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The 72 Plant Vertical Garden

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Picture of The 72 Plant Vertical Garden
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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.



 
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4realreal8 days ago
it would be awesome if you tell us about cost and item prices.
astra921 year ago
Mr.Lance penney....
how could i get this pdf plans...for free

i want to try this at home..thanks
hickman1 year ago
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!
salemend1 year ago
what kind of pump are u using
EcoMotive (author)  salemend1 year ago
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.
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
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!
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.
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 :-)
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.
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)  Noego2 years ago
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.
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)  michaelnelson2 years ago
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.
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!
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.
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.
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. :)

mcmattgee2 years ago
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
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.
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.

Thanks! Will give it a try.
hanelyp2 years ago
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)  hanelyp2 years ago
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.
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.
EcoMotive (author)  dirty_valentine2 years ago
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.
AKbound2 years ago
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)  AKbound2 years ago
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.
rcisneros2 years ago
I have a half dozen spare 4" PVC pipes. I'm so doing this. Thanks for a great and simple idea.
godbacon2 years ago
not to be pushy or unappreciative, but I think a diagram of the plumbing system might help us understand how it goes together.
You can only imagine what you could grow in that. lol. great space saver idea.
raviolikid2 years ago
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.

Thanks!
nkhalsa2 years ago
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.
sitearm2 years ago
@LancePenney; outstanding! I've sent this link immediately to my father-in-law who's an avid gardener for a retirement village. Cheers! : ) Site
rondom692 years ago
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.
PyroJon2 years ago
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!
vincent75202 years ago
Stunning… 
A profesional instructable.
congratulations

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.
TampaGeek2 years ago
Outstanding! I'll be interesting in seeing further articles on this, particularly more on the grow tube setup. What do you plan to use for media? The perforated tube down the length of the grow tube is a very interesting concept... I was thinking of doing something similar to this but with drippers for each grow pot (to be able to regulate the flow for each plant separately) but that may not be necessary with this sort of configuration.
thejaq2 years ago
Very nice job on the design (same for the frame!) I'm confused about the relationship between this 3ft x 3ft corner plant array and the size and orientation of the greenhouse. Could you elaborate on your plan? Thanks
EcoMotive (author)  thejaq2 years ago
The last picture in the intro shows the the planned layout of the greenhouse with the vertical garden in the corner close to the door. The top of the picture faces south.
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