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Step 17: Hydroponic potatoes!

Hydroponics isn't just for above ground plants, with a bit of creativity (and a good hydroponics book!!), you can find ways to plant pretty much anything without dirt.

Potatoes can be started from any potato with eyes.
You can even start from a small slice of a potato, as long as it has an eye to start a root from.

Ideally you will want to get a seed potato from your local nursery, as it will be disease free and healthy.
I was a bit impatient however, and just grabbed a potato from the cupboard!

The plan here, is to plant the potato at the bottom of the bin, and as it grows, add more medium around the plant. (look at the second, badly drawn picture!)
This will give us more potatoes, and let us grow vertically.

One very important note here, don't let any potatoes grow uncovered. Uncovered potatoes will go green, and green potatoes are poisonous!!

Start by lining the bottom of the bin with some clay balls, this will allow the water to drain better.

Place the potato in the centre and cover with a 50/50 perlite & vermiculite mix and put in the drip ring.

Now, being so deep down in the bin, it would help if we could direct some more light into the area.

One of the best ways to reflect the light that plants like, is to use a reflective material called Mylar.

Mylar in rolls for hydroponics is a bit expensive, thankfully it isn't just for hydroponics, you will find it on shiny balloons, and chip packets!

Having a big multi-pack available, I cut it open, and stuck it into place.
So shiny!!
<p>Neat setup. Odd question: How much does it weigh, w/out the water reservoir?</p>
<p>It has been quite a while since I have had this setup, so I don't know sorry.</p><p>Most of the weight is in the PVC pipes, and I would guess maybe a few kilograms or so.</p><p>If you are planning a build, go to a hardware shop and see how much the pipes weigh to get a better idea.</p><p>Good luck!</p>
<p>Hi there! It's great to read about your tips'n tricks for DIY hydroponics. And it's a great project, NathanWilliams. However, my interest goes along the line of helping my teenage son setting up an easy system. He has little experience so I want to make it small and affordable and then see if he really cathes on. What would you recommend for a DIY start-up, ie. lamps, pipes and buckets? BTW the system would need to be indoor and in a somewhat dark environment (at least three months from now). </p><p>Cheers, Nicolai</p>
<p>When I was first experimenting with hydroponics, I made a small system based on an M&amp;M tub like so:</p><p>https://www.the-distributors.com.au/product-images/9300682038065.jpg</p><p>I cut a hole in the lid so a plastic drink cup fit in it.</p><p>I then made a few holes in the bottom of the cut (using a small drill bit, or hot soldering iron).</p><p>At the bottom of the tub I glued a small round air stone, and hooked it up to an aquarium air pump.</p><p>In the cup I put some clean gravel I bought from the hardware store.</p><p>I mixed up some a hydroponics nutrient solution (weakly) and filled the tub.</p><p>I planted a chilli seed in the gravel, and the plant grew like crazy in my windowsill, just getting whatever sun it could.</p><p>Something like that would be a great starting point.</p><p>In your case, you said it would be dark, so without a windowsill you will need an appropriate light.</p><p>There are many options here, but for a small setup as you want, I would suggest a compact fluorescent globe like this:</p><p>http://bnpwls.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/compact-fluorescent-lamps-ge-cfl-2.jpg</p><p>You will want one labeled 13w or better (ignore the &ldquo;equivalent&rdquo; rating).</p><p>Put that in a lamp and add a basic reflector to redirect lost light (just a bit of foil will do if you can secure it).</p><p>I could go on, but I have written enough for one comment!</p><p>If you need more help, feel free to message me and I&rsquo;d be happy to help get someone else started in hydro, it is a lot of fun!</p>
<p>Dear NathanWilliams,</p><p>Thanks for your very thorough reply and an apology for this late answer. Your comments and suggestions are much appreciated and I feel much more confident diving into the project now. As a matter of fact I might try it out with some of my pupils in 5th and 6th grade. Again, thanks your effort! :-)</p><p>Cheers, Nicolai (Copenhagen, Denmark)</p>
<p>That sounds fantastic!</p><p>I love the idea of teaching children about hydroponics, I have found it has given me a greater appreciation for how plants work, and I'm sure it would spark an interest in young kids.</p><p>If you do it, you should document it as an instructable, I would love to see it!</p><p>Good luck!</p>
<p>hi Nathan, does the cost eventually be less than what we get commercially outside ?</p>
I'm not sure how much commercial systems cost, but I would assuming making your own would be cheaper.<br><br>You would have to price out the parts (and consider the time it would take to build) compared to a commercial system.
Hi Nathan,<br> Thanks for the reply. I am sorry for the not so specific question. My question was rather asking that when we compare the cost of produce like tomatoes etc. with with the &quot;nutrients&quot; cost and also the setup cost, would there be a break even?<br>I have done several aquaponics systems and don't find the break even to be coming at least in the next 5 years. :(<br><br>Thank you.<br>
<p>Ahh, I see now.</p><p>To be honest, I haven't run the numbers.</p><p>My half educated guess I believe you could get bulk nutrients much cheaper than the cost of fresh produce.</p><p>But like I said, I haven't done the numbers.</p>
Great ible. I'm hoping to create an indoor hydroponic kitchen garden and this will be really useful.
I'm in the middle of doing an indoor system too for strawberries.<br>A bit on hold at the moment, but I hope to one day write an instructable for it.<br><br>What are you planning on growing?<br>What lights are you thinking of using?<br><br>For my strawberries I'm going to use some compact fluorescent globes (the spiral ones).
Haven't thought that far ahead as we're waiting on getting our kitchen decorated. Probably lettuces, potatoes, peas, strawberries, tomatoes, herbs, some or all if i can. No idea what lights.
<p>Sounds like an ambitious plan, I love it!</p><p>If you need help with lighting at some point, feel free to send me a message, I have done a lot of research into grow lights lately.</p>
I will - thanks! :)
<p>Great documentation! Just about to get started... I just have a quick question.. How loud is this system with the pump? Im just wondering weather pump noise could ever be a problem when its indoors... <br><br>Thanks!</p>
It has been a while since I ran this system, but as I recall, it was pretty quiet.<br><br>The pump is submerged in water, so all you really end up hearing is the trickle of water.<br><br>If I were to do this again, I would buy a smaller pump, the one I had was too powerful and pumped too fast. A smaller one could only be quieter still.<br><br>Good luck with your build, post pictures!
<p>This is one of the most useful and complete projects here... Double plus good.....</p>
<p>love this idea this year i am going to give it ago.</p>
Great!<br>Good luck, post pictures!
What does this poor potato do sitting alone in this deep bucket : do you really expect to have a potato harvest with a single plant ???&hellip;
Actually yeah, if I was more patient it would have given me a good yield.<br><br>I read it from a book where the guy used 2 5-litre buckets joined together and got a lot of potatoes out.<br><br>The trick is to keep covering up the stem as it grows, and more potatoes will grow from the covered stem.
with this all being some 3-4 years ago, I was wondering wether u r still using the system and if u are happy with it <br>
It lasted me about a year before I stopped taking care of it. <br>I have so many projects, and I become a bit scattered! <br>Then I moved and threw it all away. <br> <br>I want to build a new system someday that needs less maintenance. <br>This one wasn't perfectly stable, and I had algae grow over the perlite (the white mix). <br> <br>I want to do something with flood &amp; drain next, and put a black plastic over the medium with holes for the plants to stick through. <br> <br>I'm hoping being in buckets on a properly built frame, and no way for sunlight to grow algae on the medium, that it might be easier to just keep going.
What I wondered with the NFT: how do roots get water when they have not developed completely to the bottom of the cup, or at least far enough to be in the 'film'
I wondered this initially too, but I read in a book that tiny splashes of the water add moisture to the surrounding air, enough for the roots to grow towards the source.
This system is great in the winter time. <br />plus it can almost support itself <br />
Thanks Nathan ! <br> <br>I did setup systems similiar to your and it's works. I didn't have the clay balls but used gravel from some fish tanks we have left over. I have attached a couple of pictures. I am still experimenting with this over the summer. Hopefully by the winter I will have all the bug out of it. I can't locate the hydroponic food in my area but I am using a mixture of Miracle grow and seem to be working, everything is growing. Thanks
Where are the pictures?<br>I would love to see your setup! :)
Here are the pictures. The first picture is the general setup and second is about two week of old and the last one is when I started with some plants started in dirt, wihich told about 2 weeks to get started. I have also try some from seeds. Lettuce is doing pretty good and the cucumbers are dying. I am just trying different soil mixtures to see what will do good. I will keep you updated. Thanks
Wow, that looks fantastic!<br>I really like it, it looks so neat and professional (compared to mine which was a bit of a hack!)<br><br>One suggestion I would have is to cover your water tank to stop light getting in, otherwise you will have algae growth.<br><br>
Nice tutorial NathanWilliams! I was going to go the <a href="https://growshops.com/en/" rel="nofollow">hydroponic equipment</a> route, but if DIY is this simple and affordable&hellip;.I&rsquo;m sold.<br> <br> What veggies are the easiest to grow for a n00b and how much did you spend? I can across this <a href="https://growshops.com/en/tips/hydroponic-faq" rel="nofollow">hydroponic</a> FAX which was pretty helpful for a novice like me. Any good tutorials out there that could aid me?<br> <br> Thanks!!! :)
Thanks for the complement :)<br>It has been a while and I can't recall how much I spent. The most expensive part was the pump, which here in Australia I think it was about $40, if you are in the US you should get it much cheaper. <br><br>As for the best veggies, I had the best results with celery, I would only be guessing at others. <br><br>Start with above ground veggies (not carrots etc), and as you get a feel for it you should just experiment with what works!<br><br>In the end all I did was experiment. Some things went well, others didn't. It is fun just trying!<br><br>I once grew a massive chilli plant using hydro once, way more chillies then I could use. <br><br>Don't be afraid to try, plants are pretty tough and they love hydro. <br><br>Good luck!
I don't really understand the purpose of the large water reservoir, does the irrigation channel end in it instead of the bottom bucket or is it just to make sure that the bottom bucket never runs out of grow fluid? Im a little unclear of its purpose and am wondering if it is necessary if a person is willing to check the h2o level of the lower bucket on a regular basis.
It isn't really needed.<br><br>I added it as I tend to get distracted easily, so I could imagine forgetting to keep the water topped up and burning the pump out when it all went dry! (not to mention killing the plants!)<br><br>I found the lower bucket of water lasted a fair while, but I would suggest a dark bucket, preferably light proof, as all that water and nutrients makes a nice place for algae to grow, and I found I had to dump the water and clean it after a while.
That is the coolest float valve!
Simple, cheap, ingenious!
Such kind words, thank you!
With cheapy plastic material, you could also heat the drill bit (or a nail for that matter) and poke right through. When I tried on a similar project, I found that the drilling broke several of my cheap pots.
hi, thanks for this w9nderful tutorial. i read it all and planning to give it a try on our new home next month.<br>i'm reallt new in to growing plants and got some very basic questions:<br>1. how long it takes to grow the celery? and the strawberries?<br>2. is because it grows on water the plants grow stronger and bigger?<br>3. when the celery is fully grown, i need to take it out and plant a new one intead, right? or you just take few leafs every time and let it regrow?<br><br>thanks!
Thank you for such nice words!<br><br>It was quite a while ago now that I did this, so I don't quite remember how long it all took.<br><br>1. The celery was pretty quick, the strawberries didn't go as well as I had hoped though<br><br>2. The reason they grow stronger is that they have a lot more food to eat.<br>Plants need a few basic elements (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) and a few other minor elements.<br>In dirt the plant roots have to dig far, and even then they only get a small amount of what they could use, so they grow slowly.<br><br>In hydroponics the water is full of nutrients, so the plants take up as much as they can and grow fast.<br><br>3. I cut stalks off the celery and just left the plant to regrow, but if you want it all at once, then you could cut it down and plant a new seedling.<br>Either way works!<br><br>I'm considering doing a new garden sometime soon, I want to try and get the strawberries to grow better then they did in this setup.
Thanks for your fast reply and detailed answer.<br>I can't wait to get started. Thanks again for sharing your wonderful work.
I really want to design something with stackable sections that can somehow can have the bottom potatoes harvested, the bottom section removed and placed on the top then the entire tower dropped down making a conveyor belt of potatoey goodness.<br><br>
I like the idea!<br><br>I was at one point wondering if I could use a worm farm for this by cutting out the base of each layer. (like this: http://www.canterbury.nsw.gov.au/resources/images/worm_farm.jpg)<br>Unfortunately those things are expensive, so when I finally got one I used it as a worm farm!<br><br>If you figure it out, please post it up, I would love to see it!
Just had a potential idea that could make your idea for the Potatonater?, Tower of Potatoey DOOOOM!!!?, other Potato related name? easier to work and possibly cheaper after seeing a milk crate at work.<br> <br> A set of stacking boxes with holes smaller than the growth medium in the bottom and solid sides should end up with an easily removable layer of potatoes if you can devise a way of moving a very heavy stack of crates.<br> <br> Some sort of winch or jack that has a travel of the box height + a couple of inches should suffice to allow the bottom drawer to be removed and the rest of the tower lowered to the ground. Don't know how this lifting mechanism will connect to the boxes but I can't make it too easy for everyone ;)
I love it!<br>Milk creates with some sort of wall would be easy, and if you could hinge one of the side walls, you might even be able to put your hand in to just pull potatoes out without moving it at all!<br><br>You could have a perpetual potato plant that you never have to replant!
Very nice design. I was poking around on the net and found the link below. It might be interesting to use it as a small greenhouse.<br><br>http://www.amazon.com/Covered-Extra-Clothes-Closet-Clear/dp/B002UPY2PW<br><br>Keep up the good work.

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Bio: Software engineer, using electronics and micro controllers as a hobby to keep me sane!
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