Welcome to my indoor Hydro/Aqua-ponics garden.
The goal of this project was to create a self sustaining grow system, that requires little to no maintenance, for under $200.
Hopefully you can build one yourself or modify the design to suit your needs.
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Step 1: Purchasing the Supplies
This is a crucial step for your indoor garden, as this part involves decisions.
First you must decide how much space in your home you're willing to dedicate to this indoor garden.
Next, how many/type of plants/fish you wish to grow.
Finally, how much money you're willing to invest. I wanted to spend no more than $200 for a garden that will last me the rest of my life.
Once you've decided these three things, you can begin looking for grow beds/reservoirs that suit your needs.
Don't be afraid to shop around or order online. I stumbled across several sales in nearby stores that somewhat made these decisions for me. I'll elaborate more on the items listed below in each step.
-Grow Table (Must be able to support weight of water and plants)
-Plastic/Rubber grow beds (recommended minimum 6-7" deep for root growth)
-Plastic/Rubber water reservoir/fish tank (must be able to hold more water than grow beds)
-PVC piping (lots of it)
-PVC fittings (lots of them)
-12 volt power supply
-12 volt bilge/water pump
-12 volt motor controller
-Dollar Store Aluminium bowls
-Dollar Store plastic plant containers
-Grow Medium (Clay pebbles, Perlite, Styrofoam etc...)
-Light Sockets (Salvaged from thrift stores)
-CFL Lights (Or any lights of your choosing)
-Wiring/Plugs for lights
-Wood grow bed supports
-Power Drill with hole bits
This is pretty much all you'll need to get your garden up and running. If I've forgotten anything, I'll be sure to mention them along the way.
I can't stress enough to formulate a shopping list, before buying all the supplies. This will save you the frustration of constantly returning to the store for forgotten items or worst, buying unnecessary items. (Trust me)
Step 2: Setting Up the Grow Table
I was planning on tossing/donating an old corner glass computer desk I had in the spare room, but decided to re-purpose it, which inspired this 2 tier design. I found a few used ones online for relatively cheap, although if you can't find one, I'm sure you can find an alternative table.
Strolling through Canadian Tire, I found long, 50 Litre "under bed" plastic clothing bins on sale for $7. I bought 4.
Strolling through Rona, I found 102 Litre "Strong Box" reservoirs on sale for $12. I bought 2.
Strolling through Home Hardware I found a couple scrap pieces of 4x4 wood to support the second tier of grow beds and 3/4" press board to replace the glass. $25.
Clearly the glass on the table wouldn't support the weight of 4 grow beds and drilling drain holes was out of the question. So I removed the glass, measured them and had Home Hardware cut the pieces of press board for me. Once I brought everything home, it was just a matter of re-assembling the table, positioning the plastic grow beds and drilling the siphon holes down the middle of each grow bed.
Step 3: Water Pumps and Piping
This part will require a little electrical expertise, but nothing overwhelming.
Depending on the size of your grow bed/reservoir, the height you need to pump the water and the speed you wish the grow bed to flood and drain will determine the size of pump you'll need.
I happened to have had an old ShoreLine 12 volt, 2200 Litre/Hour bilge pump I could use, but I needed 2 since I have 2 reservoirs. So I bought another from Canadian Tire for $15.
Instead of using a 12 volt battery to power the pumps,(which would require recharging) I found an old 750 watt computer power supply I could modify, to provide a steady 12 volt output with plenty of current if required.
I knew if I connected the pumps to the power supply directly, they would move way too much water for this sized system. So I went online and bought a few 12 volt/5 amp motor controllers for $1.50 each. These will allow me to precisely control the amount of water being pumped and electricity used.
I decided on 3/4" PVC piping, for both the pump and the drain, to keep it simple.
I found 2 water splitters with adjustable valves at Canadian Tire for $8 each. This allows me even greater control of water flow into the grow beds as Bell Siphons are known to be finicky.
If you don't know how bell siphons operate, there are hundreds of youtube videos explaining the process. Unfortunately it's outside the scope of this Instructable. I'll wait here while you watch a few videos, then we can carry on.............
Now that we're up to snuff on Bell Siphons, let's keep going.
Essentially you want to flood the beds slowly and using the bell siphon, drain it rapidly to ensure the roots of your plants get adequate oxygen. This cycle repeats indefinitely, requiring no timers or maintenance.
Step 4: Grow Medium
This by far the most expensive part of the project.
Scouring the interweb and local stores, I found 50 litres of clay pebbles for $50 a bag. Originally I wanted to fill all 4 grow beds with expanded clay pebbles but quickly realised this would put me well over the $200 mark.
Without knowing if this system would even work, I only bought 1 bag for a test.
There are MANY different kinds of growing mediums to suit different needs and grow systems. I encourage you to do your research and pick what works within your budget. I landed on expanded clay pebbles as they can be re-used indefinitely.
I dumped the bag into my bathtub to soak and rinse them. Clay pebbles can generate quite a bit of dust and crumbs you don't want being pumped through your system. Then I dumped them in the grow beds using a spaghetti strainer.
Most people recommend some kind of barrier between the pebbles and siphon. This prevents pebbles and roots from clogging the siphon and allows easy removal of the siphon if required. I managed to make it work without one.
Step 5: Lighting
Perhaps this isn't the most efficient lighting system, but it friggin works.
I already had a bunch of spare CFL's sitting around and figured, why not. LED lighting was also considered, but density/yield results seem to vary from what I've seen.
I found some cheap lighting fixtures at a local thrift store, purchased 12 light splitters from various sources and 12 x $2 aluminium salad bowls from the dollar store. Using the 50 Litre grow bed lids as a frame, I drilled three holes slightly smaller than the light fixtures diameter. This provided an even distribution of light over the whole grow area, with adequate reflection.
Now you have to wire each set of lights together. If you don't know what you're doing, or are unfamiliar on how to use a multi-meter, please stop and ask for help.
Once everything is wired up, I simply anchored 2 screws in the ceiling, above each grow bed and tied the lights up.
I tried using counter weights of lead pellets, but realised they weren't necessary. Tie the string to itself in a locking knot and you can easily adjust the height of the lights as the plants grow.
Step 6: Seedlings, Pots and First Harvest
While purchasing the clay pebbles from the hydroponics store, I saw they were selling various sizes of plastic pots with slits down the side. At $2 a piece, I realised I could do it myself for much cheaper.
I purchased 15 similar plastic pots from the dollar store for $1.50. I heated up an old drill bit and melted a bunch of holes along the side and bottom allowing plenty of root growth area.
Kale was the winning choice for a test plant, I bought some cheap seeds from the dollar store.
I germinated the seeds in rockwool cubes, once they sprouted, I placed them in the plastic pots surrounded by clay pebbles. It didn't take long for the plants to thrive, they grew to the pictured size in about a month. Absolute Insanity.
I had completely underestimated how large these apparent paleolithic plants grew.
Once I harvested, I could see the intricate web of roots these plants had, running through the clay pebbles. I dumped the beds into the bath tub to be cleaned. (Quite the hassle).
I realised I need a cleaner method of setting up this system. So I'm trying Styrofoam.
Step 7: Styrofoam Upgrade
After the mess with the clay pebbles, I wanted to try something new.
I searched online and found some 1 1/2" styrofoam sheets $20, that I could cut to shape the grow beds.
After heating up an old box cutting blade with a torch, cutting the pot holes and sciphon access hole was easy.
Now the only place I have clay pebbles are in the individual pots.
EH VOILA!!!! After lots of trial and error, modifying the system and plenty of frustration, I can plant anything I wish at any time of year.
I grabbed the first kinds of seeds I could find, which ended up being mini pumpkins, cucumbers, green peas, carrots and a different variety of kale. I'll update pics as/if they develop. Wish me luck!! and hope you enjoyed!!!