How the System Works
The hydroponic nutrients are stored in the black plastic box. A water pump inside the box pumps the nutrients up to the drip lines at the top, thus providing nutrient solution to the grow media (clay balls in my case) and plants inside the white plastic pots. The nutrients will drain out the bottom of the plastic pots which is then collected by the recessed yellow lid that the pots sit on. Holes in the lid allow the nutrients to drain back into the black plastic box. I currently have a timer that waters the plants for 15 minutes every hour that the light is on, and then twice more during the night.
Hydroponic Systems; What is best for you?
I have been using two basic hydroponic systems: Raft and Drip. Other hydroponic systems include: Ebb and Flow, Nutrient Film, Aeroponic and Fog.
The raft system works by floating the plants right on top of the nutrient solution. An air pump and air stone are used to aerate the nutrients. The raft system is really good for growing lettuce but most plants thrive better without their roots submerged right in the nutrients.
The drip system works in much the same way that plants normally get watered. Nutrients are provided to the top of the grow media by gravity or a pump which draws much needed oxygen into the media as the nutrients drain out. This method should work well for almost any type of plant. Pump failure and cloged drip lines are the down side of this method.
The Ebb and Flow system is a popular system for home hydroponics. Pots are placed in a tub that is flooded with a couple inches of nutrients using a water pump. This waters the pots from the bottom up. After the tub is flooded, the pump is turned off and the tub drains back into the nutrient reservoir. One downside of this type of system is you need a large reservoir to hold all the nutrients necessary for flooding the tub as well as enough left over so the pump does not run dry. Like the drip system you also have the possibility of pump failure.
The Nutrient Film system works by placing the plant roots on a thin layer of flowing nutrients. From what I have read, these systems are hard to set up and thus not a good place to start for the home hydroponic enthusiast.
The Aeroponic and Fog systems work by atomizing the nutrients which the roots are sprayed with, or suspended in. This can be a very powerful method for growing plants as the atomized solution contains much oxygen, which the roots thrive in. Most of the home bought systems labeled as "Aeroponic" are not really aeroponic system though. These home systems use small fountain pumps and spray nozzles to spray the bottom of net cups and roots. The tiny fountain pumps cannot produce the kind of pressure necessary to atomize the nutrient solution so the gain over a drip or ebb and flow system are questionable. I have avoided these systems as the tiny spray nozzles seem more likely to clog than the larger drip emitters. Fog systems are fairly new and I do not know about the reliability or availability of these systems for the home hydroponic enthusiast.
Step 1: Materials Needed
1 - 27 gallon heavy duty plastic storage box with recessed plastic lid
10' of 1/2" PVC pipe
5 - 90 deg PVC elbows
3 - PVC T connectors
1 - 3/4" to 1/2" PVC reducer
1 - 3/4" PCV pipe to 3/4" Male Thread connector
4 - 1/2" PVC J-Hook Hangers
1 - Male Quick Disconnect to male 3/4" hose thread
1 - Female Quick Disconnect to female 3/4" hose thread
1 - 1/2" hose barb to female 3/4" hose thread
1 - rubber washer with filter screen
3' of 1/2" flexible rubber hose
1 - Active Aqua PU160 water pump
12' 1/4' O.D. drip line hose
12 - Drip stakes or drip nozzles with tie down stakes
12 - Square Plastic pots sized to fit 3 across top of tote lid
1 - 24 Hr timer with 15 minute on/off timing intervals
The first 11 items on the list were all purchased from Home Depot and can be picked up at most hardware stores. The remaining item were purchased from a local hydroponics store in Billerica MA [www.greenlifegardensupply.com]. I highly recommend them if you are local; If not most items can be picked up via the WEB or at a local garden supply shop. I purchased everything new for a total cost of about $70.
Miter box and miter saw or hack saw for cutting PVC
Sand paper, small round file, or deburring tool to debur cut PVC
PVC purple primer and cement adhesive
Electric Drill with assorted bits
1" speedbor bit or 1" hole saw
Awl or Nail to place drill starting mark in PVC
Hydroponic Supplies Needed
Your choice of hydroponic nutrients (I'm using Botanicare Pure Blend Pro)
Your choice of grow media (I used about 15 liters of clay balls)