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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?”


    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.

  • 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!


    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.


    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.


    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.

  • Eco-design: How do we do it?

    When thinking about the future and design, there is one main book that I like to consider. This book, From Eco-Cities to Living Machines, considers nine important precepts as guidelines to design.These guidelines are not to the technical aspect of building ecologically, but to the spirit of what it actually means. For instance, the first precept is that “The living world is the matrix for all design.” This is not a concrete rule that insists if it is not followed, the machine will fail. It is more of a conceptual, beginning definition of what  ecological design is and what it should achieve. By defining ecological design in this way, it leaves room for artistry in natural systems to be created.20150517_143233

    The first precept is based partly on the Gaia hypothesis by Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock. It sets the general idea “that the earth together with its surrounding atmosphere constitutes a continuum, an entity which, taken as a whole, exhibits many of the properties of life.” This statement is not fact, but it sets a strong foundation for the other precepts by saying, in simpler terms, that design is made of complex systems that act as an entity to perform a task. An example of this complexity is how systems of the earth work together to keep oxygen levels within a range from 15 to 24%, within levels for the existence of most carbon-based life forms. If one component of the natural system fails, then others will follow. This is the most important lesson of the first precept.

    The second precept says that “Design should follow, not oppose, the laws of life.” This second precept is more complex than the first because it begins to delve into the more biological aspects for design. Biology is an incredibly important parameter to be considered in design. One of the biological rules is that the cell is the basic building block of life. This is important because looking at the basic needs of a cell is a good place to begin design. If a cell cannot be supported in a design, nothing else can be either. It is also stated that the cell participates directly in the fundamental functioning of the whole organism. This shows how an eco-design must support the biological interconnectedness of the organism and what it needs to survive. The eco-design must have the proper components to provide the organism with its habitat. Biological constraints apply.

    The third precept says that “Biological equity must determine design.” This third precept deals mostly with social justice in the design of the machine. Saul Mendlovitz is quoted as saying, “How will it affect the poorest third of humanity?” This is a great question to keep in mind during the design process because the problem with most things considered to be “environmental” in today’s world is that most of the time it is not economically feasible for most of society. We have to ask ourselves, what is the point of designing if people cannot afford to use it? Also, if the design has a negative impact on others, even in the slightest way, it must be improved. There is no point in a design that will improve life for some, but degrade life for others. That is not the purpose, or the desired by-product of an ecological design.

    The fourth precept of ecological design states that “Design must reflect bioregionality.” In order to understand this precept, it is important to know what bioregionality is. A bioregion is defined as a cluster of ecosystems, arranged topographically and climatically so as to delineate a distinct region. The importance of this is that a machine designed for a tropical region will not work in a snowy, mountainous environment. Jim Dodge said that “Bioregionalism is simply biological realism…” An environment strongly determines what will exist and where. It is important for a design to reflect this or else it will fail its purpose.

    The fifth precept of ecological design is that “Projects should be based on renewable energy.” This is an especially important precept in this age. This epoch is being called the Anthropocene due to the amount of pollution humans have released, and the impact we have on the world around us. We need to steer clear of “the clumsiness of large-scale single source strategies,” as stated in From Eco-Cities to Living Machines. Choosing alternative clean energy over carbon-emitting energy sources is the best thing we can do at this time. The atmosphere is at a record high for carbon levels, above 400 ppm. This is a dangerous level. Ecological design won’t be necessary when the ozone layer has a giant hole in it and oxygen levels are too low to support life. The point of this precept is that the movement to alternative energy is completely needed to produce a good design.

    The sixth precept is that “Design should be sustainable through the integration of living systems.” This precept is an obvious one; an ecological design, to be considered ecological, must have life. After all, is this not what we hope for our future? With mass extinction happening all around, it is important for humanity to design within nature, rather than without it.

    “Design should be co evolutionary with the natural world,” is the seventh precept. This precept goes back to one of the rules from the second precept; nature is not static. In order for a practical design, it has to have adaptability and be dynamic enough to evolve with the world around it. The purpose of the design is not to be an advancing technological design, but to be a natural system that provides a service. This precept reminds of the looseness of the term “machine” when describing one of these man-made natural systems.

    The eighth precept is another one of the obvious ones; “Building and design should help to heal the planet.” What is the purpose of designing such a system in a polluted, desolate world that has been destroyed by fossil fuels? The purpose is to heal the planet, and to try to restore nature to the balance that it once maintained.

    The ninth and final precept is that “Design should follow a sacred ecology.” This is an interesting precept because it isn’t something that is found in other engineering disciplines. An architect does not necessarily look on his creation as something sacred. In ecological design, this is an important precept because it teaches people to “remember the larger context of one’s existence.” Basically, that we have a duty to our planet and to others living here. We must sustain the resources we have, as well as remember that we cannot live without the gifts that nature has given.

    The precepts of ecological design are less conventional than most engineering practices, but they have to be. Biology is concrete, yet flexible with many different possible outcomes. For ecological design, it is necessary to have some base precepts to define what the goals of a project will be, but they must be based loosely enough to give biological processes some room to grow and live. Design is not a precise science and the precepts are perfect in guiding the creative process.