Compact, Cheap, and Expandable Hydroponics System


Step 4: Conclusion and Results

Picture of Conclusion and Results
Some Cheap Alternatives
I wanted to go all out and get some real hydroponics equipment but it's not needed. My old system, as stated above, used tap water and just liquid fertilizer (~$3.50) as nutrients to grow an aloe vera plant and did fairly well. Instead of expanded clay, or any other hydroponics media, I just used some aquarium gravel I bought for a few bucks. Instead of buying a light, you can use the sun as long as there is a good location that receives a decent amount. You don't need to spend a lot of money to make your system work. Buying good equipment does provide benefits but it is definitely not needed for the amateur hydroponics enthusiast!

I decided to order some small herb plants online since starting them from seeds taking way too long and is often quite difficult. I got my plants in the mail and transplanted them. The cilantro started to droop and most of the plant died off... but! there was one little sprout in the middle that survived! In a few days it doubled in size and then I noticed more little sprouts starting to grow, so it's coming back to life! The parsley is doing well, a leaf or two started to die off, most likely due to the shock of transplanting them. I was a bit rough trying to get the dirt off the root. The majority of the plant, however, is deep green and looking good. The basil is pretty small but is responding to the light and directing its leaves toward it. The thyme is surviving. No real signs of it flourishing though. I also bought a few small spinach plants but I haven't had time to make more containers for them yet.

After I had transplanted my herb plants I noticed that the nutrient solution was not coming up the whole way in some of the pots. This was due to the fact that one pot had less solution than the others, allowing it to push all of its nutrients up into the plant and bubble, releasing the pressure needed for the other pots push the water up. In order to fix this, flood the system by turning the pump on. When one container starts to bubble, add more water/nutrient solution to it. When you add more, it takes more pressure to make it bubble and allows the other containers to fill up higher. It took me a bit of filling up but I eventually got it all evened out.

I hope this is all straightforward!!! Message me with any questions or comments, I love to help!!! Thanks for viewing!
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up
cogworkz2 years ago
Alternate solution.

The problem you're having is due to the fact that the liquid in the system serves as the seal. If it starts to bubble, the seal is lost and the system depressurizes and the units downstream do not ebb and flow. This is only problematic because you're trying to pressurize the system in series.

Instead of messing around with the solution levels in each unit, you could instead use an aquarium air distributor to pressurize each unit independently. (This also does away with the need to have both an input and an output on each container).

For example, the distributor I'm going to link can independently pressurize 4 units without messing around with the water levels:

The only caveat is - the amount of liquid in each reservoir will need to be equal., since they will all pressurize at the same time. If bubbling occurs in one before the others, it will still cause the system to depressurize. But I think what I've suggested here should simplify both the design and the effort to equalize the pressure across containers.
Dandeman321 (author)  cogworkz2 years ago
Yeah getting rid of some of the seals would help out. And yeah, I did notice the balancing water problem. Gotta keep them all equal. I've abandoned this system and moving on to a larger setup.
I figured you would - the obvious problem I see with this set up is how frequently you would have to replace the solution. As plants get bigger, they get hungrier. So it wouldn't be long before tending to this system could take quite a bit of work. ;)
Dandeman321 (author)  cogworkz2 years ago
Exactly. This system was designed to be small and cheap. Not really too useful if you grow larger plants in it.
Actually, they don't have to be equal, since each port on the distributor has an adjustment knob. So rather than adjusting the level of solution you can adjust the flow rate of the air going into the container instead (by twisting the knobs).

This ability to adjust flow rate to each container could also let you use multiple size containers with the same pump. (Turn the flow rate up on a big container, and down on a small container until you the displacement rate works for all containers... just dial it in).
coco j5 years ago
do u guys happen to have a more simpler way for me to understand how to make one of these, you know like for dummies? lol!
jrossetti5 years ago
This is a pretty ingenious system you've designed here. I suppose there's a theoretical limit in the number of containers you can connect, based on pump output. I've seen higher output pumps, though, with 2 and 3 output nozzles, so I suspect it's possible to have a huge network of containers. This is one of those ideas I'm definitely going to have to try. Thanks!
Dandeman321 (author)  jrossetti5 years ago
Well I later found out that it is difficult to balance the amount of water in each module so that all of them will bubble. Usually one fills up and starts bubbling and then the air pressure in the network drops and does not push any more water in the other ones. I pump with multiple outputs, each hooked up to one module, would work very well.
Yes, I figured this out too last night. The problem is the low pressure output from the air pump, I believe. It's possible to add a second air pump and put airstones in the base of each of the upper containers, but I feel that overcomplicates the whole system. As it is now, it's simple and elegant - and elegant in its simplicity! I think forcing it to bubble isn't terribly critical in a system this small, and since each plant has its own reservoir, that makes it exceedingly easy to correct any problems with aeration or with the nutrient solution. I've set mine up with 3 plants total: one in hydroton, one in perlite, and one as a soil-based system. I will keep you updated how they all fare.
Dandeman321 (author)  jrossetti5 years ago
Very cool! Yeah, I thought that more air pressure may help but I'm unsure. It is really simple! That's how I tried to design it. I didn't want containers that would take a lot of effort to create and I wanted to make them cheaply. I wouldn't know if the plants would die without bubbling since I killed mine accidentally :( Yeah! Let me know how they work out! Hope they do well!
bustedit5 years ago
are you going to Scarborough Fair?? (couldnt resist)
Dandeman321 (author)  bustedit5 years ago
jtroc65 years ago
I just wanted to say you are the man! never have i seen a hydro system this cheap!!keep doing what you do man.
Dandeman321 (author)  jtroc65 years ago
Ha, thanks for the compliment.
poppieann6 years ago
Can I use different sized nutrient containers? Say I wanted to use take out containers and they are all different sizes, will this effect the systems ability to pressurize or should I just adjust the fluid in each container?
The containers can be wider, but not taller... the air is going to push untill the lowest amount of liquid is gone then because of bubbling it will lose a lot of preassure.
Dandeman321 (author)  poppieann6 years ago
You should be able to. You just need to make sure they are air tight.
plowboy076 years ago
Could i have just one, Instead of haveing three containers
Dandeman321 (author)  plowboy075 years ago
MaxPowers966 years ago
Very awesome Best one I have seen so far! Great job keep it up
Dandeman321 (author)  MaxPowers965 years ago
medcare6516 years ago
way to go college student!!!
Leroy6 years ago
The aquarium air hose just uses air to provide downward pressure on the liquid, right? The liquid does not move from pot to pot. It just stays in the single pot you put it into. Is that correct? Each pot has to be at the same level for this system to work. You can't have one pot sitting on the countertop and another pot sitting on the floor and another sitting on the windowsill. Is that correct?