My system coming together w/pics

charlielittle(7)February 10, 2008

Working at a feverish pace to get my patio greenhouse up and re-start the old gutter airlift hydroponic system! These pics show the inlet/outlet area...inlet is inserted 1" and outlet is 3/4" (both are 1-1/4" dia. pvc pipe). The wrap-around patio 60' of guttering is exactly level so it's a simple matter of airlift nutrient solution being fed through by natural flow of in/out.

What makes an airlift work? The inlet pipe extends to 1-3/4" off the bottom of the old chest freezer. An air stone is extended 3" into the bottom of the inlet pipe. When bubbling, the column of water inside the inlet pipe becomes saturated with bubbles, thus making it lighter than the water in the freezer reservoir that by gravity, tries to constantly fill the "void" in the inlet pipe, forcing the aerated water up and out the inlet pipe. They require no filters since there is nothing to clog and aerate the water being moved.

The General Hydroponics Dual Diaphragm Air Pump provides minimal bubbling/flow (sadly disappointed!) from one outlet at 28" depth of water so I opted to use it for aerating the gutter row and am powering the airlift with an old refrigerator compressor powered by a 1/4hp electric motor. This compressor uses a lubricating oil internally so I built a filter/separator out of a quart mason jar to catch any oil that might bleed through. Don't know the exact gpm flow rate yet but it lifts a good amount of water and will likely have to be toned down a bit! I will lose airlift when reservoir level drops 10 inches so that's approx. 25-30 gallons of use before any refill worries.

Since I have such a long run of guttering, another airline is fed throughout the tail-end 30' or so with an air stone about every 2' to aerate solution which might be otherwise oxygen starved from front section roots.

I had previously posted about making several rows of guttering but opted to make this wrap-around configuration to allow for space in the center of the patio which will get screened in come warm weather. The freezer and gutter rows will be covered to keep light out and plants will be set soon!

Have four varieties of tomato, snap peas, onions, lettuce, spinach, yellow squash and asparagus started in the cups. Some will go out in the dirt, some will go in the hydro system. Haven't decided on a root anchor media yet but have 3" net pots. Big plants will be supported mainly by strings to rafters. I can't wait to get this baby finished! Any comments, critiques and/or suggestions are appreciated.

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Wow thats the way to grow. I love a properly done home set-up. Shows how easy it is to grow hydro. I would stay away from the tom's and squash as it will be a pain to support. I love the clay pebbles and rapid rooters. They seem to work well for me. Rockwool always seems to mess up ph and when you start with seed you just end up with a dead seedling. I would look into an aquarium store for a good power head. They are fairly cheap and can push up a good supply of water. look at

    Bookmark   February 11, 2008 at 1:35AM
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Thanks for sharing about the airlift - never heard of it but sounds like a great idea for me to try sometime!

    Bookmark   February 14, 2008 at 7:11AM
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You're very welcome! Airlifts are cool...

Update on progress...The following pic shows I scored some free white vinyl siding from the city recycle area and it just happened to form a perfect cap for the guttering when trimmed in the grooves made for fitting in home construction. Painted the underside black with Krylon Fusion Spraypaint.

Can't remember where I saw the little foam plugs on some fella's website but it seemed to work well enough for him so I had this small sheet of 1" closed cell plastic foam stuff and used a sharpened piece of metal pipe to push out 100 plugs, slit them a little past center with a razor blade and they make a nice snug fit into the 100 holes cut with a 1" wood boring bit. The method used was to insert started seedlings into the foam piece and plug the hole.

Wife really pushed me hard to grow mainly strawberries so bored all the holes 6" apart...can always just leave a hole or two plugged if more spacing is needed eh!

    Bookmark   February 14, 2008 at 2:09PM
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Really nice looking setup. Thanks for the tip on using vinyl siding to cap the tops of the gutters. I have previously used blue foam insulation cut to fit. I like the vinyl better.
only critiques I have are:
you said the airlift will only lift the water about 10". it seems like a lot of excess nutrient to fill that entire old chest freezer with water if the top 10" is all you're essentially using.
seems like a lot of aerating to keep so much standing nutrient oxygenated. if you could put a "T" in your airlift system, then you could feed 2 - 30' sections and cut the distance the aerator needs to operate in half.
could you post a picture of your oil seperator and fridge compressor?

    Bookmark   February 14, 2008 at 3:07PM
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Not sure I understand the airlift comment. When the water level drops 10" in the freezer, the airlift stops being able to supply water through the inlet so yes, basically the top ten inches gets used but with the fall of the outlet being above water level and the airlift inlet being at the bottom, the whole reservoir is circulated. I suppose a fella could get by with a smaller reservoir, just need it to be deeper than wide so you have the gravity pressure to feed the airlift pipe. I used this for a minnow tank awhile back and like it due to the insulation properties. 120 gallons is a lot of water though! So if it turns out I do have to replace the batches ever so often, there is plenty of outdoor garden and plants I can use it on. Ecogrow does say on the box it's good for hydro or garden plants.

Pics below of jar oil separator (no oil yet after a couple days test running)...and old compressor that was left on a construction job site by the work crew. They tore the old power cord off and so I figured they didn't want it any more! New cord and it works fine. Reason I rigged the jar was because the compressor did bleed through a considerable amount of oil as I was letting it run in the shop for several days to test it but it seems to have stopped for the moment...oil level must have been too high.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2008 at 3:33PM
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Freezer sprung a leak. Glad it did now and not later! So I replaced it with a 18 gallon ice chest for now. Can add additional reservoir behind it and hook into the drain if more nutrients are desired.

So now it works fine with the Dual Diaphragm Air Pump from General Hydroponics. Nice bubbly!

    Bookmark   February 16, 2008 at 8:22PM
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OK dangit I couldn't wait and put a couple of seedings in the system. Will they live? I hope so. Spinach and Super Sweet Sugar Snap Pea...

    Bookmark   February 17, 2008 at 5:56PM
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I got sugar peas in the dirt garden - they're good.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 10:40PM
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It's a week later and the same plants along with a baby lettuce. Plants seem to be doing fine so far. Tied some climbing strings for the peas and waiting for strawberries to arrive...

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 10:00AM
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Dolphin AV-150 Air Pump. Running the gutter hydro airlift, 30 feet of hose with 15 airstones, a bubbler 5gal bucket experiment and still 2 1/2 valves open to reduce back pressure on the diaphragm! Need more buckets!

My brother, who has been staying in Florida for several weeks at a back surgery institute came home this last weekend. He has always been an avid outdoor gardener but has of late been very limited in his activities. Asked what I've been up to...

Needless to say, he loved this setup immediately and started talking about greenhouses full of rows, lol! Looks like we might be going into business together soon. My dad would also have loved it being an old greenhouse grower himself and always coming up with some new or different thing. I'll never forget the night he woke us all up at 2am because he melted a big hole in the side of the greenhouse from failing to shut the damper on his huge wood burner with hot water tanks welded together the whole length of the house for heating...

Anyway...air to spare! When we expand I've got a blower from the old sewer plant with a 2" outlet!

    Bookmark   February 25, 2008 at 6:25PM
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Greening up! First pic is spinach, second is mixture of strawberries, lettuce, peas and one lonely squash there on the right that will probably be evicted soon and the third is more peas.

Lettuce does not like being squeezed at all in the foam plugs that were just slit with a razor. Most of them died within a day or two of transplanting. So after realizing the strawberries were not even going to fit in the plugs and then in the holes, I put a piece of aluminum arrow shaft in my drill and cut a hole in the center of all the foam plugs except for the peas which don't seem to mind the foam at all. All lettuce transplants in this new hole are doing fine and the spinach seems to have doubled in size. They both just rest in the holes on their first set of leaves.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2008 at 6:23PM
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I'm very impressed with hydroponics! Honestly have never seen any snap pea plant I've ever grown put out laterals at the bottom of the plant at the first node! Thought I was a fairly good gardener. All my peas are doing this and I had not planned on it so really don't know what I'm gonna do with all the side growth.

Buddy of mine came over today and was blown away. Said those were the best tasting leaves of spinach he had ever eaten. We even ate some leaves off the pea plants and they taste just like I remember snap peas tasting! Ever had a pea leaf salad? LOL!

    Bookmark   March 11, 2008 at 8:56PM
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I hadn't seen this thread when I commented on your other thread about the air lift. LOL
Yep I definitely think you might be really interested in Aquaponics if you check it out. Great for greenhouse culture.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2008 at 1:35PM
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you can eat snap pea leaves? didn't know that... are they good? Thanks for keeping the pics coming charlie.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2008 at 11:35PM
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Well I never had before the other day and it was good. Even the missus said it was good and that says a lot, lol! The past couple of days my plants have gone crazy growing. Leaves are doubled in size, deep green. Strawberries seem to have come to life overnight. It was 95 degrees in the greenhouse when I came in from work today and the peas seemed to be a bit wilted till I turned on the fan. Going to replace some plastic panels with screen tomorrow...and take more pics!

    Bookmark   March 15, 2008 at 12:31AM
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Added seven pics to My Flickr! today. Took some plastic down and replaced it with bug screen. Had a fresh spinach and pea leaf salad with garlic croûtons and ranch! Changed nutrient solution and tidied up around the patio a bit. Not a bad day.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2008 at 7:55PM
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Your greenhouse is beautiful! I wish mine was as nice. Allow me to ask a couple of questions to achieve that goal!

1) Your plastic film covering your greenhouse is almost clear, or at least clear enough so that you can see through it. What is the name of it and where would I get some? Mine's opaque and casts a shadow, indicating that it is blocking a serious amount of light.

2) You are the poster who lives in the south, right? How do you fight the massive heat generated in the daytime, while at the same time give protection from the cold of the nighttime? My small (12'x14') greenhouse is incapable of sustaining plantlife without personal effort that I'm increasingly unable to give it. Both sides of the greenhouse must be opened in the morning for the fans to keep it cool enough, and conversely both sides must be sealed tight at night for the 1500 watt heater to pack enough punch to keep the plants warm.

It looks like the chances of freezing are over, but they'll be back next December. If you could share how you combat heat and cold, I'd love to read it.


    Bookmark   March 15, 2008 at 10:28PM
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4 year 6 mil Greenhouse Film from Grower's Solution

Been doing pretty much the same as you. It gets hot in there during the day. Since the patio is attached to the house I have been leaving the back door into the greenhouse open with a fan set in the doorway to pull the cooler air out of the house during the day, At night an electric heater.

Maybe taking a chance putting screen up so soon, only on the south wall but with temps climbing into the 70's outside, it's 95 in the greenhouse regardless of my fan blowing and air conditioner on in the house. Aside from the tomatoes, all the rest of the plants don't mind the cool so much so maybe I'll be ok. If it looks like a freeze is coming I'll staple that wall of plastic back on.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2008 at 5:46AM
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Excellent stuff Charlie...keep the picks comming. What nutrients do you use ?

    Bookmark   March 17, 2008 at 3:49AM
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I'm using EcoGrow in the 5lb. box from Ecogrow Enterprises

After mixing the nutrient powder with my water the ph is 5.4 so I add 1tsp baking soda per 5gal which raises it to 6.0. It pretty much stays there for a couple weeks then I change out solution. Ecogrow says it's good for soil garden plants too so I'm saving my change out to water outside when stuff greens up. Have lots of thornless blackberries and roses to try it on.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2008 at 7:35AM
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I have a comment about keeping your greenhouse cool. I have seen various makes and models all functioning essentially the same way. U can make a smaller scale one yourself. Have u ever seen those gigantic fans like a warehouse fan? They take and fabricate these hard cardboard like fins and pass water over or though them via a waterhose connection. The fan is coupled to the 'fins' directly so that all the air that the fan 'brings in' has to pass thru these fins. The fan it's self usuall 10 to 18 inches away so as not to cause a water/electricity incident. In the end the cool air those babies put off with a simple fan and water hose will astonish you. They actuall can bring a room down to about 58 degrees or cooler but I don't think you yourself would want that.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2008 at 11:04AM
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they're more like giant radiator grills. typically you sink you water reservoir about 2 feet into the ground (at the top) to let the earth keep it cool. they will cool the inside of your greenhouse 15°-20° but the humidity will skyrocket.
you'd be better off using a large opening near the roof and smaller openings near the floor. that'll use convection to draw in cool air of the earth and discharge the warm stuff up high.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2008 at 1:36PM
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Vents near the floor, and vents in the roof. I've wondered, if piping buried underground to help cool the air even further would be more effective, going up into those vents on the bottom sides of the house. Just put screen on both ends to keep out critters, and put the ends at an angle so that water can't get in them.

Somewhere I read / was told that the romans used this form of "air conditioning".

We're talking a hundred bucks or so, but I've seen solar powered roof vents in greenhouse catalogs, that you can set the temperature they open at - would possibly automate the system?

    Bookmark   March 17, 2008 at 10:12PM
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I've thought about that too. you need to maximize surface contact with the earth. I was thinking hvac duct with fins of a sort sticking off of it.
Make sure its deep enough to harness the coolness of the earth. I think 2 ft down is well enough.
you need to control corrosion of the metal. I was thinking put it under your crawlspace. thats an area that should never really get wet.
I really like the idea of natural ventilation (and heating for that matter), but cost can be prohibitive.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2008 at 11:07PM
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Currently I live in a double-wide mobile home, not on a foundation but positioned on blocks - so there is a crawl space about 3 feet high under the entire house. I've been thinking about, when I do an outdoor system, of either partly burying the reservoir, or, putting a door in the crawl space covering for easy access to the reservoir under there. Why? Because every time I take off a panel and get back in there a little bit, even here in FL it feels like the cool air from my parent's basement in PA. Therefore yes, a crawl space and/or underground would be a great place to get air or cool air down before letting it naturally flow into your greenhouse.

I would imagine that with the notable temperature differences between the greenhouse roof and extra-cool air coming in below, that air flow would be much faster.

I really want to get a book and read about greenhouses, especially FL greenhouses.

And yes I suppose that a metal tube would cool the air faster than a plastic tube would... seems it would anyways.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2008 at 10:28AM
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Live and learn...and I should have perhaps listened to other's experiences. No pics of this but is what happened. I go out in the greenhouse after work yesterday and see a wet floor. My nutrient is coming in fine and well but is not flowing and backing up in the system, dripping out on the floor in several places, namely among the spinach and behind the first couple of snap peas. The root balls had gotten so thick my solution wouldn't flow. I pulled em all! Left the strawberries though as that was my main purpose. Wonder how big their roots will get? Rain gutter is not acceptable for plants which grow lots of roots.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2008 at 4:19PM
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Hi charlielittle,

Sorry to hear that rain gutters are too small...
You may want to try and salvage the setup by setting the gutters so they flow a little faster the meantime I wonder what could be used that is a bit bigger. One guy was using a large drainage pipe.... too big I think and you may want to check the toxcicity of the plastics being used. You could have someone bend up some larger gutters for you out of aluminum.


    Bookmark   March 21, 2008 at 1:54AM
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Sorry to hear that Charlie. I see lettuce in NFT systems all the time but not larger plants, I guess.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2008 at 8:12AM
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