Hydroponics experiments - Daves

I first started using Hydroponics to escape the serious weed and pest problems that had developed on my veggie patch, from there my hydroponic experiments have turned into a hobby.

I've tried various plants including herbs and flowers in an assortment of home made hydroponics systems, which have mostly been of my own design.

Diary

26th January 1998

26th January 1998

hydroponic bucket system

Over the last couple of weeks I have started my first hydroponic system. I've Planted Lettuce & Bush Bean seeds in Rock wool cubes with a 50% nutrient Solution.

Today I built a 36 pot hybrid NFT / Flood & Drain System (so called because it can be used as either) I am just Itching for something to put in it now.

The pump cycles on every thirty minutes and then drains for thirty minutes I'm using a 50 litre nutrient tank and a commercial nutrient mix.

 

30th January 1998

30th January 1998

I've started some established Tomato Plants in a simple hydroponic drip system. it just consists of two buckets and one container (see diagram) in the morning you fill the top bucket with nutrient this drains slowly via a dripper into the plant Pot/bucket then into the collecting Bucket at the bottom.

It takes about 10 hours to empty the top bucket then it's safe to leave overnight, in the morning I empty the bottom bucket back into the top and so on. I must move it from outside the Kitchen window though as Jackie's making threatening noises about eye sores and things.....

I've also put some established lettuce seedlings in the NFT / Flood & Drain and put three Tomato plants in as well. The seeds have grown well the lettuce are about an Inch high. The beans are about two inches high and ready to go in the NFT / Flood & Drain.

Some Pictures of the systems

ebb & flow system - Hydroponic flood and drain
NFT / Flood & Drain System
You can lower the overflow pipe and make it in to an NFT System by running the pump continuously

(Free Plans)

7th February 1998

7th February 1998

My bucket hydroponics system has stuffed up I didn't wash the perlite properly and it keeps blocking the plant bucket drain which is not really big enough I'll pull the plant out and wash the perlite and try again with a layer of Clay pellets first then the perlite on top hopefully this will filter the perlite out a bit just hope the plant survives as it is doing really well.

The NFT / Flood & Drain is working well all the plants have grown with the exception of one lettuce which I think got damaged at transplanting time the system uses about 4 liter’s of water a day this would be due to the average daily temp of 30oC the pH went down a bit (more acidic) so I adjusted it with my kit. The lettuce seedlings are looking long and straggly owing to the heat may have to try again have put some Carnation slips in rock wool to see if they root.

8th February 1998

8th February 1998

An especially hot day today 37 oc and my plants suffered stress ie root & leaf burn I think thirty minutes on thirty minutes off is too long off so I have altered the time to thirty on fifteen off during the day shall see how that goes and how the damaged plants recover or not as the case may be, 40oc forecast for tomorrow not good hot

12th February 1998

12th February 1998

The heat is still a problem with day time temperatures of up to 40oc this means that the hydroponic nutrient solution temperature rises alarmingly and I have to cool it by watering the ground around the tank, this works but I'll be glad to see cooler weather again.

Only one of the plants has died as a result of stress this was a lettuce of the same variety that died before so I expect i'll avoid that type in the future.

The Tomato plants are going great guns and are now about 30cm tall they seem to cope with the heat better than anything else the beans are about 15cm and have produced a second set of leaves

13th March 1998

13th February 1998

Little to report apart from gloriously good growth, the temperature has been relatively low over the past week around 20oC with heavy rain at times.

The rain has diluted my hydroponic nutrient solution a bit but not to bad really, when it rains here it falls hard. The slightly cooler weather has encouraged some good growth in every thing and we are snowed under by Lettuce, so life is good.

My systems are using about 100ml of neat nutrient solution daily between them all and at this stage of growth I think that is about right.

15th February 1998

15th February 1998

Changed the solution in my NFT / Flood & Drain hydroponics system today as it is high summer most of the books seem to say two weeks is about right. I had a sudden rush of blood to the head yesterday and bought a CF meter so I shall monitor and adjust the reading (currently 32cf) also it should mean I can get a bit longer out of my solution.

16th February 1998

16th February 1998

Disaster has struck my timer failed on the hydroponic NFT / Flood & Drain system on a 33oc day and obviously the effect on my plants was huge the tomatoes look very bad loosing the top three layers of leaves, possibly the main growing tip and all of the flowers, none of the lettuce actual died but most lost a lot of leaves the beans lost most of their new leaves just left with the baby leaves damn timer :( only time will tell if they survive.


Feeling a bit depressed about all that, so to cheer my self up I planted some Garlic in a self watering plant pot with some perlite (sad hey).

22nd February 1998

22nd February 1998

Its now six days from the above Disaster and things are looking good, the hydroponic tomatoes where knocked about badly but fortunately the growing tip had survived on all of them. The lettuce made a remarkable recovery so much so you now would hardly know anything had happen.

The beans have grown some more leaves but the Oregano died RIP. The hydroponic Garlic planted in the self watering pot has started to shoot. I have built a shade house over the NFT / Flood & Drain setup this should reduce the heat a bit. I am also toying with the Idea of micro sprinklers hooked up to our main irrigation system that should definitely cool things during the day.

My only worry is that the irrigation system uses bore water which in this area carries a lot of iron, although the CF of the water is only 3 you can smell the Iron in the stuff, but I might try anyway. The Tomato plant in my bucket system looks superb having suffered less than the others it seems to cope best with the heat too !

28th February 1998

28th February 1998

Have seen a really spectacular burst of growth over the last few days in my hydroponics system due to the cooler (bit still warm) temperatures and I have been monitoring the PH & CF levels closely, the addition of an air pump into the nutrient tank has improved the water oxygen situation.

All of the plants have recovered from the disaster and my Tomatoes are bearing young fruit, there are at least two lettuce plants ready for eating, which is about five weeks from planting to eating but only the leafy variety, I would say the type that produce a heart will take another two weeks but we will see.

I discarded one Bean plant because it was growing very slowly and was suffering root rot apart from that all is good but we are expecting some very hot days again around 40oC so that will upset thing's again I expect.

hydroponic pot based system - hydroponics
(click picture for a larger view)
Recirculating Pot System

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2nd March 1998

2nd March 1998

Flushed by the apparent success and noting the disadvantages of the NFT / Flood & Drain system I have established another system this is a simple recirculating system using buckets with pot liners and a pump supplying the pots via drippers.

I have moved my bucket tomato plant into the new system and have planted a potato and some Rhubarb plants as Jackie likes Rhubarb. The temperature was 40oC Yesterday all the plants suffered very little as a result of the shade cloth and the sprinkler system.

27th March 1998

27th March 1998

The Rhubarb in the hydroponics system is going great guns with the stems thickening already it will be sometime before it is edible though.

The tomatoes are also doing well with four trusses to a plant I have nipped the top out of all four plants now to encourage the fruit to mature some are the size of a cricket ball but they are showing no signs of going red yet, the weather is still warm with temperatures in the low 30's so thing's are growing well.

I have changed nutrient from a prepared liquid formula to the same brand but in bulk powder form you just mix up two twenty liter containers with part A and B, I estimate that with my current level of usage that stock should last for about eighteen months. The main reason for the change was cost, it's much cheaper in bulk.

My Garlic in the self watering pot has died, not sure why but I think it would have been lack of nutrient its hard to keep a track of those pots as they have such a small water receptacle.

28th March 1998

28th March 1998

The temperature is now in the low twenties and I have removed my shade house from the hydroponic NFT / Flood & Drain system as the lettuce where looking a bit washed out, things have improved since then.

We are still harvesting tomatoes and the size and quality is impressive. I have started potatoes in half a 200 ltr drum using perlite I intend to cover the plants each time they reach three inches tall until the media reaches the top of the drum this apparently works well.

I have removed the bean plants from the hydroponics system as the the fruit production had slowed dramatically They still looked good though but I am told you must be ruthless with this Hydroponics lark there will be no passengers.

I have Also planted some Strawberry seedlings in a column pot and am looking forward to strawberries around Christmas time I am looking around at hot house designs at the moment as the weather and temperature should deteriorate soon.

13th April 1998

13th April 1998

The daily temperature now averages about 30oC (much nicer). We Started harvesting hydroponic Tomatoes about a week ago and they are extremely tasty, some have suffered from splitting at the crown though.

The Rhubarb is growing well in my pot system and we have had many a meal from the bean plants in the NFT / Flood & Drain system, I think I shall try beans in a different medium next time as they take up too much room in the NFT / Flood & Drain, they shade everything else out . The production from just four plants has been very good.

I acquired a pH meter the other day so no more fiddling about with testing bottles etc. I planted some Petunias a couple of weeks ago in a column pot of the type usually used to grow strawberries they have done very well and easily out performed others planted in the ground, Jackie is now keen to convert her hanging baskets to Hydroponics but we shall see.

29th May 1998

29th May 1998

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New pump for hydroponics system - hydroponic pump and filter
(click picture for a larger view)
The return line is to reduce the pressure on the system feed and the valve is used to gradually increase the pressure to the system if needed .

29/5/98

I have heaps to tell as its been a month since my last update. Having just taken a week off work I have taken the opportunity to again expand my systems this time in a large way I purchased a small secondhand pool pump and along with a pool filter (found in my shed) have incorporated it into my pot system.

I now have the ability to pump nutrient well above head height and I estimate the capacity to run over a 100 pots and flood and drain tables etc (but not yet) the pump cycles on three times a day. I have not yet purchased a hot house and may have to put that off till next year as the boss (jackie) has made nasty noises about the cost of my expansions.

The tomatoes started in January have just about had all they can take and I shall remove them when the last few fruit ripen I have started some new plants but with the onset of winter they will not be quick to grow, the winters are not too cold here (an absolute minimum of -1oC) so things still grow outside

The strawberries are going well and we are still planting and cropping lettuce, about 7 weeks seed to picking. The rhubarb is also going well but only the one plant the other two are much smaller I can't workout why as they are all in identical conditions odd!. I am maintaining my pH at around 6.2 and my CF at 32 and that seems to work well but I may try raising the CF a bit as it gets colder.

20th July 1998

10th July 1998

It's now mid winter and we have received a lot of rain, at one point my hydroponics system was taking on fifty liters of water a day.

We also have had a frost or two which is not common in this part of the world and a major shock to a persons system it is too, the hydroponics seemed to cope very well though and the only casualty was some new lettuce seedlings I had planted the day before, I think they will live but I may pull them out anyway.

The older lettuce coped well suffering only a spot of leaf burn I am running the systems at around 32cf now with the ph at 6.2. There is not much to crop at the moment as things have slowed down with the cold weather the potatoes are looking great I have now buried the up to the top of the drum and they stand a good two foot above that but they haven't flowered yet.

I am looking forward to warmer weather that should start next month so till then I am twiddling my thumbs. I think the worst thing that could happen would be frozen hydroponic solution, that would surely kill everything.

7th November 1998

11th July 1998

Still good growth rate owing to the warm weather this is however creating problems in particular with the Zucchini which insists on blocking the the drain on my half 200ltr drum. For a couple of days I couldn't work out were all the nutrient was going I then spotted the drum almost full to the top with nutrient!, I have unblocked it twice so far but I'll have to come up with a better method of draining the drum, the obvious way would be a larger outlet pipe I may give that a try.

The Zucchini a is however cropping well now and I we are getting at least six small fruit a day from just two plants. The beans are in flower and we are currently eating Leeks and lettuce.

The problem with the dogs burying bones under my systems has stopped for the time being (a few stern words) but if it reoccurs a shall fence the whole thing in a bit drastic but the only solution really.

19th August 1998

19th August 1998

Spring at last at least it feels like it but not officially for a couple of weeks yet. I have cropped the Potatoes after almost four months of growing I am not sure if that is quick or not but it seemed like a life time, the results where good very tasty potatoes and a reasonable crop although I had expected more.

I am not going to plant any more Potatoes not yet any way instead in the half drum containing Perlite I have planted some Zucchini these are very rapid growers so I have allowed plenty of room. I have managed to keep the house supplied with lettuce over the winter although some plants took over two months to mature.

My tomatoes also survived the winter and are still bearing fruit it just will not ripen I have planted Tomato seed an lettuce in anticipation of the warm weather.

18th September 1998

18th September 1998

Spring is definitely here and the lawns and paddocks are growing like mad. The hydroponics are looking good the tomatoes I planted last month are now in the pot system and growing well, like wise the lettuce which I have planted in the NFT / Flood & Drain system.

The large pump in the hydroponic pot based system is running well but I am constantly getting leaks, which if nothing else is a waste of water and hydroponic nutrient the main cause of this is our dogs which have taken to burying their bones under the systems, one little tug on a pipe and away goes 100 liters of nutrient I can't think of a solution to this one at the moment apart from no more bones!

I am going to have to find a permanent fix before summer as a failure of this kind on a 40oC day would be disastrous. I have also planted some bush beans this time around twenty seeds in a trough (20cm x 10cm x 2mtr) using perlite as a media.

20th October 1998

20th October 1998


Not much to report just very good growth due to the warmer weather, we are cropping hydroponic celery and it tastes better than I have ever experienced before (is that just because I watched it grow ?).

I have planted bush beans and seen them germinate they are now around four inches high, the new season hydroponic Tomato crop is well under way and the Rhubarb is growing well again after looking a little depressed over winter. I have some garlic that has been growing for over six months now and is almost as big as a baseball but it shows no sign of maturing maybe this will be a record!.

We are eating hydroponic Strawberries now but it is a battle to get to them before the birds do.

28th November 1998

28th November 1998

Life is good the hydroponics are growing well I have connected the two systems together and installed a float valve connected to a 44 gallon drum this means I don't have to fill up my tanks twice a day.

The systems are now using about 200ml of nutrient a day and some 25 liters of water that's quite a bit but it would certainly be less than growing the plants in the ground, water conservation is of large concern here in Perth as our winter rain fall has been very poor this year so every little saved is a help.

26th January 1999

26th January 1999

It is hard to believe that it has been a year since I started this hobby and the rewards have been great I also feel that it is responsible for more than just a few of my grey hairs but it has still been fun.

The weather is hot above 35oc most days and up to the mid 40's this is not good for the plants and although I have reintroduced the measures that I took last year to over come the heat things are still suffering it is also very hard to start any new seedlings as they just can't cope with the shock none the less we are still cropping lettuce & Tomatoes etc.

we have been experiencing very high winds of late and that has been playing havoc with my pot system the Rhubarb is so large that it practically takes off so I have to come up with a more secure method bigger pots is the obvious way I think I may also try sand as a media as I have had some good reports on this but various people have other ideas.

We had some torrential rain the other night this added over 100ltrs of water to my system and as a result over flowed on to my pH meter :( so its back to the indicator fluid for me should have been more careful but you don't expect rain like that in the middle of a summer here.

19th January 2000

1st July 2001

Well it's almost twelve months since I last updated this page so here goes. The systems are still running but not at full capacity time has been a problem of late and the main pump sounds like it is about to throw a bearing so I have put off the planting. However I am growing Tomatoes Strawberries and Rhubarb.

The Pertite needs changing it is almost 18 months old and has gone very fine with a lot of foreign matter in it so in the bin it must go.

I am planning on reorganizing the whole system as leaks are a continual problem this is due as ever to roots blocking the drainage holes I have come up with a new drain design which works well and I will incorporate this through out the system this has an open top and you can easily clear any root invasion.

27th July 2007

7th March 2007

Much has happened since my last update errrrr 7 years ago !!! (i've been sooo busy LOL). All of the hydroponic systems I then ran are now a distant memory, but not forgotten.

Since then we've moved to a small holding (farm) on the South coast of Western Australia, we lived there for a few years, sold up and as of March this year emigrated to the UK.

I ran a Hydroponics system at the "farm" growing tomatoes on a flood and drain set up and it was productive. The problem was it was a 5 hour journey to the nearest major city, so it was impractical do anything commercial, which is what I would have liked to do.

So how does emigrating affect my Hydroponics hobby? Well as you might imagine quiet drastically really. We are currently living in an apartment, so anything large is out of the question made more so by the short lease. When we do get a permanent home I hope to have a green house and maybe an allotment i'll set up a hydroponic system there on a hobby basis.

I have yet to explore the availability of nutrients etc in the UK, but I am sure they can be found. if not the ever faithful eBay will source them I'm sure. There is every chance that I'm going to miss the short growing season here this year though. Anyway watch this space in the few months and I'll start updating again.

13th September 2007

13th September 2007

Good news, we now have a garden so hydroponics is a possibility again, the problem is that winter is only a month or two away so what with the "necessary" home improvements etc I'll have to delay until spring 2008 I think.

That will leave me with the winter to make plans. I think a green house will be a must for Tomatoes but other crops should be possible outside. I'll have to come up with a solution to rain diluting the nutrient I think (it does rain a bit here) on the plus side the temperatures aren't even close to that of Australia so heat shock should be with luck none existent.

There is much to think about.

15th January 2008

15th January 2008

It's mid winter as I write, its pouring with rain and the temperature is about 3 deg C. Not good growing weather and space is limited indoors so I am planning my Hydroponic activates for the Summer.

I am coming to terms with the limited space I will have for a system. It's going to be restricted to a small area of the patio, at least to start with. It's a sunny area of about 1 mtr x 4 mtrs. It will be interesting to see what I can grow there.

We expect to be travelling the UK a bit over the summer for up to a week at a time so I'm going to need something passive so that a pump failure won't be a problem. I think a Wick system or maybe Water Culture is going to be the best way. I’ve dabbled a bit with both types but it never really was necessary before.

Now I have to source the necessary tanks and polystyrene etc but that should be relatively cheap and easy here in the UK. Roll on the spring so I can get started. I hope to grow lettuce and tomatoes primarily but may do a few flowers to keep SWMBO amused.

22nd December 2008

22nd December 2008

Well life and weather got in the way again i'm affraid, the hydroponics was a none event this year. I started a float system in a large plastic box (tool box actualy) and started growing lettuce. Things went really well for about 3 weeks and we did even eat a few lettuce leaves. But then the British weather got in the way and dumped a serious amount of rain on us.

In fact It kept raining for most of the "summer" making hydroponics all but impossible as the nutrient kept being diluted. We also bought a caravan and started touring the country so that made it even harder to replenish the nutrient when it was washed out.

I really need a green house and we expect to move next year sometime, then I will be back on track I hope. Have a great 2009 !

23rd June 2009

23rd June 2009

The news is good, we are moving and I am getting a green house. Trouble is by the time we have moved in it will be autumn in the UK and I will have to wait till next year before starting hydroponics again. Plenty of time to plan but I could be an old man at this rate before actually growing any thing.

10th February 2010

14th February 2010

So here we are in 2010 and as I watch the snow gently fall outside my window I am contemplating firstly that it's not settling and second what to do with the garden.

Poly Tunnel - hydroponicsWe completed the house renovation in October and moved in, there are a few things left to do but nothing major. The garden is a reasonable size and there is room for a greenhouse.

I am scanning eBay at the moment looking at whats available greenhouse wise, the obvious type is the poly tunnel. A glass greenhouse is at least 8 times the price for the same size and as we tend to move every few years that seems expensive. My only concern is how strong these things are and will they survive the occasional storm.

When I get the greenhouse I'll plan some hydroponics systems. I am now a bit rusty at this but reckon a drip system will be the go for tomatoes and maybe an NFT for lettuce etc.

Spring is around the corner though the buds are fattening on the trees the spring bulbs are starting to poke their heads above the ground and the early spring lambs are causing mayhem on our regular dog walk. Can't pursued Bear (the dog ) that they don't want to play with him, so he stays on the lead.

3rd April 2010

3rd April 2010

The greenhouse is up, I went with the pitched roof type in the end rather than the classic Polytunnel look. Not really sure why, I had an idea that it might give me a bit more head room but whether it did or not it looks ok ish.

Had to site the thing (known as the plastic bag by her in doors) behind the garden shed which was placed there for the purpose and built some lattice work to get it past the sensor. can't see too much of it from the house.

My Greenhouse from upstairsI'll admit it's not pretty but hopefully is practical.

I have started a few seeds, tomato, lettuce and radish in some grow bags. Hopefully I can source some inexpensive nutrients from somewhere what I have seen is far more expensive than those in Australia.

I still have some small pumps from the old systems which hopefully will work and an old under counter fridge seem to be functioning well as a nutrient tank at least it has held water for a few weeks without leaking so far.

I have two problems there is a huge pine tree in the next door garden which shades my greenhouse for a large part of the day, I'm hoping as the summer progresses and the sun rises that it wont be a problem. The other is the weather winter is proving hard to shift in the UK this year, we had some nice days last week but it actually snowed again the other day and it is continually raining.

So here I am hoping for a warm summer.

15th April 2010

15th April 2010

I have made a start lettuce, tomatoes and Zucchini (Courgette)Â planted in soil to begin with.

I have had a shock rip of Britain lives in the hydroponics world. £5.99 for a small 10ltr bag of perlite for heavens sake and nutrient is shockingly expensive too.

I still hope to find a cheap source of that and if there is anyone in the UK reading this that can put me onto a low cost supplier i'd be interested.

Weather warming up a bit but still not really warm enough to make anything but the lawn grow well.

Ray's Page- Hydroponics — the weed less garden

Ray and I once ages ago now collaborated to produce an article for the American hydroponics magazine The Growing edge

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