Have you ever had trouble with taking care of a soil garden or thought it was too much maintenance? If so, hydroponics will be great for you. Even if you do like soil gardening, hydroponics provides a fun variety from traditional gardening and in most cases provides higher yield on a shorter amount of time. On top of all of that, you can grow plants inside, meaning you can grow and harvest them 24/7 365 days a year!
In my very first instructable (yay!), I will show you how to make a particular type of hydroponic system called NFT (nutrient film technique) that takes a water-nutrient mix from a reservoir, takes it into the channel where it flows through giving nutrients to the growing plants and goes back into the reservoir. This means that this is a recycling system which means that virtually no water is wasted and you don't have to put harmful chemicals from the nutrients into the environment. This certain hydroponic system is hands free until you want to harvest, meaning that you don't need to do things that you normally would have to in conventional soil gardening like watering, weeding, or worrying about pest control!
Step 1: Materials & Supplies
1. 4" wide PVC pipe (in this case, I cut the pipe down to 1' 8" in length, but you could hypothetically have it up to 15' in length)
2. A grow light
3. Two pieces of 2 by 4s
4. 6' of 3/4" wide black vinyl tubing (two pieces. One 10" and the other 4'6")
5. A storage bin
6. 3" plastic netted pots
7. Submersible pump (159 gph)
8. Ionic Grow: the ultimate solution (liquid hydroponic nutrients)
9. Some type of growing medium (perlite, growool, expanded clay balls, etc)
10. Two 5" PVC flat caps
1. 3/4" drill bit
2. 3" drill bit
3. 1" drill bit
Step 2: Building the Channel (PVC Pipe)
To build the channel of the system, you must first cut down the channel down to 1'8" (if you want to have the same design as mine, cut it to this length. I just found that this size fits best on the top of the storage bin). You must then drill 3" holes that are all equally spaced on the top (refer to picture 1). These will hold the pots in the channel. On the opposite side of the large holes, drill a 3/8" hole (refer to picture 2). This will be for draining the water within the channel. Next, drill another 3/8" hole near the middle of ONE of the PVC caps (refer to picture 3). This will be for the tube that gets the water into the channel from the reservoir. Finally, you will need the two pieces of wood and cut an upside down isosceles trapezoid near the top of the wood (refer to picture 4). This will hold the channel in place. You will also need to have one of the pieces have a more substantial indent to provide a slight slope of the channel for water to flow. To find out how much slope you will need you can use a 1:30 ratio, meaning that for every 30" of horizontal length there should be a 1" of vertical drop.
Step 3: Building the Reservoir (storage Bin)
To start, you will drill a 3/8" hole at the far end in the middle of the reservoir. This hole will connect to the hole at the opposite end of the large hole with the 10" piece of black vinyl tubing. You will then need to drill a 1" hole on the opposite side of the hole you just made but make it slightly more to the right. This will be for the power plug of the submersible pump About 4-5 inches above the 1" hole. This will be used for the vinyl tube that will be pumping the water into the channel.
For the configuration of holes, refer to the picture above.
Step 4: Putting It All Together
First off stick the 4'6" tube into the hole closest to the hole for the outlet. Put the 10" tube into the far end hole. Next, put the submersible pump onto the bottom of the reservoir and connect it to the longer piece of tubing so it sits flat on the bottom of the bin. Run the outlet through the 1" hole and plug it in once your ready to. Next place the more indented piece of wood near the far end of the side with only one hole and then place the other piece directly opposite to it (the idea is that it slopes downward to the hole that is for drainage). After that, you can add the channel. You need to connect to 10" tub to the hole at the bottom of the PVC and put the longer tube into the PVC end cap. You should make sure that the height of the tube inside of channel is at the same height as the very bottom of the pots when they rest in the holes (this is to ensure that the water level is just barely touching the roots so they don't drown). You are now ready to add the nutrient-water mix into the reservoir and power everything up. I added about 5 gallons of water and added the nutrients accordingly (there is usually instructions on how much nutrients you should add for every gallon of water, so look for that on the package of the nutrient mix you buy). Make sure to mix it up and then your ready to turn on the pump. You can now add the sprouts/seeds in the netted pots with the inert medium of your choosing. Once everything is setup, you can you put in the grow light above the plants. Make sure it's far enough away to not burn the plants, but close enough for the plants to carry out photosynthesis.
Step 5: Hydroponic-ing Tips
To become a hydroponics master, you will need to learn helpful tips and tricks to improve your crop yield:
1. If your operating the system outside, make sure that nothing is clear or opaque because sunlight can deactivate some ingredients in the solution.
2. You should add new nutrients about every 10 days
3. If you want faster, more effective growth you can add certain natural growth hormones like gibberellic acid to the crown of the plant (everything above the soil).
4. If want further information on NFT hydroponics, you can check out my video that I made that goes into further detail of the system I made. -> http://youtu.be/cbBFPOLHUO8