When I built my hydroponic growing setup, I designed it with one main thing in mind - space, or rather the lack of it.
Of all the Hydroponic Setups I had seen and researched on YouTube and the web, pretty much all of them seemed to have been built using a large footprint and take up a lot of space.
What I wanted was a vertical system I could fit against a wall, so it only protruded by a few inches, yet provided enough growing area to provide a suitable yield and make it worthwhile.
After failing to find any design that would fit my needs, I set about designing my own.
I didn't really know what I was doing, but I figured "how hard could it be?" Actually as it turned out - not that hard at all!
The video below shows exactly how I constructed the basic system using little more than some rain guttering, and small pond pump. Later on, I added an aquarium air pump and two air stones to the water to keep it aerated.
This video was filmed right at the beginning of my hydroponic growing adventure, and I have since made a number of significant changes, which I discuss further down this page, so do be sure to read-on after watching the video...
The principal was simple; pump water/nutrients up into a top container tray, then let gravity do the rest by allowing the water to run into the trays below and then ultimately back into the main reservoir.
You can take the hydroponic growing hobby as far to the extreme as you choose and to many it's a real science. My approach to Hydroponics was as simple as I could make it. My hydroponic setup was, and still is very crude and simple by comparison to others.
As far as I was concerned, if I could get my system Growing hydroponic lettuce and perhaps some herbs with minimal fuss, then I'd be happy - at least for now.
At the start, I was planning on a NTF system (or nutrient film technique) where a continuous flow of water and nutrients would run continuously through the system all day.
The theory was sound in principal; the plants would take whatever nutrients they needed in order to grow as large as they wanted.
I used rockwool blocks placed in the channel as a base of the plants to sit in. I then planted seeds into small rockwool plugs that were designed to fit into round holes in the tops of the rockwool blocks.
The system seemed to work for a while and things started to grow, but there were some inherent issues.
Firstly, In order to prevent the light from hitting the raw nutrient solution as it ran through the channels (as this would cause an algae bloom), I placed polythene over the tops of the channels cutting holes in the plastic for the plants. However this arrangement caused a lot of mildew and mold to form on the rockwool blocks.
Also, I found that running the system all day was noisy, especially with the air pump aerating the water, so I put everything onto a timer switch and started running it four times a day for fifteen minutes.
So I now had a kind of hybrid NFT versus ebb-and-flow hydroponic growing system (I'll cover ebb-and-flow in a moment)
It didn't seem to make much difference to the plant growth whether the system was on all day or just once every six hours. Then I realized that the rockwool blocks seemed to be permanently saturated regardless of whether the water pump had been off for the previous few hours.
I also noticed that the root systems were not very big on the plants, and it was suggested to me that because the roots are not being forced to seek out water because they were permanently supplied with all they wanted, they were to all intents and purposes, "being lazy", and I had lazy plants as a result.
After a re-think, I decided to re-vamp the entire system and get rid of the rockwool blocks all together.
Ebb & Flow System
An aggregate called Hydroleca was my next move. It is essentially large pea-like balls of porous stone that help to retain moisture,
but also allow the roots to breath and be aerated.
Apparently this aeration is what’s needed to encourage strong root growth and healthier plants.
In the following video, I explain how I added water dams to the ends of my hydroponic growing troughs that enable the entire trough system to completely flood, and then drain away once the pump had been switched off.
I've also made a Hydroponics update page where I have chronologically logged my Hydroponic activities. Click here to see it.
I currently run my hydroponic growing system on a timer switch and it kicks in four times a day (every 6 hours) for fifteen minutes. That is enough to completely flood all the channels and plant roots, and then drain. One complete flood and drain cycle lasts about 30 minutes. I may increase the cycles during the hotter summer months.
Nutrients & water
As for nutrients, again some people like to be very scientific about this. Others choose to make their own. Personally, I decided to leave it to the experts and brought some ready mixed hydroponic growing solutions that you just add to the water.
The only testing kit I have is some litmus paper strips for testing the water PH.
From a fresh tank of water (I use Rainwater), with nutrients added, I will get between 6 - 8 weeks of use before the PH levels start to rise and the plants start looking less happy, at which point I just completely replace the water, add fresh nutrients and we're good to go for another 6-8 weeks.
I can feel my ears burning at the sound of the hydroponic growing 'educated' screaming at the screen that I'm doing it all wrong! But it seems to work for me, and that's all I need.
So, does this particular hydroponic growing system work? I hear you ask.
Well, my four foot tall coriander plant seems to think so, along with the lettuces, rocket, radishes and tomato plants.
Some of these plants seem to be growing almost an inch a day and I have to stay on top of keeping them supported and tied back, otherwise they will topple, as the little balls of Hydroleca are not heavy enough to support the weights of the plants.
Additional note: A month after I originally wrote this article, the Corriander plant grew to 5 feet tall, and all of the tomatoes began producing abundant fruit. The lettuces also became large, if not a little spindly.
As the tomatoes do not appear to grow except during the normal growing season without lighting, I can grow them the ordinary way in soil leaving more space for lettuces. As the lettuces are reasonably light feeders and do not require much in the way of nutrient solution, and as they cost so much in the shops, I am erring towards running this enture setup for lettuce once the tomatoes have finished, as lettuce should grow all through the year.
This article was written quite a while ago - I've since made a Hydroponics update page where I have chronologically logged my on-going hydroponic activities. It is the most up-to-date page regarding my hydroponic activities. Click here to see it.
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Hydroponics Thank you Rick for sharing your Hydroponics mini Videos. All I could find was your first one and the 5th update, but nothing in between. Please provide …
What kind of Hydroponic nutrient? Hi Rick,
It's nice to see your great Hydroponic system and the plants are grown so well.
I'm Harry, a Hydro newbie from Taiwan. We don't have much …
What is the best crops for this system? Hi Rick,
Your hydroponics video is truly inspirational, thank u for sharing. I live in Toronto Canada and am planning to build a system with like yours. …
good stuff Hey Rick, have been semi-succsessfully growing food in my back garden in Devon for a couple of years now and came accross your rickvanman channel and this …
Pollination of Indoor-grown Tomatoes Hey Rick,
Excellent site, with well done materials. Concerning your hydroponic garden and the Tomatoes appearing to only grow during the regular season... …
hydro vs geo Do you plan to introduce more hydro applications into your current traditional garden, or has your experimentation with hydroponics led you to the determination …
Educational Thank you very much for your time; I have learned a great deal. I have made a "mini-system" for three plants just to experiment with using an ebb and …
Best way to grow tomatoes in a container Not rated yet 1. Germinate the seeds & let the saplings grow to a height of 8 inches.
2. Make the final growing medium ready.
3. Carefully uproot each sapling . Scrap …
Fans Not rated yet Hi Rick,
I am a high school student and after looking at your work it really inspire me a lot. Currently, I am building a similar system and I want to …
Thank you! Not rated yet Wonderful videos! Glad to see your successes! Thank you!
Greetings from Lima, Peru Not rated yet Thank you so much for caring and sharing your experience with other newbies! The way things are looking around the world do suggest to seriously consider …
Newbie Not rated yet Hey, great to see your video - I'm considering setting up an indoor system for rocket plants and this was really helpful, so thanks!