When we built our hydroponic growing setup, we designed it with one main thing in mind – space, or rather the lack of it.
Of all the Hydroponic Setups we had seen and researched on YouTube and the web, pretty much all of them seemed to have been built using a large footprint and take up a lot of space.
What we wanted was to build a vertical system we could fit against a wall, so it only protruded by a few inches, yet provided enough growing area to provide a suitable yield and make it worthwhile.
After failing to find any design that would fit my needs, we set about designing our own.
We didn’t really know what we were doing, but we figured “how hard could it be?” Actually, as it turned out – not that hard at all!
The video below shows exactly how I constructed the basic system using little more than some rain guttering, and a small pond pump. Later on, we added an aquarium air pump and two air stones to the water to keep it aerated.
The video below will help you start on the hydroponic growing adventure. you may decide to make a number of significant changes like we discuss further down this page, so do be sure to read-on after watching the video…
The principal was simple; pump water/nutrients up into a top container tray, then let gravity do the rest by allowing the water to run into the trays below and then ultimately back into the main reservoir.
You can take the hydroponic growing hobby as far to the extreme as you choose and to many, it’s a real science. Our approach to Hydroponics was as simple as we could make it. Our hydroponic setup was, and still is, very crude and simple by comparison to others.
As far as we were concerned, if we could get our system Growing hydroponic lettuce and perhaps some herbs with minimal fuss, then we’d be happy – at least for now.
At the start, we were planning on an NTF system (or nutrient film technique) where a continuous flow of water and nutrients would run continuously through the system all day.
The theory was sound in principal; the plants would take whatever nutrients they needed in order to grow as large as they wanted. We used Rockwool blocks placed in the channel as a base of the plants to sit in. We then planted seeds into small rockwool plugs that were designed to fit into round holes in the tops of the rockwool blocks.
The system seemed to work for a while and things started to grow, but there were some inherent issues.
Firstly, In order to prevent the light from hitting the raw nutrient solution as it ran through the channels (as this would cause an algae bloom), we placed polythene over the tops of the channels cutting holes in the plastic for the plants. However, this arrangement caused a lot of mildew and mold to form on the rockwool blocks. Also, we found that running the system all day was noisy, especially with the air pump aerating the water, so we put everything onto a timer switch and started running it four times a day for fifteen minutes.
So we now had a kind of hybrid NFT versus ebb-and-flow hydroponic growing system (we’ll cover ebb-and-flow in a moment)
It didn’t seem to make much difference to the plant growth whether the system was on all day or just once every six hours. Then we realized that the rockwool blocks seemed to be permanently saturated regardless of whether the water pump had been off for the previous few hours.
We also noticed that the root systems were not very big on the plants, and it was suggested that because the roots are not being forced to seek out water because they were permanently supplied with all they wanted, they were to all intents and purposes, “being lazy”, and we had lazy plants as a result.
After a re-think, we decided to re-vamp the entire system and get rid of the rockwool blocks all together.
Ebb & Flow System
An aggregate called Hydroleca was our next move. It is essentially large pea-like balls of porous stone that help to retain moisture,
but also allow the roots to breath and be aerated.
Apparently this aeration is what’s needed to encourage strong root growth and healthier plants.
In the following video, there is a tutorial to help you set up an ebb and flow system.
I’ve also made a Hydroponics update page where I have chronologically logged my Hydroponic activities. Click here to see it.
We currently run our hydroponic growing system on a timer switch and it kicks in four times a day (every 6 hours) for fifteen minutes. That is enough to completely flood all the channels and plant roots, and then drain. One complete flood and drain cycle lasts about 30 minutes. We may increase the cycles during the hotter summer months.
Nutrients & water As for nutrients, again some people like to be very scientific about this. Others choose to make their own. Personally, we decided to leave it to the experts and brought some ready mixed hydroponic growing solutions that you just add to the water. The only testing kit we have is some litmus paper strips for testing the water PH.
From a fresh tank of water (we use Rainwater), with nutrients added, we will get between 6 – 8 weeks of use before the PH levels start to rise and the plants start looking less happy, at which point we just completely replace the water, add fresh nutrients and we’re good to go for another 6-8 weeks.
We can feel our ears burning at the sound of the hydroponic growing ‘educated’ screaming at the screen that we’re doing it all wrong! But it seems to work for us, and that’s all we need.
So, does this particular hydroponic growing system work? We hear you ask.
Well, our four foot tall coriander plant seems to think so, along with the lettuces, rocket, radishes and tomato plants.
Some of these plants seem to be growing almost an inch a day and we have to stay on top of keeping them supported and tied back, otherwise they will topple, as the little balls of Hydroleca are not heavy enough to support the weights of the plants.
Additional note: A month after we originally wrote this article, the Corriander plant grew to 5 feet tall, and all of the tomatoes began producing abundant fruit. The lettuces also became large, if not a little spindly.
As the tomatoes do not appear to grow except during the normal growing season without lighting, we can grow them the ordinary way in the soil leaving more space for lettuces. As the lettuces are reasonably light feeders and do not require much in the way of nutrient solution, and as they cost so much in the shops, we are erring towards running this enture setup for lettuce once the tomatoes have finished, as lettuce should grow all through the year.
This article was written quite a while ago – we’ve since made a Hydroponics update page where we have chronologically logged our on-going hydroponic activities. It is the most up-to-date page regarding our hydroponic activities. Click here to see it.