The benefits of a build-it yourself hydroponic system are many. They are easy to make and can be sized to fit almost any space you have available. Although one of the greatest benefits is what you can grow. You don’t have to think back too far to remember the recalls of Spinach for both Salmonella and E. coli contamination. With a hydroponic system you know where your food comes from, who handled it, and just how fresh it really is. And you don’t have to grow just Spinach. I know of people who are growing chilli peppers, lemon basil, parsley, and lettuce. And that’s all in the SAME hydroponic system.
2 x buckets or totes with lids – You have some freedom here. Basically you need a nutrient reservoir and a growing container. Some people use a 3 gallon bucket (the growing container) slid into a 5 gallon bucket (the nutrient reservoir). While others use two totes, one set on top of the other. It all depends on how big of a wick system you want and what space you have to fit it into. Just as long as the two containers sit solidly on one another and wont easily fall over. Oh and lastly choose a color or material that blocks out light, or you will end up with a healthy algae farm in your reservoir and not much else.
Wicks – The number of these you want will vary by the size of your system. For a small pot, one wick will be fine for a bigger system 5 or 6 might be needed. The most important thing is what they are made out of. You want a material that is highly absorbent, such as braided polyurethane yarn or fibrous rope. Don’t use cotton (rots out easily) or nylon (not very absorbent). Wash the wick before use to help its absorbency.
Growing Media – Generally this is a mix of perlite, peat moss, and vermiculite. Although Pro-Mix and Coconut Fiber are also popular. It comes down more to what you are able to find at your local gardening center.
Nutrients – Normal fertilizers will not work. They do not have some of the trace elements needed since they expect you to be using soil. You will need to use Hydroponic Nutrients.
Optional – 1 length of tubing to act as a reservoir fill tube.
In wick hydroponic systems, plants control watering rates. Simply, the lower end of a highly-absorbent wick is placed in a reservoir containing nutrient-enriched water. The other is packed in the growing medium close to the plant roots. If you are using a bucket as your reservoir then you can set it aside for now. If you are using a tote for the reservoir you will want to take the lid of the tote and (depending on the size of the growing container) and decide where and how many holes to drill for the wicks to pass through. Generally in a normal rectangular tote two holes in the lid will be enough. Placed in the middle and spaced evenly to the ends of the tote lid.
Now you will want to choose how you are going to lay out the wick(s). You could use one large wick and just bring it up in the center a few inches (far enough into the growing media for it to start drawing water from the wick). I have also seen systems where they took 3 or 4 smaller wicks, braided them together then brought up into the growing container through a single hole. At that point they separated the wicks and laid them out in a “clover leaf” pattern to evenly disperse the nutrient solution in the growing media.
For the 3 gallon bucket just drill a single hole in the bottom of the bucket just big enough to pass the wicks through. If you find your wicks keep falling out just tie in a knot in the wick(s) slightly bigger than the hole (leave enough wick on top to reach the growing media).
Optional: Drill a second hole on one side just big enough to pass the fill tube through. Run the tube up the side of the bucket and leave it for now. This is what you will use to refill the reservoir without needing to pull the buckets apart.
Optional #2: You also may want to drill several smaller drain holes in the growing bucket if it gets any watering from the top. Or else the water wont be able to drain and you could end up with flooded plants.
For the tote you will also want to drill holes for the wicks in the bottom of the container, be sure they match the holes in the reservoir lid. Thread the wick(s) in like above with the bucket and your done. You also may want to put one last smaller hole in the reservoir tote lid. Place it just under the corner of where the growing container would normally sit to act as a reservoir refill. Just slide the growing container to one side a little, refill the the reservoir and slide the growing container back and cover the hole to keep bugs and pests out.
– Fill reservoir with water and nutrients. Mix according to directions.
– Put the wicks in the growing container.
– Set the growing container in or on the reservoir, making sure the wicks are in contact with the water.
– Fill the growing container with growing media.
– Wait a few hours / days for the water to wick up into the growing media.
– Plant your plants.
– Enjoy your build-it yourself hydroponic system.
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