Adventures in Hydroponics (Weeks 23-26)

Automation edition

Well, another semester has gone by (time flies!). Let’s see what happened to the garden!

Day 163 (Nov 28, 2014)
Things got busy and winter came! Wind and temperature weren’t being super kind to my plants, so they took refuge in our living room. Which might turn into a permanent home — we’ll see. Anyway, the semester rolls along and the plants continue to get bigger.

But the question is: where is the promised automation? Wasn’t that the point all along? So, here’s the start of the water automation. First step: water drainage from the trays. Look, a first water test!

Day 178 (Dec 13, 2014)
First things first: prepping the system.

Fixing the drainage tubes to the trays resembles good soldering practice: a solid mechanical connection, along with good electrical connection (with solder). Here, that means, respectively: physically putting the 0.25″ tube through a hole in the tray and splitting the top end, and then attaching the tube from both top and bottom to the tray (with glue).

My system consists of one feeder tube per plant. With so many feeder tubes, it’s important to maintain sufficient pressure inside each tube. These fittings restrict the outflow, which did the trick. The long pieces are stakes, which position the feeder tubes.

Day 179 (Dec 14, 2014)
The water automation system itself is an open loop closed system. That is, water pumps out of this 20 gallon reservoir into a main 0.5″ tube, which runs out to 0.25″ feeder tubes to each plant. The extra water sinks to the bottom of the tray, which drains back into the reservoir. Remember: safety first!

Day 181 (Dec 16, 2014)
With 7 hours before I take off for Seattle, there are two outstanding issues: the system needs a timer and sometimes the trays don’t drain. Eep!

Good thing duct tape fixes many things. When the drainage tubes are submerged in the reservoir and there is air sitting in the tube, there is simultaneous atmospheric pressure from both the reservoir and the plant tray. The pressure from the plant tray is insufficient for forcing the water out of the drainage tube, so the water does not drain (thanks Joey, for the explanation!). Solution? Don’t submerge the drainage tubes in water in the first place.

The timer was easy enough too to set up. 1 minute watering, twice per day is what we decided.

And last but not least, I filled up the reservoir, dumped in some nutrients, and it’s ready to go!

Until next year, plants! I’m leaving you in good hands with Philipp, in case the system decides to take over the house! (Thanks Philipp!)

Adventures in Hydroponics (Weeks 6-13)

Wildlife edition

In which my plants meet wildlife or just naturally fail to grow.

Day 44 (July 29, 2014)
When I go away on vacation, some opportunistic caterpillars visit and eat all of the watercress. Like, all of it. Ma’ayan snaps up some evidence! (Also super special thanks to Ma’ayan for babysitting while I am away!!) I expect that the watercress is mostly done for, but I keep watering it anyway.
Yes, I’m approximating the day count at this point.

Day 48 (Aug 03, 2014)
I’ve return to Berkeley to living and well plants, except for the poor watercress. (Yayyy basil and parsley growing up.)

Day 60 (Aug 15, 2014)
Dear cilantro, I really insist you stand up straight. (Spoiler alert: they die. Turns out cilantro is notoriously difficult to grow.)

Day 75 (Sep 01, 2014)
I’m learning all about Berkeley wildlife, which is pretty exciting. My basil plant is attacked by what I suspect to be a squirrel. It dug up the rockwool, leaving a mess and the roots of the plant exposed. I promptly stick the rockwool back into the cube as best I can and proceed to wait and see what happens.


Day 89 (Sep 14, 2014)
Oh dang, it’s the return of the watercress, 1.5 months after the ravaging. No special treatment, just water and nutrients at normal intervals (and the Bay Area climate).

Parsley and basil are doing well too.


Cilantro still struggling though. They realllllly want to reach the sun. I believe these are attempt 35 or so to grow cilantro (which also fail).

Adventures in Hydroponics (Weeks 2-5)

Day 24 (July 8, 2014)
The watercress children got big, time to transplant! [In the meantime, I screwed up and lost a bunch of baby plants. Let’s call it survival of the fittest.]

There we go, transplanted! So much room for roots to grow.

I transplanted a few more babies and prototyped a tiny irrigation system. Ah yes, a series of tubes. And I’ve got my own terrace farm. 🙂

The baby basil, California poppies, and wildflowers (new!), with their own water tubes!

Day 27 (July 11, 2014)
Just chillin’. The previous shots were a prototype system, so I removed everything except the stakes (black water tube holders). I planted some wildflowers and chives in soil too, and the first soiling sprouted!

Day 34 (July 18, 2014)
Oh man, the watercress is so delicious that the insects want some too!

Basil’s starting to look like basil.

And we’ve got some new babies (parsley)!

[Special thanks to Jacob for the prototyping bucket and to Kevin/Irena for the wildflower seeds!]

Adventures in hydroponics (Week 1)

Day 1 (June 15, 2014)
Berkeley has an awesome hydroponics store! Turns out, getting started with hydroponics is really easy. Buying and planting everything took Eric and me just a few hours. See the end for a build of materials and a comparison with soil!

Day1-SeedsOn the menu are: arugula, basil, California poppy (I guess I won’t eat these..), (chinese) garlic chives, parsley, soy bean, and watercress!

Day1-My own little farm45 little plots for my own little farm. 🙂 These modular “grow blocks” are a synthetic material from molten rock in which the plants take root.

Day1-Chive seedlingI had pre-germinated the garlic chives, so they get a head start of a week or two (hard to see, but you can see one sprout if you zoom in!).

Day 5 – June 19, 2014
Day5-ChivesGrow, chives, grow!

Day 7 – June 21, 2014
Day7-ArugulaBaby arugula.

Day7-SoyBaby soy!

Day7-So many seedlingsSooo many babies.

Appendix I: Cost analysis
(Rough) build of materials
$2 – “Nursery” tray for the plants
$8 – Concentrated plant nutrients (Botanicare CNS17, 1qt)
$7 – pH test kit
$10 – Growing media (45 stonewool blocks, Grodan mini Gro Blocks, $0.21ea)
$14 – Misc seeds
$?? – A lemon
$41 – Total

As compared with growing with soil, from a quick home depot search:
$8 – Potting mix (soil + fertilizer)
$21 – Plaster planter boxes (24in, 3x)
$14 – Misc seeds
$43 – Total

Both are spec’ed for about 6 months of growing for 7 types of plants (45 individual plants via hydroponics, probably fewer than that for soil due to space) and with no consideration for permanent planters or automation. So the material costs can be comparable at the early stages at least. However, hydroponics should save significantly on the water bill.

Appendix II: Possible next steps
Water automation (irrigation) with Grodan Gro Blocks via timer pump + reservoir [src]