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I live in a small condominium that doesn't leave a lot of room available for gardening. I also live in Ohio, so the growing season is somewhat limited except for a few winter options. As an avid hot pepper enthusiast, foodie and vegetable gardener, hydroponics seemed an obvious option.

Except for the cost, that is...oh, and that pesky lack of space.

Over the course of several years and many failed experiments in creating low cost, versatile, and effective hydroponic options, this is the result. Using fairly common components, it is possible to create a hydroponics setup on wheels that can be configured to meet a plethora of hydroponic options, and stay relatively compact. By sandwiching several of these rolling setups together, it is possible to simply slide out one at a time to work on your plants. This can effectively double or triple the growing space in a very small area. Using less than 10 square feet of my basement utility room, I can grow enough vegetables to keep myself in hot peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, and other vegetables year round. When supplemented in the Spring and Summer with crops my deck container garden, I don't have to buy vegetables or herbs at the store at all, and I can trade at the farmer's markets for variety.

This is a rather lengthy Instructable, but it still can't begin to cover the breadth and depth of information available on hydroponic gardening. Instead, my goal is to provide you with the information you need to construct the rig, then illustrate some common hydroponic configurations. Perhaps in future Instructables I can go into detail on specific set ups and crops. If you are interested in these, there are plenty of very well-crafted Instructables available from other authors, and I encourage you to read them.

Step 1: The Basic Hydroponics Setup Part 1 - Constructing the Frame

To construct the frame of our basic hydroponics setup, we need to put together some simple metro-style shelving with a few optional pieces. This shelving is extremely sturdy, versatile, easy to clean, and available almost everywhere.

Materials:

*If you get a six-shelf unit, you can buy a set of poles inexpensively and build 2 units

Simply assemble the shelving unit according to the instructions using only three shelves and mounting the hanger rails between the middle and top shelf. To start with, be sure the bottom shelf is a few inches up from the bottom and the top shelf is all the way at the top with the middle shelf, well, in the middle. Then screw the casters into the bottom of the posts in the holes meant for the levelling feet. Finally, hang the snap hooks from the hanger rails. Use the included photos as a reference.

Step 2: The Basic Hydroponics Setup Part 2 - Reflective Covering - the Top

One of the things I learned early on was that the conservation of light from grow lights is key. That is, every bit of light you can reflect back on the plants, instead of illuminating the room with, is valuable. To that end I began wrapping my rigs with reflective tarps. However, this made it harder to work with the plants. I was always folding tarps or rolling them up out of the way, or worse, taping and re-taping and ripping them up.

Then I discovered the miracle of sticky back Velcro. The combination of these two things, plus some gaffer's tape, is all that was needed to provide ample reflectivity and still make it easy to work with the plants whenever I need to.

Materials:

*In the photos above, I used duct tape to make visible in the photos the relationship between the tarp and the tape in later steps. Gaffer's tape is black, the reflective sheeting back is black, and the Velcro is black...this would have been almost impossible to photograph. You really want to use gaffer's tape since duct tape doesn't adhere well to polymer sheet. That, and they say gaffer's tape is like The Force. Dark on one side, light on the other, and it binds the Universe together.

Using the middle shelf as a guide, cut a piece of the polymer sheet, light side down, large enough to cover the top and sides of the shelf. Cut out the corners to make room for the poles. Using a sharp knife cut some slits in the middle for ventilation. Finally, tape the piece, light side down, over the top of the top shelf as shown.

NOTE:If you are going to be using supplemental CO2, it is a good idea to repeat this step for the bottom shelf as well, but with the light side facing up. If you won't be using supplemental C02, covering the bottom is unnecessary.

Step 3: The Basic Hydroponics Setup Part 3 - Reflective Covering - the Side Mounting Tape

Wrap the sides of the top shelf, with the sheet already in place, with tape as shown in the photos. This will give us a clean, continuous edge to adhere our sticky back Velcro to. Be sure to use the loop (or fluffy) side to wrap around the shelf. This will come in handy later. Take your time and try to apply it in as few pieces as possible, as level as possible. It doesn't have to be perfect, we're not building the Space Shuttle, and one of the benefits of Velcro is it accommodates small inaccuracies in mounting.

Step 4: The Basic Hydroponics Setup Part 4 - Reflective Covering - the Sides

Now comes the toughest part of our build. Not because of any technical challenge or mental gymnastics, but because we are going to be working with a 10' x 10' sheet that is just stiff enough to be a pain to flop around. Using the sheet that we didn't cut early, unfold the sheet except for one row creased along one side. Adhere the hook (rough) side of the Velcro tape along one edge of the sheet (opposite the row we left folded) and stick the Velcro together to start hanging the sheet around the sides of our shelves. This process is much easier if you use small pieces of the hook side and hang as you go. Eventually you will reach, almost, all the way around. It is okay, this gap is intentional and will come in handy. You should now have the top of the sheet attached to the shelves, and the bottom of the sheet (the folded part) should be off the ground.

Trim the bottom of the sheet so that it is just a smidge lower than the bottom shelf. Using leftover sheet, cut and mount (using Velcro) a piece large enough to cover the gap as shown in the photos.

We can now roll up this "door" piece to access our plants. If we need more working room, the next step will ensure we can fully access our plants with ease.

Step 5: The Basic Hydroponics Setup Part 5 - Reflective Covering - Ease of Access

With the "door" piece rolled up and placed on top of the rig and following the photos, use small strips of the loop (fluffy) side Velcro and place them across the top of the outside of the reflective sheet in front. Fold back the sheet and mount hook (rough) side Velcro on the sides. This will allow you to fold back and stick the reflective sheet as shown in the photos.

Repeat this process on the back. You will only need to use the loop side Velcro on the back, since the inside of the reflective sheet already has hook side Velcro on it. As you can see from the photo, we can now access every side of our plants with ease and fold the sheet back when we are done.

Step 6: The Basic Hydroponics Setup Part 6 - Power and Timers

Materials:

*I highly recommend the use of click-type mechanical timers like the one linked. Digital timers have a limit on the number of settings that is far less than those available with mechanical timers. In some hydroponic configurations, you might be cycling power every 15 minutes. This far exceeds the maximum digital timers allow. By purchasing mechanical timers (that don't require the little plastic tabs), you leave many more options available.

Mount the power strip to the back of the middle shelf using zip ties. Plug your timers into this strip. That way, your timers will always be easy to access and you will have plenty of power outlets for fans, pumps, air, CO2 regulators, lights, etc... Using the snap-on hooks of our rig, we can roll up excess cord and keep it out of our way. These hooks also come in handy for hanging twine for string training plants, supporting cages, etc...

Construction of our basic rig is now complete. The next sections illustration some of the configurations possible.

Step 7: Sample Configuration 1 - Seedlings

Materials:

By mounting a 4-foot T5 grow light to the bottom of our top shelf using 2 grow light ratchet hangers, we can adjust the light height and position perfectly over growing trays with seed trays, rockwool cubes, or both. We can also place heating pads under the trays and control everything using our timers.

This configuration is shallow enough that you can get 3-4 shelves with up to 4 trays on each shelf into the rack. That is 432 seedlings per rig. We can fit 2 rigs in 10 square feet, or 864 seedlings. At one point I was sowing seedlings for local community gardens because I could accommodate so many...including my own.

Step 8: Sample Configuration 2 - Small Plant Drip Hydroponics

Materials:

Using larger 400w grow lights, 4 dutch leach trays (2 top, 2 bottom) and a drip irrigation system. We can accommodate a respectable Drip Hydroponics system for smaller plants like dwarf bok choi, cabbage, etc...

Step 9: Sample Configuration 3 - Small Plant Deep Water Culture Bubbleponics

Materials:

Drip irrigation systems can be complicated in terms of configuration, timing, etc... One simpler alternative is bubbleponics, also known as Deep Water Culture (DWC). Using the same 400w lights and ratchets from the previous example, we cut holes in the lids of 10-gallon containers for small net cups that we fill with stone. By placing an air stone in the bottom of each tub, then connecting the air stones to simple aquarium air pumps, we provide air to the roots of small plants whose roots soak in the nutrient-filled water.

Using a set up like this we can do about 12 plants per shelf, or 24 per rig, so in our 2 rig 10 square feet we can do 48 plants. These can be a little larger than the small drip irrigation set up, so we can grow herbs like basil, plus lettuce, cabbage, etc...

Step 10: Sample Configuration 4 - Large Plant Drip Irrigation

Materials:

By lowering the middle shelf, we can accommodate large plants like tomatoes, peppers, and such with our drip configuration. To hold the roots of these large plants, we swap out the rockwool slabs from the small drip configuration for large rockwool cubes with plastic caps to prevent algae build-up. Since we hung our 400w light with ratchet hangers, we can raise the light as the plants grow...and our Velcro reflective cover makes this process much less painful.

Using our 2 rig example, in 10 square feet we can fit 8 large plants.

Step 11: Sample Configuration 5 - Large Plant Bubbleponics

Materials:

Once again, by lowering the middle shelf we can accommodate larger plants. This enables us to do bubbleponics in 5-gallon buckets. A configuration like this allows for growing small citrus trees, large tomato plants, etc...

We simply place the air stones in the bottom of the buckets, drill a small hole to run the airline tubing out to the pump, then cover the buckets with net lids. By filling the net lids with growstones, we now have plenty of room for deep roots and with the ratchet hangers, we can raise the light at the plants grow. Painlessly, since we mounted our reflective sheet with Velcro.

Using our 2 rig example, in 10 square feet we can accommodate 4 large plants.

I hope you have enjoyed these sample configurations, and happy planting!

<p>Very nice work! This looks like a finely polished and well done intractable to me :))</p>
<p>Eventually I want to measure how much power the rigs consume vs how much food they produce to see if they can be a low-cost option for growing vegetables instead of buying them.</p>
<p>Much more efficient LED gro-lights are available now that use around 80% less energy, come in several sizes and emit perfect a spectrum.</p>
<p>Sorry, 'a perfect spectrum'.</p>
<p>Much more efficient LED gro-lights are available now that use around 80% less energy, come in several sizes and emit perfect a spectrum.</p>
Nicely done.<br><br>And this, uh, may be of some interest to folks living in Alaska, Oregon, and Colorado. :-)
<p>Indeed. :)</p>

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Bio: I'm a 45 year old Systems Architect living in the Midwestern United States. After travelling the world for 20 years as a consulting architect ... More »
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