Deep water culture (DWC) is a straightforward hydroponic system that recirculates nutrients through one or more buckets in an interconnected system. Newbie growers may want to start with a single bucket, but this hydroponic system is incredibly easy to scale.
DWC systems are affordable, easy to troubleshoot, and manageable for even a beginner grower to master. So whether you plan on growing tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, or cannabis, you’ll want to start with recirculating DWC.
A DWC system is a specific hydroponics setup (there are many) that grows plants in a “deep water” nutrient solution and nothing else. DWC is almost exclusively used for indoor operations and is a favorite among indoor cannabis cultivators.
The simplest DWC design is a single bucket filled with nutrient-rich water. This is often called a Bubble Bucket. There is one plant per bucket, nested into the lid in a net pot. As this is a hydroponic system, there is no soil. Instead, each plant roots into Rockwool and clay pellets.
Plants send roots down into the aerated nutrient solution, pulling all the oxygen, nutrients, and minerals it needs to thrive.
DWC systems are also called recirculating deep water cultures because a water pump continuously moves the water through the system to prevent stagnation. Air stones and an air pump aerate the nutrient solution, providing oxygen to the plant’s roots. Both recirculation and aeration also help to prevent algae growth and disease.
Out of all the different designs for do-it-yourself hydroponic systems, DWC is one of the most popular, and for a good reason. The pros of this system are:
However, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Beginners especially should know what frustrations they may face when they dive into the world of DWC. The most common issues are as follows:
Indoor growers love to experiment, which means there have been many evolutions of DWC systems over the years.
Often described as the most rudimentary type of DWC, the Kratky method is as simple as they come. A plant sits in a growing medium, with its roots dipping into a container of nutrient solution. The roots sit 50 percent in the solution, with the remaining 50 percent out in the air under the lid.
There is no additional reservoir, no air stone, and no air pump. Indoor grow lights aside, the Kratky method requires no electricity and is therefore sometimes called a passive hydroponics system.
The Kratky method isn’t ideal for most indoor growers, even beginners, because it is prone to failure. With no airstone and no recirculation, water stagnates. In addition, the system is prone to diseases like root rot and algae growth.
The most common DWC system is technically a recirculating deep water culture system. These systems use a pump and an air stone to recirculate the water throughout the system.
Unlike the Kratky method, the nutrient solution develops with the plant. As it recirculates, new nutrients must be added, and it’s always aerated.
RDWC systems may also have a separate reservoir, sometimes called a control reservoir. The reservoir contains the pump and air stone and makes ongoing nutrient management easier without disturbing the plants.
The Bubble Bucket is a simplified DWC system. It contains all the same parts as a multi-plant system but condenses it into a single bucket. The airstone and pump recirculate the water in a closed, one-bucket ecosystem.
For newbie growers, a Bubble Bucket is the most accessible system to set up as there is no plumbing or tubing to worry about between buckets and no outside reservoir. Plus, you’ll only be managing one plant, not working with many.
Let’s walk through the setup of a basic RDWC system. Although you can have as many or as few plants within the system as you want, we’ll cover a system with four plants and one control reservoir.
You can also buy complete kits, which come all ready to go with everything you need to get started. Hydroponic kits make even a simple setup foolproof.
If you are going to set up a hydroponics system, deep water culture is the ideal starting place. It’s affordable, straightforward, and scalable. Cut your teeth on a Bubble Bucket, but you can expand into a multi-plant system as you learn the ropes.
With the number of plug-and-play hydroponic kits now available, plus the in-depth guidance available through forums like the HydroGuide community, you are guaranteed to succeed.