Introduction: Inexpensive DIY Hydroponic Strawberry System Using Recycled Goods
Today we will build a hydroponic system for strawberries. At our house we love strawberries and have quite the patch in the yard. What I always hated was out of all the strawberries we grew we only ever got a handful of good ones to eat. The rest of them are either eaten by bugs,ants or birds. I have to pick them before they turn full red just so I can get them before the critters do. I tried putting repellent around the patch and a net for birds but it just seems like quite a battle so I decide to try them indoors. This way the strawberries can get fully ripe on the vine and I do not have to use any ant repellent or pesticide or worry about birds. Most strawberries bought in the grocery store are picked early to avoid problems but the strawberries are always a bit sour in comparison to a vine ripened strawberry. Let me tell you that once you have a fresh vine ripened strawberry you will be tough pressed to want to eat the grocery store version.
Step 1: Save Strong Milk or Orange Juce Jugs.
I like to use Almond Breeze Milk jugs which can found in most supermarkets and Walmart. I saved up 13 jugs that will be used for holding the plants. To do so first cut the bottom off the jugs. Next drill a 1/4" hole in the center of the cap heat with a lighter to make the plastic pliable so you can easily insert a 1/4" Double Barbed Hydroponic Connector. Add a thick bead of silicone to seal it. Do this to all but 4 caps. These 4 caps are going to be used on the bottom sites that will connect back to the reservoir. They will need a 13/16" hole drilled and a 1/2" Rubber Grommet inserted. Once the grommet is in place you can connect the drain line with a 1/2" Barbed Hydroponic Connector.
Step 2: Building the Frame
I made the frame 75" tall out of 2" PVC. If building a taller system I would recommend stepping up to 2.5" to make it a pinch more stable. I wanted to run the feed line inside the PVC up rights and out the top of the frame as we will be watering from the top down. To do so remove the top connecting piece and drill a 5/8" hole on an angle so the 1/2" feed line can fit through then reattach the top cross bar.
Step 3: Attaching the Sites
Take the bottomless milk jugs and plan out where the sites will go. Try to evenly space the sites and leave room for the plants to grow. I used 2 zip ties to attach each site to the frame. One zip tie through a hole I drilled in the top of the site and one through the handle of the jug.
Step 4: Feed Line
Once the frame is built run the 1/2" feed line in the 5/8" hole drilled and down the frame. Be sure to leave enough feed line to stretch the length of the cross bar. I used a propane torch to heat the end of the feed line so I could then squish it with a clamp. Leave clamped for about 2 minutes. The end should now be sealed. Use a 1/4" hole punch to get a hole started in the feed line. Insert 4 - 1/4" Double Barbed Hydroponic Connectors in the 1/2" feed line to attach 1/4" feeder lines from the 1/2" line to the 1/4" Drip Emitters. Drill another 5/8" hole in the stand of the frame for the feed line to exit or cut the frame into two legs as I ended up doing. The feed line will then connect to the hydroponic water pump in your reservoir. For a reservoir I used a 27 Gallon Utility Tote that can be found at Home Depot. Drill a 13/16" hole near the top to insert a 1/2" Rubber Grommet which will hold a 1/2" Barbed Connector to attach the drain line to the reservoir.
Step 5: Drain Line & Reservoir
For a reservoir I used a 27 Gallon Utility Tote that can be found at Home Depot. Drill a 13/16" hole near the top to insert a 1/2" Rubber Grommet which will hold a 1/2" Barbed Connector to attach the drain line to the reservoir. Inside the reservoir I used a 400 GPH hydroponic water pump which is attached to the 1/2" feed line. I used 3 - 1/2" Barbed Tees make 1 drain line from 4.
Step 6: Filling the Sites
Step 7: Planting Strawberry Hearts
Out to the Strawberry patch to pick some hearts. They do not need to be alive looking. In fact if you look at my planted plants they are pretty sickly looking do to it taking me a while to plant them after picking them. Regardless once they root and begin to grow new leaves you can cut off the ugly ones.Once planted insert a 1/4" Drip Emitter and connect it to a 1/4" feed line which will also connect to the site above it. I prefer to use the 1/4" Drip Basket Stakes as they are easy to work with in my opinion.
Step 8: Lighting
Before I started this I did some research on the best lighting choice and it seems most people prefer the vertically mounted T5 grow lights vs a vertically mounted LED grow light. What is nice about the T5 lights is I can change the type of lamps. There are a number of different T5 lamps out there in a number of different colors temperatures. I picked 6500k T5 Lamps and tried out one Pure PAR T5 Lamp. Wanted to see if I could notice a difference. The Pure PAR is a bit more expensive so we shall see. Each T5 fixture pulls 56w and I have a total of 8 currently which seems to be doing the job nicely. The lights are on 18 hours a day and off for 6. If we take 56 * 8 we get 448w. If we then take that 448w per hour number and multiply it by 18 hours we get a daily usage of 8,064 watts. Here in PA I pay $0.12 per kilowatt (1000w) so per day it is costing me about $0.97 in electricity and per year that is $353.20. I am told one can trigger a strawberry plant to fruit 3 time a year so each fruiting I will cost me $117.73. Boy do I hope I get a large number of strawberries. Clearly growing indoor strawberries is not going to save me any money but what I will get is top quality strawberries that I can not get anywhere else.
Step 9: Fertilizer & Matainance
I have used the CANNA Coco Fertilizers before and had good luck with them. Using Reverse Osmosis water they work well and the pH stays very stable making it easy to use. The whole idea to the hydroponics system is so I do not have to hand water 13 pots every day so I also do not want to have to mess around with pH testing and adjusting. Plus pH meters are expensive. With the CANNA Coco A&B you just mix equal parts in the reservoir and your done. I am running only 5ml of each A&B per gallon and they seem to be liking it. I would also recommend a small hydroponic water pump placed in the reservoir on its side so it stirs the reservoir. Remember we have a pretty well draining layered grow medium so it will need watered often. I would recommend this pump turning on for 15 minutes ever hour to mix the reservoir. I water 3 times a day for only 3 minutes each time using a digital timer and I like to water early in the day (first 3 hours) so the medium is not soggy overnight. Really the grow medium would stay wet with only 1 feeding per day but by feeding a large amount it flushes the medium out. This will help keep all plant sites uniform in terms of fertilizer, pH and water content. If you water just enough to keep them wet, the bottom plants get everyone's "used" water and will suffer. If you flush enough water though them daily it will keep the the sites uniform.
Step 10: Harvesting
The plants were brought in and planted on 11-10-17 and the first ripe strawberries were picked 01-12-18. Pick when nice and red for maximum flavor. The great part of growing strawberries indoors is there are no bugs or birds meaning you can leave your strawberries on the vine to get nice and ripe before picking. The result is a super sweet strawberry that has no rot or bugs or pesticide sprayed on it. Try to get that at your local grocery store.