Sunday, June 16, 2019

Low Power Hydroponics


What If?


What if you lived in a place that was very dry arid the soil was almost worthless for growing food? What if there was no electricity? What if your were very poor and had no means of feeding your family? But what if you had access to one of the following mediums?
  • Coconut Fiber
  • Gravel
  • Rice hulls 
  • Sand
  • Sawdust
  • Volcanic Rock
  • Grass or hay
  • Some other stuff :)
With access to the above, a little water, clear and black plastic, some discarded truck tires or plastic drink or milk bottles, a few seeds and a little hydroponic fertilizer a person could provide food for their family. If they expanded their operation they could put some money in their pocket. While this does not sound like down town Dallas Texas, many millions of people all over the earth are faced with problems of good food, water and employment. Hydroponics may well be the answer to these problems if enough people care enough to spread the word. It is with that intention that section on low energy systems is offered.

Is it true?
Those of us who have been involved in hydroponics have always believed that it was necessary to circulate and aerate the nutrient applied to our plants. For the most part, this was done using air bubbling through the nutrient or by dropping the nutrient back into the nutrient tank from a small distance. Other systems spray a fine mist onto the roots which adds oxygen to the nutrient. Is this belief true? The answer to this question is yes. In most typical hydroponics systems this is necessary to prevent root rot and other problems. If one is to construct and use a no energy non-circulating hydroponics system them the system must be different and the approach must be new. There are a lot of advantages for taking this approach. First the systems are simple and are made from common and locally available materials. Second, they are low maintenance and if done properly can provide outstanding results. Third, they offer a very economical approach to growing food. For more on this approach, search the term “kratky hydroponics

As the plant grows, it will use nutrient and water and the wet zone will fall in the system.  As the level falls, the exposed roots will convert into air roots. At some point, the level will drop below the medium, and the plant will grow wet roots that will float or be immersed in the water. If the system is growing a quick maturing plant like lettuce and there is enough nutrient and water in the system to last until harvest, then the level can be allowed to drop and no replacement of water or nutrients would be necessary. When plants that require a long growth period are used (like tomatoes), then the wet zone level must be monitored. In this case, keeping the wet zone 1 or 2 inches below the medium  would be necessary. Because you will kill the plant if air roots are covered with water, some sort of float valve system should be used to keep the wet zone level at the proper place. Although non-circulating systems do not have the same level of  pH and EC problems automated systems do, the pH and EC should be monitored if at all possible.

Wet Root GardenYou can build this system by using many of the plastic containers sold at department stores which are very inexpensive. You could also use a five gallon bucket and fewer plants. Cut holes in the top of the container or bucket that fit the medium holder and plant. This could be net pots or just simple plastic cups with holes punched in them. When first starting  the system, make sure that the wet zone covers the bottom 1/3 of the medium holder. As the plant grows, let the water level fall until it is about 1 inch below the cups, and then keep it there by adding water. If you are growing quick harvest plants like lettuce, you may not need to add any liquid at all. Longer growing plants may need water. Monitor the pH and EC if possible.

Flood GardenThe  flood garden uses the same principles as the Simple Simon in the plans system. In this system, nutrient is fed to the system via a 5 gallon  bucket that has a lid with a 3/4 inch hole in it.  The system is composed of a box made up of 2 x 4's with a plywood bottom. two layers of 6 mil black plastic is laid out in the box and stapled to the sides. An inert medium like coconut fiber or other available medium can be used to cover the container. A small stick is placed under one side of the 5 gallon bucket to allow it to fill the container with a small layer of nutrient. As the plants take up water, the nutrient level will drop and more water will be released by the bucket. This system can be built on the ground or on a table top. Make sure the system is level. The hole in the bucket should be an inch or so from the side of the bucket.

Soft Drink GardenThe Soft Drink Garden is made from a 2 x 4 frame, with a plywood bottom and lined with 2 layers of 6 mil black plastic. For large plants (tomatoes etc.) use 2 x 6 lumber. After making the frame, lay in the plastic and staple it to the sides. Then cut a piece of foam insulation obtained at your local home center to fit the top of the frame. Depending on the final size of the plants  you will grow, cut out holes to take aluminum soft drink cans. Fill the container to a three inch level with nutrient. Cut  the bottom of soft drink cans with a hand held can opener. Cut 2 or 3 long slits down the sides of the can. Fill the cans with media and a seed or a plant transplant and then insert into the holes of the foam. Monitor the nutrient level, and try to keep it at a 2 inch level. To check root growth you can lift up one side of the foam. Check your nutrient level with a dry stick. Add water and nutrient as necessary.

I have a bunch of ideas for no energy hydroponics and growing, Ill have more in the next blog. Grow your own food in the coming SGSM.
Cheers Dennis
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