The Encyclopedia Hydroponica

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Hydroponics Upgrade 2 July, 2008

I think I mentioned earlier that my plants were starting to seriously outgrow the enclosure I had them in, but in case I neglected to say so, my plants were starting to seriously outgrow the enclosure I had them in. So I got a big cabinet thing off of Craigslist.

I’m pretty sure it started life as one of those generic pressed-wood armoir things with shelves and a center divider and so forth, and then somewhere along the line someone modified it into a large portable closet, but the important thing is that it fit my needs perfectly. Heck, it was even white already. I’d been meaning to modify the reservoir on my DWC to include a drain valve and a solution level indicator (neither of which you can do while the reservoir is full). What better way to do everything than to combine a relocation, upgrade, and reservoir change all at once?

To get started I went out and bought another Sterelite bin just like the one I used to make my DWC. Why mess with trying to modify the existing DWC when I can swap parts?

As you can see I simply drilled holes top and bottom, making sure they were just barely big enough to jam a bit of aquarium air line through (I used a 3/16 bit). Then I simply forced the airline in and taped the bottom, both to keep it tucked in neatly and to cut down slightly on the amount of light that gets in. The airline fits tight enough that it seals itself without any help from me.

The idea is that once the new reservoir is complete it gets put into the new grow cabinet, filled, stabilized, and then the lid with plants from the old reservoir gets moved in.  Then the old reservoir can be drained manually (solution scooped out with a big pitcher and fed to the backyard garden).  Then it can be cleaned out and used as an ordinary storage tote or whatever I want, since the only modification to it was an extra hole for an airline in the inside of the handle.

Next I installed a drain valve I bought from Stealth Hydroponics. This probably isn’t the cheapest way to do it, but it works and works easily. I cut the hole by hand, after tracing around the inside of the rubber washers that come with it, but I’d recommend using a drill as the instructions suggest. (It worked for me, but it’s easy to mess up with a knife.)

You can just make out the valve in the bottom of the picture to the right, which was taken mainly to show how the water level indicator works. The level of water in the tube is exactly the same as the level of water in the tank. Note that in order for this to work the tube must be free of obstruction all the way through (water goes in the bottom, air comes out the top). Simple laws of physics dictate that the water levels must match.

I kicked around a lot of ideas on how to check the water level without opening the reservoir, but this is just the simplest and least likely to break down.

Here’s a shot of the completed system. Note that since this picture was taken I’ve resolved the rat’s nest of wiring on the left by mounting the power strip to the left wall (power strips generally come with screw mounts molded into the back), added a second air pump and two more air stones in the reservoir, and some extra 100w equivalent CFLs.

Mounting a power strip is easy. Just grab a scrap piece of paper about the size of the strip, lay it on the back, and poke holes through where the holes for the screws are on the back. Then put that paper (don’t flip it over! the side that was facing you faces the wall!) against what you want to

mount the power strip to, mark the holes, drill some pilot holes for the screws, and then mount your screws. Leave them sticking out a bit and the power strip should fit onto them perfectly and then slide down snugly.

Another advantage of the drain plug is it makes testing the pH and TDS of your solution easier. You can’t see it in these pictures but there’s a 2.5″ hole cut into the lid just behind the collard plant in the bottom left position. The hole is covered by an ordinary 3″ bathtub drain plug to keep light out, and is what I use to add solution to the tank and take temperature readings. (I have a floating aquarium thermometer with some fishing line tied to it. The line sticks

out of the hole and is trapped by the rubber plug. So I can fish it out easily anytime I want to take readings, but the hole is small enough to make it annoying to try to stick a tester down in there to get a reading. (I use the top of a 2L bottle as a funnel for filling.)

Solution? Simple – you just get a little tray (I use the bottom of a 2L bottle, I told you I use them for everything) and just fill it partway from the drain valve. I can take my readings from that and then dump it back in through the fill hole. Keep in mind, if you use a similar system, that your readings can be thrown off if your collection tray isn’t clean (and even then it’s still not quite as reliable as testing directly in the reservoir.)

In the picture to the left you can see how I hung the light. It’s hanging from a chain attached to a hook attached to some twine, which is tied to some kind of cedar hanger-thing that came with the closet. The chain/hook combination gives me height adjustment during growing.

Here you can see the clip fan that blows air around in there.

I relocated the cord for the light so that it goes up over the bar and then across it before dropping down along the wall. Less chance for tangling = better. The lights I added after this picture are tied by the power cord to the bar so that they hang even on each end of the big light, and all three lights are plugged into the timer with a splitter. (Since they’re CFLs they don’t pull enough watts to exceed the timer’s safety rating. Fire bad.)

It’s mildly ironic that I accomplish all this near the end of this crop’s life. These plants could go on producing for quite some time, but they’re just not filling the gaps in our diet they way we want. For example, the basil absolutely explodes. I can hardly trim it back fast enough, so I’ve got new plants started in soil where they will (hopefully) grow slower and smaller. We just don’t need that much basil. One of the spinach plants is going into flower, but hasn’t become bitter just yet. Also, the collard just isn’t a big winner in our culinary opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I like collard greens. Just not every few days.

By the way, if you want to eat collard, I finally nailed down a good recipe. First, boil it for 5-6 minutes. You’ve gotta really cook them hard to make them taste good. Then, I like to pan fry them with some bacon or ham or something (chopped up into small bites so it mixes up with the greens nicely). Use some oil or (my favorite) butter to lubricate the frying and season to taste. I can’t explain why, but collard and ham are a perfect match.

But anyway, the point is that we’re not going to be growing these specific plants much longer because we want to optimize our crop to our individual needs. So I’ve started new seeds germinating and when they get big enough they’ll usurp the current plants in the DWC who’ll submit to one final, complete harvest. We’re going to have the Grand Rapids lettuce again since it was such a prolific producer and the spinach (because you can never have too much spinach) but we’re adding in Romaine lettuce as well. Two of each plant with mirrored front and back rows.

The extra room in the closet? Well I’ll probably end up needing more lights but the plan in progress is to add some tomatoes and bell peppers. The one problem with this closet is that it builds heat if the doors are closed (I keep one propped open a few inches right now) so I’m working on getting a small exhaust fan for waste heat first. More lights is more heat, so if I can’t get rid of what I’ve got so far adding more lights will just cook the plants before I’m hungry.


6 Responses to “Hydroponics Upgrade”

  1. Dan Says:

    Hi there, I think I may have solved your mystery vegetable. I figured it is some kind of Asian vegetable so I did a post on an Asian vegetable forum. I was told that it is an Asian Radish that is commonly eaten in Indian and is called mooli or muli in Indian.

    Here is the forum address:

  2. hydroponica Says:

    Thanks! That was very cool of you.

  3. Excellent! Thanks for doing this…it’s really nice to know that I’m not alone on a lot of these things.

  4. Kim from Milwaukee Says:

    Is there a reason why you have this setup in a closet? I’m thinking of doing this in my basement, where I already have several light fixtures hanging. Would it be too cool to grow plants there, I wonder, or would the lights produce enough heat?

  5. hydroponica Says:

    Temperature need varies depending on your plants. I’m actually mixing temperature preferences poorly in my cabinet – I’ve got tomatoes that like heat and lettuce that doesn’t.

    The amount of heat your lights put out vary by the type of lights you have. HID’s are very bright and very hot, while CFLs are less bright and almost cold in comparison. You can put CFLs as close to your plants as you want without actually touching and you usually won’t get any burning. HID’s usually have to be a couple feet away or they’ll kill the plant.

    The reason I have it in a closet is that the plants are in my home office. I’ve got somewhere around 14,000 lumens coming out of there, so I need it boxed in so I’m not blinded by the glare on my screen.

    The best source of light is of course the sun, but the next best solution is a “grow room” where you can just have everything out and shut the door to close off the annoying brightness. Just keep in mind that the neighbors probably don’t want to be blinded either (so the windows need to be blocked) and that this is also common practice for “home growers” of a different variety. So be careful you don’t attract the wrong kind of attention.

  6. Red Icculus Says:

    I love DWC. It is so simple. Great upgrades!

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