New to hydroponics

doodlebee(6)November 19, 2007

I know, I know - you all probably get a ton of "newbie" questions, and I apologize - I haven't quite found the answers I'm looking for yet, so I thought I might as well ask.

I'm a former chef, and recent transplant to CT. Prices up here are heart-rending. My husband and I thought we might try to cut costs (and be a little more healthy/better-tasting) by growing some of our own food. We have a very spacious basement that gets cold, but its not freezing or anything. I'd say the lowest the temperature gets down there (the furnace is down there too) is somewhere between 35-40 degrees in the wintertime. may be a little warmer than that - I can walk around down there in the middle of winter barefoot and not get frozen or anything, so maybe my "guesstimate" is too low..

Anyway, we thought because ot the space we have down there, starting a hydroponic garden would be good. It's conveniently placed, I absolutely DETEST weeding (my mom had a garden when I was younger - hated that thing because she always sent *me* out to weed it in the middle of August - ugh!) and I hear hydroponics - once it's set up well - is fairly low-maintenance.

One BIG problem we have is the price of electricity in CT. If you live here, you know how ridiculous it is. If you don't, I believe the only state that has higher electric rates is Hawaii? Something like that. Put it this way: we've replaced all regular bulbs with "green" ones, never leave lights on in a room that isn't occupied, only wash our clothes in cold water...all of that stuff - and I *still* haven't seen this side of $300 on our monthly electric bill in over a year (and our house is only 1500 square feet!) So it's unreal.

Our basement is quite dark - there's windows, but they're *very* small and at ground level with bushes growing in front of them. I have 2 500-watt plug-in lights that I used for taking photos sometimes, but we were worried that using even one of them would cause a spike in our electric bill - since we'd have to run it for 6-8 hours per day (right?) So we're trying to come up with lighting options for this.

So I was wondering if any of you could provide some advice. I've already found an expandable hydroponics system that sounds like it'll work very well for us (uses PVC pipe, a fish-tank pump and 11 empty 2-liter soda bottles) but we really don't know the intricacies of this stuff. I Google, but I find differing info all over the place.

As for the light source, I was thinking of charging a deep-cycle battery with a solar panel, and using that to run the lights (seems like the best option, but I don't know what voltage/size will run 500 watts for 8 hours!)

So what do you all do? I'd appreciate *any* good links you could pass along to me to read up on this stuff. I'm totally willing to do the work it takes to get this going, but with the plethora of info (and some not good!) I don't know where it's best to get my info *from*.

Thanks for any help you can provide!

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You might try here:

Here is a link that might be useful: Hydro Book

    Bookmark   November 19, 2007 at 6:14PM
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greystoke(South Africa(11))

Welcome doodlebee

That electricity bill is mindboggling. We pay about 6x less!
That solar cell option: 8 hrs x 500W @ 12V means 42A over 8 hours. So, you need 8x50Ahr batteries. Best take 4x100Ahr connected in series gives you 48V, for which you can get a solid state inverter.
Can't tell about the solar panel. Depends on your sunlight hours etc.
Otherwise, I agree with willard. Do some reading. Here are more links:
usefull links and The Green Thumb

    Bookmark   November 19, 2007 at 11:40PM
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dancinglemons(7B VA)


I live in Virginia and my basement sounds like yours. My washer/dryer is down there and so is my furnace but no heat. In winter my basement stays around 60 degrees but I am in Richmond, Virginia so I would think yours a bit warmer than you guesstimate because you can walk with no shoes. I am very new to hydroponics but I have been gardening for a gazillion years. OK here is what I do.

I purchased 2 48inch florescent shop-light fixtures from Lowes and purchased florescent grow light tubes. I have 2 red and 2 blue tubes with one red and one blue in each "shop light". I got my lights from Lowe's when they put them on clearance this month. Basically I have 2 6500K and 2 3000K tubes. If you are not familiar with Kelvin I will post some Hydro University links at the bottom of this post. I purchased an 8 pot Deep Water Culture set-up from a seller on eBay and got started. So far so good. Everything is growing quite well BUT I am not growing anything that makes fruit. I am growing chard, romaine, green onions and herbs. Only the chard and romaine are in the DWC unit from eBay. The other items are in pots with coir for the growing medium. The hydro unit from eBay was $29 and the shipping was $15. Everything needed to grow was included except seeds, lights and nutrients (fertilizer). I purchased all of that locally. My DH built a table in the basement that is waist high and we have our hydro farm on the table under the lights. Another thing I purchased on eBay was light "yo-yos". These are light hangers that allow you to raise your lights up and down as needed. I also purchased reflective fabric to put around the growing area. This increases the light available to my plants.

Electricity is REALLY high here also so I could NOT use a Metal Halide or Mercury lamp for my hydro because they use WAY TOO MUCH electricity. I know I will have to buy a high power compact florescent or a T5 florescent fixture when I graduate to tomatoes and peppers but that is next year. The hydro shop here uses a compact florescent GROW LIGHT right in the shop to grow tomatoes and they look really good. There is a difference in regular compact florescent and compact florescent grow lights.

If you are concerned about saving on electric cost then some sort of florescent fixture is for you. Most will recommend the "hotter" lights because you will indeed get better fruiting and growth from them but you will also price yourself right out of the market with your electric bills. Links:
(I am NOT affiliated with these folks but purchased my eBay DWC hydro from them)

One other option is a grow room. These are available from most of the hydro stores on the internet and you set them up in your home to grow your veggies.

There is work involved with hydro. You have to keep a close eye on nutrient solution and plant health. My Deep Water Culture system is easy (to me) because I change my nutrient solution every week and in the interim if I need I top off the solution with plain filtered water. I use filtered water because I am growing organically and my city water has chloramines in it.

Good Luck,

    Bookmark   November 20, 2007 at 1:59AM
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dancinglemons(7B VA)

One more thing. I run my grow lights 15/16 hours a day. They are on a timer. Because they are florescent I only notice a SMALL increase in my light bill. I have also changed ALL of the lights in my home to florescent bulbs.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2007 at 2:07AM
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The most light for the least electric cost are HID (metal halide, high pressure sodium) luminaires which have more light/watt than fluorescents.

LED's also give more light/watt than fluorescents.

HID lamps are available in 50watt sizes, so small is not a problem.

HID lamps have higher surface temps than fluorescent and will have to be farther away from the plants, but they are the most efficient and will have the lowest electric bill.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2007 at 9:41AM
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dancinglemons(7B VA)

I do not disagree with your information however my limited experience has given me only the information that I posted. The hydroshop I go to gave me a demonstration of the electricity used by HID lights and on the actual electric meter outside the store (I was watching it) the HID light made the meter go much faster than the compact florescent grow light. I do not have a source for 50watt HID so am not able to determine electric use for small wattage. With the HID I would have to purchase a ballast and fixture. With the florescent I only have shop light and florescent tubes and when I switch to compact florescent grow light I still need no ballast. Cost of the light was also a factor for me. I spent less than $50 for the tubes and shoplights. When I switch to compact florescent grow light the total for fixture and bulbs (one grow and one bloom) will be $129. Here is a link that I used before making my decision. Of course each person must research and purchase what will work for them. In my basement the florescent lights are working great!!

    Bookmark   November 20, 2007 at 2:53PM
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doodlebee go with the book How To Hydroponics that wilard3 posted I built the 11 plant soda bottle system I put tomatoes and peppers in it the first year I tryed hydro was just trying to see if I could keep them alive they did well I got some peppers and tomatoes that year but the tomatoe roots pluged up the pipes and I had to pull the plants early did not get full harvest. Built another 35 plant soda bottle system as a drip system and tryed dwarf tomatoes in it they did well the down side was that the spacing for the bottles is to close togather even for dwarf tomatoes peppers seem ok. I also built a wooden box about six inches deep and lined it with plastic filled it with water and nutrients and put a sheet of strofoam floating on it with holes cut in it with the tops of juce bottles in the holes with lettuce growing in them this system did great for lettuce. I am expanding it to a 4X8 this year.
I am reading How To Hydroponics now and will build another system this year. Cant help much on the lights as I grow in a greenhouse. Also I must warn you once you start with Hydro you will be hooked it seems like I am allways building something new to try. If you want more info. on the lettuce box drop me an email

    Bookmark   November 20, 2007 at 8:55PM
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Fluorescents also require ballasts, either tubes or compact lamps.

A reflector (fixture) will increase the usefulness of lights to the plants; if you don't have a refelctor, more than 50% of the light will be wasted.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2007 at 8:53AM
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Yup. I had an ordinary household compact fluorescent twirly 26W with a built in ballast I paid a dollar or two for when the home improvement store had them on discount courtesy of the G&E, over my tomato seedlings, they grew. For a reflector I used some aluminum foil bent into roughly the desired shape. It seemed I had the foil too close to the bulb, and the base turned brown after some weeks. Got to give it some room, probably would help to have vent holes and fins on the back to help radiate heat.

Way less bucks than a HID, but fruiting or even blossoming probably won't happen with tomatoes, but strawberries, well maybe. Lettuce, yes.

doodlebee 6, you don't have an ideal situation for hydroponics in your basement. Besides the light, the temperature shouldn't get much under 60F. A couple hundred watts of fluorescents will provide enough light for starting seedlings, if you can keep them warm. Maybe nearer to the furnace, a few feet up, grow short plants?

Maybe figure on moving your rig outside come warmer weather and then you have all that sunshine.

For a first system I suggest the ebb and flow, with two plastic tote boxes, aquarium pump, water pump, etc. Allows you to regulate how much flood and drain time the plants get. See

    Bookmark   November 23, 2007 at 2:26AM
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home improvement stores sell low wattage HID lights. just check the outdoor lighting sections. sometime you have to have them order and come back to pick them up. they're usually relatively inexpensive. I think about $50 for 100watts. all gaseous lights require a ballast to increase the voltage to get the initial burst of electricity to ignite the gas. Fluorescents just come with them built in.
I believe the HID's I mentioned above do to. be careful buying second hand lights. the bulbs light output diminishes over time so you may find yourself having to buy replacement bulbs sooner than expected.(added expense)
If you really want to not use electricity, scrap the basement. Find a nice south facing window, built some shelves in front of it and only supplement the short daylight hours with artificial lighting. I would think a low wattage HID. and frames around the sides and back of the shelves with mylar to reflect back as much light as possible.
Also, as someone else pointed out, grow outside in the summer.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2007 at 11:58AM
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Buy an AeroGarden or 2 of them. The upfront cost of $150 is a lot to me...but for as clean as it is and easy and for what it gives you. I am waiting on pins and needles to get my first homegrown tomato in nearly 30 years,of not being able to grow tomatos of any size here in south fla.! Unless you are feeding a huge family and are a vegetarian,it is clean, easy, and VERY CHEAP TO USE, and produces lots of patio sized tomatos, lettuce, herbs, peppers, or other small fruited plants, it's preplanted and it's bascialy plug it in and watch it grow, add some water, and in a few weeks you have your first tomato, or less than 3 weeks your first lettuce to cut and make a salad or two. Just an idea. The electric is MUCH cheaper with fluoresant bulbs!!!

    Bookmark   December 11, 2007 at 11:43PM
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WOW! Thanks all! Sorry it's been a while - I just decided to come back and check and there's sooo much info here. Thank you! I really appreciate this. I'll let you know how it goes!

    Bookmark   February 11, 2008 at 10:59AM
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Hi Doodlebug! Let me start by saying that I'm pretty new to hydroponics too and live in hartford so perhaps we can be a good resource for sharing info as we gain experience.

One thing to consider is building an inexpensive growbox. If you're growing in your basement, you'll never achieve optimal temperature for growing. Similarly, if you place within proximity of your furnace, you'll have the same day and night temperature which also isn't ideal. I'd recommend using a cheap $10 instant thermometer to find a space near the furnace that is your ideal 'night' temperature and then building a growbox with adjustable vents and an internal fan that recirculates the heat produced by your light source to increase your day temp. it'll probably take a couple of days of trial and error to get the right vent opening to sustain a consistent temp. anyhow, it's an idea, hopefully others will comment or correct me where I'm wrong!

btw, in regards to your electric bill, being in CT also, I haven't reached that cost, even in the summer when I'm running central AC 24/7, and my condo is on the top floor and a little of 1400 sq ft. have you had CL&P check your meter, just trying to help save you some $!!!

    Bookmark   April 2, 2008 at 10:09AM
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