Introduction: The 72 Plant Vertical Garden

Picture of The 72 Plant Vertical Garden

This instructable will cover the details of the Vertical Garden built for my "Hydroponic, Automated, Networking, Climate Controlled Greenhouse Project". The vertical garden is a space saving way to grow up to 72 small plants (such as lettuce, spinach, strawberries and lots of different herbs) all with the plant health benefits of hydroponics. The Vertical Garden is designed with modularity in mind, to be brought into the greenhouse and installed as a single unit, with only connection to the existing plumbing required before you're ready to grow. The installation of additional Vertical Garden units should be quick and easy.

Other Instructables that cover elements of the "Hydroponic, Automated, Networking, Climate Controlled Greenhouse Project" are listed below with many more to come:

Part 1: Construction of the Greenhouse
Part 2: The 72 Plant Vertical Garden

The greenhouse when completed should be equipped with a large, centralized hydroponics system capable of supporting up to 40 large plants (tomatoes, bell peppers, banana peppers, etc.) and up to 72 small plants (lettuce, spinach, strawberries, etc.) for a total of up to 112 plants. The greenhouse will be equiped with an arduino based climate control system capeable of monitoring the indoor environment through a variety of sensors (temperature, light intensity, humidity, CO2 concentration, etc.) and automaticly adjusting each variable by controlling different devices (exhaust fans, louvre doors, heaters, grow lights, solenoid valves, pumps, etc.). The readings from all the sensors as well as the on/off status of all of the devices should be sent out over the internet and be viewed remotely and in real time from any computer or mobile phone.

As of this moment the greenhouse's skeleton is all that is completed. I didn't get as much done over the summer as I had hoped because of the nasty weather. However, over the winter I am working on constructing most of the hardware to go inside the greenhouse including the climate control system. I hope to be up and running by the time it's warm enough to start growing.

Each major section of this project should be it's own instructable and when it's all finished I'll compile it into a guide. Right now I'll show you the features of the Vertical Garden ready for installation in the spring.

Step 1: The Supporting Frame

Picture of The Supporting Frame

Every good project starts with a frame, including the Vertical Garden. The frame is constructed out of 2 by 6 lumber that was ripped down into 1 1/2 by 3/4 inch strips. Every attachment was made first by gluing the joint and then fastening it with 18 gauge 1 1/4 inch brad nails.

Each horizontal piece holds one PVC grow tube, with a small machine bolt passing through the PVC pipe and the horizontal member and then secured with a nut and washer. Each PVC tube is secured with two fasteners. Each fastener is located near a hole for a mesh pot. That way a screwdriver can be easily inserted into the bolt head while the nut on the other side can be tightened with a wrench.

The vertical members are positioned so that they match up with the studs in the corner of the greenhouse. When the Vertical Garden is installed, it will be attached to the studs via these vertical members.

Finally, at the top and bottom of each outer vertical member is a diagonal cross member that keeps the whole structure from flexing while it is free standing. The bottom cross member is also a point of attachment for the supply manifold.

Step 2: The PVC Grow Tubes

Picture of The PVC Grow Tubes

The grow tubes are made from 36 inch long pieces of 3 inch PVC sewer pipe. Each tube has 6 holes that are 1 and 7/8 inches in diameter to accomodate a 2 inch mesh pot. The holes are spaced 6 inches on center from each other and spaced 3 inches on center from the ends of the tubes.

On one end of the tube is a plain 3 inch PVC end cap. The end cap is not glued in place but still fits snugly on the end of the pipe and makes a watertight seal. The cap can be removed from time to time so a brush or similar item can be used to scrub out plant debris.

On the other end of the tube is another end cap with holes drilled for the water supply and drain lines. The fitting for the drain line is a CPVC 1/2 inch male threaded adapter. The threaded end of the adapter is inserted into the end cap and secured on the inside first with a rubber O-ring and then with a 1/2 inch PVC lock nut. The supply line connector is a 1/4 inch O.D. tubing bulkhead union also secured to the end cap with a rubber O-ring and lock nut.

Step 3: The Nutrient Supply and Distribution System

Picture of The Nutrient Supply and Distribution System

The Nutrient Supply and DIstribution system is designed to hook up to the main supply line for the whole greenhouse through a single plumbing connection and distribute fresh nutrient solution to each of the 12 grow tubes. The input for the system is a short vertical piece of 1/2 inch CPVC pipe at the bottom of the Vertical Garden unit. The actual connection to the main greenhouse supply  line will be made with a Watt's 1/2 inch Push-to-Connect union.

The main supply line leads into the main distribution manifold, with a 1/2 inch CPVC ball valve in between to provide flow control to the grow tubes. The main distribution manifold has four outlets, each of which supply 3 grow tubes. The outputs from the manifold are converted from 1/2 inch CPVC to 1/4 inch flexible tubing in the following steps:

1/2 inch CPVC pipe
1/2 inch slip by 1/2 inch female threaded CPVC adapter
1/2 inch male threaded by 1/4 inch female threaded galvanized bushing
1/4 inch male by 1/4 inch push-to-connect tubing fitting
1/4 inch flexible tubing

The 1/4 inch flexible tubing and push-to-connect fittings are extremely quick and easy. All you have to do to make a watertight connection is cut the end of the tubing off square with a utility knife and push it into the blue collet on the fitting. That's it. A ring of teeth inside the fitting hold the tubing in place with a watertight seal. To remove, all you do is press on the blue collet while the line is unpressurized and pull the tubing out. The tubing and fittings are ment for compressed air systems but I've seen them used for water in industrial applications so I think I'll be alright using them here.

Each supply line from the main manifold in turn feeds a smaller manifold for a total of four. The smaller manifolds are actually a type of fitting you can buy for the 1/4 inch flexible tubing. It has one input and four outputs. One of the outputs is capped off with a 1/4 inch push-in plug while the other 3 each feed a grow tube.

Each grow tube is supplied with a single line of flex tubing that is connected via the 1/4 inch push-to-connect bulkhead union installed in the end cap. The push-to-connect union has a watertight connection for tubing both on the inside and outside of the tube. The plan is to take a piece of 1/4 inch tubing about the same length as the grow tube, poke a bunch of pinholes in it all down the length of the tubing, put a cap on one end and plug the other end into the push-to-connect bulkhead union inside the grow tube. The result will work kind of like a soaker hose that will hopefully spray water in every direction and get the plant roots nice and saturated.

Step 4: The Nutrient Drainage System

Picture of The Nutrient Drainage System

Each grow tube drains off excess nutrient solution via a network of 1/2 inch CPVC pipes. Inside the grow tube the connection to the drain network is made with a 1/2 inch male threaded adapter that is secured on the inside of the tube with a rubber O-ring and PVC locknut. The drain fitting is positioned about 1/2 inch from the bottom of the grow tube pipe so that some nutrient will remain in the tube without draining down. This is to keep the plants hydrated while the supply pump is not running.

A vertical drain manifold connects the 6 grow tubes of each column together. There are total of two drain manifolds. At the bottom of each manifold is an outlet. The two outlets are connected together via two 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch CPVC bushings and a 3/4 inch CPVC tee. The expansion from 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch at the connection point may or may not be necessary but since that 3/4 inch section of the drain will be handling the load from both manifolds I thought it's better safe than sorry.

FInally, the bottom of the 3/4 inch tee has a small length of 3/4 inch pipe that drops down a few inches. This will be the drain's connection point to the main drain in the greenhouse. From there nutrient solution will drain back into the greenhouse's reservoir. The connection to the greenhouse plumbing will be made with a Watt's 3/4 inch Push-to-Connect union.

Step 5: Final Thoughts

Picture of Final Thoughts

Well that's it for now. I'll be sure to continue this article as soon as the Vertical Garden is installed in the greenhouse and I have it up and running. Right now I see a feature of the frame that would make it easy to attach 4 foot fluorescent light fixtures to it, maybe for use indoors in the winter. I have a large window facing south that I could set the garden up in front of as well. Hmm...

As always, I hope you enjoyed this article and please stay tuned for more updates soon. I welcome any constructive feedback and any questions you may have just leave it in the comments section so everyone can see and benefit from it. Happy New Year!


michaelnelson (author)2012-01-05

Great work, BUT, as someone who has dabbled in hydroponics, I see some problems...
1. You're going be miserable with 3" pvc. The plant roots will clog it quickly as they form in to a thick mat.
2. Your plumbing is overcomplicated. There are many places in your system to clog and leak. I would consider simply pumping the nutrient solution in to the top row, and then letting gravity drain it down to the rows underneath as it makes it way back down to the reservoir. Again, use wide pipe to connect the ends of the rows together to avoid clogging. There's really no need to for manifolds, valves, etc. etc. etc. unless you enjoy tearing it all down and cleaning roots out of them every couple weeks.
3. Are the five gallons buckets your reservoirs? If so, they're not nearly big enough. Also, I would try to reduce them to one single large reservoir to reduce upkeep. I understand that this isn't always possible depending on the variety of plants you intend to grow... but maybe you can narrow it down to a couple of groups... heavy and light feeders or flowering and nonflowering, etc.

Overall, if I were you, I'd start with a much, much smaller system to begin with. Learn what works and what doesn't, then scale it up to greenhouse size. Be patient with it (just as with any other form of gardening) and you'll be rewarded. :) Enjoy the journey my friend.

EcoMotive (author)michaelnelson2012-07-08

If you have a look around YouTube there's many videos showcasing hydroponic farms that are tens of thousands of square feet in size growing thousands of large plants such as tomatos, peppers, cucumbers and the like. For the most part they use 4" PVC in strings of at least a few dozen to a hundred plants and don't seem to have any trouble with nutrients delivered through manifolds that serve each individual plant or have any trouble with roots clogging their drains. All the same the vertical garden is installed in the greenhouse now and will be up and running shortly...time will tell if it will work. Thanks for your comment.

PatrickM121 (author)EcoMotive2016-04-16

I know this is a very old post but I concur with michaelnelson, I tried a small hydroponics setup with square fence post material, 2" diameter and while it worked fairly well (the plants grew like crazy after seedling stage) once the plants got to a certain size the roots tended to clog things up. Had I used 4" pvc pipe instead I think it would have been fine. That is the size I plan to use on my next attempt. I think this system might be suited for smaller plants with less dense root systems like certain herbs for example, rosemary, dill, ect.

michaelnelson (author)EcoMotive2012-07-09

I think if you give them a second look, the large pvc systems on YouTube tend to grow exclusively greens and small herbs. I'm not saying your system is useless, absolutely not. I just think you're going to see problems with large plants. You still have a very workable setup for greens, though. Happy gardening, my friend!

mcmattgee (author)michaelnelson2012-06-24

To point 1. I have a 5 week old 4" pvc pipe pipe system up and running. 22 feet of pipe and 22 planting sites. tomatoes peppers and squash

I have giant veggie plants BUT the pipe is clogged AND I cannot get the plants out of the pipe to transplant them.

To point 2. Cost is another reason to not have all those little connectors n such. Im looking for some ROI on the garden and I saved about $100 by minimizing.

To point 3. dont forget to consider to the volume of solution the pipes will hold when planning the reservoirs.

chefmichel (author)michaelnelson2012-01-14

I fully agree with your comments, having experienced exactly the same problems.
Since then I switched to "sub irrigation" or SIP systems.
Good luck, Chefmichel.

AKbound (author)michaelnelson2012-01-05

I totally agree about the roots; they are a pain to get out. I have an NFT system that I made with 4" vinyl fence post and I have the same problem. Actually, I agree with everything you said. :)

JudyW23 (author)2015-11-03

Can you grow pot with this? LOL

kdigger (author)JudyW232016-02-25

There are several problems to grow cannabis with this system:

• First of all, there is no support system for big plants. You will have to use some sort of support. Tomatoes hooks work.

• The second is that there are too many plants on a small tube. The root system of cannabis is similar to tomato (but tomato is a perennial plant). Eventually you will limit the size of the plant. I did not understand if the intended project was for NFT, EBB or DWC, but there are other setups for cannabis.

• Another major problem is light. There are phases for growing and flowering. There is not an effective and easy method of doing light on that setup.

You can read about growing canabbis with hydroponics in several sites and if are ever in Uruguay, I can show you a Cannabidiol farm

I do not know if your question was a joke, but hydroponics is a serious and effective growing technic well suited to all plants. Just have to study the plant and use your brain to build something that works best for you plant.

PS: EcoMotive, your setup looks amazing. Use some arduinos as IoT sensors, you will have a lot of fun with it.


TreyL2 (author)2015-09-29

Love what you've done EcoMotive. I'm in the planning stage of my greenhouse, though I'm in Louisiana and will have significantly different problems with heat/humidity, but the comments and pictures are fantastic to broaden my idea landscape. One question though...I'm struggling with installation cost reduction of the polycarbonate. The components for the ends, h channel, etc...are adding up quickly. looking for a cost effective way to install them. Do you have any pictures to illustrate that view?

BrandonV (author)2015-07-05

I really love this project would like to build it but abit confused on all the tubing any chance of contacting me ?

tylerkat (author)2015-06-07

I understand you're using CPVC. Are you at all concerned with the possibility of leaching phthalates and other such dangerous chemicals into the water? I know that PVC has been shown to do this, but I'm not sure on CPVC. Thanks for the incredible Instructable!!

Middletown (author)tylerkat2015-06-16

New components made from food grade PVC, or CPVC (which is what your made in USA plumbing is made from) or any other halogenated polymers and pose zero danger to anyone under standard conditions and substances. In this case water and nutrients it will be no issue, prolonged excessive temperatures or pH up and pH down used in excessive quantities as well as allowing them to pond at the bottom should be a concern. An experienced hyrdroponisist will not allow these extremes to occur, of if they do, exposure would be minimal as you are constantly monitoring your system. If you truly are still concerned substitute medial grade piping in its stead...HDPE, LDPE, PET, PP or similar. however, once you start pricing those options i believe you will understand why EcoMotive chose CPVC yes i sell plastics and yes i am an avid hyrdoponisit and very good question! Good luck and yes excellent instructable thank you!!!

SomePolishGuy (author)2015-05-30

Fantastic. Any updates now that you've had it running for a while?

ThompsonR33 (author)2015-05-11

Very creative! This is a
wonderful example about how to create effective small-space gardens.
More and more authors write about this topic and their ideas get
better and better. Here are more tips that were of great use for me
Maybe you'll enjoy them as well.

bitsandbots (author)2015-05-08

Amazing work! Any pictures with the plants?

astra92 (author)2013-07-20

Mr.Lance penney....
how could i get this pdf plans...for free

i want to try this at home..thanks

RowanCant (author)astra922015-04-24

If you make an awesome instructable and get featured they give you a free 3 month pro membership and boom! PDF downloads!

esl401k (author)2015-03-22

This is brilliant!

ayaxgeminis (author)2014-11-05

What a great work and so creative, I want to try make it, but please, can you help me to know, what its the size from the horizontal PVC tube length and thickness. I hope you can answer me, It would be so helpful.

thanks in advance

4realreal (author)2014-07-15

it would be awesome if you tell us about cost and item prices.

hickman (author)2013-04-27

Interested to see your selection of sensors for the Arduino. I'm building a similar project and plan to use and Arduino as well. Good stuff! Thanks for sharing!

salemend (author)2013-01-25

what kind of pump are u using

EcoMotive (author)salemend2013-01-28

I am using a 1 horsepower sprinkler pump to supply both the vertical garden and the rest of the hydroponics system in the greenhouse at the same time.

DeusXMachina (author)2012-01-05

Splendid instructable! I concur with several of the other posters, though, that your current plumbing design is likely more complicated than it needs to be and fraught with many potential issues. HOWEVER, I think you should totally go ahead and try it. The Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), is pretty well tested and simpler in design than this, but you may learn something valuable by seeing how well this design works. I just think it would be good to know ahead of time what potential headaches there may be. You may discover that it works great, and that's how innovation occurs. Or you may find that it gets mucked up too easily, and that, too, is very useful information. This is why I love tinkering :D

serendip06 (author)DeusXMachina2012-02-05

Legend has it that Thomas Edison tried 99 different materials and configurations for a filament for his electric light before he found one that worked (Carbonized bamboo fiber, I think). When asked if he found it frustrating to fail so many times before succeeding, he reportedly replied, "I didn't fail 99 times. I now know 99 ways to NOT make an electric light bulb."

Remember: 1part inspiration, 99 parts perspiration!

Insaneisfun (author)serendip062012-02-13

Legend also has it that Thomas Edison was a idea stealing borderline psychopath that openly killed and tortured animals to discredit his rivals.

Nice instructable btw.

diy_bloke (author)Insaneisfun2012-11-10

He sure was. Nicola Tesla can account to that. He indeed organized public electrocutions of animals to discredit Tesla and Westinghouse. On one occasion even an elephant.
Having said that: Nice hydro set up :-)

Noego (author)Insaneisfun2012-06-15

That isn't legend, it's a fact.

That being said, I like the basic design, but I have to agree with the other comments about aeration, leaks, and PVC diameter, and I have one additional recommendation: Rather than have the angle in the center, leave the structure straight and support it with PVC about 2" greater in diameter with holes drilled for the growth chamber tubes. You can the create feet for it simply by using "T" slip joints at the bottom. By drilling the support PVC offset by 1/4", you'll have gravity on your side for flow and wont have to drill anything into the growth chambers that is likely to cause them to not be light-tight and leak nutrient solution as well.

Oh, and a venturi valve on each of the nutrient lines as it goes into the growth chamber will likely solve any aeration problems without adding any extra power use. Why more people don't do this in their systems is beyond me.

DeusXMachina (author)Noego2012-07-09

A venturi valve for aeration on the nutrient line would indeed be clever. I'm guessing people either haven't thought of it, or it's a bit finicky to get right, or has clogging issues if not designed well.

You could probably get away with one master veturi for aerating the water, then routing after the valve.

They're pretty trivial to make, too, and designs are all over the internet. It's pretty much a plastic tee-fitting with a nozzle on the inside and an air inlet normal to the jet of water.

EcoMotive (author)Noego2012-07-08

I angled the entire system in order to keep everything tight up against the walls and save a few valuable square feet of floor space in the greenhouse. I never herd of a venturi valve before but I will look into it and maybe add it to the system later. Thanks for your comment.

mcmattgee (author)2012-06-24

That is going to look awesome when it is all loaded up and growing in that corner you've apparently plant to install it.

can you post a pic of it in action

catherinetodd (author)2012-01-05

A number of commentators have mentioned that roots will clog the 3" pipe. What size pvc pipe is recommended, if not the 3" pipe shown?

I also see that one person uses "corrugated drain pipe which is white on the outside and black on the inside." What size drain pipe? is this the 6" coiled pipe? I've only seen it as black colored inside and out. Does that matter?

Great ideas here. Would love to give it a try.

PyroJon (author)catherinetodd2012-01-10

The stuff I used is in the plumbing department of your local Home Depot or Lowes, it is not coiled but rigid like regular PVC pipe. It is corrugated on the inside, but flat on the outside. It generally comes in two forms, with and without drain holes punched in it, obviously you want without. The stuff I used is 4" but the bigger the better really.

catherinetodd (author)PyroJon2012-01-11

Thanks! Will give it a try.

hanelyp (author)2012-01-05

I see the inlet and drain for the grow solution at the same end. Nothing to feed grow solution to the far end from the drain to circulate it?

Would there be a problem feeding the grow tubes in series, the drain from a higher grow tube feeding the inlet to the next tube below?

EcoMotive (author)hanelyp2012-01-05

The nutrients will be supplied and drained from opposite ends of the tube. What isn't shown is a short piece of 1/4 flex tubing that plugs into the union connector in the end cap and runs over to the opposite side.

dirty_valentine (author)2012-01-05

Nice instructable, and the system looks very professional. I have been growing hydroponically in my basement for the last couple years so I have a couple suggestions based on my experience.

1) Put your drain and nutrient input on opposite ends of each tube. This will keep the nutrients from stagnating at the far end of the tube. Stagnation will start to become a big issue as the roots grow and start to choke off the tube. The one issue you might run into with this method is that if the roots get thick enough and your input flow is too high, the nutrients might start leaking out the net pot opening. You could solve this with a second higher drain at the nutrient input end or just put a trough under the lowest tube to catch and return any nutrients that leak out.

2) Since the roots are going to be immersed in the nutrient solution you will want to make sure the solution is well oxygenated. The roots will rot if the solution is not well oxygenated. Plants that grow better in dryer soil will tend to be more susceptible to rot. A large aerator in your main nutrient tank may be enough if you keep the nutrient solution flowing, but if you turn off the pump for extended period of time, your system may work better with a small airstone in each tube.

Once you get the system going be sure to post updated on how the system works and any issues you have found so we can all learn from this.

The nutrients will be supplied and drained from opposite ends of the tube. What isn't shown is a short piece of 1/4 flex tubing that plugs into the union connector in the end cap and runs over to the opposite side.

AKbound (author)2012-01-05

Fantastic instructable!! I'm assuming that the nutes will be in one of the white buckets. Could you elaborate on how the nutes will be circulated? Will you have airstones in the rez? I've been growing in hydro for several years and I've been tinkering with the vertical option.

EcoMotive (author)AKbound2012-01-05

No, Sorry. The buckets have nothing to do with the vertical garden. They are only there as a makeshift stand to hold it up to a comfortable height for assembly.
The nutrients will be circulated with a 1HP sprinkler pump which will also supply the rest of the greenhouse at the same time from a central reservoir, with airstones.

rcisneros (author)2012-01-05

I have a half dozen spare 4" PVC pipes. I'm so doing this. Thanks for a great and simple idea.

godbacon (author)2012-01-05

not to be pushy or unappreciative, but I think a diagram of the plumbing system might help us understand how it goes together.

mikeinbellingham (author)2012-01-05

You can only imagine what you could grow in that. lol. great space saver idea.

raviolikid (author)2012-01-05

Quite a project! What is your climate zone/where do you live? (You may have covered that - admittedly, I skimmed your Instructable.) I am collecting ideas for the future. I can't wait for you to show us how your planting and harvesting turns out!

Congratulations on a great Instructable! Your photos are outstanding! If I decide to go that route, I am sure I will be able to follow your directions.


nkhalsa (author)2012-01-05

The end-grain joinery on the frame is not going to be really strong. That's the only nit I see in this impressive project.

sitearm (author)2012-01-05

@LancePenney; outstanding! I've sent this link immediately to my father-in-law who's an avid gardener for a retirement village. Cheers! : ) Site

rondom69 (author)2012-01-05

This looks great. Have you had any success with the system yet? Any chance of photos of it with plants already growing? I have been using earth boxes for years and this looks SO MUCH easier to set up.

Thanks for posting.

PyroJon (author)2012-01-05

Very nice setup, Impressive!

I built a very similar setup about a year ago and it is growing strawberries quite well right now.

Here are some things that I found with my experience.

I used 3" pots, they are not big enough for strawberries.

I also placed my pots 6" on center, this is a bit too close together for strawberries.

With the pots set at an angle like that, be careful that your plants don't get too big and pull themselves right out of the holes.

I am not sure that a single 1/4" feed per row is going to be enough flow for that many plants.

Keep an eye on your pinholes, they will clog with the most minute debris.

Watch your root growth, I am using 3/4" returns and found that the plant roots can grow so large that they will easily clog the pipe.

I have read that white PVC can actually let light in, which can damage your roots.  (I used corrugated drain pipe which is white on the outside and black on the inside.)

Those end caps will probably leak a little bit, not a major problem I assume since your greenhouse is outside. Maybe you could use threaded on end caps instead if leaking is a problem.

Also, for strawberries, If you start from plants get them going as soon as possible and don't expect a huge harvest the first year (of course).  If you want to start from seed, start about two months ago and don't expect much the first year.   There are tons of varieties of strawberries out there, the ones you buy in the store are horrible tasting in comparison.  Look for Alpine Strawberries, they are supposed to be amazing flavor in comparison, but you may have to start from seed.

I wish you luck, that thing looks great!

vincent7520 (author)2012-01-05

A profesional instructable.

maybe you should have provided a drawing of the circuit as I'm a little bit lost with all those pics with white and blue tubes … but that's a minor point.
Agains this is an outstanding project.
Thank you.

About This Instructable




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