Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Another approach

At the risk of offending hydroponic equipment dealers I am doing another post on building your own system. In my early years of amateur radio we built many of our own radios to avoid the label of "button pusher" that was applied to those who purchased all their equipment. I guess that habit is going to be hard to break. It is, however, hard to describe the satisfaction of making a contact half a world away on a two watt radio and antenna that you assembled from basic components. I find the same satisfaction watching plants flourish in a system I built.

This system consists of a reservoir constructed from a 18 quart covered storage tub, a submersible pump, airstone, a length of PVC 1" pipe with end caps, net cups and a fill/drain fitting and 1/4" tubing to feed each cup.
The PVC pipe is connected to the pump which rests on the bottom of the reservoir and is supported on top by the cover. The PVC pipe is drilled and fitted with lengths of tubing which are then fed to each individual pot. (If I am not using each pot, I simply fill the empty pot with pellets and run the unused tube to a pot that is being used.)
In operation the system is filled with about five gallons of nutrients, which can be measured with the fill line on the reservoir. The distribution tube distributes the nutrient solution to each individual cup and the solution dribbles through the medium and returns to the reservoir. This action, coupled with the airstone, aerates the solution. Eventually the roots will grow down to reach the solution and growth will be fantastic . The bubble action provided by the airstone and falling solution creates a nutrient rich mist within the enclosed reservoir which further benefits the plants. I have never seen any indication of root rot using one of these systems.
Nutrient changes are made using the fill drain fitting which also serves to display the solution level, and levels are maintained using the fill port on the cover. Flushing the system is a breeze. Drain the nutrients and fill with whatever you use to flush, like Flora Kleen. Run the pump for an hour and go read a book. Drain and refill and you are back in business.
When growing lettuce I operate the pump continuously; with other crops I operate the pump only during the light cycle.
Simple, effective, cost efficient and "homebrewed".

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Ebb and flow

I dropped by the local hydroponic store today and the couple in front of me were buying black plastic components for an ebb and flow system. They did not have the pump or timer and the tab for the components alone was in excess of two hundred dollars. Of all the different systems I have, the ebb and flow is among my favorites. I built several from Rubbermaid containers and was fairly satisfied with them. Always looking to improve my system, and looking for information on the web, I Googled ebb and flow systems and came across a pot grower's site. Hell, who knows more about hydroponics than pot growers? They have been at it forever. As I was not a member, I could not access the site, but, they had a list of components to build a system. Among the components was a bus tub. What the hell is a bus tub? Back to Google for another search. Ah, restaurant supply houses. Lo and behold, bus tubs! Big hefty black tubs with covers. I immediately ordered two tubs and a cover. The total cost for the components and shipping was about twenty dollars, and most of that was for shipping. Twenty minutes after UPS dropped off the box I had a very nice ebb and flow system that fit perfectly under my compact fluorescent light. The total cost for the entire system was less than thirty five dollars. After a week or so I made another modification to the system by drilling a 1/4" hole just under the lip on the front and inserting a length of black tubing that goes to the bottom of the reservoir. By attaching a turkey baster to the tube, I can withdraw enough solution to take my TDS and pH readings without disturbing the container at all. I kind of feel sorry for the couple in the hydro store...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Getting Started

One of my first mistakes was to purchase a ready made system from a Hydroponic store. Not that it does not work well, but I found that I could build my own system for practically nothing. Pretty much any container that will hold liquid can be used in some way for hydroponics. One of my favorites is a used Folger's coffee container. It does a fantastic job with a single plant. I have grown flowers, herbs, lettuce and even a tomato plant in one of these containers. It is a simple matter of using a circle cutter to cut the hole for the net pot, drilling a 1/4" hole in the cover for an air line, inserting an air stone, connecting the pump, adding the nutrients and plant, and voila you now have a perfect planter that performs as well or better than any commercial unit I have tried. The container can be painted black or left the original color, it does not seem to matter. The zinnias in the photo were started from seed on October 28th. and the photo was taken in the middle of January. I am using T5 full spectrum fluorescent lighting with a photo period of 14 hours a day with no natural light.