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Picture of Hydroponics - at Home and for Beginners
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I am pushing this project early. I want to clear out my unpublished projects so this is now public. Hopefully it will force me to finish sometime soon (all I need to do now is buy plants)

If you've heard of this word, it may have been on the news due to some illegal drug growing operation in someone's garage. That, or you saw the word on the packaging on some very good looking and expensive lettuce. If not - kudos to you :D

Basic Intro:
What is hydroponics?
Basically, growing plants without the use of a traditional dirt medium and using a nutrient rich water solution. Those mediums range from fiberglass to sand and from fired clay balls to nothing at all. Several branches of hyrdoponics include aeroponics (using air as the grow medium), aquaponics etc.

How do I get started?
Well, you can buy a kit - but its going to cost you... a lot. Or, you can improvise and create your own kit to suite your needs. My local hydroponic supplier's cheapest multiplant kit is $185, does 8 plants but is not very versatile and is very compact. It uses the ebb and flow method. They also offer a single pot (bucket) bubbler system for $50. We are going to combine these two systems into a more versatile and much cheaper system.

What are my options
There are many different methods. NFT (nutrient film technique - stream a thin layer of nutrient solution over the roots) is common among professional kits - a long with ebb and flow (temporary flood your root system and allow to drain). The most interesting method involves suspending your plants in mid-air and spraying the root system very frequently (aka aeroponics). Drip systems are also common and has its own advantages. There are MANY methods - all of which do not use dirt ;)

What method is used here?
By far the simplest and cheapest is a bubbler system. That is, keep your pots filled with your choice of medium just barely above your nutrient solution level -- then keep the solution well aerated. The popping of the air bubbles will keep your medium moist. Remember that more simple and more cheap does not mean less effective ;)

What Medium is used here?
I have used several different mediums in the past. Chopped rockwool, rockwool cubes/blocks/slabs, fired clay and a combination of rockwool and fired clay. This system will work best with chopped rockwool (cubed) or fired clay (extra attention is needed if starting from seed with this medium).

Cost?
I'm in college - so cost is very important to me. This can be a very cheap project if you collect parts slowly. And luckily, the parts list is not long and they're not rare. I believe I have spent a total of $30 for new materials - however I did buy a few items in bulk and I splurged a little :P

Lastly
WHY HYDROPONICS?
Hydroponically grown foods not only taste better and are more nutritional, you can change the properties of your food, monitor what goes into your food and pollutes less. You can also grow more in less space. This is especially great for those of us that do not have a backyard to grow in. With the right plant selection, you can also keep pests away. I plan on planting a citronella plant - not only do I like the smell of citronella plants, but their oils keep away mosquitoes and other pests.

This design is in no way novel... but, it is easy to do - especially for someone just starting or someone with little money.

Excited? I am. Lets go!
 
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Step 1: BOM - Bill of Materials

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Okay, I admit the last line of the intro was corny... I like corny though (especially on hot dogs).

Parts and supplies

1.Opaque container that can hold water with lid (I am using an old 18 gallon storage bin)
2. Mesh Pots (how many depends on what you're growing and the size of your container - I am using 6 5.25" pots) ($9.90 for 6 heavy duty)
3. Rockwool Growcube (chopped rockwool) (5.95 for three gallons)
4. Growing Solution (I have used Dyna-Grow brand 7-9-5 with excellent results) ($12.95)
5. Aquarium air Pump (nothing special) (already have/not using)
6. Air Stone(s) and air hose ($3)
7. See the start growing step for additional instruction

Recommended but optional
1. Syringe - for making more precise measurements of growing solution ($2.60 for 60mL)

Construction Tools
1. Razor Knife
2. Pencil
3. A compass would be nice

Step 2: Make a Home For your Pots

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Place your pots upside down on the top of your container lid. Now trace around each pot with a pencil making sure that no lines overlap.

Now, if you have a compass, set it to the radius of the BASE of your pot. Eyeball the center of each circle (or measure if you prefer) and trace another circle inside the larger ones.

Next, cut away the SMALL circle and cut perpendicular relief cuts up towards the larger circle (see picture for clarification). The idea is to push the pot down into the hole and the container lid will hold on tight making a better seal.

Step 3: Aeration

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My container has breather holes in the handles, so I plan on running my airline through there. You may wish to cut a hole in the top, side or other location. It is not imperative where the hole is as much as it is functional. Keep in mind that you want to keep sunlight out of the container and keep rainwater OUT.

Prep your air stone(s) as per the instructions on the packaging (typically rinsing and a water soak). Please use new stones to avoid intorducing contaminates.

Connect your air stone(s) to your air line and connect to your aquarium pump.

Step 4: Sterilization

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Now, fill your container with water. I am assuming your container is clean and free of debris. Fill to the brim and then ADD 1 TABLESPOON of CHLORINE BLEACH. This is very important as it will kill most intruders you don't want hanging around to cause trouble.

Begin aeration to mix your sterilization solution - put your pots in the container too. After about 20-30 minutes, dump all the water and then allow to air dry completely to get rid of the chlorine.

Once this is done, move on to your initial fill and prepping your medium.

Step 5: Initial Fill

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Now, if you've made it this far... you're almost done :D

Follow the directions on your nutrient solution bottle. My directions call for 2-3 teaspoon per gallon for RECIRCULATING systems and 1 teaspoon/gallon for bag systems. The reason is nutrient toxicity (more on that later). I will treat this as a bag system with a little more.

When filled to the proper level, my container will be holding about 15 gallons of water. So that requires 15 teaspoons of concentrate. Converting to CCs (the graduation on my syringe), that's about 73cc. I will be adding 80cc of concentrate solution.

So, fill your container with water - begin aerating and then add the proper MEASURED amount of nutrient concentration. At this point, your garden should be where you want it as water is pretty heavy, this goes double for larger systems.

Step 6: Introducing Plants and prepping medium

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I will be buying plants that have already started. I want to grow herbs to start off as I love having them fresh for cooking. So obtain your plants. If you will be starting from seeds, read the next step.

A special note about Rockwool
Rockwool is made from fiberglass... So precaution must be taken. Wear a dust mask while handling and as instructed, soak the medium in water. Water keeps the fibers bound together which further reduces any inhalation risk. The risks involved are no more than handling fiberglass insulation or accessing an attic with fiberglass insulation - just wear a mask ;)


Using a pot, scoop out pot fulls of growing medium. Rockwool will shrink a little, so add a little more - you do not need this for fired clay. If you have 6 pots, take 6 pot fulls of medium and put it into a large bucket, bowl, etc. Fill this bowl with water and estimate how many gallons you added. Then measure off the appropriate amount of nutrient solution. Completely soak the medium.

While the medium is soaking, wash off all of the dirt from your plants. ALL of it - but take care not to damage the root system. Place a little bit of growing medium in the bottom of a pot, then place the plant in and fill the pot with your medium.

Put the lid on your container, and press the pot into an open hole. Repeat for the rest of your plants.

Step 7: Starting From Seed

If the last step applied to you, you can skip this step -- or read for your information ;)

This requires extra materials - mainly rockwool seed cubes and a method to germinate. But basically, you're going to soak the cubes, drop in a few seeds and then place in your pots with the main media. Be sure that you can see the top of the seed cube. NEVER, put a seed into a dry cube as the dry glass could damage your seed(s)

You're going to need to water by hand to ensure the seed gets the loving it needs. You may want to place a hood over the pot to make the conditions better.

Step 8: Maintenance

Every other week, you need to replace your nutrient solution. Otherwise, the water will become toxic to the plant and it will stunt its growth or cause death. Larger operations don't do this as they have adequate filtering and methods of removing toxins generated by the plants - we don't have this. Besides, the plant is going to soak in those nutrients thus removing it from the water anyway ;)

Monitor your fluid levels in between water changes... If the water gets too low, go ahead and top it off.

When you first start, you want to keep the water level just above the base of the pot. The root system will works its way down into the container (out of the pot) and into the water. When this happens, lower the water level slightly (about an inch below the pots) and make sure to keep aeration going. Aeration prevents the root system from becoming "too wet" and having some of the root system exposed to air helps.

Step 9: Options

So what else can you add on or do?

Well, when you're ready - I recommend adding a water level gauge -- basically just a clear hose that connects at the bottom of the container and goes vertical to show the maximum level. This will tell you when to top off. This will be a future instructable.

Want to grow indoors? You're going to need a grow light -- this adds a considerable amount of cost but it may be the only option for those of you in very cold regions.

A simple valve placed at the bottom of the reservoir can make draining much easier. If you can drain into a bucket, you can use this on other plants in your area.

It is a good idea to monitor pH levels and conductivity of your water solution. I plan on going to my local pool store that does free chemical testing for pH levels. Once I have some information about how the pH of the water changes, I won't need to go as frequently.

Step 10: Pests

This is a whole other instructable which will come shortly. But to give you an idea -- there are plenty of non toxic methods (even non chemical) of dealing with pests that may arrive.

Step 11: Lighting

I do not own a lighting system... I wish I did, but they can be quite expensive as these are very specialized systems. Regurgitating....

What kinds of lighting are used for growing plants?
Most applications use HID (High Intensity Discharge) lights. All HID systems require both a ballast and a bulb in addition to the socket and reflector. You can also use a T5 High output fluorescent bulb which blends the light spectrum. You can use regular T12 fuorescent bulbs for smaller seedlings and cuttings.

T5?
There are two types of T5 bulbs -- one for blooming and one for growing. Compared to their HID counterparts, they use less heat and all of the spectrum output is used by the plant. The ballast works for both types of bulbs.

HID?
There are three main types of HID: Metal Halide(MH), Mercury Vapor, and High Pressure Sodium (HPS). For growing, only MH and HPS are used.

What do I need for HID?
If you're growing leaf/bushy plants (lettuce, greens, herbs) - you want MH all the time. For plants with a vegitative and bloom phase (i.e. tomato, flowering annuals, fruits) - you want to start with a MH and then swtich to HPS while the plant flowers and starts producing fruit. If all you're doing is supplementing natural light - use HPS.

What if I can only afford one light system?
Here are a few options
1. Use a MH system for growth and then an HPS conversion bulb for flowering.
2. Use HPS for flowering and a MH for growth
3.Buy a standard system and upgrade to an enhanced color corrected bulb. Most go for an HPS system because of the higher lumen output per watt compared to its MH counterpart.
4. Buy a switchable system where the ballast can support either type of bulb
5. Use a T5 system with cool spectrum lamps and warm spectrum for flowering.

What is this conversion bulb?
You can only match a bulb to its ballast (ie MH does not work on an HPS ballast). However, special conversion bulbs will work with the opposite type of ballast.

Sizing?
HID System Primary Supplement
100watt||||||||||||||||||||||||1'X1'||||||||||||||||||||||||2'x2'
250watt||||||||||||||||||||||||2'X2'||||||||||||||||||||||||3'X3'
400watt||||||||||||||||||||||||3'X3'||||||||||||||||||||||||4'X4'
600watt||||||||||||||||||||||||5'X5'||||||||||||||||||||||||6'X6'
1000watt||||||||||||||||||||||||6'X6'||||||||||||||||||||||||8'X8'

T5
2 lamp 2 foot||||||||||||||||||||||||1'X2'||||||||||||||||||||||||1'X2'
4 lamp 2 foot||||||||||||||||||||||||1'X2'||||||||||||||||||||||||2'X2'
2 lamp 4 foot||||||||||||||||||||||||1'X4'||||||||||||||||||||||||1'X4'
4 lamp 4 foot||||||||||||||||||||||||1'X4'||||||||||||||||||||||||2'X4'
8 lamp 4 foot||||||||||||||||||||||||2'X4'||||||||||||||||||||||||3'X4'

Reflector shape/size is also going to play a role -- and these are approx. measurements ;)

Costs....
from m little supplier catalogue...
100watt HPS or MH: $170
400watt ranges from: $250-$350
400watt switchable: $290-$400
For T5
2 lamp 2': $125
4 lamp 2': $190

Bulb Replacement:
T5: 2' = $16ea 4'=$17ea
HID: $50(100watt MH) -- $35 (400watt MH) -- $30 (400 watt HPS)
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Errol19511 month ago

Can I use a solar pump or does the pump still have to cut in and out during the night and thanks for all of the good infomation

Melodious782 months ago
Thank you so much, this is awesome!! I need to give this a try
IshdeepH3 months ago

This is a greatly informative article. Currently the UAE I want to grow &
I found that I can get my own Hydropronic farm!
http://eachgraincounts.com/en/ProductDetailView.a...

kenammons3 months ago
carlosmedina4 months ago

Amazing! You have covered a large amount of information on this topic. Thank you so much for sharing. I plan on starting a herb garden this spring. This instruct able has made my life easier!!!!

rdowd6207 months ago

try using aquashield to protect your roots from root problems and to introduce good bacteria.

rdowd6207 months ago

try using aquashield to protect your roots from root problems and to introduce good bacteria.

KingRedfern7 months ago

Hey dude! Awesome instructable. There's only one problem... I'm trying to cite it in a school paper about colonizing the moon and I need to know the date it was published. Is there any way to find that out?

P.S. Very, very well done by the way - in all aspects.

Oh nevermind I found it. Sorry to bother you.

davidbarcomb7 months ago

I always wanted to try this. Thanks for sharing!

joshrendek10 months ago

I made this type of setup and ran into a lot of issues, for example the tub bowed out with all the water in it, and cutting slats was not a great idea after cutting out the initial holes, getting a properly sized hole saw made a huge difference - I made a modified version using smaller tubs and some other modifications over at http://hydronerd.com/2014/09/starting-hydroponics/

gluvit1 year ago
Nice job
craton7651 year ago

You don't actually need a special light bulb to grow plants a regular incandescent one works fine. You can actually use CF if you want but it should be augmented with incandescent.

Sources: experience, 2 Botanists opinions on the matter.

RnP1 year ago
Thanks for your post. I'm a starter of hydroponics. It helps me a lot.
donkeyknee2 years ago
good
the articles teach me a lot , thank U , I know better about hydroponics after read the articles
alexiraul2 years ago
it is nice
Growing hydroponics at home is really interesting. Hollywood stars have become serious hydroponics growers. Comedian/activist/actor Joe Rogan growing big hydroponics garden. Joe said he is in love with this plants - http://www.rosebudmag.com/hydroponic-tips-ideas/joe-rogan-plants-growers-hydroponics
For the sterilization, you could also just build a basic water distiller (unless you are in a rush) and use that.
macnomad843 years ago
is "electrons per second" a unit of power, not energy?
kovakyl3 years ago
I made one of these in my window vertically useing plastic bottles. Turned out pretty good and was around 100 bucks all in all
You can check it out at youtube
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AVQPIls-PI
I was wondering if you could use lava rock as the medium. Do you think it would throw off the ph balance due to the high mineral content?
akinich3 years ago
hey nice ible
abt the nutrient mix
i live i india and there is no nutrient mix available
so i thought i could mix coconut water http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coconut_water
sea water http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seawater
regular water and maybe a little glucose????
check out the contents of the respective waters in wiki
thanks in advance!!!
Akinich
ilovetea3 years ago
You have the section on starting from seed but I just had a question. After germination, I would put it into the rockwool and just manually water it so it doesnt get dry?
sonyagilman3 years ago
hi friend you have shown a best example of hydroponics,the plants seems good
friend I have a nice idea i know the store in that store you can get a better seeds in a very cheap price they also tell you about effective production,the store name is coasthydroponics and you can also visit online coasthydroponics.com
jlanaux5 years ago
 Hi, I also have a question...I live in Columbus, GA and we are limited here. I have a fishtank pump, would that work? Would I be able to find the other materials at my local Lowes or Home Depot?

Thanks.
in short yes... but... a fish tank is great for hydroponic plants and if you have a fish tank bubbler it is great for  aerating the water. but make sure to cover the glass. plant root hate light and it will harm them. also make sure it's not too deep. if your tank is too deep you'll just waste a lot of the nutrient solution.  
If the tank is too deep, a nice trick would be to deposit a few (completely filled with water, sealed) soda bottles at the bottom.

It's the same displacement trick some people use to waste less water if their old toilet tank is the 5 gallon/20L type.
air pumps for hydroponic systems are usually exactly the same as those for fish tanks. Like dubbed was saying, a fish tank for a planter isn't the best of ideas but could work, but the pump is good to go.
xlioilx7 years ago
I personally would not add bleach. If you want chlorine in your water the tap water would be more then enough. I strongly suggest not to use tap or chlorine and if you use the tap let it sit out for a few days. The reason why is chlorine will make your roots grow slowly or kill them and the more root the faster the plant growth. I doubt that sterilization with bleach would do much for long periods of time anyways.
I second this. If you want to sanitize the container, use Idophor or Star-San. I have both of these in my house because I use them for cleaning out my homebrew and keg system.

Iodophor will stain plastic and leave a faint iodine odor (not very strong) if you dilute it as directed. Star-San is a nice foaming cleaner AND sanitizer (but it will not do both at the same time.. ie, don't think you sanitized anything if your star san solution is full of organic floaties.. dump, rinse and re-apply to sanitize).

Star-san is nice because it's a mild acid, and becomes inert when dried (but if any were left, it would just break down some of the plant food into simpler organic compounds. Star-san -will- begin to etch and pit metals after 15 minutes, so don't soak stuff in it for any longer. SS is actually not that strong when dillute, and I've used it plenty without wearing gloves, but you need to take some care.
shortw xlioilx4 years ago
You are right, some plastics are known to absorb chemicals and will release it slowly.
If you have chlorine in the tap water you simple can drop your air stone in it and aerated it for 24 hrs, this will get rid of the chlorine. Some tab water contains chloromine and there is no way to get rid of it, since it is a combination of chlorine and ammonia.
Bleach residue could kill your roots and you end up with a smelly mess. Why sterilize and then you pump air into your solution which contain a lot of airborne bacteria anyway.
Remember, 1 drop of bleach in a quart of water will kill any bacteria you may have on your counter top.
So, I would not use bleach at all for this purpose.
I would get a test kit to check your tab water if you use tab water. If your tab water tests for ammonia and chlorine, you have chloromine in it.
scottinnh3 years ago
For folks who do not want to keep a syringe around the house, you can get a 60ml "pipette" (or a smaller one and just repeat the measurements).

A pipette basically is a glass or plastic straw. If you've ever "carried" soda in a straw by covering the straw top after dipping it in beverage, then you know how to use a pipette.
TVarmy3 years ago
How long can a hydroponics system wait between waterings? IE, say I changed the water, went on vacation for a week, and came back. Would the water be too low?
this might sound stupid but can you use a type of fishtank gravel? i dont have any hydroponic shops near me and only have things avaliable from places like walmart and homedepot. Any ideas if the smaller gravel wont work?
In aquaponics we use quartz-gravel, which would be like uncolored fish gravel.
Aquaponics is basically the same, but live fish are used to make the plant food.
I have glass marble size beads i guess they'd be for a fishtank as decoration, clear and look to be about the same size as the fired clay you can buy, these should be ok right?
You are thinking about the hydroton and they range from 1/4 inchto 1/2 inch. Remember, the roots need to stay in the dark. Glass marbles would be fine if they are not translucent.
The reason we try to use quartz, because is tends to be the most neutral media. Other media may affect your ph, but if you use glass marbles that is a neutral media also. Plastic would be ok as media, but for larger plants it may not be heavy enough to hold the plant in place.
thanks, i might look around to see if i can find something more suited for the project, like i said before though i only have regular stores around me no specialty stores. there are a few hobby shops around im wondering if i can find something in there closer to what i need.
You may look and find some river gravel at construction sites or a garden center and you could check it yourself if it would change the ph.
*Get your water and let it sit for 24 hrs and aerate it. Some new/fresh water from the tap or from the well will show a higher ph until it will air or gas out. *
After 24hrs check your ph. Wash some of your gravel in regular water and let the gravel dry.
*Check your ph
* Now put a handfull in your aired out water,( that you let set and aerated for 24hr earlier )
* Let the the water with gravel sit for 24hrs-48hrs.
* check the ph again.
If the ph does not change or only change a little bit, you should be ok.
But if it changes a lot then I would not use it.

Here is a website for aquaponic, my username is Johann.
http://aquaponicscommunity.com/forum

This should give you a lot of useful information.
I know it is not hydroponics, but they are somewhat related.
Aquaponic, is using fish instead a liquid fertilizer, but the rest is pretty much the same.
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