It is a pleasure to have a garden on my balcony for years. Unfortunately the lack of room impeaches me to grow vegetables as I would like. In order to solve this issue, I have run several projects within the field of hydroponics during the last months. You can find my First-timer projects here: Wick system, DWC, Raft.
I have found on the net a good idea (called ELIOO) regarding a complete hydroponic garden which is in the continuity of my hydroponic I'bles. I have decided to make it by my own in order to adapt it to my own needs, mainly about the outdoor use of this garden but mainly to have the pleasure to design it and build it by my own.
To build this system, you will need:
- 1 Large Trofast box 5€/each
- 3 Medium Trofast boxes 3€/each
- 3 Trofast lids 1.5€/each
- 3 Timbers 2,4m x 7 cm x 3 cm (adapt those dimensions to your own project)
- Water pump (This is the most expensive item for this I'ble, I bought a good one on Amazon for 50€)
- Tubes and connectors for about 20€
- clay balls 23€ for a big bag
- 15 hydroponic cups 0,5€/each
- Sealing material
The overall budget for this one is around 120€ incl 50€ for the water pump which one can decide to buy cheaper.
Let's build it.
If it happens that you like this I'ble, please share it, favorite it and ev. vote for it ;-)
you can also try one of my organic urban garden and hydroponic projects ;-)
Step 1: Overall Design of the System
The idea is to set-up a frame which fits on my balcony. My balcony is a long balcony and is quite narrow (70cm).
This frame will be made of 2 vertical pillars and 3 rectangular frame. In addition to strengthening the frame, the 2 upper frames will house 2 boxes as culture support for our hydroponic pots. A third one will be positioned on the top of the reservoir.
A big box will serve as reservoir on the bottom, stabilizing the whole assembly. A powerful water pump will drive the nutrient solution from this reservoir up to the top. A serie of pipes and holes will cascade the water from the top back to the reservoir and set the level of water inside each culture support.
Air pump will aerate the nutrient solution.
You can see different views of the system as drawing in the pics of this step.
Step 2: Cutting the Wood
We have to cut our timbers to be able to assemble the frame.
I used my father-in-law table saw as a result of taking the wonderful Table saw class.
You should end with the following parts:
- 2 parts of 1,2 m
- 6 parts of 35 cm
- 6 parts of 39 cm
Cutting the wood has been a real pleasure.
What is the most important in this step are the rectangular frame which I will use the boxes. They should be at the exact dimension of our boxes. The Pillars (1,2m) are up to your own project and the place you have dedicated to your hydroponic system.
Step 3: Frame Assembly
I decided to assemble the frame by gluing and screwing the parts. If you are not used to glue, enroll the class about Glue and gluing. Even if I thought I knew how to glue, I have learned a lot of new things and tips and tricks.
As I was not really sure about the process I first glued the parts and then screwed them together.
I first assembled rectangular frame taking care not to screw on side in order to be able to fix the vertical pillars. I used wood glue. The 35 cm part should be positioned on the inner face of the 39cm parts in order for the boxes to fit perfectly.
Check that your box is well positioned at each step as this will insure a good alignment and a perfect fit of the system. Especially take care about setting the frame straight regarding the vertical pillars and the supporting squares.
Checking the finished frame with the box is necessary. Check all alignments with care.
Step 4: Setting the Culture Environment
Now that we have set the structure, we are ready to start setting the culture environment with the TROFAST boxes.
Let's start with the upper levels.
Hopefully the boxes lids have a hole. We will use that hole as inlet for the fresh water.
We need to allow the water to reach a lower level with an outlet hole. To do so, we use a drill with a special tool to make a hole in which our connector will fit. Let's do that in the middle of the box so the level of water inside the box will allow each and every plant to be irrigated.
Once the hole is done, I have installed the connector.
Now, I will prepare the housing for the net cups. The net cups will house the plants allowing water to go through and irrigate the roots.
I have made the choice to position 6 cups on each lid. According to me, you can position not more than 8 cups but I decided to allow more space in between my plants to allow a better growth. My cups have a diameter of 50 mm so I decided to have 50mm's holes.
We will stop at that stage in order to set the complete system and be ready for the tests.
At the end of the day I had 1 stage with 6 cups and 2 stages with 4 so 14 slots to grow ;-)
Step 5: A Pump Story
Now we have to set the system and run a blank test to see if the water is well running, the levels are correct and everything is in order before installing plants.
The reservoir is positioned on the bottom of the system with culture box on the top.
The water pump is positioned to take water in the tank and drive it on the top box. No need for air stones as the flow will guaranty a good oxygen level within the water
Piping and tubing is done. Passing the tube inside the connector will allow us to have a modifiable water level inside each box which is a great advantage during summer.
The feeding pipe is not straight However you will see later in the test that it allows to have the good flow rate.
I should be ready for the test.
Step 6: Installation and Initial Tests
I have turned the power On on the pumps and I check if everything is running well.
Water should be gently running from the reservoir to the top and then back to the reservoir through the different levels.
Water level inside the boxes should be high enough for a good hydration and feeding of the root while not to high to avoid flooding and ev other issues with the roots of the plants. Each net cup should be about 1cm inside water. If the water level are too high or too low, I can modify it by sliding the tube inside the connectors.
The system works fine but honnestly there is a part of chance. The pump is way too powerfull and add more water that the system can extract to the bottom reservoir. I had to insert a stiffer pipe into the Yellow one to allow water to come up gently. I have also marked the min level on the bottom reservoir in order to have the pump fully under water at all time.
Step 7: Installing the Plants and the Culture Environment
I have experienced bad situations with my setting regarding my previous hydroponic system. So setting an hydroponic system should be done with an extreme care.
For this system I have decided to have plants that are already strong. Planting too weak plants will make you loose the pace that Hydroponics is able to set.
I have this time placed the plant inside the empty pot and then poured the granulates. Carefully taking care of the roots, it allows to fill the net cup with granulates while ensuring a good stand for the plant to grow.
Net cups are really great for hydroponics and it made me realised that it could be a significative improvement of my exisiting systems.
Don't forget to wash you pellets before installing your plants. It is fundamental.
Pro tip! You can grow your seeds using the bottle technique. It is a really good method regarding Hydroponics as the plant will grow extra long roots to access the water and thus transfering the plants to the hydroponic system will be super easy.
As you can see I have installed mainly strawberry and basil on different kinds.
Step 8: Final Tests
Now that I have installed the plants and that the system is ready to run I have just made a last final to insure that with the complete system, everything were running perfectly.
What did I checked?
- overall stability
- water levels in the reservoir and in the growing boxes
- water flow from the pump to the upper box but also from box to box
- plants well installed.
I had to make some minor improvements such as more sealing etc... but the system is robust and works perfectly.
So we are ready to rock now!
Step 9: Feeding Our Plants
On such an installation one can have very different plants just as I did. Thus their needs might be different. One could be growing as another one blooming while some making fruits and vegetables.
To have a quite wide coverage of their need I use a standard hydroponic fertilizer which is good for every situations. Good for every situations means not best for all situation. I guess that much better results could be achieve if feeding is managed more precisely.
To make the feeding easier I use a syringe. It makes the dose much more accurate.