Last Updated on May 8, 2022 by Gary Stephen
Some of you might be in awe to know that you can cultivate plants even without soil. Yup, that’s right! In fact, plants only need four critical elements to thrive. And that is light, water, nutrients, and of course, air. Like us humans, our cultivars also need oxygen. Particularly, the roots demand dissolved oxygen or DO in short. In a hydroponic system, the most effective way to provide this DO is through the use of an air pump for hydroponics.
In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about air pumps. Why are they important for hydroponic gardening? And, what are the factors you should look for when buying this equipment? So, let’s begin.
Why do you need an air pump for your hydroponic system?
Hydroponic gardening is a soilless system. Thus, you are being inclined to rather depend on water and air to supplement the needs of the plant. By using an air pump, the diffusion of air into the water becomes more efficient. The bubbles it produces increases the level of DO in the reservoir. Moreover, the bubbling also aids in keeping the solution well-mixed.
You see, what we are trying to avoid in hydroponics is having stagnant water. When the water is dormant, it is likely to build up bacteria and other pathogens. These organisms can cause diseases that are harmful to your cultivars. Moreover, stagnant water is also bound to lose its oxygen over time. The lack of oxygen in the solution is what causes the immersed roots to drown and die.
Unlike in traditional soil cultivation, the soil medium forms little air pockets within. In that manner, the roots will not be completely submerged in water. Thus, there is a lesser risk of suffocating the cultivar when planted in soil.
What are the types of hydroponics that need an air pump?
Surprising as it may seem, not all types of hydroponic systems would need to use an air pump. Only the wick, water culture, drip, and NFT systems would likely benefit in this kind of equipment. Here’s why:
The wick system is actually a passive type of hydroponic. This means that there are no moving parts involved in the process. Then again, you can still incorporate the air pump in your reservoir. Though it may not be necessary, it is a great addition to your setup.
The main component that delivers the water and oxygen into the roots is through a cotton wick. This rope absorbs the solution and drawing it upwards to saturate the growing medium. The purpose of the air pump here is to aerate the fluids in the reservoir. Thus, increasing the amount of DO absorbed and delivered by the wick.
Moreover, bubbling facilitates the circulation of the water. Doing such prevents the formation of algae brought about by the stagnant fluid. The constant movement also prevents the solution from settling at the bottom.
Here are some of our top picks for wick system hydroponic kits:
Water culture is an active type of hydroponic system. In this process, the cultivars are being held usually by a foam board. This helps to keep the plant afloat on the surface while its root system soaks into the solution.
Because the roots are completely submerged, it needs the help of the air pump to circulate the water. The device does this by supplying air into the air stones. The air stones then create bubbles in the nutrient solution. Thus, delivering more DO for the roots to absorb.
Here are some of our top picks for water culture system hydroponic kits:
In general, this system operates by delivering the nutrients to the base of the plant via the drip line. The release of this solution is being scheduled by a timer-controlled nutrient pump. Thus, the grower can preset at what certain time a specific amount of the solution is to be given to the cultivars.
There are two processes involved in a hydroponic drip system. It can either be a recovery or a non-recovery type of system. A recovery drip system enables the collection of excess nutrients. This will then be re-used for the next cycle. Considering that, this process is a bit more economical since there is no wastage of the solution.
Meanwhile, the non-recovery process is the opposite. This system does not allow the recycling of nutrients. That is why the performance of the timer control is very crucial. It needs to give a well-measured amount to keep the runoff to the least possible.
In both cases, the air pump is there to supply oxygen to the air stones. The porous stones form tiny bubbles and diffuse it in the reservoir. So, whenever ready, this oxygen-filled nutrient solution will then be released to the plants.
Here are some of our top picks for drip system hydroponic kits:
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
NFT is a popular type of commercial hydroponics. In some ways, it has similarities to the recovery drip system. That is because the nutrient solution is re-used throughout the cycles.
This system does not use any growing medium. Instead, the cultivars are being placed in channels using net pots. The solution from the reservoir is being pumped up towards the grow tray to drench the roots. This grow tray is often positioned in an angle to allow the excess nutrients to drain back to the reservoir.
The role of the air pump here is to provide continuous aeration. Thus, increasing the dissolved oxygen level in the nutrient solution. Some growers do not find it necessary to have an air pump incorporated in the NFT system. But others also believe that this helps to improve the efficiency of the process.
Here are some of our top picks for NFT hydroponic kits:
How to choose the best air pump for hydroponics in your system?
In choosing the best hydroponic air pump, there are several basic factors to consider. This well includes the size, noise emission, quantity of nozzles, and of course, value for money.
As a rule of thumb, it is best to provide 1 watt per gallon of water. So, your air pump size is dependent on how big is your reservoir too. But later on this article, we will give you a more technical explanation of how to compute for the right size.
For easy understanding, the more air, the better it is as well for your plants. It won’t hurt to give your cultivars a little bit more bubbling. The dissolved oxygen derived from the bubbles enables the roots to grow better.
When choosing an air pump, we recommend you to get a bigger size. In that way, it spares you from buying another air pump should you decide to expand later on. Because your device is already enough, what’s left to do then is to get a bigger reservoir.
Although we are not saying that you must get the biggest capacity of the air pump. A notch bigger than what you actually need is fair enough. While it is good to prepare for future expansions, you don’t have to spend big bucks for too many extra bubbles.
Here are some of our top air pump for hydroponics’ kits depending on size:
For small scale – Hydrofarm Active Aqua Air Pump 1 Outlet
For commercial use – EcoPlus Eco Air 1 Commercial Air Pump
You have to bear in mind that an air pump is a mechanical device. Thus, it has moving parts that tend to create a buzzing noise. Thus, that is something you have to consider if loud sounds are a concern for you.
This is a big issue for some who prefer to keep their garden inconspicuous. Or, if you happen to be living in a crowded area like in an apartment or condominium. In which places, tenants are not allowed to create too much noise.
Then again, there are certain models that run more quiet. Most manufacturers specify the noise level of the device in the specs. So, it is best to look for one with less than 45 decibels. This will spare you from bothering others and, of course, save your ears from the nuisance.
Here are some of our top air pump for less noisy hydroponics’ kits:
Number of Nozzles
Air pumps may come with a single or several nozzles. Having two or more nozzles enables you to attach your device to several reservoirs. This option is a plus point especially when you are trying to grow different types of plants at the same time.
Thus, this is important to consider if you have a big hydroponic system. Also, if you have the intention of expanding, it is best to foresee the need to have more than one nozzle.
Here are some of our top picks for hydroponic kits depending on the number of nozzles:
Single nozzle – Danner Manufacturing Inc. Supreme Oxy-Flo High Volume Air Pump
Multiple nozzles – Hydrofarm Active Aqua Commercial Air Pump 12 Outlets
Value for Money
As always, we have to recognize these devices as part of our investment. Thus, we have to ensure that they are worthy of the money we spent on them. As a buyer, it is favorable to choose air pumps that can offer the most valuable features for your needs. In that manner, you can get maximum benefits out of the device.
It is also good to point out that cheap doesn’t always mean poor quality. And, expensive doesn’t always tantamount to good performance. In that sense, it is best to do your research and read product reviews first before buying. This will help you come up with a better decision in the end.
Here are some of our top picks for best value hydroponic kits:
How to calculate the size of your hydroponics air pump?
As we have mentioned earlier, the size of your air pump is dependent on the capacity of your reservoir too. So, the bigger the volume, the more air you need to pump. In general, gardeners follow the principle of using 1-watt for every gallon. That means the wattage of your pump must be equal to the number of gallons of the nutrient solution you use.
This certain rate gives you a lot of pumping power than you actually need. Thus, some growers defy this common rule. They believe this amount is quite too excessive for a small indoor hydroponic garden. For better accuracy, they suggest using 500 ml per minute of air for every gallon of the solution instead.
If you are a hobbyist, the lesser rate of 500 ml is much safer to follow. If you have a commercial or a complex hydroponic system though, you might benefit more from the 1-watt per gallon rate.
How long should you run the air pump for hydroponics ?
It is actually more advisable to let your air pump run 24/7. Turning the pump on and off fluctuates the levels of dissolved oxygen. Thus, the intermittent power interruptions are likely to cause stress to your plants. Moreover, its continuous operation also lessens the chances of pathogen growth. Doing so prevents harmful diseases from occurring then.
Contrary to what most people believe, running your air pump 24/7 is actually better at extending the device’s lifespan. Although certain instances, like routine maintenance, may require you to shut off for a short period of time. In this case, it is still okay to turn off the air pump once in a while.
Other accessories to use with your hydroponics air pump?
Air stones and tubings are some of the accessories you can use along with your air pumps. They are important components to your setup as they help to optimize the efficiency of your air pump.
Air stones are porous pieces of stones submerged in the bottom of the reservoir tank. It is being attached to the air pump tubing to help break the airstream into tiny bubbles. Tiny bubbles are much easier for your plant’s roots to absorb. So, providing a more efficient dispersion enables better penetration of the DO into the cultivars.
Air stones come in different shapes and sizes. For a hydroponic garden, we recommend using the larger stones. Again, the more bubbles, the more beneficial it is for your plant’s welfare.
Although the small stones are still okay too. But they are rather more suitable to use on small or single-plant systems. That is because the bubbles it tends to produce may not be enough to cope with larger setups.
Here are some of our top picks for hydroponic air stones:
Of course, you need to have air tubing in your air pump setup. This hose is what carries the oxygen from your pump to the air stones. An aquarium tubing is great for this task. Make sure though to avoid using the clear or translucent ones. It is much better to use black or any other dark-colored tubings. This helps to block light from penetrating thus preventing the formation of algae.
Here are some of our top picks for hydroponic air tubings:
There you have it! Air pumps are an essential component to the success of your hydroponic system. Remember, like us humans, oxygen is vital tool for plant growth. So, needless to say, the dissolved oxygen that the pump produces is the lifeline of your cultivars.
It is not a one-size-fits-all kind of device though. Thus, it is important to find the right one that would best accommodate your needs. In that manner, you can optimize the efficiency of your air pump in the best way possible. At the same time, it will also help your plants thrive better in their nutrient solution.