Plants grown in a carefully prepared chemical soup, recycled water and carefully controlled parameters that results in bigger, healthier plants year round is just plain cool. I've got a couple of books now and have read dozens of websites.
I know that I'm prone to wanting to try a big, complex setup out of the gate. Because I know this, I now force myself to try a basic setup of something new before getting in too deep. As such, I gave the most basic kind of setup a shot.
Basically, the plants sit in plastic baskets filled with rockwool (an inert, lightweight material that holds onto moisture). Those are suspended just barely into a solution of water and a whole pile of nutrients. At the bottom of the nutrient broth are airstones (from aquariums) that pump oxygen into the nutrient bath and the roots of the plants. This gives the plant roots all that they need: nutrients, water and oxygen.
The result is usually plants that grow phenomenally well, even indoors. For my first setup, I'm aiming for herbs to cook with. The first plants to go into it are stevia, which is an herb that's extremely sweet. My intent is to harvest the leaves for sweetening my tea without artificial sweeteners and without calories. I got 4 plants initially, but will be giving a couple of them away to other people.
The rest of the 6 slots will be filled with basil, oregano, mint and parsley. I am NOT growing any form of cannabis and am not encouraging anyone else to do so. Because this method of gardening works indoors, under artificial light, it's the favorite choice for growing illegal plants, hidden in closets, etc. While I think that drug policy in the United States is wildly out of whack, I will not be held responsible for anyone getting arrested after building something that I explain how to build.
Anyway, that said, I ordered the stevia plants just before things got nuts at work and they had to sit in temporary quarters until this past weekend. Finally, on Sunday, I had the time to put this little contraption together. It ended up only taking about an hour and didn't cost much either.
What you need is this:
- 14 Gallon Rubbermaid Tub - make sure it's opaque. If light gets through, you'll have algae problems. Something like $6.
- Air stones - these are the bubblers for aquariums. I used 3 big round ones. $3 each.
- A valve for the 3 air stones. About $4.
- An aquarium air pump. I already had an extra one of these. However, they're cheap too.
- Air tubing. Another $4.
- 6 Net baskets - I ordered these from Hydro Harry's a few weeks before I actually built this.
- Rockwool - Also ordered from Hydro Harry's
- Nutrient. This stuff gets mixed 3 teaspoons per gallon to make the nutrient bath.
- The plants. While I'm probably going to start some from seed, I wanted to get up and running with as little hassle as possible, so I started with already growing plants instead of seeds. That decision was made easier by the fact that stevia is notoriously hard to start from seed. I ordered the plants and they shipped by FedEx.
To actually explain the build process, View the Tutorial on Flickr.
There are 2 quick notes that you should also know. The photos don't include one change that should be made. When you cut the holes for the net baskets, unless you want the baskets popping back up, you should cut out a bunch of the tabs around the edge. Second is that the air pumps are NOT waterproof and should only be run under dry conditions. I'm just running mine when I'm home and it's not raining. I'll be moving it inside as soon as I get lights set up and that will eliminate the problem.