• Greenhouse Hydroponics Set-up

    In early August I convinced a friend that I was able to provide hydroponic grow beds for his greenhouse. We deciding the system must run off a solar panel because the power was too far away from the greenhouse. I had a solution already as I intended that the Growers’ Gizmos system would be solar powered. In fact, it has a solar battery charger built in. A 100 watt solar panel was chosen.

    He had several grow bed containers. The first was a 4’x4’ bed. He filled it with ¾” inch stone. But I told him from my experience, that was too course. This application needs a smaller grow medium that will retain moisture. Pea stone works well. I have also used perlite (vermiculite). He replaced the medium with pea stone.

    We installed 4 tubes in the corners to fill and drain the bed. We found the low spots and smoothed out the gravel. The tubes are attached to a 4 pump manifold.

    All the pumps run in parallel. This pump panel provides redundancy and faster fill rate. At a lower electrical current than using a single larger pump. The pump panel is positioned below the grow bed in a nutrient container. The power comes from a 50 amp/hour AGM battery. A car battery in good shape will also work.

    The Growers’ Gizmos controller is a cycle timer, solar charger, and water level sensor in one enclosure. The terminals are on a removable plug. The pumps have a resettable fuse for 5 amps.

    After the initial tests of the smaller grow bed were successful, we decided to procedure with the other 4’x6’ grow beds. We ran 10 AWG cable , 2 conductor as a 12v bus from the solar panel to the controller and then to the battery. Then the cable runs from the battery trough the greenhouse.

    For the 4’x6’ grow beds, the tubes were installed in 6 places. A 6 pump panel was connected to the tubes. This 6 pump panel draws only 3.2 amps at 12 volts. Each pump is 3.8 liters/minute for a total of 22.8 liters/minute. It fills and drains the bed at 6 points for even coverage.

    The nutrient tank shown below needs a plastic liner for the water level senor to work properly. It is based on electrical capacitance. There  is also a bed level sensor. Each controller will be powered from the same 12V battery through the 10AWG cable.

    The 4’x4’ grow bed is about 226 liters in volume. But the pebbles take about 70% of that volume. So, that’s 67 liters of water volume. So, the bed fills in about 4.5 minutes. The 4’x6’ beds are about 340 liters or 102 liters of water. The 6 pump panel should fill the 4’x6’ beds in 4.5 minutes also. The 30% of volume remaining for water is the unknown. I suspect the water volume may be as low as 5%.

    My friend plans to heat the greenhouse with a pellet stove, The wall will be double lined with an air blower. He hopes to achieve and R5 insulation value. The reason he is using hydroponics is that he can go more than a week without needing to water or fertilizer. I have gone as long as 3 weeks without maintenance.

  • Greenhouse Application

    Greenhouse Application

    The Greenhouse has a 4’x4′ grow bed and two 4’x6′ grow beds. So it made sense to have enough power to run all the beds from a single solar panel and battery. We placed the bed above a nutrient tank. The bed was filled with pea-gravel. We used the 4 pump panel. The pumps were all wired to the controller. We placed a solar panel outside on a stand. We used 12 gage wire to connect the solar panel to the controller and the battery to the controller. The fill tubes have a 3″ anchor disk. We buried the  fill tubes in the 4 corners of the grow bed. The 4 pump panel was placed in the nutrient tank. The bed sensor is buried near the surface of the grow bed. The nutrient sensor is submerged in the nutrient tank. The bed fills every 3 and a 1/2 hours. This is frequent enough to keep the roots wet. In between flood cycles the bed draws in air to the roots. After a few weeks an algae culture grows under the surface. This algae helps the roots retain moisture. Plants can be seedlings or seeds can be directly sprinkled in the pebbles. The success of germination period depends a lot on warmth and sun.  We had a problem with squirrels eating the seedlings.The solar panel is 12V 100 watt and was selected to power 4 beds. The battery is a 50 amp/hour lead acid gel cell. Most car batteries will work fine. The controller is both a solar charge regulator and bed flood timer.

    The results are still in process. But the automatic watering is a big relief to the greenhouse owner.

     

     

  • Growing Beans Indoors Hydroponically

    Beans do well inside with the proper lighting. They grow well at room temperature. Peppers and tomatoes need more warmth. My basement runs 55 F in the winter. But the LED lights in the grow tent bring it up to 77 F. I started the beans in December . I placed the beans on wet paper towel and then placed it in a plastic bag. In about 2 weeks the seedings had a long root showing.

    I set the seeds in a dark box for a week. warmth helps.

    The bed was set to flood every three hours. Between floods, the pebbles remain moist and the roots get air.

    I planted the seedlings directly in pebbles with no soil needed.

    After a few days I noticed the some were dying and the others were growing.

    I think the depth of the root in moist pebbles made the difference. Some seed husks were stuck on the plants. Removing the seed husk after the seedling turns green my help.

    During the next couple of weeks, the beans had rocket growth.

    I used 10-5-14 General Hydroponics Maxigro Fertilizer.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Now I have beans growing larger than I expected. I had to tie them up. They tend to grow over to the center of the light and them soot up from there. But I tied them around the walls with string. Notice that there are no holes in any leaves. There are no insects that I have seen. I cross pollinate the flowers with a paint brush.

  • Sounds the Controller Makes and Decoding Issues

    Above is the sound the Controller makes when power is connected and both sensors are connected correctly and the levels are good.

    Above is the sound the Controller makes when power is connected and both sensors are connected correctly and the nutrient tank is low.

    Above is the sound the Controller makes when the nutrient sensor is not connected. Check the wiring at the controller.

    Above is the sound the Controller makes when the nutrient sensor is just getting submerged (wet). This is normal when filling up the nutrient tank.

    Above is the sound the Controller makes when the nutrient sensor is pulled up the nutrient tank and then re-submerged. This is useful for testing.

    Above is the sound the Controller makes when the nutrient sensor is just getting above the nutrient (Nutrient is too low)). This is an alarm for the nutrient tank.

    Above is the sound the Controller makes when the bed level sensor is not connected. Check the wiring at the controller.

    Above is the sound the Controller makes when the bed is not filling in time. Check the pump, tubing,  and the wiring at the controller. Also know that using more than one pump (or a larger pump) with only the AC adapter for power will not work. You must add a battery to the controller.

    Above is the sound the Controller makes when the bed level sensor is just getting wet. The bed level sensor detected water. The pump should turn off. The bed will drain back into the nutrient tank.

    Above is the sound the Controller makes when the bed level sensor is just getting wet. The bed level sensor detected water. The pump should turn off. The bed will drain back into the nutrient tank. When the water level in the bed drops the second part of this sound occurs.

    Above is the sound the Controller makes when the bed level sensor is just detecting the water level dropping. Expect bubble sounds after the bed drains fully.

  • How to clean the Pump

    The pump needs cleaning when a particle jams the impeller. In most cases it will be many seasons before a cleaning is needed.

    If the bed fails to fill, the alarm will trigger.

    Watch the following video for full instructions: https://youtu.be/ysYhgQwLRSk

    Lava stone produces small particles that are rough and tend to jam the pump. It is recommended to use pea gravel instead of lava rock.

    Spraying away the fine dirt and sand from the pebbles will help the pump last longer between cleanings. It is impressive how much solid material can pass through these pumps before a jam occurs.

     

  • DIY Inside Grow Tent

    This  grow tent is made from a wood base with a PVC pipe frame. The frame is covered with foil insulation. The wood frame is about 3ft x 3ft. It is lined with carpet and 6 mil plastic sheet. The bed is about 8 inches deep with about 6 inches of pea stone. The bed is mounted above a platform so that the nutrient tank can be placed under the bed. The wood frame is on rollers so that the grow bed can be moved around as needed. These photos are just suggestions. The grow bed and wood frame can be and shape or size.

    See the following video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4nmEw4Q4kc&t=156s

    Inside Grow Tent

  • Small Business Saturday

    Yesterday Growers’ Gizmos attended its first Small Business Saturday in Enfield, NH. We met lots of great people, and enjoyed talking about the product. We hope to see more people at our next event!

    Small Business Saturday

  • Water and Renewable Energy

    With everything going on with the #NoDAPL movement (Sunday’s treatment was appalling. To help or donate supplies, click here.), it is very important for humanity to really look at the value of water in our world. We have a drought in California, with 102 million trees dead within the last 3 months, due largely to the 5 year drought. Yet, we have a President Elect who refuses to acknowledge any of this. If the people cannot rely on their government to give them solutions to global problems, then it is up to innovative businesses to do so (I’m looking at you, Elon Musk).

    So much new technology is arriving daily, and I feel lucky to live in an area of the country where businesses are focused on being socially and environmentally just. In my previous post on designing ecologically, I state that one of the precepts of ecological design is to use renewable energy. It is now more important than ever for consumers in the United States to pay attention to how their energy is produced. If we the people choose to support businesses who produce this clean energy technology, then there will be a continued market trend toward that technology (supply and demand, right?), and we will not need our government to make this trend happen. Another extremely important piece of the conversation is the conservation of water. Right now, many households in the US have the luxury of having this incredibly valuable resource available to their sink, for free. We often take our water for granted when we have it, but the moment we no longer have it, we realize its value. On the other side of that, there are also many households without water, or without drinkable water. The #NoDAPL movement is but a shadow of things to come if we do not both focus on renewable energy models, and if we don’t reevaluate how we view our water.

    “But Rebecca, your blog is about growing plants, homesteading, why is this relevant?”

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    As a gardener and a homesteader and a hydroponic grower, water and power are things I think about constantly. Living in New England occasionally means that I am without power, sometimes even when it is 86 degrees and sunny. In situations like that, I wonder how I would water my animals, when I can’t use my well. How will I water my hydroponic plants when I have no power? Would I be able to offset some of my expenses by installing a solar array, panels, or purchasing solar credits from an offsite producer? How do I conserve my water in times of drought (which, believe it or not, does happen even in wet Vermont)?

    Low water use and the ability to run on clean energy is on of the things I really love about growing hydroponically. In addition to not contributing to agricultural runoff, and worrying about nutrient overload in my pond, I can also grow using solar panels for my ebb and flow system, harnessing the energy of the sun not just in the PAR cycle. This summer, I intend to grow hydroponically directly out of my pond using solar panels, my Growers’ Gizmo, and built raised beds. I want to design and build a simulated flood plain, and research the best edible plants for that project. More to come on designing that, in a future post.

  • All About Fertilizers

    If you’re a soil-gardener, you know that the best way to grow strong produce is to make sure that your soil has the elements it needs. The three essentials are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. There are also a host of other micro nutrients needed, and a vast market of fertilizers. It is no different for hydroponics, except for the name.

    Instead of being called a fertilizer, in hydroponics, we have nutrient solutions. These can be purchased from a manufacturer or you can use “Do It Yourself” concoctions, such as compost tea. The nutrient should be for hydroponic systems, and be safe for consumption. The type of nutrient is up to you and your desire to experiment. There are two types of nutrient solutions; synthetic and organic. Synthetic nutrients are fast acting and can be drawn into the plant immediately. This leads to a common mistake of overfeeding the plant. Organic nutrients typically have a lower amount of fertilizer than synthetics but feed plants for a much longer period of time. Because of this, the impact of organic fertilization is usually more subtle, meaning that it can take longer to get results.

     

     

    In our first hydroponic experiment, described in a previous post, we used a synthetic fertilizer starter kit from Technaflora in our Grower’s Gizmo. However, in a very beginner kind of mistake, we were not using pure water. We used water from our pond in the back yard, which was full of organic nutrients. We still had success in vegetative growth, and even managed to get flowers, using the “wrong” solution, and natural light only. That’s one of the great things about hydroponics. We made mistakes, we didn’t follow the rules, but we still were successful in our endeavors.

  • Hydro-what? Or How I Learned to Love Growing Soil-free

    It all started with John Todd’s class, which I’ve mentioned in a previous post. I had such fun making an ecomachine with my classmates. We created a design that used plant life to purify water, specifically from cow-manure. As I explored the different ways to use plants to purify water, I began to realize the power of using only water to grow plants. Suddenly, I found myself with healthy plants that were not vulnerable to soil diseases, that could produce food and feed fish, and they grew faster. I began reading up on the subject, but I was always too cash short, or too space constrained to begin experimenting in my own home. A few years later, I became involved with designing and testing the Grower’s Gizmo. I was by no means an expert at hydroponics, and am still a far cry from one today. In fact, I knew more of the opposite; removing fertilizers from water, not adding them!

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    My first eco-machine and foray into hydroponics

    Today, I have grown tomatoes, peppers, licorice mint, jade plants, and even a pineapple in my Gizmo.

    I started with Green Zebra tomato seeds High Mowing Organic. These seeds are heirloom and yield indeterminate plants. The fruit produced is green and yellow striped, and has a unique zing to the taste. It is an early cultivar. Also within the my first hydroponic machine was licorice mint seedlings. Licorice mint, a perennial herb, was chosen due to its sensitivity to being over-watered. It is a plant that prefers well-drained soils and full sunlight. For this plant to do well,the “drain” system of the machine must be sufficient.

    The seeds of both plants were planted in early April and were grown in a small scale greenhouse under standard conditions for 8 weeks. On May 9th, plants were transferred to the Gizmo. On May 16th, the first dose of nutrient solution was added to the system. The Technaflora Starter Kit was used, and a vegetative solution was added.

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    Flowering Licorice mint

    The 6 tomato plants responded well to the solutions in the vegetative state with no supplemental light requirements, despite this being the most light intensive phase in the life of the plant, requiring 18 hours of light to just 6 hours of darkness. The licorice mint also performed well during this time, with large amounts of vegetative growth. The vegetative solution was added once to twice weekly from May 16th to July 5th. The choice to use one dose of solution or two doses of solution was based on the pH and turbidity of the water as measured once weekly. Turbidity was tested because the water in the system came from a small outdoor pond. After July 5th, the solution was changed from a vegetative solution to a flowering solution, from the Technaflora starter kit.

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    Tomato plant flower

    Flowers appeared on the control tomato plants on July 16th, but did not form fruit, because it turns out that tomatoes when grown indoors must be hand pollinated! Learn from my lesson, everyone, and make sure you do your research.