starting a hydroponic garden

animus_divinusJune 16, 2011

hey everyone.. im starting a hydroponic garden soon.. its going to be an 8x4 foot area using a 600w HPS light...

ive looked into ebb and flow which is #1 so far.. but im also considering some large 6 inch diameter lengths of PVC pipe the length of the table while holes cut in the top to fit the pots into with the nutrients flowing beneath.. but it seems like if the roots grew TOO much it might restrict flow

and ive considered just floating them on strofoam in a tub of the solution

so.. i think im going ebb and flow

anyway.. i was looking for advice as to which plants to go.. i want tomatos (they cost the most here and we use them a ton) as well as one variety of sweet pepper, probably green... couple hot pepper plants like jalapenos, cayenne, thai... umm, cucumbers, leaf lettuce, peas, beans (vine plants i would just have hanging ropes for them to grow on, and plant them near the perimeter of the system) and a square foot for each of the herbs and spices i want to grow (oregano, parsley, cilantro, yadda ya)

maybe some strawberries too.. and well, for each of these large plans i was thinking of devoting a square foot per plans of the large stuff, and a square foot per herb or spice... maybe have 2-3 tomato plants, 1-2 bell pepper, one of each hot pepper, 2 or so cucumber, one or two beans, peas... and well, i was wondering just how much im looking at? will i have enough room for all of this? im looking to only grow stuff thats everbearing.. like tomatos, cucumbers, peppers, leaf lettuce over head lettuce, maybe even alfalfa sprouts (love it on sandwiches)

im wondering if when all this is grown if im going to have enough space to maybe play around with some alternative greens, or maybe a melon at a time?

any advice is welcomed

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well.. ran into an issue designing the hydroponic system.. im going with 32 square feet... problems im having.. i was origionally planning an 96x48x4 foot area filled with perlite, or sand holding all the plants... have sprinklers deliver the solution, with drains under the plants to drain the excess back into the bucket...

nice plan, sure, but the weight of that on a wooden table.. its a lot of weight if i go with sand.. and some mediums might be quite expensive, so im looking for new ways to make the most out of the space available..

im considering 6 inch PVC drain pipes with a hole cut every foot, have four of them 8 feet long with a styrofoam plug int hem to hold the roots, with an ebb and flow system running underneath them.. or a constant supply of nutrients

however.. with that system it makes plants like herbs/spices and loose leaf lettuces very hard to grow.. but would be perfect for large plants

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 2:36AM
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32 square feet wont be enough space to grow everything you mentioned. The canopy of just one tomato plant can easily grow to 4 feet wide (4x4= 16 square feet), and take up half your space. Also I'm not sure I understand exactly how you plan to build your system, but perlite or vermiculite wont work well in a flood and drain (ebb&flow) system. Simply because their to light and want to float (float like Styrofoam does). If it were me I would definitely design and build multiple systems for all those plants. Along with different plants having different pH and nutritional needs, large and small plants have different system design needs, and some plants are faster growing than others (like lettuce and herbs). Not to mention that different design will make better use of space. As well make both plant, and system maintenance easier.

But the first thing to do is decide what plants you want to grow and "realistically" have space for. And again if it were me I would grow what cost the most at the store, and I use the most of first. That way you get the best return on investment, as well as make the most use of space. But you really need to know how the specific plants grow first, in order to decide how to make best use of the space. Keeping things in mind like temperature needs, size of the plant canopy, as well as root systems, and even how long the plant will be in the system. If growing inside you'll want to take into consideration how the plant/s pollinates too (air currents/ bees/ by hand/ male and female flowers etc.).

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 4:02AM
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you should have to be rather insane to let a tomato plant grow out of control like that in a frostless environment.. it would be best to prune plants pront to getting quite large without frost to kill it.. basically to where the plant would normally be in this environment

and ive been wondering what i would do about the perlite if using ebb and flow.. even thought up kind of insane ideas like holding it down with a fine mesh netting

ive also thought about having sprinklers rain the nutrients on the plants and then let it drain through the medium and back into the resovoir..

problem is, for an 8' by 4' table is that if the medium is not relatively light weight... it might weigh too much for the table.. for example, i would have a little over 10 cubic feet... sand is 100lbs per cubic foot, so the table would be holding over 1,000lbs if i used that.. gravel would be about the same

by comparison, if the table was covered with perlite it would weigh not even 60lbs total, and since its white, wont absorb any light

problem is, it does float making ebb and flow difficult, and doesnt seem to retain enough water long enough for sprinklers to work either

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 11:23AM
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Good luck my friend. I designed my first system for over a year and it absolutely surprised me how many details I came up with for a relatively simple system.

I am with you on the ambitiousness, I want to grow it all. I have 5'x 4' under 400MH (Though I plan to switch to a 1000W HPS when it seems time appropriate. I have so much to learn)

What I hope to grow is a smaller 'patio' style tomato, a red 'cherry' pepper, a Jalapeno and a yellow squash. Then Rosemary, thyme, cilantro and basil. We will see how it goes as I already have suspicions that I am underestimating the size of the mature veggies. I have done elementary research on "training" veggies and intend to try my hand at it in the following months. Keep my updated, Id live to swap ideas successes and failures with another newbie! (Advise/critique from seasoned vets is always appreciated, too!)

Here is a link that might be useful: My setup.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 11:52AM
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well.. what ill do is build a table.. 8x4 feet with 6 inch high walls.. line it with a tarp, drill 8 holes, each hole in the center of a 4 square foot area, and using some waterproof silicone glue (unless thats unsafe for plants) i would glue in some PVC drains.. or maybe just capped 1/2 inch PVC pipe with drain holes drilled in it.. fill it 4 inches high with white pea gravel (itll weigh about 600lbs).. and connect the two rows of four PVC drains together, and bring them together in a T... then run all that into a tote which will contain the nutrients and a pump to flood the gravel...

so an 8x4 foot table with pea gravel using an ebb and flow system... all that with a 600w light in an oblong reflector so i can cover to the edges of the entire table

on the back and sides of this table i want to staple or glue some white poster board to keep as much light inside as i can... and i will hang ropes along the back edges where the vine plants can grow over... and everything will be on a timer too

also.. since this will be in my basement, and im not so sure how much this light will effect the circuits here, i might as well get a breaker and some wire to wire in a dedicated circuit to the hydroponics... in total..

$100 for the ballast, about
$20 per bulb, which i only need one at first
cost for totes, PVC, and wood should go to more than $50-$60
the gravel shouldnt be more than $20-$25
breaker, wire, and a pump maybe another $20
so in total this should cost much more than $250... and under $40 a month in electricity, nutrients, and replacement bulb costs

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 2:20PM
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hey umm.. im thinking of actually going deep water culture.. line the 4x8 foot area with a tarp... then cover it.. cut holes in the top, and then drop the net pots into that... fill the table with the solution and somehow airate that entire volume.. though i have no idea how i would accomplish that... and im just trading off a water pump for an air pump

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 11:49PM
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Well if you think a 4 foot wide tomato plant is insane, you would just fall over if you saw the tomato plants I grew in California. Year after year I grew tomato's in a small area of dirt between our townhouse and our neighbors. The dirt patch was about 4 feet wide, and 8 feet long. I would plant 6 tomato plants in that space, and I built a box trellis around them 8 feet tall, and as wide as the dirt. They were so bushy you couldn't even see ripe tomatoes in the middle, and were about 8 feet wide. They also grew much taller than the 8 foot high trellis, about 4 feet taller than that before the unsupported weight made the tops flop over. Those things got a good 12 feet tall.

We got 100's of pounds of tomato's off of them every year, and never bought a tomato the whole time they were growing. We had so many there was no way we could even eat them, and gave most of them away to all the neighbors. Sure you can prune them, but there's no need to unless you need to keep them small. The suckers that everyone seems to want to prune off, grow just as many tomato's as the main stalk. The more branches the more tomato's you'll get, trim off the branches and you wont have branches with bunches of tomato's.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2011 at 12:53AM
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ive seen tomato plants the size of trees.. however, thats way more tomatos than i need, or even care to have.. so ill have one plant cover a 2x2 area... maybe 3x3

what i want to put more focus on though are the hot peppers, most of which wont even grow here outdoors in sunlight, let alone my completely shaded backyard... as well as lettuce, beans, peas, and cucumbers with a small area for herbs and spices

im going to employ a lot of information i find in square foot gardening techniques to compact as much as i can into that 8x4 foot area.. so in order to keep things compact i was looking for one system.. and i believe a deep water culture will be better since i can install a wick into pots holding smaller plants with short roots such as some herbs and spices... and really, all i need is a pump for a 75 gallon aquarium and a length of PVC pipe, capped, with many tiny pin holes drilled in it to aerate it

and well, i dont like to eat tomatoes plain or even on sandwiches.. really the only thing i used tomatoes for would be ketchup, taco sauce, and pasta/pizza sauces.. outside of that i just dont eat tomatoes... im more concerned with finding a suitable alternative to head lettuce so i need to taste test some varieties of romaine and loose leaf to see what i like.. if none of its suitable i will just grow alfalfa and eat the sprouts (i love alfalfa sprouts as an alternative to salad greens"

    Bookmark   June 18, 2011 at 3:23AM
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You can easily grow sprouts in a dark closet anyway. They easily grow without light, unless you like them green, then they will need some light at the end. But you don't need a hydro system to grow them either way.

I never made my own ketchup. But I have made my own spaghetti/pasta sauce. But the thing I miss the most (besides a tasty red tomato), is fried green tomatoes. I love those.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2011 at 6:42AM
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Fried green tomatoes make me sick. . . or maybe it's because I eat too many when they are available.

I'm with HH on this one. You severely underestimate the room you will need. Unless you are unemployed and have no social/family life, you aren't going to be keeping up on pruning all that well. Keep in mind that hydro will grow those plants much faster and denser.

Tomatoes and peppers under the same single light? Not a good idea, in my opinion. You will have to raise the light too much for the tomatoes. Light intensity attenuates at a rate of the inverse square of the distance (I think. . . look that up).

I'm using lava rock as an ebb and flow medium with great results right now. Someone suggested it here and so I tried it.

Look into vertical setups for making the most of space with smaller plants. You can supplement the 600w with good fluorescent grow lights hung vertically so the light comes from the side. Plus, you could get the plants closer to the 600w. Also, I've read that HPS isn't good for vegetative growing. I haven't tried it or read that much on it recently. Something you might look into, though.

Are you overweight or anything? Don't answer that. Just consider it. I don't care how un-PC it is, but overweight people and small grow areas mean fewer plants or neglected maintenance. You have to have room to move to do that pruning you are confident you will be doing. Hell, when I was growing indoors, my daughter couldn't fit into my tight grow area simply because of having breasts.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2011 at 9:33AM
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im going to start a series of small systems.. so im not risking so much in costs right away.. and then build onto it more and more..

and i found out i can soak alfalfa sprouts overnight, then drain and while the seeds are still wet, roll them around a glass jar so they stick to the sides.. leave it on the counter and in about a week ill have an entire jar of sprouts :-D

    Bookmark   June 18, 2011 at 10:08PM
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Good idea to try smaller systems first animus divinus. Hydroponics is kindof like the lego sets people play with when they are kids... Your first lego sets were probably very easy to put together and they were probably bigger blocks too. The big blocks helped to teach you the basics about how legos work, and the possibilities of what you can build with them. After awhile, you upgrade your lego set to more elaborate and intricate legos. It would have been very wasteful for parents to buy their kids a deathstar lego set right off the bat, wouldn't it have been? Haha, anyways, good decision with the DWC systems. I use them and they work extremely well and are perfect for newbies that just want to learn how growing hydroponically works.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2011 at 1:04PM
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