Hydroponics. Where to start?

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Wallerville

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Hi, my name is Rick or Wallerville as my screen name indicates. I have been doing hydroponics for many years. Initially I got into it because I'm a chemist and I wanted to mix my own chemicals to make nutrients. My only reasoning behind that has to do with me being a nerd rather than some secretly hidden agenda.

I have used many types of hydroponic systems both outdoors, in my greenhouse, and in my indoor grow room. (Real men have man caves, chemical nerds have hydroponic grow rooms.)

Of late, since becoming a Penn State Certified Master Gardener, I have been helping local schools set up hydroponic systems for the students to learn from. Since most of these schools are on tight budgets, I have been working with a design I have become fond of using 2 liter soda bottles and inexpensive PVC pipe to make a simple, affordable system to help newcomers get there feet we so to speak.

I have no idea of what level of exposure the members here have to hydroponics so I'm not really sure where to start. So what I'll do is post a photo of the home made soda bottle system that fed the wife and me lettuce all winter from the greenhouse. Then, if anyone is interested we can have some discussions. Please note, I do not see myself as an end all source for hydroponics knowledge, just someone who has done it for a long time and had excellent results.
 

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Magus

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I'm to the PVC pipe/pea gravel/nutrient pump with grow lights level. but only just. I could use some tips as I'm thinking of making some mini greenhouses/starter sheds out of recycled refrigerators for some extra greenery. your lettuce has a nice, healthy color, what do you use?
 

Magus

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Cool. no idea what a tuscany is, but looks tasty. Do you repurpose soda bottles or old fish tanks in your set up? I found that a ten gallon terrarium makes a great starter area for the softer stemmed plants and are easy to transplant if you mix in 2-1 pea gravel into your starting mix. you can get peppers and tomatoes up to 10" tall in some aquarium rigs, well into the safe size for transplanting. if you use 2 liter bottles, using the same soil mix as in the terrarium makes them easy to dump out for transplanting.
 

Neb

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I worked with Bill Baurle of OSU who put together a test farm (see below)


They used drip irrigation with water coming from a collection pond. During the day sun light affected the pH of the water and his system had to adjust the pH dynamically as the day progressed. He told my controlling the pH was key to optimizing growth.

How do you keep your pH in control?
How often do you need to chech the pH?

Curious

Ben
 

Magus

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YOW! that is some elite equipment. I used to use those PH strips the 4H had in their soil test kits, but they quit selling them locally. most of what I grew liked base soil anyway.
 

Wallerville

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Hydroponics can be quite simple if you want it to be, or it can get complicated. At my age and level of experience I've downgraded myself to simple.

To start with plants need nutrients and light to grow, and of course, a suitable temperature. The system I showed above has the sole purpose of delivering the nutrients to the roots for a timed cycle continuously. And it provides the media to support the plant and roots. I have prepared a PDF which I have given out at the schools to build one of these units and if anyone is interested I can post that here. I have used and still use systems called Bato buckets (Dutch buckets) and Autopots, flood and drain trays, float systems, and I even have a unit called a Volksgarden which is a rotating vertical garden which can support 80 plants in a footprint 24" x 60". But in keeping with simple we should start with a simple soda bottle setup. The good thing to know is that whatever setup you use, the basic chemistry is the same and all of the principles that apply to one basically are the same for all.

Once you have addressed the mechanism to provide nutrients to the plants, you need to decide what type of medium you want to plant into. I like to start seeds indoors under a light in little rockwool cubes made for seed starting. These cubes, once the seeds have germinated and produce root hairs poking out of the bottom of the cubes, are transferred into the growing setup and put into the media you have chosen to support the roots.

Typical media to support plants include clay balls called hydroton, pea gravel, coco coir, or larger rockwool cubes.
I never use the larger rockwool cubes because they need replacement after each crop and that gets costly. The hydroton is also costly but it can be re-used after every crop by cleaning it of all the clinging roots and rinsing. Coco coir is excellent but finding the right type for hydroponic use has become difficult. The pea gravel, as in the type sold in bags at Home Depot, is heavy but works well and is re-useable.

Finally comes the nutrients the plants need. There are plenty of manufacturers making and selling pre mixed nutrient concentrates and, for the most part, they work well. I have always preferred to mix my own nutrients which requires a decent scale capable of weighing down to the gram for the nutrients and for the trace elements it gets harder because most don't have equipment to measure and dilute these ingredients to produce a trace element concentrate. The good news is all of these nutrients and trace nutrients are available from bulk suppliers by mail at prices well below the price a hydroponics specialty store sells them for.

In the spirit of keeping it simple, I like to grow plants now with natural sunlight, and if you have a south facing 48" window or sliding door the system pictured above can produce all winter long. Supplemental lighting is needed for some crops that need a lot of light like peppers and tomatoes because they need a longer day. Lettuce needs a little more than a mid winter day provides but the trade off is they grow slower but they still grow.

I'll close for now showing you my volksgarden which, is a bit more complicated but still works on the same principles. It is basically a ferris wheel rotating around a powerful light and irrigated as it passes through a sump which floods and drains with nutrients. It takes 45 minutes for this to rotate once.
 

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Wallerville

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How do you keep your pH in control?
How often do you need to chech the pH?
The pH is checked every 2 or 3 days if you want to push the nutrient beyond normal change out times. But this involves measuring the conductivity of the nutrient as well. All leading to a higher level of difficulty.

pH is lowered with an acid (I use nitric because I have access to it) or a store bought pH plus chemical which I rarely if ever need.
 

Wallerville

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Generally you want to use chemicals with a high solubility in water for hydroponics. Agricultural lime does not dissolve quickly in water. Great in soil, not in hydroponics in my experience.

I just tried to upload the PDF to detail making the soda bottle system for 14 planting sites and it is too large to upload. I'm going to need some help posting it here.
 

Magus

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Ah, I was combining soil with nutrient flushes.

To upload, go to where it says "attach files" I have uploaded in excess of 1000 pages without issues. Much more than that will likely have to be halved and uploaded as chapters
 

UrbanHunter

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Wow @Wallerville, great thread. I can see that you will be my go to guy for questions about hydroponics.

Several people also keep a gardening thread going, they start a new one each year because they just become overly long. The current one is
 

Wallerville

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For those of you wanting to grow tomatoes and peppers hydroponically the soda bottle system is too small, that is where systems like bato buckets come in. Same concept. Nutrients pumped up from a sump and soak through the medium, soaking the roots ad flowing out from the bottom neatly into a 1 1/2" PVC pipe returning the nutrient to the sump. There is a small reservoir in the bottom of the bucket which always stays full of nutrient. These bato buckets are in my greenhouse.

Since different plants have different requirements, you have to keep plants with similar needs together for nutrient distribution. Like tomato's are heavy feeders and lettuce not so heavy.
 

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Neb

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For those of you wanting to grow tomatoes and peppers hydroponically the soda bottle system is too small, that is where systems like bato buckets come in. Same concept. Nutrients pumped up from a sump and soak through the medium, soaking the roots ad flowing out from the bottom neatly into a 1 1/2" PVC pipe returning the nutrient to the sump. There is a small reservoir in the bottom of the bucket which always stays full of nutrient. These bato buckets are in my greenhouse.

Since different plants have different requirements, you have to keep plants with similar needs together for nutrient distribution. Like tomato's are heavy feeders and lettuce not so heavy.
Nice!

Is that your greenhouse?

Are all your systems ebb and flow?

If it is your greenhouse how are you keeping it from freezing over winter?

Funny but I just so happen to have 95% of the components you have used between my PVC cache and a couple of defunct grow operation I inherited from. :thumbs:

This topic interests me because The Princess (my better half) has tasked me with creating a greenhouse in an enclosed porch...

20220804_160307.jpg


20220804_160256_HDR.jpg


Two walls are exposed to the outside the other two walls have heated spaces adjacent.

Another crazy idea...

I acquired a 300 gallon tank years ago and I was thinking about including it to grow carp (aka gold fish). I have seen fish emulsion fertilizer as a good fertilizer.

What do think about incorporating a large fish tank into a hydrophobic system?

I am a TEOTWAKI guy always focused on no grid power.

Are you using active pumps to flood and are controlled by timers?

Curious,

Ben
 

Wallerville

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Ebb and flow is also known as flood and drain. And yes all my systems flood and drain.

The bato buckets are summer tomatoes in the greenhouse. Days are too short in winter for tomatoes.

I heat my greenhouse but only to 50°. It’s considered a cool greenhouse. Great for spinach, lettuce, kale, swiss chard, and beets. Also broccoli grows in a cool greenhouse but in soil and started in september. Broccolini too. I have soil and hydroponics in my greenhouse.

This winter put a min max thermometer in that space to see how cold it gets. Is a slab floor or a basement below? A 300 Gallon tank full of water and gravel goes about 3000 pounds. Can the floor handle it? How far up the inside wall does the sun go on winter? Is the inside wall in direct sun all summer? These questions determine if it will work as a full blown greenhouse.

What you have in mind is called aquaponics and it involves balancing the aquatic system and fish population with the plant load.

All my pumps are low voltage and can be run on solar. The cycles vary but for the soda bottles it’s 15 minutes on 45 minutes off. 24/7
 

jishinsjourney

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Thanks for the thread, @Wallerville! I have done a little hydroponics before, but it was a passive self-watering wicking system only, constructed out of a 17gallon Rubbermaid tub, the bottom of a Home Depot bucket, some energy drink bottles for wicks, and a landscape-cloth lined garden tray to hold the medium (a mix of coco coir, coco peat, and perlite).

Didn’t do much in the way of testing the nutrients, just topped them off every couple of weeks and made sure there was enough water in the system.

That said, it still worked phenomenally well. I had best results with tomatoes and eggplants and herbs.

I’m very interested in giving the system you posted here a whirl. It looks like a clay pebble medium? Can you seed into it directly, or do you need to use transplants?
 

joel

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I looked into an aquaponics system, because it does not take that much more
to grow fish or shellfish in a organic system.
But I do not like that 99% of the hydroponics are not organic.
 
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Magus

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But they CAN be! Very little of my set up was chemical, in fact, I may have something very useful to everyone trying it. My landlord got into boiling weeds before composting them, leaving behind this green soup. well one day before a freeze hit, he dumped his boiling barrel, the next spring the area he dumped his "weed slop" in had some of the prettiest and greenest plants you ever saw! Turns out he'd boiled out all the nutrients from the plants and they remained in the water, but he'd boiled a pickup bed full of weeds to get there, long story short, that gunk was super fertilizer! being liquid, one could easily infuse it into the network.
 

Wallerville

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I’m very interested in giving the system you posted here a whirl. It looks like a clay pebble medium? Can you seed into it directly, or do you need to use transplants?
I use clay pebbles or just coco coir. Love the coco coir but the way it used to come was as a long fibrous mass that held together, that was preferable. Today some companies buy it in bulk and shred it to small size and bag it and sell it uncompressed. That form is not desirable. But yes clay pebbles work well.

I have never seeded directly into a hydroponics system, I always start my plants in small rock wool cubes which are sold in sheets of, I believe, 96 cubes. You can also start plants in soil and when they get large enough, shake off the soil and bury the roots in the planting medium. Both methods work.
 

jishinsjourney

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I use clay pebbles or just coco coir. Love the coco coir but the way it used to come was as a long fibrous mass that held together, that was preferable. Today some companies buy it in bulk and shred it to small size and bag it and sell it uncompressed. That form is not desirable. But yes clay pebbles work well.

I have never seeded directly into a hydroponics system, I always start my plants in small rock wool cubes which are sold in sheets of, I believe, 96 cubes. You can also start plants in soil and when they get large enough, shake off the soil and bury the roots in the planting medium. Both methods work.
Great, thank you! Much appreciated.
 

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