Hydroponic Reservoir: 5 Key Facts for Efficient Agriculture

With so much emphasis being placed on growing quality plants, hydroponics is becoming increasingly popular. Plants grown with hydroponics undeniably grow faster and healthier than those grown in soil. A key component of the setup is the hydroponic reservoir.

In this article, we’ll look at what a hydroponic reservoir is and how they’re used in a farming setup.

What is a Hydroponic Nutrient Reservoir?

In hydroponics, plants need both the nutrients, as well as the growing medium that will give them the support and stability to get this done. Nutrient reservoirs are used exactly for this purpose. As the name suggests, they are containers that are used to hold the plant and the nutrient mix that the plant needs to get its food and water – a ‘reservoir of nutrients’, so to speak.

Nutrient reservoirs can be made from anything, but in homes, they are usually made in plastic buckets or containers, and sometimes even kiddie pools! The purpose is just to have a container that can hold the nutrient mix and the plant so that it can grow easily.

When it comes to commercial hydroponics for crops, however, it’s important to make sure that the plastic used is food-grade plastic. This is because plastic emits toxic chemicals in the water that comes in contact with it, and over time, these toxins will be taken up by the plants that are being grown. 

If these plants are meant for consumption, you could end up consuming these toxins and get very sick. 

It is also possible to have wooden frames that are lined with plastic sheets. The plastic keeps the water/nutrient mix from leaking out. 

Is a Hydroponic Reservoir Essential?

A hydroponic reservoir is pretty much the most crucial component of the hydroponics system. After all, since hydroponics relies on keeping the plants in nutrient-enriched water to make them grow, a container will be needed that can hold the water/nutrient-mix, as well as the plant. Without the reservoir, you’d have a lot of trouble with holding both of these things. 

Image of a drawing showing how a hydroponics system works.
This image shows how the nutrient medium is transported around the system.

The hydroponic reservoir plays an important role in the nutrient preparation stage, as well as the oxygenation of the water. Because the plants need oxygen to thrive, the reservoir will usually have an air pump with tubes in the mixture. The oxygen in the water gets used up as plants grow, so this pump system helps replenish the oxygen supply to make sure plants are always getting enough of it.

How Big Should a Hydroponic Reservoir Be?

It’s important to make sure that the hydroponic reservoir is large enough to hold not just the nutrient mix, but also the plants growing in it. The size of the hydroponic reservoir depends greatly on what type of system you’re going for. However, even then, there is no one size of reservoir for any kind of system. The general consensus though, is that the larger the reservoir, the better it is.

Larger plants will need at least 2.5 gallons of the nutrient mix in the reservoir for each plant. Medium sized plants will need anywhere from 1-1.5 gallons per plant, while smaller plants will need about half a gallon. 

However, because these are just the minimum quantities, if you keep only these amounts, the nutrient solution is likely to get depleted much faster. Therefore, it is a good idea to keep a larger amount within the reservoir to reduce the number of times you need to refill it. Of course, larger nutrient mix quantities will also call for a larger reservoir, so this is to be taken into consideration.

Larger tanks are also beneficial since they can help with things like fluctuations in the nutrient mix, swings in pH levels, as well as depletion of oxygen. These three factors can have a significant effect on your system and the plants in it, so having the means to control them helps.

The environment of the reservoir also affects how well it operates. Because plants change their behavior depending on the environment, you have to take this into account. In low humidity areas, plants take up more water, while low humidity will result in less water uptake. Therefore, some plants may take up less water while others may take up more. 

Another thing to factor in is that the nutrient concentrations go up and down depending on the amount of water that plants take in. When you first mix the batch, the nutrient quantities will be very different from how they’d be a few days later. This can make it difficult for plants to absorb the nutrients they need in the right quantities. It’s also possible that they will need more energy to actively absorb these nutrients than they would otherwise.

With larger hydroponic reservoirs, this is less of a problem, since the rate at which the concentration changes will be much lower.

While there is a general idea of what size reservoir is needed for plants of different sizes, these can and should be adjusted upwards to make up for differences. Many growers double these minimum volumes to be sure that their plants are getting enough water and nutrients. 

How Do You Set Up a Hydroponic Reservoir?

Setting up a hydroponic reservoir doesn’t involve too much. There are four things hydroponic plants need to survive: light, the substrate, water and nutrients. Your hydroponic reservoir should contain all of these things. You can use either sunlight or growth lights to provide the light needed, though artificial lights do need some extra equipment.

You also need to have a proper system in place to make sure that the water remains purified and oxygenated at all times. With pure water, the plant nutrients remain at the correct balance, and the plants are able to grow better. 

To set up a hydroponic reservoir, you will obviously need the container you’ll be setting it up in, keeping in mind all the different requirements of hydroponics containers. Ideally, you should set up the reservoir in the best possible location before you add any plants or the solution, since it is very difficult to relocate once you’ve added the nutrient mix.

Of course, you also need an adequate nutrient mix. Plants need a fair amount of nutrients, such as nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, etc. You can use premixes which contain all of these in the appropriate balance to make sure your plants don’t end up deficient on any of them. This is also an advantage hydroponics have over soil-based growth, because fertilizer can’t contain all of the nutrients that plants need to grow their best.

Once you have the equipment, you can simply place the container in its designated spot, and add the solution. Make sure that its nutrient and oxygen levels are appropriate before you start growing any plants in it. 

You can also opt for keeping a backup reservoir. Most often, you won’t actually need one unless the one you use is large or inefficient, but it is never a bad idea to have one. This will require some extra piping and maintenance, however. With a backup, you can be sure that if there are any problems with your main reservoir – such as nutrient concentration or pH stability – the backup will smooth things over without much effort.

You can check out this video for a brief guide on how to set up a hydroponic reservoir.

What Color Should My Hydroponics Reservoir Be?

You might be surprised to find out that the color of the reservoir is of importance, but it’s true! If light happens to hit the nutrient solution, there will undeniably be algae growth. Algae results in a whole host of problems, from depletion of nutrients and oxygen from the water, to the amount of cleaning you’ll have to do.

The best colors for hydroponics reservoirs are dark ones – ideally very dark colors like black and navy blue. These are the most opaque, and let very little light into the reservoir, which helps avoid algae growth. With lighter colors – especially if the material used is plastic – there is always the risk of light seeping through, which can result in problems.

There is, however, a problem with dark colors too. While they keep light from seeping in, they can also absorb more heat from the growth lights, and at a faster rate too. Because gases don’t stay dissolved in warmer solutions, this can result in a lower oxygen concentration in your solution. The best option, then, is to keep a lid on your solution, or use some form of insulation that will keep the solution on the cooler side while also keeping out the heat.

Where Should I Locate My Hydroponic Reservoir?

Where you place your hydroponic reservoir should be decided at the start, since once you’ve set it up, it can be pretty difficult to relocate it with all that water in it.

The best spot for your reservoir should be close to a water source and drain, which will make it much easier to clean it up, and should also be out of any direct sunlight but should get at least six to seven hours of light every day. However, the kind of system you’re running will also factor into this.

Every aspect of your hydroponic reservoir will depend on the kind of system it is, so it is always a good idea to look up what your system needs before you make any decisions.

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