Introduction: 'Eleplant' Indoor Hydroponic Planter
Ever thought of growing your own salad leaves, kitchen herbs or micro-greens in a simple and clean and convenient way? The Eleplant is a fun way to do so using only repurposed household waste materials. The interactive nature of the Ele-head pump will encourage you to maintain your growing produce; and can help introduce children to the joy of growing your own food. It takes about 10-15 minutes to build your Eleplant from scratch - ready to sow or plant your first crops.
Step 1: Collect Your Materials
You will need the following materials to build your 'Eleplant':
1 x 2 litre plastic drinks bottle (empty) with its cap
1 x pump unit from a handwash/soap dispenser
1 x plastic tube approx 1 cm in diameter and 5-10cm long (here I have used a the outer part of a syringe from a children's medicine bottle)
1 x ping-pong ball
1 x tight weave dishcloth (e.g. J-Cloth)
Stiff card or thin plastic (for the ears)
Sellotape and/or white insulating tape
Plasticine, blu-tack or plaster-of-paris to fill the ping-pong ball
A craft knife
A permanent marker pen (e.g. Sharpie)
Step 2: Cut the Bottle Into Three Pieces and Remove the Screw-collar From the Pump
Using the scissors, cut around the base of the bottle approximately 10 cm from the bottom to form the reservoir section. Then cut around the remaining section approximately 12-14 cm from the top to form the planter section. Remove the screw cap and retain it but discard the middle part of the bottle.
Then, using the craft knife, carefully cut the screw-collar from the pump unit to remove this bulk, and discard it. Be careful not to cut into the pump component itself or it will leak and fail!
Step 3: Affix the Pump and the Filling Tube
Using the craft knife, carefully make two cross-type cuts in the sides of the inverted planter section, just where the top curves in towards the middle. Make these on opposite sides, one for the pump and one for the filling tube. They need to be just big enough to allow the pump or tube to pass through with a squeeze. Pass the pump through its hole from the top and allow the base of the pump to rest on the top edge of the planter section. Now repeat this on the other side with the filling tube. Tape these in place using sellotape at the top and around the hole. It doesn't have to be water-tight; it just has to stop movement.
Step 4: Preparing the Wick
Using the craft knife, cut a hole or slot in the top of the bottle cap. The wick will pass through this.
Now, take the folded dishcloth and roll it up lengthways. Decide if it will fit through the hold in your bottle cap. If it is too bulky, unroll it and cut off what you think you won't need. As a rough guide, you will need a double-thickness piece approximately 15 cm long by 10 cm wide.
Make several cuts in the cloth from the bottom end to 1 cm short of the mid point. When it is rolled up again you want the base to fan out like fingers.
Step 5: Making the Wick
Now, roll up the wick lengthways tightly. If needed wrap a piece of tape or a rubber band around the middle to hold it.
Push the uncut end through the hole/slit in the bottle cap until it sits at the midpiont of the wick.
Then. make some more cuts in the other end of the wick to make it fan out too.
Step 6: Assembling the Planter
Push the wick through the neck of the bottle and screw the cap in place. Fan out the wick evenly. Now, place this planter section into the reservoir section. Make sure it is sitting straight and level in the base and then wrap sellotape around the join to hold it in place.
The planter can be used as it is now or you can go on and make the Ele-head for the pump to add some character!
Step 7: Making the Elephant Head for the Pump
Take the ping-pong ball and using the craft knife cut a T-shaped slot in the side of it. Take some care in this as the ball can crush if you're too heavy-handed with it. The aim is to cut a horizontal slot just wide enough for the pump nozzle to pass through; with a vertical slot just wide enough for the pump tube to pass through. The vertical slot should reach to the very bottom of the ball (the 'south-pole' if you like). The horizontal slot will sit along the 'equator'. Try out your cut for size and if necessary widen the cuts a little at a time.
Next, fill the top half of the ball with plastcine or blu-tack. This will stabilise the head on the pump nozzle and give something of substance to push against. (I have also successfully used plaster-of-paris for this which can be more effective but there is an obvious delay whilst waiting for it to set and dry!)
Now re-fit the ball on the pump nozzle. Use a piece of white insulating tape or similar to cover the vertical slot.
Cut out some elephant ear shapes from card or thin plastic. Ensure you leave a tab on the ear to fix it to the head. Glue the ears in place on the head. You can make two small vertical cuts in the sides of the head to pass the tabs of the ears through for a neater and more 'sticking-out' effect!
Lastly, Draw some eyes and a mouth on the face with the marker pen.
Step 8: Start Planting!
Your Eleplant is now ready for use!
You can fill the planter with a growing medium of your choice. For a clean and hygienic medium, Perlite or Vermiculite, available from good garden centres and hydroponic suppliers, are ideal as they absorb water readily. You can use ordinary compost if you prefer. As you fill the planter, ensure the fingers of the wick are evenly distributed throughout it.
Fill the reservoir by the filling tube to just below the level of the cap. The wick will draw water up into the growth medium.
Sow your seeds of choice sparingly into the top layer of your medium. Press the Ele-head down to pump water onto the top surface.
Place your planter on a warm windowsill. Seeds will germinate in only a few days. Once the shoots are established you can add a drop or two of liquid fertiliser (e.g. Baby Bio) or hydroponic nutrients to support further growth.
Water your plants regularly with the pump to avoid the top surface drying out. The design of the planter will help avoid the problem of over-watering as excess liquid will drain back into the reservoir. Top up the reservoir as necessary.
Enjoy sowing, growing, harvesting and eating your own produce! Here you can see how I've used Eleplants to grow basil, micro-greens (salad leaves) and even chili plants!