hydroponics

Nightstand Plant Stand From Pallets

| April 27, 2015
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

I recently set up another 5 gal hydroponic bucket for growing herbs and greens. I wanted to grow them in the dining room under a sunny window, and needed to dress up the 5 gallon bucket so that it wouldn’t be an eyesore. So I decided to build a dual purpose nightstand and plant stand in one.

nightstand

nightstand-plants

plant-stand-construction

I didn’t want to spend money on lumber to build the plant stand, so I did what everyone else on the interwebs does, and built it from pallets. However, unlike many people who simply stack pallets or use pallets as is, I carefully removed the nails, and thoroughly inspected every piece of lumber before ripping every piece. I was very careful not rip too far under the weathered and expose wood, and was able to maintain the rustic colors, nail rust, oxidation, and character of old wood, whilst getting straight, and clean edged lumber in reasonable dimensions to work with. The end result is a rustic looking, and functional, dual-purpose night stand(when no hydroponic bucket is present), and hydroponics plant stand in one.

Check out the photos, enlarge them by clicking on them, and you’ll see the build process, the plants, and the completed stand. Hope it motivates some of you to try hydroponics, and know you don’t have to stair at ugly buckets.

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Growing in Coco Coir: Getting Started

| December 9, 2012
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

A Coco Coir Growing MediumCoco Coir is an increasingly popular growing medium in hydroponics, and is generally considered to be a more sustainable and eco friendly replacement to peat.

This article isn’t meant to start a raging debate about which growing medium or method is best. It is intended to help those interested in using coco coir get started with it as a growing medium.

So raging debates aside, a 60/40 or 50/50 mix of coco coir to Perlite is the preferred growing medium at Gardenisto.

Very specifically, we like the coco coir products that contain a blend of coco fiber, dust and chunks. The blend creates a soil like medium that is clean and familiar to work with.

While coco coir can be used as a growing medium on its own, it acts too much like a sponge, and in most of our applications plants have done better when Perlite is mixed in.

Perlite adds aeration to the mix, and improves drainage. Without the Perlite in the mix, it is difficult to tell if coco coir is saturated. The growing medium can look and feel dry in the first inch or two, but feel like a wet sponge 4 inches beneath the surface.

Coco Perlite MixPerlite helps blend the coco coir’s water holding abilities more evenly throughout a pot, and helps to prevent over watering by allowing more even drainage and water retention.

Our early experiments used pure coco coir, which led to over watering, poor plant growth, plant damage, and some plant loss. Mixes with Perlite outperformed pure coco coir without question.

Getting started is easy.
Mix 60% dry coco coir(mixed variety of fiber, dust, and chunk) to 40% Perlite

Add a dry organic plant starter fertilizer like E.B Stone organics to the mix, at half the recommended quantities.

Add any Mycorrhizae, inoculants, and dry hormones to the mix. We like to give our young plants as much help as we can without overdoing it, and Mycorrhizae has been that extra boost that we can always rely on.

Now we will create a dilute nutrient solution. We will eventually add this to our dry ingredients, but its important to do a few things to it first. Its good to start with a PH neutral Distilled Water, but tap water will work, so long as it isn’t too hard.

If you can, try to monitor and adjust the PH of your solution, and if possible, to formulate your nutrient solution to be specific to your plant variety’s needs.

B vitamins, rooting and plant growth regulating hormones. Get some, and use them! They help prevent plant shock, and bring them back from wilt, etc. Or does is it? We say No, but we also say Yes. B Vitamin alone has not been proven to prevent shock, or stimulate root growth. Not consistently and conclusively since studies done on B Vitamins in the 30s that originally produced these claims. However! If a stressed plant in a bad wilted state is unable to produce its own Thiamine(B1), or the growing medium does not have a readily available supply, then a supplement will make it available to the stressed plant. We like to mix our B Vitamins with other less common nutrients, hormones, kelp blends, and then mix it all together with molasses and mycorrhizae to inoculate the medium as well as the plant.

Calcium and Magnesium
Coco fiber has a tendency to absorb Calcium and Magnesium, making it unavailable to plants. So either add some CalMag+ to your nutrient solution. Or make a Not to give your plants a foliar feeding of essential nutrients.

Mix the nutrient solution into the dry ingredients until the consistency is like loamy soil. You can use distilled water, but some nutrients really should be used, and/or a subsequent watering should have nutrients.

Don’t over saturate the growing medium, and make sure it is well mixed in a clean bucket, or tote.
Fill your growing container to the height that will support your plant or seedling. Don’t compact the mix, any more than it takes to keep a small plant in place.

Prepare your plant or seedling for planting. At this point, directly inoculate the roots with mycorrhizae or any other stimulants if you plan to use them.

Gently place your plant or seedling in the mix and fill around it until the mix is level with the base of your plant.

If you are compelled to compact the mix like you might to dirt… Well don’t. Only lightly compact the mix so that it can support the plant. It’s not soil, it just looks like it.

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Analog Soil Moisture Sensor

| November 20, 2012
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

There are a lot of DIY moisture sensor articles out there. They are quite basic in principle. Gardenisto articles assume basic knowledge of programming, microcontrollers, and circuit design. We generally prefer to use the Arduino for our applications, as it is so widely used and supported. Our example code is also written in C, and intended for use on the Arduino.

This article focuses on the principle of analog sensor measuring via the Arduino microcontroller, as well as real world usage in a hydroponic coco coir growing medium.

How does a moisture sensor work? As water saturation increases, so does the conductivity of the soil or growing medium. If a small electric current is applied to one sensor lead, then at some fraction of that current should be measurable on another sensor lead a small distance away.

Galvanized nails are also commonly used, simple and effective, but for our basic moisture sensor, we went a little more compact. Two lengths of insulated steel jumper wires are secured in heat shrink tubing. The ends are left exposed. On one end the exposed leads are bent almost 180 degrees back. Caution should was taken to ensure the bent leads are not in contact with one another.

The wires are inserted into a small diameter aluminum tube, just short enough to leave both ends exposed and workable.

DIY Moisture Sensor

Whilst leaving both ends exposed and workable, wrap and secure heat shrink tubing beyond the full length of the tube. The entire thing should feel rigid. This will allow the sensor to hold up to being moved from location to location, and a little abuse.

Our example keeps the wiring fairly simple. It is possible to over complicate the circuit with transistors, or a power source that flips back and forth to prevent an electroplating effect and corrosion of the sensor leads, but for our example we left it simple.

We did add a variable 100k potentiometer to make minor mechanical adjustments.

We ran the power wire to a digital pin, the ground pin to the ground, and the sensor wire to an analog pin on our microcontroller. Our microcontroller is an Arduino, based on the C programming language. They are inexpensive, and have made professional level hardware interfacing available to any hobbyist.

To check soil moisture, we turn on the digital pin which powers the sensor, and give it a fraction of a second to stabilize. We then take analog readings on our analog pin. The readings are done inside of a loop to gather 20 readings before taking the average.


for (i = 0; i < 20; i++){   val = val + analogRead(analogMoisture); } val = val / 20; // take average val = val / 4; // scale to 8 bits (0 - 255)

The digital power pin for the sensor is then turned off. The result is printed to the serial monitor. The following code was extracted from a larger coding block of a more advanced sensor, and formatted to run independently as a simple Arduino program. Entering ‘2’ into the serial monitor will return readings.


/*
* Simple analog moisture sensor.
*
* Leave us a question or comment at http://www.gardenisto.com
*
************************************************************/

int analogMoisture = 0; // pin number of analog moisture sensor readings
int digitalSensorPower = 12; // power up/down pin for sensor readings

int i; // variable used in FOR loops as counter
int val; // variable for reading Moisture status
int intSerialVal = 0;

void setup() {
   pinMode(analogMoisture, INPUT);
   pinMode(digitalSensorPower, OUTPUT);
   Serial.begin(9600);
}

void loop(){

   intSerialVal = Serial.read();
   if ( intSerialVal == '0') {
     digitalWrite(digitalSensorPower, HIGH);
     delay(10); // 10 milisecond delay for stability post power on

     for (i = 0; i < 20; i++){        val = val + analogRead(analogMoisture); // sensor on analog pin 0      }      val = val / 20; // average      val = val / 4; // scale to 8 bits (0 - 255)      Serial.println(val); // Send Sensor Readings      digitalWrite(digitalSensorPower, LOW);      } }

So what does the returning value mean? Before using our sensor on our coco coir growing medium, we created a set of controls by measuring cold water, warm water, and air. The values we attained were: H20 cold:149-146, H20 warm:163-161, Air:0. For a healthy plant in our growing environment, we try and let soil cycle between partially dry, and wet but not over watered. We determined our plant health was optimal when the coco coir moisture level was in the 120-127 range after watering.

Of course, there are additional considerations to make, as you'll notice from the controls. The electro conductiviy of water changes with temperature as well as the level of salinity caused by nutrients in the growing medium. I'll expand on these issues in a more advanced post, but for simple moisture monitoring this method is simple and effective.

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LED Grow Lights

| September 6, 2012
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

DIY LED Lightitng

Build your own hydroponic LED growlight/system for germinating indoors. The system powers 1-4 3watt RGB LEDs on the Red and Blue channels.

The system easily fits on a bookshelf or desktop, and provides enough light for small sprouting plants to grow both thick foliage, and healthy stalks. Adjustable lighting height, prevents leggy growth.

Gardenisto takes no responsibility for the accuracy of the information posted, any injuries, death, or damages resultant from incorrectly attaching electrical devices.

Components
3x 1 watt RGB LEDS
3x Constant Current LED drivers
1x Sheet .125 Lexan
Nylon 4-40 Screw
4-40 washers and nuts
Large Project Enclosure or Conduit Box
AC Power cable (scrapped from old electronics)
12g 600v UL Cable (we actually used 18g)
24g UL Cable for dc wiring
¼” threaded rod and nuts
Mix pack of rubber grommets
Terminal Strip with a minimum 6 attachment strips
Terminal Jumper Strip
8 solderless terminal connectors

Drill w/Various Drill Bits
Skill Saw (or other saw for cutting plexi or lexan)

Basic Principles
LED Driver provides ample power for RGB LEDS
Red and Blue LEDs of the R-G-B LED will be powered, providing only usable light for germinating and growing young seedlings.

Pros
Compact Perfect for small desktop sized hydroponic germination units
Optionally Arduino controlled lighting
Low Power Consumption

Cons
Cost prohibitive versus off the shelf LED Grow lights with a standardized wall outlet
Power Consumption

Backside flush mount LED with nylon 4-40 screw, grommet, washer, and nuts
Flush mouonted rgb led with nylon 4-40 screwLED growlight DIYTrim Lexan to size of hydroponic bucket
Drill Center mounting post hole
Mark 4-40 size LED mounting holes
Mark center on lexan where LED will mount, this is where a cooling hole for the led will go
Drill mounting holes
Drill LED cooling holes
Mark and drill one additional hole, near each LED (this is where wires will pass to backside of lexan mounting plate)
Mark mounting holes for constant current LED drivers
Tap if enclosure is metal to prevent drill bit travel, then drill LED driver mounting holes
Mount LED drivers with 4-40 mounting screws and nuts

Solder the Red and Blue positive terminals to a red 24g wire approximately 3 feet in length
Solder the Red and Blue negative terminals to a black or green 24g wire approximately 3 feet in length
Repeat soldering for each LED on the system
Mount the LEDs to the Lexan mounting plate with Nylon 4-40 screws.
For a secure fit, place a rubber grommet on the backside of the mounting plate, sandwich the grommet with a washer and secure with a nut. Compression of the grommet will ensure a tight fit.
Run wires out of the way of the LEDs through the cable hole

Crimp terminal connectors to the Live and Neutral of the AC power cord
Cut and strip the ends off of 3 6 inch lengths of (Live Color) 12g wire
Cut and strip the ends off of 3 6 inch lengths of (Neutral Color) 12g wire
Crimp terminal connectors to a single end of each 6 inch length of wire

Cut the terminal jumper into two, three row lengths of the terminal strip.
Attach the LIVE end of the AC power cord to one set of the three terminals
Attach the NEUTRAL end of the AC power cord to the other set of three terminals
Attach the bare end of each 6 inch LIVE wire length to the constant currant LED driver in the appropriate screw terminal (Labelled “L”)
Attach the bare end of each 6 inch NEUTRAL wire length to the constant currant LED driver in the appropriate screw terminal (Labelled “N”)

Attach the terminal connector at the end of each 6 inch LIVE wire length to the LIVE terminal slots of the terminal strip.
Attach the terminal connector at the end of each 6 inch NEUTRAL wire length to the NEUTRAL terminal slots of the terminal strip.

Attach the LED wire leads to their respective LED driver screw terminals.
– Red wire to the screw terminals labeled “+”
– Black or Green wire to the screw terminals labeled “-”

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DIY Organic Liquid Fertilizer

| May 22, 2012
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

Given the prices of already diluted or inorganic fertilizers, we thought it would be of value to our readership to get a quick guide on how to make your own organic liquid fertilizer. This is not a simple how to on the traditional ‘tea’, like compost, manure, earthworm casting, cinnamon, or chamomile tea, but an actual liquid kelp based fertilizer for use in the garden or in hydroponic system.

In addition to kelp that was freshly collected on the beach, other organic ingredients are added to the brew. They include calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, molasses, sugar, and yucca extract.

  • Wash fresh kelp to remove excess salt and non plant material.
  • Blend on a high liquefy setting with equal parts dechlorinated or spring water, until contents are a liquified.
  • Strain emulsion over a small bucket.
  • Dissolve a couple table spoons of cane sugar, into one half cup of dechlorinated water
  • Add sugar water to bucket.
  • Add molasses and any other extracts, vitamins or minerals to the liquid.
  • Agitate the brew with an air pump, just like you’d aerate water in a fish tank. Do this in warm conditions, and agitate for a few hours at a minimum. Warmer liquid temperatures will help increase good bacteria growth, but too hot a temperature will kill them.
  • When the brew looks good and dark, pour the concentrate through a fine screen or or mesh to remove solids.
  • If you seal the cap on your storage container, you may need to ‘burp’ your container regularly to release gases created by the beneficial bacteria in your living fertilizer/brew.

Usage
Usage depends on concentration and plant feeding requirements. Concentrations can range from a ½ ounce per gallon to 1 part fertilizer per 3 parts water.

The frequency of use depends on system and fertilization needs. Use weekly in deep water culture systems and in out door gardens that require fertilization. The dilutions will depend greatly on how concentrated the original concentration is and the sensitivity of the target plant. Like most garden experiments either start small, and increase your usage, or use liberally on a donor plant you are willing to lose to observe a ‘lethal’ limit.

To create a more complete nutrient solution, mix with soluble urea, and humic acid at the time of use. As always, dilute before use.

Observations
Plants treated with the kelp based liquid fertilizer are exposed to the natural hormones and over 50 trace elements. Treated plants seem to maintain a healthier rhizosphere, and an improved tolerance to environmental stress, as is expected of good mycorrhizal activity.

Of course the observations are just that, observations. We have not cultured bacteria from a treated and non-treated plant, and measured the difference in beneficial bacteria. Nor have we intentionally stressed plants that were treated and measured survivability against any controls.

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Deep Water Culture Transplant

| May 8, 2012
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.
While it is best to start a hydroponic garden from seed, it is also possible to transplant sprouts from containers and peat pots.

Transplanting sprouts from soil to a hydroponic system can introduce a lot of organic material. Organic materials can introduce destructive microbes, mold spores, and disease that can ultimately destroy your plant, or even your entire hydroponic crop. This type of plant destruction can be prevented, by taking a few precautions.

Materials
Hydrogen Peroxide, Spray bottle, net pots, container plant, razor blade, rockwool, small bucket or large Tupperware container.

Prior To Transplanting
Prepare your hydroponic system to receive a new plant. In our case, this is a 5 gallon DWC (deep water culture) bucket that has been ph balanced between 5.5 and 6.5, de-chlorinated, and heavily aerated.

Some planting mediums need to be prepared ahead of time. So if your planting medium requires a presoak in PH balanced water or a sterile rinse, prepare this prior to proceeding with transplanting.

Transplanting

Step 1
Gather and sterilize materials.

Step 2
Fill a small open top container with clean water. While others might disagree, tap water is actually good in this case because it is chlorinated. The chlorination will help to destroy microbes, and other unwanted organic material on the plants root mass.

Step 3
Extract the plant and root ball from container. If you are starting with a peat pot, it’s easiest to soak the peat pot before crumbling it away.

Step 4
Very gently remove as much soil as possible with your fingers. Be careful not to damage any of the roots, or small hairs on the roots. At this point, your plant will still have organic debris, vermiculite, bark, perlite, or even chunks of peat pot attached to the roots.

Step 5
Holding the green portions of your sprout out of the water container, place the root mass in the water container. Agitate the water over the root ball until all the dirt and organic material is removed.

Step 6
You will likely have to stop, replace the water from your washing container, and repeat the previous step a couple times, to completely remove all organic matter attached to the root mass of your plant.

Step 7
Rinse the root mass, by spraying it with a diluted H202 Hydrogen Peroxide solution. We made our rinsing solution with 3% Hydrogen Peroxide, and diluted it to 3ml for every liter of water. H202 can be dangerous, treat it as you would any other hazardous material. Especially if starting with a higher concentration of H202.

Step 8
Since we are using rockwool for our transplanting example, with a razor blade we slice into the rockwool from the side, all the way to the center where you would typically sow a seed.

Step 9
Gently stretch the rockwool open, and insert the sprout. If the root mass does not fit, or fits too tightly, either stretch the rockwool or slice away some rockwool to accommodate for the sprout.

Step 10
Insert the freshly prepared sprout into our net pot. Depending on plant size, you may need to add other growing mediums around the rockwool, such as red clay, or perlite..

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Deep Water Culture

| April 25, 2012
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

How To: Setup a Deep Water Culture system. This basic hydroponic setup is easy, effective, and very affordable. A very simple setup can be put together for under $20. In this setup, a minimum amount of supplies are used *and I won’t show you $100 dollars of materials and say it can be done cheaper.. All, or most, of the supplies are available at home improvement stores, pet stores, or in some cases re-purposed materials from around the house. Alternatively, materials can be sourced from Ebay. For our most basic setup, you will want the following materials.

[flv:http://www.gardenisto.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/SANY0386.flv 624 351]

Tools
A sharp blade is the only require tool, but having a Drill, Dremel, 2″ hole saw, or Sharp Xacto knife, Scissors, Sharpie, and a ruler are all great.

Materials Required I always shop around for the best price, which is what I’ve listed. I’ve also included links to products on Amazon if you just want to purchase items quickly and aren’t being as cost sensitive.
5 Gallon Bucket ($2.50)
5 Gallon Bucket lid ($1.50)
6ft 5/16 Air Tubing ($2.00) – Buy on Amazon
10-20 Gallon(per bucket) Aquarium Air Pump ($5.00 to $16.00) – Buy on Amazon
*look at Walmart Aqua Culture: 5-15 Gallon, Single Outlet Aquarium Air Pump, 1 Ct for $6.97, or Ace Hardware Pet Supplies has a generic brand for just under $6
Air Stone/Diffuser ($1.29) – Buy on Amazon
Rock Wool ($4.95) – Buy on Amazon
4 3″ Net Pots or 6 2″ Net Pots($.30 to $.60 each) – Buy on Amazon

These Items Will Help You Increase Productivity
PH Test Kit and Conditioners – Buy on Amazon
Hydroton Grow Rocks ($6.95) – Buy on Amazon
Aquarium Check Valve ($2.00) – Buy on Amazon
Hydroponic Fertilizer ($15.00) – Buy on Amazon
Aquarium Thermometer (starting at $2.50) – Buy on Amazon

Step 1.
Measure and mark the holes in the bucket lid, where you will place your net pots. Net pots typically have a lip that is a greater diameter than their indicated size. This will hold the net pot in the holes you are about to make in the lid. Always double check the diameter required, or your net pots will not sit the way you anticipate. Don’t try to over crowd your pots. Four 4″ Net pots is probably going to be fine for a while, but as seedlings grow they will compete for space!

Step 2.
Cut the holes in the lid of your bucket. The easiest way is to use a drill with a hole saw, that matches your required hole size. *Always use caution when using power tools, blades, or saws.

Step 3.
Drill a hole, the same size as the outer diameter of your air tubing, in the bucket lid. Place the hole near an edge, so it will be out of the way of plant life.

Step 4.
Clean, or sterilize, your bucket. Rinse thoroughly, then fill bucket to about 2.5 inches below the rim. Its easiest to fill a bucket in its final destination, but also not impossible to move if this isn’t an option. Tap water is rarely going to have a PH perfect for your plants. Testing your water, and adjusting it to a PH range of 5.5 to 6.5 may be beneficial for whatever it is you will grow. The final water level height should end up just below, or barely touching, the bottom of your net pots. After some root growth, the water level should be dropped, to provide better aeration to roots, and encourage growth. Evaporation may do this for you.

Step 5.
Insert a 3 to 4 foot length of air tubing through the small hole in the bucket lid. A length of the tubing that just reaches the bottom of the bucket should stick out the bottom of the lid. The rest of the line will run to the air pump. Attach the air stone to the length of tubing sticking out of the bottom end of the lid.

Step 6.
Firmly attach the lid to the bucket. Attach the loose end of the airline to the air pump. *Edited 5/11 – Place the air pump above the water line of your buckets to protect siphoning in the event of power failure. A one way check valve is also great protection for your air pump.

Step 7.
Be sure the environment, pump and components are dry before plugging in and/or turning the pump on. Let the air pump run overnight without plants, the bubbling will aid in the removal of chlorine.

Step 8.
Prepare net pots, with rock wool, hydroton, or other growing medium of choice, and your seeds, or seedlings to be ‘planted’. Some growing mediums, like rock wool recommend an initial soaking in PH adjusted water. The rock wool used to start our plants is the same growing medium we use through our entire grow. Unused Rockwool from germinating seeds was used to shim and fill empty net pot space. This keeps cost on an additional growing medium down. Plant roots will eventually fill the net pots anyway.

Step 9.
Add any hydropnic fertilizers that you might choose to use to feed your plants. Double check that the PH is in the range of 5.5 to 6.5 if you can, as fertilizers can change the PH level. Insert net pots with plants. Alternative fertilizer options that are “free-ish” like, leaching old coffee grinds, dissolving eggshells with lime juice, or dissolving multivitamins and other supplements from a pantry can be used instead of commercial fertilizers, but growing results will be less predictable.

Step 10.
Enjoy your new Deep Water Culture System. Although starting from seed is ideal, transplanting with donor plants, or test dummies, is an okay approach to learning how to feed, and maintain your plants. Once you feel like you have a stable operation, flush the system and start anew, or setup another bucket with the seeds or seedlings you intend to grow to life expectancy. For more information on transplanting to deep water cultures, see our instructional post: Soil to Hydroponic Transplants.

Updates! Algae
If you are growing on a warm patio, algae, or other disease could effect your plants. Two reasonable methods of control are to use diluted food grade Hydrogen Peroxide, or a drop of Chlorine per gallon of water. Cooling the water temperatures, or rinsing roots and replacing water also helps.

Updates! Deep Water Culture Now an Aquaponic System!
Growth has been phenomenal, but hot weather does encourage algae growth in buckets exposed to sunlight. Fortunately, the warm conditions are also perfect for, algae eating fish. I’ve added a school of 5 chinese algae eating fish, and they are doing an exceptional job cleaning. They are also doing well in a system that has no mechanical filtration. The natural plant root filtration and heavy aeration is enough too keep a small school of them healthy thus far. Rising air bubbles actually circulate any algae debris through the root system, and mechanically filters the water.

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Hydroponic Basics

| March 21, 2012
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

Benefits
I’ll get to some of the potential drawbacks of a hydroponic system in a minute, but for now this is what a hydroponic system can offer you.

Stable, large yields – Hydroponics systems are capable of producing large and stable yields
No soil needed – No more dirt, composting, potting soil, amendment,
Irrigation Costs – Water is reusable in many systems, and more efficient watering, can drive your water usage costs down.
Plant nutrition and Nutrition Costs are easily managed
Pollution – No nutrition pollution from fertilizers, is released into the environment because of the controlled system
No Pests – Soil born pests and insects, as well as plant diseases are easily managed in a hydroponic system
Easier harvesting – Harvesting is often a simple process, as well as a dirt free mess.
No pesticides – Without pests, you can grow vegetables pesticide free
Plant Mobility – Unlike garden plants, hydroponic grown plants are not rooted permanently, and plants can be moved.

Cons
There are of course a few drawbacks to using a hydroponic system. Although, after some basic technical education on the type of hydroponic system you choose to use most of these drawbacks become non-issues. The major considerations that prevent people from using a hydroponic system are:

System Cost – Costs can be near nothing from home made systems, to large technical systems ranging into the thousands.
Energy Requirements – The power required to pumps, bubblers, optional lighting, transformers, timers, and electronics can become cost prohibitive
System failures – System failure can lead to rapid plant, or entire crop failure.
Special equipment and containment on a plant to plant basis required for proper plant nutrition – Different plants have different needs, and may require different systems or schedules of watering, ebb and flow, etc.
Requires technical knowledge of potentially complicated systems versus a standard garden – It isn’t just dirt, light, and water anymore. These systems require nutrient solution monitoring, ph monitoring, and in some cases mechanical maintenance.

The Basic Types of Hydroponic Systems
There are quite a few types of hydroponic systems and hybrid systems out there, but the most common are Deep Watering, Ebb and Flow, and Continuous Flow. Plant type, size, and growing space are all factors for choosing your type of system.

DWS or Deep Water System – Deep Watering utilizes static nutrient solution that is infrequently replaced. The nutrient solution is heavily aerated with a bubbler, and the roots are constantly submerged in the nutrient solution. The liquid is concealed from lighting to prevent other plant life from growing in the solution.

Flood & Drain or Ebb & Flow – This system fills a container until either plant roots or a watering medium like rock wool has become saturated, then drains the system, creating a timer controlled watering cycle from the bottom up.

Continuous Flow or Nutrient Film Solution – This system constantly moves a nutrient bath past the roots of plants. The system is often aerated, and the nutrient solution filtered and cycled via a large tank reservoir.

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A Simple Hydroponic Drip System

| February 13, 0201
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

Basic Drip SystemA simple automated drip irrigation system is pretty easy to build. Drip hydroponic systems offer unfamiliar hydroponic growers an opportunity to work with dirt-like growing mediums, but unlike soil the hydroponic growing mediums offer greater flexibility and control over aeration and moisture holding capabilities.

Our example system is very basic in principle. Water is sent through drip irrigation to plants from a reservoir beneath the growing container. Plants are potted in a pot or growing container filled with a 50/50 mix of coco coir fibers and perlite. The excess runoff is returned through drainage to the reservoir via two 1/2″ hoses. The hoses are attached to barbs, securely fit into grommets, that fit into drain holes that are drilled into the growing container. The system automatically runs off of an 24 hour outlet timer.

Our example uses basic irrigation equipment, a pond pump, and a fairly basic timer. It is also stowed nicely into a custom cedar planter box to make things a bit more aesthetically pleasing.

Basic Drip System CloseupThe cost to build this system can range based on availability of materials, and your ability to price shop. The system pictured, cost roughly $45-$50(sans cedar planter box) and can accommodate a couple more plants. The cost would increase as one scaled the system to accommodate more growing beds. Its a simple economic issue of needing a more powerful water pump, additional plumbing, more growing containers, etc.

What you will need for this basic hydroponic drip system is in the build list below. Shown are quantities, and what Gardenisto perceives to be reasonable ranges on the cost of equipment in US dollars.

Drip Emitter Setup1. Coco Coir ($5.00-$25.00)
2. Perlite ($3.00-$12.00)
2. Pot or growing container WITHOUT drainage. ($2.00-$12.00)
3. Small Reservoir or 5 gallon bucket ($2.00-$120.00)
4. 1/4″ riser pipe, 6″ minimum length ($0.15-$0.99)
5. 1/2″ drip line QTY 8-10 feet ($2.40-$6.00)
6. 1/2″ barbs QTY 2 ($0.30-$1.50)
7. 1/2″ grommet QTY 2 ($0.40-$2.00)
8. 1/4″ drip line QTY 10 feet ($0.50-$2.00)
Drip System Overview9. 6 Zone Pressure Compensating Drip Emitter with 1/2″ FNPT QTY 1 ($2-$6)
10. 1/2″ female to 1/2″ barb adapter QTY 1 ($0.30-$1.20)
11. Adjustable Flow 1/4″ drip risers QTY 6 ($2.00-$6.00)
12. Water Pump – about 200gph ($10.00-$60.00)
13. 24 hour/7 day Outlet Timer [mechanical or digital] – ($2.99-$25.00 )
14. Air Pump ($4.99-$29.99)
15. Air stone ($0.99-$1.29)
16. 3-5 feet of 1/4″ airline ($0.99-$3.99)

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