Don't know where the info is, I gr8ly appreciate any help

jfd986January 30, 2011

This looks like the absolute most cost-effective thing I've ever seen:

I'm very curious and enthusiastic to just macgyver together a hydroponics system for growing vegetables. Well, herbs first, I figure vegetables are "tougher", if anyone knows which is tougher or why then please let me know.

I don't know why I'm suddenly into planting, possibly because I turned vegan a few days ago (who knows how long that'll last) and this is like the vegan equivalent of going out and hunting/killing something, which to me seemed totally badass when I was eating meat but I never did it. Realization of dreams as an omnivore on a vegan level. There.

So I have a few questions about this youtube video:

1) Can anyone summarize how water is supposed to flow? What maintenance is involved? I don't understand why that pipe is in there, and where the water goes...

2) I wanna do this INDOORS. What extra equipment would I need besides what's shown in the video? I live in ATL and have full access to heating and A/C if that makes a difference. I also have windows, can I use them? What if I don't have windows? Let's run the math without windows, which brings me to the third question...

3) What's it gonna run me in extra electricity to have a hydroponics setup like this one, versus soil, indoors? In the answer please include the costs of any additional equipment suggested so that I know for sure a total number. Is it cheaper to just use dirt? I don't wanna use dirt, my parents use dirt all the time and it falls, it's cleanup, it collects bugs, I dunno I'm just trying to avoid it. Am I trying to avoid it for the wrong reasons?

Any help , preferably with all these questions so that I can start ordering stuff off amazon, would be greatly appreciated. If you guys have other, cheaper, more practical and efficient hydroponics solutions ppllleeasssee let me know, because ultimately I'm trying to do what is minimal to let vegetables grow healthy and fresh, for less cost than dirt.

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Hello jfd986,
I don't have a lot of time right now but will try to help.

1. The system on the video is a water culture system. The water moves (within the reservoir) because of the air bubbles coming from the air stone/s.

1.b. Typically a water culture system takes the least maintenance. But as with any system, regular pH checks is recommend. There is many different opinions on nutrients. Nutrient levels, when to change etc., and of course all of that would be biased on the plants grown.

1.C. I'm not sure what you mean by the pipe you mention. I assume you are referring to the air stone/s. There is no water that flows through there, only air from the air pump should flow through them. All the water remains in the container (like in a bathtub).

2. The only real difference between growing inside and outside, is that outside you have access to using the sun for lighting. Instead of needing artificial lighting (when sunlight is not an option). However plants grown outside are exposed to the elements, and that includes daytime highs and nighttime lows. Both the leaves (foliage), and root systems should be kept from extreme temps. What equipment needed to do this depends on many factors. Including the temp range that your dealing with, as well as all the other environmental factors and exactly how the system was built.

3. This is probably the most common question, but the most complicated. Everybody's situation and setups are different. But growing outside should reduce your costs significantly because you wont need to buy and run lights. However if you live in an area that's real cold, and require a green house and heaters, that is also another environmental factor. But hydro typically takes about one tenth the water to grow in soil. With soil you will be buying potting soil, and soil amendments, as well as fertilizers etc..

With hydroponics the fertilizers are what feeds the plants (and in soil you'll likely be paying for anyway (miracle-gro etc.)). What you use for a growing medium can vary greatly, and may be a major factor in the design of the system. But in soil you will likely be buying potting soil, and soil amendment's anyway (peat moss, top soil, mulch, etc.). If you only plan to use the system once, it likely wont pay for itself. But if you use it over and over, hydroponics is a cheaper and better option than soil in general.

Designing your system for the plants you want to grow, with room for expansion, as well as reuse (and maintenance in mind) is key to efficacy. But that all starts with being reasonable with deciding on the space you have to grow, what you plan to grow (grow things you eat the most, and you pay the most for first in general first), and the resources that you have to work with.

Once you decide what you want to grow? How many you want to grow? Weather you will be growing inside or outside? Then you can begin to think about a parts list of materials needed to accomplish that.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2011 at 3:13AM
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Okay well let's say I want to plant strawberries, bell peppers, coriander and lettuce indoors. Where would I be able to find out what nutrients I'd need, and what the uh...ppm and ph and correct lighting is supposed to be? What do you mean by reusing? I plan to do this year round, but I thought that once you got the berries or the vegetable the plant died? How often do they give fruit? I've never planted anything before.

Which one should I try first ? I'm thinking I shouldn't be over ambitious otherwise I might have a bunch of dead plants on my hands. The plan was to make 6 holes in a plastic box ( or crowd it and make ten) and grow one (or two) of each plant. What do you guys think?

    Bookmark   January 31, 2011 at 8:20AM
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one caveat HH, if you compare hydroponics to container gardening (growing plants in soil in containers) you won't see that dramatic a difference in water consumption. hydro versus growing in the ground will be substantial.

grow the strawberries and the bells in seperate containers. you can probably grow the coriander and lettuce together. google can be your friend finding various concentrations. another option is use the forum search function here. (at the bottom of the main hydro page)
Honestly, if you're never grown anything before, I think you should just grow a tomato plant in a bucket of dirt first I would probably go with a 1/1/1 blend of potting soil, pine bark, and vermiculite. hydroponics will add another level of complexity to gardening. Not that its too complex; just that a person with absolutely zero gardening experience will have enough to experience the first go around without adding in said complexity.
If you have a nice sunny southfacing window, it will grow okay with just that. otherwise, I would recommend growing it outside for your first run. no need to add extra expense if you decide you don't like it.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2011 at 9:10AM
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Grizzman your concern is noted, and I should have qualified what I said earlier. I have never planted any vegetables hydroponically before. However, I have personally grounded and watered countless numbers of flowers, jalapeno peppers and strawberry/other plants outside at the behest of my parents. Though my job was mostly labour, I followed the plants enough to understand basic principles of time, water, lighting, soil, and yield. The reason I'm trying to do hydroponics here is that my parents (mother especially) love gardening and getting food etc. but I'm much more of a scientist (I'm currently in med school. This does not give me any experience or ability points, I'm just trying to show my personality a little) and I believe in high yields and controlled environments...and I hate when bugs come and eat plants. That's just annoying. This is why an indoor DWC is appealing to me.

Alright so I'll get two containers, two airstones (do I need two pumps or can I run two pipes into one pump?), and I'll cut 6 holes in each...I'm thinking they'll sit on one shelf of a steel hardware shelving unit, and I'll put strawberries in one, and coriander/lettuce/peppers in the other (I'm just guessing here that fruit is more troublesome than vegetables, drawing on my experience finding many chewed up or undesirable strawberries in my garden back home). Will they each need different lights and light fixtures?

And nobody has answered the question about the electricity bill. What's the bill going to be, guys? Monthly? Right now its' $30/month with me just being a student, how about after all this gets started ? And how do I use one plant to regrow, how often does say a strawberry plant bear fruit, do I have to replant it? Where is all the information for all of this located? I'm going to try the search function, and google, but any info that could save me some trial and error would be much appreciated.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2011 at 10:09AM
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simple math:400W X 24 hours / 1000 (watts to kilowatts) X $0.10 per kilowatthour= approx. $1/day.
a 400W MH will run you in the range of $200.
As for strawberries, you can buy day neutral varieties that'll keep producing year round (at some point they'll max out, but I don't know that point) or june bearing. they fruit for a few weeks then need a cooling cycle to reset them to bear fruit.
As for what grows together, Its not really about fruiting or not, just that some plants like more of certain nutrients (or stronger solutions) than others.
It's good to know you have a scientific foundation. you'll want to keep your nutrient pH in the range of 6.0-ish. for some people (like me) this is easy to do. Others have to constantly adjust. It really depends on your water.
As for plant spacing, I generally go with 8 X about 10 for peppers (sweet though), berries, and leafy stuff. I think bells are bigger though so that may not be enough.
Re reuse, HH was stating that many of the components in the system can be reused again and again so there's no waste to the landfill. With most plants, eventually you reach a point of diminishing returns so you'll want to replant a fresh crop.
I think I addressed what you asked, but feel free to ask more. Its so easy to miss something when reading posts.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2011 at 10:40AM
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Two hundred dollars for a metal halide bulb? Did you mean twenty dollars ? like that one?

$1 a day is not bad, but do I really have to keep the light on for 24 hours? Don't plants need to release the CO2 at night, or something like that? Cellular respiration?

I think I'm going to hold off on the strawberries as I found out from previous posters that they are trouble in DWC, I'll wait until I've had success with the others since I think it would be wise in this endeavour to avoid any immediate discouragement that can be avoided.

So with these plants, how often would I have to :

1) Change the water
2) Add nutrients (Are there instructions on the bag for that? Should I just comb through previous posts?)
3) Water them (Do they even need watering?)
4) Expect them to yield edibles

Also can you guys suggest an air pump for a two-bit operation like this? I'm going to look it up and then use the same calculation grizzman used to figure how much it costs to plug that in and add for a total.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2011 at 7:04PM
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"Two hundred dollars for a metal halide bulb? Did you mean twenty dollars ?"

Plus you need a ballast that you screw the bulb into.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2011 at 2:29AM
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I guess it came out wrong, it was late and I needed to get to bed. I meant that growing in soil generally takes about ten times more water than growing hydroponically. With soil you pour water on them and it all drains down through the earth (pots etc.), that takes continual watering (often daily). Where hydroponics makes use of all the water in the system (unless it's a run to waist type system). So really the only water used is what the plants drink, and some evaporation (depending on location and setup design).

I simply cant tell you how much it will cost to build and run the system that you decide to build. That's why I wanted to explain all the variables to consider when making a decision. If you decide to use a water culture system that only uses one or two air pumps, you wont notice anything on your electric bill. Unless you decide to grow inside, then you would need to factor in the cost to run the lights as well for the same plants.

Bottom line
* Water pumps, timers, and air pumps cost almost nothing to run, unless you are using a lot of them.

* Lights I would go with what grizzman said with respect to cost to run, I don't use lights myself, I grow in sunlight (its cheaper that way). But you would need to factor in the cost of equipment. It isn't just the cost of the bulb. As bbrush said there's the cost of the ballast, and metal halide, and High pressure sodium ballasts are not interchangeable to the best of my knowledge. So if you are needing both type, for different phases of plant growth, well that adds up. Also you will need a light reflector to direct the light down to your plants.

* The cost to build the system depends on how you build it, how elaborate you want it, as well as what the cost of the materials you need are. What type of system you decide on etc..

I can tell you that I built a system using 4, 5 gallon buckets for the plants, a 18 gallon reservoir, all the tubing and parts needed to build it, including the water pump and timer, even both black and white spray paint to light proof the system (as well as the growing medium), for under $100. But again I use natural light so I get great growth, without needing to buy expensive lighting (much less the cost to run them). This system cost just about nothing in electricity to run, and I had 4 large broccoli plants growing for about 6 months in it.

do I really have to keep the light on for 24 hours?
No, the lights don't need to be on 24/7. Everybody has a different lighting cycle for their plants, and they often change the on/off times (cycle) as the plants grow. Some plants like more light than others do, so lighting cycles should depend on the plants you grow.

1) Change the water
Here everybody has their own preferences. Some change it once a week, some ever other week, some once a month, and others change it once or twice a year. The size of the reservoir, as well as the size of the plants is a big factor in those decisions as well. I personally chance it between one week and one month. There are a lot of variables in my decision, and I always pay attention to how the plants look.

2) Add nutrients (Are there instructions on the bag for that? Should I just comb through previous posts?)
Again here everybody has their own preferences, and each situation is unique to that situation. I'm not sure what nutrients you plan to use, but any manufacture of hydroponic nutrients should have mixing directions with the product (and online as well). But generally you can mix them a little weaker than the manufacture directions. There is also a difference in how strong they should be depending on size of the plants, but manufactures list that as well, they refer to it as the growth phase.

3) Water them (Do they even need watering?)
Every plant needs water, so I'm not sure what you mean. Are you asking if you need to hand water them? That would depend on how you designed and built your system. But that's why people use pumps in the first place, so the watering cycle is automated. In the case of a water culture system, the roots are always in the water, and the air pump provides much needed oxygen, and air bubbles to the roots so they don't suffocate.

4) Expect them to yield edibles
I must of mist it, I'm not sure what plants you decided to grow after all. But generally speaking about the same as growing in soil. They will probably (and likely) grow a little faster than in soil. It all depends on how well you control the growing environment, that makes a big difference in both plant health, as well as yield. The better the conditions, the faster the plants grow.

Any pet supply store will carry air pumps (and air stones) in the fish tank department. You can get an air pump designed for a 30 to 60 gallon fish tank at Wal-Mart for about $12 (air stones $2-$3). If you are planing to build a big water culture system and more air output, they do make high output air pumps, starting for about $80 and up that you can find online.

P.S. I have some good links to strawberry information, but you say you decided not to grow them after all, so I guess I wont post them after all. If you want to keep track of the electricity costs get a Kill-A-Watt, you can get them at almost any home improvement store inexpensively. They will tell you exactly how much each electrical device is costing to run. You just need to know how much you pay per kilowatt hr (that's on your electric bill), and is programmable into the device.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2011 at 5:21AM
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I bought a twin output pump at wally for $20. It puts out more air than I need in a single reservoir. I'm sure it'll amply aerate two reservoirs for you.
Don't forget to cut in a drain in the bottom of the reservoirs. if your plants get large, it'll make changing the nutes a lot easier. Also, a small hole in the top plus a funnel makes adding fresh nutes and water a breeze.
If you're not going to use an EC meter, I wouldn't go more than one month without changing nutrients. and probably more like two weeks when the plants get big. It used to be the general rule was change the nutrient when you added back as much water to the rez as was originally in there.
(i.e. with a 5 gallon rez after you top a fresh batch off with 5 gallons of water, it's time to change the solution)

    Bookmark   February 1, 2011 at 9:09AM
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Wow, lots of great info here.

I do plan on using a meter for EC, pH and ppm if it's possible to buy a meter that does all that.

I'll check out that twin pump. I was planning on growing coriander, lettuce and bell peppers. Strawberry-growing links would be appreciated as I would save them for when I feel brave enough to attempt them in a DWC system.

What is light proofing? If I have east and west-facing windows then can I use natural light to grow the plants, and if so then in which window?

    Bookmark   February 1, 2011 at 5:17PM
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I would recommend at least having the pH drops even if you buy a pH meter. pH drops don't need to be calibrated, and have regular maintenance to give accurate results. And even if you do have a pH meter it's a good idea to have the drops on hand so you can dubble check the readings the meter gives if there is any question. Though I just use the drops, because they are way cheaper (less than $8 for drops made by General Hydroponics), and more reliable. Just the calibration fluid needed for the meter cost more than the drops. But that's my preference.

They do make 3 in one meters, but they are not cheep (at least in my opinion). You could easily spend $200-$300 on meters, weather a 3 in one, or separately (not to mention the calibration fluids). For someone on a budget, that's a good chunk of money. I have grown for 2 years, with nothing other than the pH drops. I can built a lot of systems and grow a lot of plants, buy a lot of nutrients etc. with that kind of money.

When I mentioned light proofing, I'm referring to blocking any light that might otherwise get inside system. Like inside the reservoir, or even in the buckets that hold the roots (anywhere the water is in the system). Algae needs water, food and light to grow. Of coarse you have water in the system, and the nutrients provide plenty of food, so blocking the light is the only thing left.

If the containers are not completely light proof on their own (as most of mine aren't), I spray the outside with black paint to completely block all the light. Then because my plants are outside in direct sunlight, the black will absorb heat. So I cover the black paint with white paint to reflect as much of the suns rays as possible. That helps keep the root zone, and nutrient solution temperatures down. Just any cheep spray paint that sticks to plastic will do.

I always like to use natural light to grow everything, but I grow outside. So how much light gets inside the windows is important if your not planing to supplement with artificial lighting. Lettuce doesn't take as much light as peppers. Peppers like as much light as possible, and lettuce is a low light requirement plant. Also lettuce likes low temperatures, and peppers like warm temps. So they probably wont both do well in the same spot. I would put the peppers in a spot that gets the most light possible, and try to keep the air temp about 85 degrees. The lettuce I would put in a place that gets good light (even indirect light is good for lettuce), but some shade as well. And I would try to keep the air temp for the lettuce in the low 70's.

Strawberry links
If you have the money there is a book called "Hydroponic strawberry production" by Dr. Lynette Morgan (it runs about $60) that will give you everything you could possible want, and/or need to know about growing strawberry hydroponically. It is on my list of need to buy books myself. You can also find it in Google books.

Berry Bonanza: Growing Indoor Strawberries(by Dr. Lynette Morgan)

This forum wont allow the link to the growing edge for this next one, so do it this way. Copy and paste this: ( "Guide for growing hydroponic strawberries" By Dr. Lynette Morgan. Ph.D ) exactly the way I have it between the ( ) marks into the search bar of your browser. It's the first one on the list that comes up for me in Yahoo. It should be a 2000 to 3000 word article on growing hydroponic strawberry, and it's another article By Dr. Lynette Morgan. If you cant find it I will give you my email, and I can send you the link and text document I have saved to my computer.

Some of these refer to growing with soil, but a lot of the information such as plant characteristics, and pest management are still relevant to hydroponic plants.
Yield and Quality of Greenhouse-grown Strawberries
Strawberry Plug Plant Production
Biological Control for Insect Management in Strawberries1
The Development and Demonstration of an Outdoor Hydroponic Specialty Crop

I have more, including one study on hydroponic strawberry's that shows yields between one and two pounds per plant for different cultivators. But I cant find the live link anymore for that one. Anyhow that should get you going for now anyway.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2011 at 7:28PM
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Cool, definitely will have a lot of reading to do before starting on those strawberries.

If I'm trying to grow two different types of plants, how can I regulate the temperature at which they're growing if they're indoors and hydroponic? I thought you could just sit them on a shelf and put them under a it just that lower temperature means set the light higher, and higher temperature means set the light lower?

Also, how do I measure the temperature? Thermometer in the net pot ? I imagined I'd be able to just set this stuff on a hardware shelving unit and put on the light and check periodically and let it grow, but if I have to buy a grow tent then that's going to be too much hassle.

So yeah, how do I regulate temperature without buying an enclosure and putting the plants in it ?

    Bookmark   February 1, 2011 at 7:37PM
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Growing indoors is easy to regulate temps, outside is much harder. Growing inside you can just set your thermostat to what you want. If you want the room to be cooler you can close the heating vents, open window and let cool air in etc. The mid 70's for most people is just about room temperature. If you don't want to heat the whole house or mess with closing and opening vents, a small space heater near the plants will warm just the area that you want warmer.

The space heater can be used with a timer, so it's not running all the time. I would set the heater on low and make sure it's in a safe place so it wont tip over or something falling on it that might catch fire. I have a small portable hair dryer on a timer outside (under a clear plastic painters drop cloth) that's helping to keep the seedlings I have outside warm at night.

Depending on the type of lights, and room temp, adjusting the height of the lights may be all that's needed. Although the farther away the lights are, you loose more and more of that light intensity your paying for on the electric bill also. But how much heat the lights put out is definitely a factor in how close they can be to the plants. Different types of lights, as well as lighting setups put out different amounts of heat. You can also use a fan near the plants to help circulate the heat away from the plants. That combined with whatever the room temp is without the lights is a factor in weather they either help or hurt the situation.

If it's in a cold garage or basement, the lights will help warm it up. If it's in a room of the house that's already in the mid 70's, and that's the desired temp for the particular plants, the lights will just add more heat to the room and plants. But if the desired temp is 85 and the starting room temp is in the mid 70's, the lights might just warm it up to the perfect temp (or at least closer depending on the size of the room).

But most lettuce plants tend to bolt and want to seed in warm temperatures. And most pepper plants wont grow very fast or want to fruit in cool temps. That's why I say they probably wont both do well in the same spot (as well as their different light requirements).

As for monitoring the temperatures. That's simple, just get two fish tank thermometers at the pet store. I got mine at Wal-Mart for about $2 each. Just make sure you get the regular glass and mercury type, and not the stickers you stick to the glass. The glass and mercury type seem to be much more accurate, and much easier to read. Take one of them and attach it to a stick and set it near the tops of the plants. That one will give you the air temp near near the foliage of the plant. Then take the other one and attach a string to it (I just tied it around the suction cup), and drop it in the nutrient reservoir. That one will tell you the temp of your nutrient solution. The optimum range for the nutrient solution is between 68 and 72-75 degrees.

"So yeah, how do I regulate temperature without buying an enclosure and putting the plants in it ?"

* Setting the room tempature with the thermostat.
* Opening and/or closing heating vents.
* Opening and/or closing windows.
* Portable space heaters.
* portable fans to circulate air around the plants.
* Adjusting the light height.

Whatever is easiest for you, and your situation. I don't see a need for any type of tent unless your growing outside in cold temps. But if you do decide to grow outside or in a unheated garage that gets real cold, a simple frame made of pvc tubing (or inexpensive wood, like 1x2's) covered with a 1-2 mil plastic drop cloth is simple and inexpensive to do.

P.S. I also have some greenhouse design plans that I have gathered over time (because I will be building one, or two eventually). They range from simple and inexpensive, as well as easy to build to any size, to much larger commercial setups. Just in case you were considering growing outside in the future, and needing a greenhouse like that.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2011 at 2:25AM
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