Do you want to grow some plants hydroponically and you want a simple gardening method? Then Kratky hydroponics is for you.
Are you new to hydroponic gardening and you want to “dip your toes” with a simple method? If you are after a really low tech method, then nothing is simpler than Kratky hydroponics.
What is the hydroponic Kratky method?
The Kratky method is a non-circulating hydroponic technique, where you simply grow plants with their roots dipping in the nutrient solution. It requires no technology at all and it is very simple to set up; however, it is not the best hydroponic method by far, as it has many limitations.
If you read on, you will find what Kratky hydroponics means, how you can set it up, how you can run it, but also its disadvantages and drawbacks.
What Is Kratky Hydroponics?
The Kratky method is the simplest and most rudimental of all hydroponic systems. You will simply need a vessel for your nutrient solution. You will then place your plant so that the roots dip in the solution and the aerial part of the plant is dry.
It is basically a living plant in a jug. This may be a simplification, but it will give you the basic idea. You must have seen it done with some bulbs like hyacinths, or sweet potatoes… Pothos too is commonly grown with the Kratky method.
When you see a jug, a vase, even a simple glass with roots in it and a plant growing out of it, well, you are looking at Kratky hydroponics.
What You Need for Kratky Hydroponics
The main advantage of Kratky hydroponics is that you basically need no equipment, and that you can set a small garden up with a few jugs, bowls, glasses or even an old bottle you were about to chuck in the bin.
You will not need any pumps or any pipes etc. However, it may depend on the shape and size of your plants; the key problem with Kratky hydroponics is making sure that only the roots dip in water.
Keeping the Aerial Part of the Plant Dry
The aerial part of the plant is what in Nature is above ground: from the base of the stem or trunk to the tip of leaves or flowers.
Basically, everything apart from the roots of your plant. This part should not be immersed in water, because it may, and probably will, rot.
Roots, on the other hand, can dip in water or the nutrient solution and, with the Kratky method, they will have to, because this is how they will feed.
Now, imagine a bowl, like a salad bowl for example. How can you put a plant in there and make sure it does not fall into the water or nutrient solution? There are three ways of making sure that the plant’s areal part stays dry:
Can You Use Kratky with Just Water?
You can use Kratky hydroponics without the nutrient solution and in fact, many gardeners and amateurs do. You can simply fill the vessel with water.
If you go around stores and people’s homes you will find plants growing in jugs, vases etc. with just water in them. This is possible, but it does have some disadvantages:
So, while it is very common indeed, if you want to be just a bit professional, use a nutrient solution.
Using the Nutrient Solution
The key concept of hydroponics is not actually growing plants in water, but in a nutrient solutionof water and nutrients.
So, learning how to prepare the solution is key to having a successful hydronic garden.
You don’t need to prepare the nutrients yourself; you can simply buy them from any garden center or online, and you can choose among a wide range of nutrient mixes, from those that better suit acid loving plants, those for blooming plants, etc.
Preparing The Nutrient Solution
You will not need much of the nutrient mix to prepare the solution; it is a matter of “spoonfuls”, not “tanks”, to give you an idea of the order of measurement.
So, this means that growing plants hydroponically, even with the Kratky method, is very cheap.
But how can you go about it?
As you can see, this is very simple. Now, you are ready to put your plant in place. That’s about it!
Using a Growing Medium with the Kratky Method
You can greatly enhance the performance of your Kratky garden by using a growing medium. This is an inert and porous material, usually in fibers or pebbles, that will absorb the nutrient solution and then release it slowly.
A growing medium also improves the oxygenation of the roots, and this is a major flaw with the Kratky method, as we will see.
A growing medium has three main advantages:
So, it is advisable to use a good growing medium. There are many available; some absorb more water than air, others the other way round.
With Kratky, a mix of perlite and vermiculite is quite good, because vermiculite holds on to pockets of air, which helps the roots of your plant breathe.
You can, alternatively, go for fibers like coconut coir; these too are good at holding on to air as well as the nutrient solution.
If the growing medium has small pores they will hold air, if they are big, the air will run away, but they will be better at holding water and liquids. So, a mix of different pores is the best, and natural fibers have pores of varying sizes.
Advantages of the Kratky Method
The Kratky method has some advantages, and some are quite surprising considering that it’s a very basic hydroponic system.
The Kratky Method Consumes Little And Produces A Lot
The Kratky method has an outstanding consumption to production ratio! This is amazing, but in terms of nutrients consumed, the Kratky method produces more plant mass (therefor crop) than most other methods, bar only aeroponics in fact.
This is possibly because it is a fully passive method and plants absorb all the nutrient solution.
The Kratky Method Is Easy
By now you know that the Kratky method is very easy to set up and it requires very little to get it going.
Setting up a complex hydroponic system like ebb and flow can be quite daunting for newcomers to this type of gardening.
So, if just want to get the gist of what hydroponics means; if you just want to have a little experience of growing plants this way, the Kratky method is by far the simplest choice.
The Kratky Method Is Cheap
Not only will you save money in equipment if you choose the Kratky method, but also in electricity, nutrients and even water.
A simple system is cheap to run as well as to set up. In fact, it can cost you nigh on nothing to grow a plant in an old wine jar…
The Kratky Method Is Very Low Maintenance
The more elements you have in a system, the more you need to look after them, and that means maintenance.
Inspecting the different parts of a complex hydroponic system is not very hard, unless you go professional, but it does require some time.
With the Kratky method, you have virtually no maintenance at all; you only need to check that the water solution is not running too low and that your plant is healthy…
What is more, there is no risk that electrical parts may break. If you have a water pump, an air pump, pipes and hoses, two different tanks, a timer etc. as you do with other hydroponic system, each element can break, develop faults etc.
No need to worry about all these if you choose the simple Kratky method.
The Kratky Method Looks Good
This method has a great decorative value for indoor plants and this is one of the reasons why it is becoming very popular.
A beautiful, original bowl or glass vessel with an architectural houseplant growing in it has its charm on a desk or on a bookshelf.
It is easy to see how you can use it for an oriental look, a minimalist space, a futuristic one or any other creative and elegant ideas you may have for your indoor space.
Disadvantages, Limitations and Drawbacks of the Kratky Method
The Kratky method is very simple, but it is riddled with limitations, drawbacks and disadvantages. It does not compare to advanced hydroponic methods like aeroponics, ebb and flow or the drip system. Still, in some areas, it punches way above its weight…
In any case, you need to be aware of the disadvantages of this method before you make a decision. And here they are.
The Kratky Method Works Only On A Small Scale
You cannot have a whole big professional garden with the Kratky method. Basically, you can only use it with some plants and usually with individual plants in each vessel.
In theory, you can group a few plants together, but even in this case, you may have some problems:
So, the Kratky method is mainly limited to the decorative bowl or vase with a small plant in it.
The Kratky Method Is Viable Only For A Few Plant Varieties
You cannot use the Kratky method with big plants; it is limited to those plants that have a root system that can withstand poor aeration, plants that have short life cycles and small size plants. You can grow lettuce, some flowers, small vegetables and plants, but deep root vegetables will rot, big plants will need a much more efficient system and long lasting plants will die for the lack of oxygen to their roots.
The Kratky Method Has Aeration Problems
It is hard to stress how important is oxygenation the roots of your plants in hydroponic gardening. And this is almost impossible with the Kratky method.
In fact, most major breakthroughs with hydroponics have to do with better ways of providing air to the roots, not water or nutrients. Instead, the Kratky method is very rudimental and it is really weak on this side.
You can partly improve the aeration with a growing medium, as we can see, but nothing matches the use of air pumps, irrigation cycles and even spraying droplets as you do with aeroponics.
So, the risk is that your roots will literally suffocate, and the plant may die.
The Kratky Method Has a Stagnant Nutrient Solution
When water is stagnant, it becomes a perfect breeding ground for pathogens that carry disease. There is no way you can provide running water with the Kratky method, so, your plants are at risk of contracting ailments carried by bacteria.
This becomes even worse if:
It Is Hard To Change Or Top Up The Nutrient Solution
The Kratky method, unlike others, does not have a two tank system, one, the reservoir, where you keep the nutrient solution and the other that you use to grow and irrigate your plants. This is a major disadvantage.
In fact, you cannot top up the nutrient solution easily and, in case it runs out, you need to remove the plant or plants, wash the vessel and then replenish it.
Even just adding water can be hard if the plant has a large stalk and leaves, as you may find it difficult to spot an access point for the water among the leaves and stems…
It Is Hard To Check The PH And EC Of The Nutrient Solution
Plants like different pH ranges, and the electric conductivity level of the water tells you if the plant needs nutrients and even if there is excess of nutrients in the solution.
The problem with the Kratky method is that you do not have a reservoir where you can easily dip in the pH meter and EC meter.
You would need to put it into the only vessel you have, and this, again, means finding an aperture among leaves and stems, and one that allows you to reach the nutrient solution.
This means that you cannot keep a close eye on the quality of the nutrient solution, therefore on the health of your plant itself.
The Nutrient Solution May Evaporate
There is no reservoir of nutrient solution with the Kratky method, as you know, and this means that if the water evaporates, or it gets totally absorbed by your plant, you have no automatic way of replenishing it.
So, what happens if you do not notice that your plant is running dry? You risk leaving your beloved green friend thirsty and hungry, and this may cause lots of problems, as you can imagine.
Yet even if you notice the problem, we have seen topping up the nutrient solution or changing it can be a problem with the Kratky method.
The Kratky Method: Simple and Fun, but Not Perfect
On the whole, the Kratky method is good to grow the odd plant on your window sill or to adorn your bookshelf.
It is by no means suitable for a professional garden, but it can fascinate your children and develop their interest in plants and hydroponic gardening. From an aesthetic point of view, it has its charms.
It is cheap, easy to set up and to run, but it is very limited in terms of types of plants you can grow, size of garden and purpose of your experiment…
In short, you won’t run a hydroponic farm with the Kratky method…
But there is maybe one element of this method that makes it a bit special. It can also be a good teaching tool…
In fact, the very first plant I ever grew was with the Kratky method… We were at elementary school and my teacher taught us to grow lentils in a plastic tray and with a simple growing medium, cotton.
I still remember the little plants on the window sill… Maybe that’s why, many decades later, I decided to become a gardener… Who knows?
After many years as an academic in London, Adriano Bulla became a writer, publishing books like A History of Gardening, Organic Gardening and Elements of Garden Design; he then decided to become a gardener, following his childhood dream, and has been following his dream writing and gardening professionally in Southern Europe, where he has specialized in new and innovative organic gardening fields and techniques, like permaculture, regenerative agriculture, food forests and hydroponics.