze drying
    • freezing
    • pest and diseases in controlled environments
    • fungi, common fungal problems
    • cultural controls
    • current legislation
    • biological and integrated pest management
    • beneficial agents
    • economic thresholds
    • methods of introduction
    • major pests, diseases and disorders of crops identified
    • problem solving and identification of illness
    • difficult to diagnose problems
    • leaf hoppers; thrip; virus; bacteria; caterpillars; harlequin bugs and more.
  6. Hydroponic Vegetable Production
    • commercial cultivation of vegetables
    • propagation
    • temperatures required for seed germination
    • optimum monthly temperatures for vegetable growth
    • harvesting vegetables
    • growing vegetables hydroponically
    • vegetable families
    • fresh-cut herbs in hydroponic culture
    • nutrient solution
    • materials and handling
    • notes on selected crops.
  7. Hydroponic Cut Flower Production
    • growing flowers in hydroponics
    • carbon dioxide
    • automation
    • flower varieties
    • indoor plants.
  8. Solid Media vs Nutrient Film
    • growing media
    • NFT system choices
    • header tank or direct pumping
    • construction materials
    • solution delivery
    • capillary matting
    • channel width and length
    • slope
    • temperature
    • types of media
    • vermiculite; sand; perlite; expanded plastics; scoria; expanded clay
    • organic media; sawdust; peat moss; coir fibre; composted bark
    • indoor plants
    • plant directory
    • transplanting a pot grown plant into a hydroponic 'culture pot'.
  9. Greenhouse Operation & Management
    • growing crops in greenhouses
    • solar energy
    • greenhouses
    • nature of active solar heating systems
    • examples of solar greenhouse facilities
    • greenhouse management
    • what you can grow
    • greenhouse and other growing structures
    • environmental factors that influence plant growth
    • plant needs
    • temperature control
    • heat loss
    • heaters
    • light factors
    • artificial light
    • horticultural management in a greenhouse
    • greenhouse benches
    • greenhouse cooling
    • fog.
  10. Special Assignment
    • plan a hydroponic enterprise.

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Explain different hydroponic systems.
  • Select appropriate media for specified hydroponic crops.
  • Describe the equipment used in hydroponic systems.
  • Determine the management of nutrition in hydroponic systems.
  • Explain the management of a greenhouse in the production of a hydroponic crop.
  • Plan the establishment of hydroponic facility to satisfy specified criteria, both commercial and cultural.
  • Develop a management plan for a hydroponic facility.

What is Hydroponics?

Hydroponics is the art of growing plants without soil. It is the perfect way to avoid heavy, back breaking work, such as digging. Pests, diseases and weeds are generally much easier to control. Over the past few decades hydroponics has proven an ideal method for both keen amateur gardeners and commercial growers looking for an alternative way of producing plants.



Hydroponics doesn’t have to be complex; in fact, you can do it without pumps, power or expensive equipment. A small manual system involves a little more work, but it can be a lot easier to get started this way.

Why Grow  Hydroponically?

For some, it’s just another thing to try, but there are other reasons:

  • People with limited mobility (disabled or elderly) can continue gardening in hydroponics when their physical condition may have stopped them gardening in the soil.
  • Pests and diseases can be more easily controlled.
  • It allows more possibilities in a smaller space (even a small balcony can be turned into an abundant hydroponic garden).
  • Hydroponics can be environmentally friendly, if done properly.

What is Hydroponics?

Hydroponics is simply growing plants without soil.

Soil provides four main things to a plant: root protection, foliage support, water and nutrients.

With hydroponics plants still receive these essentials.

  • Roots are protected from drying out by enclosing them in either a clean medium (eg. sand) or a humid environment (eg. a pipe).
  • Support is provided by tying plants to a stake or just letting them “flop” on the surface (depending on the variety).
  • Water and nutrients are provided as a specially formulated solution.

Difference between Manual and Automatic Systems
Automatic systems use pumps; time clocks and sensing devices to “automatically” move nutrient solution to the plants as required.
Manual systems depend on you to check on the plants and periodically add nutrient solution as required.


A Hydroponic System Comprises the Following Components:

The Location

This is a KEY FACTOR, because it influences everything else.

  • If the system is indoors, then the environmental conditions are under control. The temperature will fluctuate less than outside and wind may be reduced.

  • If the system is outside it will be exposed to rain that may dilute the nutrient solution, and wind which may stress the plants.

  • Pest and disease problems (including cats and dogs) are reduced by keeping the system isolated indoors, or raised off the ground.

The Container or Bed
The roots (as well as the nutrient solution and medium) need to be contained in something.

  • You may have gravel, sand or perlite in bags, pots or tubs.

  • You may have rockwool fibre or scoria contained in a raised bed built from timber, metal or concrete.

  • You may use polystyrene boxes, hanging baskets, prefabricated fibre glass tanks and so on. The list of possibilities is endless.

Watering/Nutrient Application Equipment

  • Nutrient can be applied dry on the surface and then watered in, or mixed with water and applied as a nutrient solution.
  • Solution may be applied automatically at predetermined times, or as required.
  • It may be applied at the bottom of the media and allowed to move up via capillary action, or alternatively at the top and allowed to filter down.
  • It may be pumped on, moved manually, or by gravity.
  • Excess may be collected and reused, or allowed to be lost after passing through the media.

This is not included in all hydroponic growing systems.

When growing tall plants or creeping plants (eg: Tomatoes, cucumber, Chrysanthemum, Carnation, Roses etc), the root medium may not be strong enough to support the plant, or it might be necessary to control the plant.

A trellis of wire mesh, strings or stakes may be necessary to just prevent the plants from falling over and being damaged.

Root Media
The media which the roots grow in affects your decisions about all of the above. You must consider rooting media with respect to its ability to hold water, air, nutrients, support the plant and so on. This is also done by considering the type of plant you are growing – each type of plant has different requirements.

A container (eg. a large plastic pot; a trough or a polystyrene box) is filled with a medium such as coarse sand, or perlite. The medium is thoroughly watered with a nutrient solution.

Buy one or more parsley or silver beet plants. Remove them from the pot, and wash all the soil from the roots.

Plant the bare rooted plants in the container. Water with nutrient solution whenever the medium is starting to dry out. In hot weather check regularly –you may need to water daily. In cooler weather, watering weekly may be more than adequate.

Hydroponic nutrient solution is different to normal fertilizer (it contains calcium, magnesium and trace elements in quantities not found in most garden fertilizers).

You can buy Hydroponic Nutrient from some garden centres. Most should be able to get it in for you if you ask. You can also get it from Hydroponic shops.


  • When you apply nutrient solution, you are watering and feeding at the same time.

  • If the medium holds water better, you don’t need to water as often. Increase the medium’s water holding capacity by using more absorbent material like rockwool, perlite or vermiculite, rather than sand or stone chips. Reduce the rate at which water is lost, by shading or covering the medium –put a sheet of black plastic over the top (cutting holes for plants to poke through) or stand in a saucer of water.



You can grow just about anything in hydroponics, from vegetables to berries, and flowers to indoor plants.  Some plants are a little easier to grow in hydroponics than others though; and for the beginner, it is often best to start with things that are tried and proven hydroponic crops such as leafy vegetables (eg. Lettuce, silver beet), strawberries, tomatoes or cucumber.  




Too Much Salt

When white powder forms on the surface this is probably salt residue from unused and unwanted parts of your nutrient solution. When this appears, it’s a good idea to wash the whole system through with water, let it partly dry for an hour, and then add fresh nutrient solution.

Nutrition: Too Little or Too Much:
Use a properly formulated hydroponic nutrient solution (bought from a nursery or Hydroponic shop), and the chances of a serious problem are rare. Toxicity is less common than deficiency.
The following do sometimes occur:

Yellow foliage or simply very slow growth, is most likely when weather conditions favor rapid growth, and you are simply not supplying nutrients fast enough.

Iron deficiency shows as yellow growth tips, and is common under cool growing conditions, where the root system might have become saturated, damaged or where the pH is running high.

A phosphate deficiency will cause the roots to become brown with a reduced number of lateral branches. A lack of calcium will induce a thin, poorly developed, brown root system.

Magnesium deficiency on crops such as tomatoes can be induced by high levels of potassium uptake.

Calcium deficiency which shows as tip burn on lettuce and blossom end rot of tomatoes and peppers. It is a calcium transport problem within the plant, rather than a lack of calcium in the solution. It is induced by environmental conditions such as high humidity, which restricts transpiration and calcium distribution.

Other Deficiencies
Manganese deficiency will cause a small root system that is much shorter and finer than usual, with some browning of the root tips. Copper deficiency results in severe underdevelopment of the root zone. Boron deficiency causes the root tips to become jelly-like in appearance.

Most hydroponic growers come across algae sooner or later. Algae don’t directly kill plants, but it can cover the surface of the media, or block drains or irrigation pipes, impairing water flow.

Pests and Diseases
Plants can suffer from pests and disease in hydroponics as much as in soil; but in theory, a hydroponic system can start out cleaner and may be kept clean easier. A well managed hydroponic system usually has fewer pest and disease problems, which means less need for chemicals, and less contaminated produce.


Why Choose This Course?

This is the best starting point for most people wanting to study hydroponics seriously. It's a serious commitment that lays a foundation for business or career involvement but not so much of a that it locks you into excessive time and financial commitments of a larger course.

As a graduate of this course, you will understand enough to pursue career or business opportunities, and make informed decisions about whether further studies are needed, and if so -in what.

This course can still however be used as a credit in a certificate.

By itself, Hydroponics I has the potential to greatly increase your knowledge and understanding, enlightening you to the commercial and amateur possibilities for using hydroponics to grow plants. It will inspire you and provide a realistic perspective - and in the long term that can save you a great deal of time and money.
ACS Distance Education holds an Educational Membership with the ATA.
ACS Distance Education holds an Educational Membership with the ATA.
Principal of ACS Distance Education, John Mason, is fellow of the CIH.
Principal of ACS Distance Education, John Mason, is fellow of the CIH.
Member Nursery and Garden Industry Association.
Member Nursery and Garden Industry Association.
Since 1999 ACS has been a recognised member of IARC (International Approval and Registration Centre). A non-profit quality management organisation servicing education.
Since 1999 ACS has been a recognised member of IARC (International Approval and Registration Centre). A non-profit quality management organisation servicing education.

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Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

John Mason (Horticulturist)

Parks Manager, Nurseryman, Landscape Designer, Garden Writer and Consultant.
Over 40 years experience; working in Victoria, Queensland and the UK.
He is one of the most widely published garden writers in the world.

Dr. Lynette Morgan

Broad expertise in horticulture and crop production. She travels widely as a partner in Suntec Horticultural Consultants, and has clients in central America, the USA, Caribbean, South East Asia, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand.

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