What is hydroponics and why is it better than traditional soil gardening?

A lot of people weren’t too sure what hydroponics is and how it compares to traditional gardening. We’ll give you the basics now, but for a more detailed explanation, please visit the “About Hydroponics” page.

Simply put, hydroponics is the process of growing plants without actually using soil. It allows you to grow pretty much anything—from flowers and herbs to fruits and vegetables—for personal use or for large-scale, commercial food production.

The reason why hydroponics is so great is that it is much easier to give plants the nutrients they need for healthy growth through water than through soil. Soil tends to prevent the roots of the plants from absorbing the nutrients necessary for healthy growth. As such, hydroponics allows for optimal plant health, faster growth and greater yields than soil gardening.

As intimidating as it may seem, hydroponics is really easy and low-maintenance. And now with 3Dponics, it’s even easier and more convenient, especially if you’re new to gardening or don’t have a lot of space in your home for a garden.

How is 3Dponics different or better than a regular potted plant garden on a balcony or other small space?

Research has shown that plants grown hydroponically will grow faster, be stronger and produce more fruit than plants grown in an average soil garden.

Because the 3Dponics system is extremely low maintenance—once you set it up, you only need to change the water every two weeks or so… No more worrying that you forgot to water your plants! This makes it a great alternative to a traditional soil garden, especially for people who don’t have much of a greenthumb.

In addition, it costs next to nothing to operate because it consumes very little electricity. We were able to modify the air pump with our 3D-printed conduit so that it powers the circulation of water. Otherwise, if you were to use a regular water pump, the energy costs would be much higher.

What plants can be grown using hydroponics?

The answer to this question really depends on what kind of hydroponics system you’re using, how much space you have, and how experienced you are with hydroponics.

If you’ve used hydroponics systems before and have lots of space in your home, you can grow pretty much anything. That said, not everyone has an entire room to devote to growing plants and and even fewer people consider themselves hydroponics experts.

Common hydroponically grown plants


  • basil
  • parsley
  • cilantro
  • rosemary
  • oregano
  • mint
  • sage
  • thyme


  • lettuce and other greens
  • tomatoes
  • cucumbers
  • peppers


  • black currants and red currants
  • strawberries
  • raspberries
  • blueberries

Flowers and ornamentals:

  • roses
  • freesias
  • narcissus
  • begonias
  • impatiens

What are hydroponics nutrient solutions?

Whether a plant is growing in soil or in water, it still needs nutrients to be healthy and strong. In traditional gardening, these nutrients come from the soil. In hydroponics, there’s no soil, so plants have to get their nutrients from the water. That’s where hydroponics solutions come into the picture.

Hydroponics solutions are made by dissolving various nutrients in the water that makes up the main reservoir of the hydroponics system. This water gets transported to the plants in the system and the nutrients get absorbed by the plant via the roots. This absorption happens faster in hydroponics systems than in soil gardens because the roots come into direct contact with the nutrients.

There are different types of nutrient solutions made for different purposes. The one you chose really depends on your needs and goals. To learn more about choosing the right nutrient solution, visit our Google+ community.

What is pH and how does it affect my plants?

An important factor to take into account when setting up a hydroponics system is pH (the acidity or alkalinity of your water solution).

Different plants require different pH values so you want to make sure that the pH of your water solution corresponds to the needs of your plants. A pH of less than 7 means the solution is acidic and a pH of more than 7 means the solution is basic or alkaline).

In general, most vegetables grow best in slightly acidic solutions, e.g. when the pH is between 6.0 and 6.8.

You can measure the pH of your water solution using a pH test kit, which you can get at practically any gardening store. While you’re there, you should also pick up a pH modifier kit, which allows you to adjust the pH if and when it deviates from the desired value.

3D printing is something that very few people have access to. If the community is supposed to become widespread, why the focus on 3D printing?

A few of the biggest advantages of 3D printing is that it enables complete customization, speeds up the iterative design process and thereby fuels innovation.

By making the 3Dponics digital files completely free and open source, we are giving you the ability to modify and alter the system to suit your personal needs or preferences. We want you to create upgrades, accessories and add-ons for it.

To address the concern about 3D printers being inaccessible, we strongly believe that this will change in the coming years. While many people don’t have access to 3D printers today, the technology is quickly evolving, becoming more affordable and entering the mainstream.

Some Staples office centres are already offering in-store 3D-printing services. Then there are online 3D-printing communities like 3D Hubs that connect you to a registered 3D printer in your area. Finally, there are 3D-printing services offered by companies like Envirolaser (in Ottawa) and Shapeways (an online 3D-printing service)—all you have to do is send them the 3D design file and they will print your part.

Needless to say, there are many options for people who don’t have a 3D printer of their own!

What exactly is the function of the components that you are creating?

The best way to answer this is to refer to our schematics of a 3D-printed garden, which shows the design of a 3Dponics system. A basic system requires only two 3D-printed components—the conduit and the drip nozzles.

The 3Dponics conduit or syphon sucks up the water from the main jug and transports it to the air pump. From there, the water is sent up the tubing where it drips down into the bottles, feeding the plants. The custom drip nozzles, which are attached to the plastic bottles like bottle caps, direct the water into the bottles at a slow but steady rate. This is key as you don’t wanted to have too much or too little water circulating through your system (the plants won’t like this).

If you want to supe up your system, we’ve designed a number of upgrades like the 3D-printed silencer, which does more or less what the name implies—it reduces the noise generated by the air pump so you can set up and enjoy your 3Dponics system even indoors.

There are many more upgrades and you can find them all on Thingiverse, Sketchfab, makexyz and 3D Hubs.

I printed all the parts and assembled the system according to your instructions, but the air pump isn't pumping water. What could be the problem?

There are a number of reasons why the air pump might not be working properly. Here are the most likely:

  1. Not enough water pressure: How big of a water container are you using? We recommend having at least an 8 L jug.
  2. Wrong air pump: Which air pump are you using? It could be that it’s not powerful enough. We recommend the Marina Hagen 200.
  3. Crooked support column: Is the support column straight? It’s extremely important the support column is straight and that the tubing isn’t wrapping or twisting around the column. This will interfere with the circulation of the water.
  4. Power on: It’s better to turn on the system before you submerge the conduit rather than after… not too sure why but we always have better luck this way.

How much electricity does the system use?

The air pump uses 4.5 watts, which equates to 0.108 k/Wh energy consumption per day or 3.24 k/Wh per month. If running 24 hours per day, the monthly cost for you is $0.28. Keep in mind that hydro rates may vary slightly depending on where you live.

Are the 3D-printed components safe for use in or around food?

Absolutely! The 3D-printed parts are made of PLA (polylactic acid) plastic, which is biodegradable and derived from renewable resources like corn starch. That’s why it’s often referred to as “corn plastic.” Although much of the PLA is made from GMO corn products, it is possible to buy non-GMO PLA products for your 3D printer, if this is a concern for you.

Will the plastic from the recycled bottles degrade over time and/or compromise the food that is being grown?

It is important to choose the right kind of plastic bottle for your food-based 3Dponics system.