Hydroponics for Urban Gardens

sdrawkcab(7)June 21, 2006

Hydroponics, or growing plants without the use of soil, can offer great benefits to people growing plants under less-than-ideal circumstances.

For example, if a water source is not readily available, hydroponics re-circulates water so there is no need to lug heavy buckets of water to the plants every day.

if space is a consideration, hydroponics allows much closer placement of plants because they do not need extensive root systems to thrive in this type of culture.

Time Considerations- for people who may not have time to water 1-2 times a day, hydroponics usually employ an electric timer to water plants for you but the liquid is recirculated so you use less water and achieve lower water bills

few if any weeds in hydroponics and less pests as well.

[no soil means no soil-oreanted bugs/disease/weeds]

and best of all- its not as hard as people might think.

I have designed and built very simple hydroponic systems in my college dorm room with less tools/suplies available to me than an average 1 bedroom apartment would have.

i am at work while i post this but when i get home i will try to find some pictures of my hydroponic systems to post here. i would also be glad to offer guidance/ advice/ information to anyone interested in learning more about how hydroponics could increase productivity of their garden.

i know this sounds like a sales pitch but i have nothing to offer but free advice about one of my hobbies/passions.

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janetr(Ottawa USDA 4a)

Are you doing this indoors or outdoors?

Janet's Garden

    Bookmark   June 23, 2006 at 12:37PM
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i've done both. mostly outdoor becasue lights are so expensive. i like you site BTW. beautiful pictures.

when i did indoor, it was little stuff like a salad machine (no idea why its called a machine?) to grow mesclun mix in a window sill. and a hydroponic air purifier growing 5 large chlorophytum comosum in my college dorm room. (spider plants are good at "cleaning" the air)

outdoors i grew herbs, tomatos, peppers, garlic, annual flowers, eggplant, cucumber, and a few other common vegetable garden plants.

still working on getting those pics up (i lost the cord for my scanner)

but i use mostly things like "steralite" containers for nutrient resovoires, PVC pipe and fittings for conections, more steralite containers or empty 2L bottles for the growing chamber(s), pea gravel or lava rock as a growing media, lamp timers from the grocery store for the timing, and pond/fountain pumps for the pumping action. i have built a whole systme using nothing but parts available at walmart and using only a pair of scisors to assemble it. (it used a 2L bottle, some 1/4"od tubing, an aquarium air pump and some gravel) it hapily grew a chloropyhtum comosum in my college dorm window sill for several months until i tore it apart to scavenge pieces for my next project.

i will try again to get those pictures posted here and maybe we can talk further about how i implemented hydroponics with limited space.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2006 at 3:52PM
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janetr(Ottawa USDA 4a)

I'm looking forward to seeing the pictures. Tell us a story or two while you're at it. Always easier to relate to a story.

Thanks for the kind words.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2006 at 8:39PM
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Here's a 8 cell hydroponic set up using 2 liter bottles a little air hose and 5 way value. You can use styrofoam for inside the cups with a little gravel to hold it down

This is what each unit looks like

Place it on a window sill. With a little extra time you can convert it so you can use it outside.
Each cell is seperate and has it's own air supply.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2006 at 7:45PM
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georgiii i like the pics. i saw what you were doing with the 2L bottles too, im definatly going to try that next spring (or if i do any winter sowing)

I began quite humbly into hydroponics. my first attempt was a plastic trash can, and aquarium air pump and air stone, some airline tubing, a bag of playground sand, and some very diluted miracle-grow. i put the air stone in the bottom of the trashcan running airline tubing up the side to the pump, then i filled it with sand and poured in some water with very weak miracle grow into it. fired the air-pump up and instead of hydroponics i had made quick-sand.
kind of disapointing but i was probably only 15 at the time so i guess i just didnt know any better.
My next attempt was much more sucessful- i found some free plans for a system to grow herbs. so i followed the plans and built a contraption using a big "rubermaid" storage tote as a resivoire, a small aquarium pump and lamp timer, some 1" PVC pope, pipe fittings, and inverted 2L bottle "funnels" as the growing chambers. i used pea gravel this time as a media and ordered some "real hydroponic plantfood" to use as nutrients. i glued all the PVC fittings and pushed them together, let it dry for about 5 minutes and hooked up the water. it leaked from almost every single joint but the basic concept was there! i had made hydroponics! after using amazing amounts of glue and calk to try to seal up the leaks on the first contraption it worked really well. i grew all kinds of culinary herbs and was so proud of myself. (i was still 15 at the time) Next i wanted to design my own form of hydroponics. i had an idea for what i named a "constant drain ebb & flow" setup. basically water is pumped in through a big tube and out through an equally large tube but there is a small tube that is always draining the liquid and so when the pump is on more water goes in than the small tube can drain but when the pump cuts off on the timer, the small tube can drain the remaining nutrient solution. it worked pretty well but would occasionally clog up and because the nutrient was not returning to the tank i almost burned out the pump and drowned the plants. still a neat idea, but not an improvement over the standard ebb&flow system of draing the water backwards through the pump.

i now had caught the bug. i attempted a few more systems with varying sucess.
a "deep water" mint cloner was awesome. it was basically the same design as my quicksand bucket but with pea gravel instead of sand, and of course real nutrients for hydro instead of plant food for dirt being used.

less sucessful was my salad towers. i used 4" PVC as columns with a 360* sprinkler nozzle at the top of each one. i added a large pump that had a "head" (maximum pumping height) that was unfortunatly not high enough to suport this type of system. i had planned to plant the outside of each colum (5 total) with different types of greens and be able to harvest one tower each week. i may try to go back to this when i get some time and money for a bigger pump.

most recently i have been playing with "real" hydroponic stuff. i always bought nutrients and made everyhtign else i needed, but now i have ordered a few things that are made for hydroponics. a product called rockwool that is a spongy growing media made similar to fiberglass insulation but designed for plants. i also picked up a pH meter and a Total Disolved Solids meter to help monitor the water.

I found a whole stack of pictures of what i have done, and i have 2 scanners and a printer with a built in scanner but i can not find the cords to hook any of them up (i just moved from an apartment into a house!)

i swear the pics are coming. im sure i have them posted on a website/websites somewhere.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2006 at 10:28AM
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this page has one of my designs-


this is one of my designs. i did not make this website, nor am i sure who did. but that is my design and rcooper21@tntech.edu was my college email address (it no longer works because i am out of school now)

great beginner system as all the parts are readily available and you dont really need a lot of tools to build it.

nice site whoever made it and thanks for the credit.

Here is a link that might be useful: click here

    Bookmark   June 26, 2006 at 10:55AM
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pics at last!

this is my original of the system posting in the website above. honestly, they did a better job explaining it than i do so just check their site for more info on this one.

The mint cloner. the roots were whiter than this but i messed up the nutrients and burned them. also an easy one to make. it requires an air pump, some air stones (i used a 2 ouput pump so i used 2 stones) and a rubermaid bucket. i used some small net pots and pea gravel but it really isnt required, you could use a piece of sponge around the stem to suport it.

This is the "salad machine" built for a lecture i was giving to a plant science 101 class for one of my professors. it uses ebb&flow fittings made from electrical conduit pieces. it used pea gravel as a medium and grew about 2 salads before it was scrapped.

This one was a lot of work, but fit my dorm windowsill perfectly. it is a top-drip using rockwool cubes. it grew tomato plants but never any tomatos. one of my favorites though because how it looked.

Here is some hydroponic basil from one of my few indoor experaments. grown in modified aeroponics with chunked rockwool medium, i used 4 flurescent lights to grow 6 different types of basil. this is another system i am very proud of because of the technical complexity of it.

Hydroponic Air Purifier growing some baby spider plants. this was a top drip system using rockwool or possibly pea gravel? (cant remember) the chlorophytum comosum are great at filtering air and in a dorm room thats a very good thing. this one always got comments from people walking by my room.

This is another shot of the system that grew the above basil this pic was taken before it grew anything yet.

here is part of the "guts" of the basil aero/hydro system. those are mist nozzles that spray the bottom of the cups with oxygen rich nutrient solution. good stuff.

Favorite. System. EvAr!

this is my top-drip pepper system . it is a top drip using lava rocks as a medium (with a pea gravel mulch) made of 4 trashcans and some pvc pipe. i used gromets coming through the buckets but no glue was used to make this systems. grew some mean peppers. not a real efficient use of space but could easily be tweaked to be realistic for growing a lot of plants. this is my favorite system i ever built.

top view of the mint cloner. thts chocolate mint for those of you guessing at cultivar. these things grew incredibly fast. i could mow them down and make tea, and within a week i could be chopping on them again. not that i think anyone has trouble growing mint.

and finally, this is a replica of my first sucessful hydroponics. the first one leaked so bad i rebuilt an identical one and was a little more careful. great for herbs and it held so much nutirent i only changed the water about once a month. (can you immagine putting your plants on "auto pilot" and only having to water them once a month?! good stuff if you have a lot of plants, you can devote more time to pruning, checking for pests and disease, and just enjoying the garden without need for lugging a bucket everywhere you go.)

i have more pics of other things i have done but those should get posted as soon as i get a scanner up and running. let me know what you think. comments, questions, and feedback welcome.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2006 at 11:29AM
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Haaahaaaa Ed is still infulencing people I see. Good for him. Last I heard he was raising tomato's. Talk about idea's that have staying power. The only hang up I had about ebb & flow system was that all the pants are conected by the flow. What effects one effects all. Which is why I switched to indivual cells. Like your first photo. Now the pods use the same amount of water as hydroponics but with a dry media. Same intense plant pressure but with mist instead of water. Like areoponic's...in ground.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2006 at 12:44PM
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I know this was awhile ago, but sdrawkcab if you could give me plans for your initial 2L hydroponic setup, I would be grateful! I am a Bucknell university, I already have an aquarium pump (yes i have fish in my room haha). The website you said to go to for instruction is not up anymore. Thanks!

    Bookmark   September 12, 2008 at 6:31PM
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