Setting Up A Hydroponic Herb Garden

Originally published: 08/2006 by J Wynia

Basic Hydroponic Garden
I've been intrigued by hydroponic gardening for quite a while. It eliminates many of the things that bug me about regular gardening: working at ground level, working outside, weeds, dirt, etc. Beyond that, it appeals to my geeky side.

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.

Comments

Patrick on 8/29/2006
Nice! This is great, I've been wanting to do this for a while and a herb garden is something I haden't thought of. Thank you for the great "how 2". Now, how long have you had it growing, and is it working well.
NotGreen Thumb on 8/29/2006
This is very cool. I think I'm going to try this out soon, so I can have fresh pesto all winter long. This seems like it would be perfect for the Instructables website.
John on 8/29/2006
Do you think that this could be kept out on the deck/patio all year (Portland, OR)?
Asimo on 8/29/2006
Quote: "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." I think you mean CO2 Carbon Dioxide, not oxygen.
J Wynia on 8/29/2006
I was thinking of adding it to Instructables as well, just hadn't had time yet.
J Wynia on 8/29/2006
How long it can be left outside would be determined by which plants you have in it. For instance, stevia dies pretty much at first frost. So, I'll be pulling this inside in a few weeks here in Minnesota. However, a $60 lighting setup will keep nearly all herbs growing inside after the transition.
J Wynia on 8/29/2006
I don't mean CO2. While plants use CO2 for photosynthesis, plant gas needs are hardly as simple as that. They do put off O2 in one process, but they also *need* O2 for other things. The roots need a whole variety of gasses, including O2 to keep from rotting. As such, the roots aren't using CO2, the leaves are. You might want to read this article from the USDA to learn a bit more about what happens when roots are deprived of oxygen.
Eric on 8/29/2006
You should try the "bubbler" method. I got it from a book called "How to Build A Bigger and Better Hydroponic Garden------for less than $20" by Ed Sherman. It uses two different size air tubes(one inside the other so that air bubbles push up the nutrient mixture) and instead of rockwool, it uses perlite. The bigger of the tubes has holes all in it to allow the nutrient mixture to slowly seep out into the perlite. It's a bit hard to describe in words but once you see it, you never forget it as it's simple as can be.
John on 8/29/2006
Cool, I tried to grow some tomatoes hydroponically when I was in high school but that project got trashed when the family dog decided to mark it as his own. I won't go into details but it was messy. Anyway, this is a great project for growing herbs for the kitchen. I'll have to try that stevia you mentioned. Sounds like it would be good for Thai cooking. And don't worry about the people making the 'wow, I can use this to grow weed...' I did a tutorial on my site for hollowing out light bulbs and you wouldn't believe the number of idiots who hit that one hard.
Jeff on 8/30/2006
The Rubbermaid tub may develop cracks or leaks over time depending on the composition of the plastic. If you move it inside, you may want to put the tub in a secondary container or add a liner to be safe. Most plastic tubs have some sort of plasticizer added to make the walls more flexible. This is particularly noticable in Sterlite tubs (Walmart sells these): they feel tacky after a few months of use. The tacky feel comes from small amounts of the plasticizer that migrate to the surface of the plastic. As the plasticizer leaches out, the walls lose their flexibility and will creak and leak given enough time. Also, unless the tub is black, uv light (ie, sunlight) will attack the polymer; the end result is also a more brittle container. You can mitigate this by covering the exposed areas in aluminum foil (this will help scare away birds as well). Good luck.
cyen on 8/30/2006
Cool project. I wish I knew about this during the summer, but maybe the idea of bringing it inside for fresh herbs during the winter months is a great idea. I'm concerned too about the rubbermaid container leaching "chemicals" into the water. I wonder if a glass aquarium is better? thanks for posting. Congrats on getting picked up on the Makezine blog! http://www.makezine.com/blog/archive/2006/08/set_up_a_hydroponic_herb_garde.html
sal on 8/30/2006
I have been thinking about growing some "herbs" for a while now. I think I'll make the jump and get into some growing.
beth on 8/30/2006
Have you had any problems with bugs since starting this project? Everytime my sister-in-law attempts an indoor herb garden she gets bugs, but that could be since she lives out in the boonies.
Vicki on 8/30/2006
We grow basil outside in a pot of perlite, in an icecream container. That way you get loads of basil all the time. It's great. It doesn't need to be complicated at all.
Horsey on 9/4/2006
As an interesting side project you might want to look into making some LED grow lights. They sell ready made ones but they are rather expensive. I've been playing with making my own; getting ultra-bright red, green and blue LEDs from various surplus sites when I find a good deal on them. I made one consisting of 40 LEDs: 32 Red, and four each of blue and green mounted in a 2.5" by 5" plastic project box and powered by a 12 volt wall wort and the whole thing draws about 300mA. I've got a couple of plants I picked up on sale after christmas that have been doing real well with just the single light. They're growing in dark corner of my home office that gets essentually zero natural light (there is only a single north facing window). One thing I've found is that I do have to add more non-red LEDs. The plants really like the red light, but without some more green and blue to balance it out a little they tend to grow up and not out as much as they should. I plan on making the next one with maybe a third of the LEDs green and blue with the remaining 2/3rds being red (the red UB LEDs are a lot cheaper and let power hungry). I'm thinking of adding a single ultraviolet LED help the balance out as well. If you do a Google search on LED grow lights you can find out more information. If you want some basic information on LEDs and how to wire them up properly check out: http://www.kpsec.freeuk.com/components/led.htm (not my sight).
J Wynia on 9/4/2006
Yep, the Rubbermaid may crack. However, a new one costs about what 3 little bundles of herbs from the grocery store do. Also, most of these containers have been basically approved as foodsafe. They're used regularly in aquarium setups with no ill effects. As far as bugs, I haven't had this long enough to know. However, taking cuttings that are clean of bugs and starting those for the indoor season would get around that. Basically, completely shutting down the outside garden and start new plants for inside during the winter. In a few weeks, when the frost threatens, I'll see what happens.
Tim on 9/10/2006
Quick question for ya, how many CC's of air does your pump put out? How much air would you recommend for a six tomato plant garden like yours?
J Wynia on 9/10/2006
I'm not sure the exact output. However, most of the benefit actually comes from the bubbles disturbing the surface actually. Gas exchange is really happening right at the surface, so the exact output of bubbles in cc's isn't terribly important.
Ryan on 9/12/2006
Hi, Cool little setup. I'm using something similar, but based on the earthbox setup. Still I get huge plants with little attention. My question for you is about stevia plants. I'm just about to order some seeds and I hear they are quite difficult to raise from seed. Do you have any advice? Regards, Ryan
J Wynia on 9/12/2006
Everything I've read about stevia seeds has them as not only hard to raise from seed, but, due to varying levels of the sweetness compounds, even if you do manage to get them to germinate, etc. the plants may not be sweet. You're better off getting cuttings or established plants and doing further propegation off of known sweet plants.
Dave on 9/14/2006
Hello, was going to attempt this soon, and was wondering what size net cups did you buy... 3 inch? 3.5 inch? I was going to order them before i went home from work... otherwise I will wait until I get home and measure...
J Wynia on 9/14/2006
I bought much bigger than that, but I'd buy the smaller 3 inch cups next time. It would help with stability.
Allison on 9/15/2006
A great do-it-yourself project, especially for the frugal minded. Curiously, though, I wonder how often (and how much) you are adding nutrient solution to the water bath and if you ever need to change the water bath entirely? Thanks for sharing your work.
muhammad on 9/19/2006
Dear Sir, We like to start all seaseons grow of tomatos and we heard that its possible to use the way of underglass but we dont know from where we have to start and under whom guidness that we can start i hope you will provide us better information about the equipments that use for it and how we invest in this field for better profit. We also hope from you that if you dont know how to grow large quantity in short time under glass system of grow you will give us information to whom we contact for it We will be waiting for your cooperative reply Best Regards Muhammad Farooq
Tammie Scull on 10/2/2006
My daughter is going to do this project for her sixth grade science project. We ordered the rockwool and other supplies from Hydro Harry's. And this evening hit the local Pet Store. We purchased a air pump reccommended for a 20 gallon tank and also the airstones. The store we went to didn't have the round type like you are using. We purchased much smaller ones. After reviewing your site I think we will return the smaller ones and opt for the larger type. The store we were at didn't carry the "round" type. Do you think it will make that big of a difference? Thank YOu
J Wynia on 10/3/2006
It doesn't matter very much which airstones you use. You're after agitating the surface of the water. So, I'd go with the "curtain" ones if you can't get the big wide circular ones. They usually sell the 10" long or so curtain ones that you can sort of "stripe" the bottom with to spread the agitation out.
S Baker on 10/12/2006
I am all for homestyle goodies (I have basil, dill, and cilantro plants lined up on the inside side of my bathroom window), but this seems a little uneconomical to me. I see about a $60-$75 investment for this project, not including labor (not having an aquarium pump lying around).I guess if I lived in Minnesota, I might consider broaching it. However, I would never, ever even consider living in that wasteland. No offense.
J Wynia on 10/12/2006
First of all, "economical" is a relative term, despite many people treating it as an absolute. So, whenever deciding what's economical, you have to say, "compared to what?". Given a desire to have fresh herbs, year-round, there are several solutions. 1. Buy them at the grocery store. Costs $3 per little bundle. It only takes 20 packets to total $60. If this is the only alternative, it could easily pay for itself in a couple of months. 2. Grow them outdoors. Not viable in the VAST majority of the United States. Those places where it *is* viable are not places I would ever want to live. 3. Grow them indoors in dirt near a window. The same places where they won't grow outside don't have enough light in the winter, leading to supplemental lighting, which puts it in the same category equipment-wise. 4. Grow them hydroponically. Compared to the others, it's not uneconomical. Second, this is a hobby for lots of people. That puts the money spent on this into a priority system that makes sense only to the people participating. The same holds true for time. I can pretty much guarantee that you spend that kind of money in some way every month that I would consider uneconomical. And, as for the "wasteland" comment, how exactly is that not supposed to offend? I'll take Minnesota over anywhere else in this country, 7 days a week and twice on Sunday. In nearly every measure of quality of life, Minnesota and Minneapolis land near the top of the lists. Other places rank highly in *some* lists, but Minnesota ends up surprisingly high on *most* of them. Of course, most of us secretly like it when people ignorantly call this place a wasteland because it keeps the riff-raff out and from being overpopulated. In other words, by flying under the radar, this place *stays* a great place to live. Based on your IP address, you're in the Bay Area, which *I'd* never even consider living in.
Cameron on 10/16/2006
Great setup, I am going to assemble this next weekend. In my city (Vancouver, BC) herbs are $3-$5 at the grocery stores. If I am throwing a big dinner party, its usually about $20-25 in herbs. I can see having 2 bins actually. Will start with one first. I love fresh herbs in food and want to thank you for the time in putting this page together. I like Minnesota by the way, nice area.
David Fox on 10/17/2006
I'd like to add my thanks to you for taking the time to post all your info. I've got a couple of really basic questions. Does the pump have to be run 24 hours a day? How deep in the solution do the cups lie? Since you've spent all that time on the web getting info, could you make a recommendation for a site that you'd consider the best place to learn about hydroponics? P.S. I'm from MN, and it is an awesome place to live. Not there now, but I do miss it (except Winter :P ).
Larry on 10/18/2006
Thanks for the great info. I live in a beautiful wasteland called NW Pennsylvania on the Alleghany river and this project will come in real handy. I want to try using this for growing jalapeno & cayenne peppers all year round.
Andrew on 11/2/2006
This looks at like the General Hydroponics RainForest kit. Is that where you got the idea? I just built this and it's looking great so far. I am using a bubbler instead of an air stone (based on my aquarium knowledge) and it works great. Right now I'm growing tulips (shooting up real fast) but I have one question... later on when I want to grow plants what is the best why to germinate them and use them in this rig? Thanks, you are a DIY Master.
Andrew on 11/2/2006
Sorry, quick add-on to the above post, the plants I intend to grow are oregano, tomatoes, basil, mint and parsley. So hopefully you can post some tips on how to start these from seeds. Thanks.
loren on 11/26/2006
hi I just started looking into hydroponic gardening, it alot like having a salt water reef aquarium. thanks for posting this info. i want to try growing stevia, basil,tomatoes,lettuce,and cucumbers thanks
IndoorGrower on 12/4/2006
As to the economy of this setup for indoor gardening during winter: It doesn't really matter whether the plants grow in dirt or soup; the bottleneck in the majority of the country will be light. For the 6-plant setup in the photo above, one would probably need 100W of lighting say 12 hours a day, which should translate into around $3-4/month for electricity. Let's consider the example of basil, which costs about $3 per foot-high plant in my local supermarket, and grows out to that size in around 2 months assuming it's started from cuttings. Then, we could grow about 3 bundles per month, valued at $9/month. Not a bad deal. I like the other guy's idea for LED lights, I wonder what their light output per Watt looks like. I would've tried to fit more plants in that box by squeezing slightly smaller cups into a 3,2,3 hex-grid.
TRussell on 1/14/2007
How did the hydroponics setup work for you? I am a high school Biology teacher and am thinking about trying a setup in my classroom this winter. I think the kids could be turned on by a project like this. I would grow herbs probably from seed. I already have a set of lights in the storage room that are just aching for something to be growing under them! Thanks for any suggestions you may have. TRussell Knoxville, Tennessee
grow girl on 1/14/2007
If these plants come indoors what kind of light requirements do they need? I looked at lights at Hydro Harry's and they are $500. Can't I rig something up using bulbs from Home Depot to get the correct light output? And how far away from the plants do they need to be? Thx.
J Wynia on 1/14/2007
I've currently got a crop of basil that's growing fine under a jury rigged setup of cheap fluorescent lights (mine is from an old aquarium, but cheap shop lights would work OK too). I've also got a 3 bulb floor lamp aimed at them as well, using the compact spiral fluorescent bulbs. It's a few hundred watt equivalent. I really need to rig up a better way to suspend the lights over the plants. You want them pretty close to the top of the plants and straight above. My biggest problem in the current indoor setup is that because my lights aren't straight above, I'm constantly fighting plants that are growing crooked toward the light. Some of that can be compensated for by rotating the plants, but it's still a hassle. TRussell, this setup does work, though I've made changes since publishing. I'm using smaller baskets and more of them. I'm also now using an aquarium powerhead instead of the airstones. The powerhead still has an input for the airhose. However, it does a better job of keeping the water moving. Given the gas exchange all takes place at the surface, the combination of keeping the water moving and churning bubbles into it maximizes the surface agitation. If you were to build such a setup for a school, I'd recommend putting the tub setup on the floor and building a PVC frame to suspend 4 ft shop lights on adjustable chains so you can raise them as the plants grow. If you put bulbs of different color temps on each side of the shop light, you'll more approximately match natural light and that could be a lesson in itself.
IndoorGrower on 1/15/2007
I have a flourishing crop of basil and a chili pepper plant under a 4 foot shop light fixture with two 40 watt cool white tubes. The nice thing about the fluorescents is that they don't get hot at all, so plants can stay quite close. I looked into the LED lighting, and it seems their efficiency is actually much lower than fluorescent. One advantage is that LEDs output light at very narrow wavelengths, making it possible to put together two-tone blue-red lamps that hit the light absorption sweet spots of the two most abundant types of chlorophyl in plants; I couldn't find any data on how much efficiency gain this targeted coloring brings for plant growth.
J Wynia on 1/16/2007
@IndoorGrower, are you using regular hardware store bulbs or are you using "plant" bulbs?
IndoorGrower on 1/16/2007
@JWynia, they are fairly common hardware store bulbs I got from Home Depot; they are made by Philips. I basically got the lights with the largest lumen output on the shelf. The same store also has "plant" lights but their lumen output was a lot smaller. I guess it would be interesting to compare these side by side, and see if the color tuned for plants can beat the brute force of the run-of-the-mill lamp.
Doris on 1/24/2007
I am really looking forward to trying this. To the person that said it is not economical I'm guessing he just likes to hear himself talk because your system strongly resembles the kits I have seen selling for up to $180 to $300. For this one I only need to buy the plants, growing medium, nutrients, and pots -- have all the the other stuff and I am definitely going to give it a try before I shell out $150 for the one I saw on TV. Thanks so much for the wonderfully clear instructions and pictures. Meanwhile -- I wonder -- can I put together a mini one using an old brine shrimp hatchery? Hmmm...
Hoop on 2/13/2007
J Wynia Great stuff. Looking to do something similar. I have some questions if you don't mind. 1) How do you keep the resevoir level at/near the proper level? Do you have to check it everyday? Also, do you have issues with algae in the tub? 2) Do you do anything to the water before mixing it with the nutrients to remove chlorine, etc.? 3)As you move your system indoors, have you considered air purification, e.g. ozone to control the smells that are derived from bacterias in the soils/system? 4)Also, what lighting are you looking at indoors, T5, HPS, etc?
J Wynia on 3/15/2007
What you want is the bottom of the basket and the bottom of the rockwool to just barely be in the solution. The rockwool will "suck" up enough water to keep the roots moist without saturating them.
J Wynia on 2/14/2007
I've pretty much had at least one of the slots open since I set it up and I can fill and check the level through that. You could very easily rig up a level indicator though. Drill a couple of small holes into some 1/2" PVC long enough to go from the bottom of the reservoir to a bit above the lid. Drill another small hole in the top of the lid and put the length of PVC through it so it touches the bottom. Then, take a wooden dowel that will fit inside the PVC and drop it into the PVC. It will float and stick out of the PVC pipe. Take a Sharpie and mark the dowel for where the "right" level is. The first time you re-fill, mark the "fill" spot and you've got an external gauge of when it needs to be filled. Algae issues are mostly caused by light. If you use opaque plastic tubs and make sure not to shine light into the reservoir, it's not too big of a deal. When it becomes a big deal, I just clean it out with a weak bleach solution, rinse and set up again. I have looked at air purification setups, but haven't had much odor issue yet. One design I kind of like is taking a couple of furnace filters (the thicker white ones rather than the flimsy blue ones). Dump a bunch of activated charcoal (aquarium supplies again) to cover one of the filters. Then, put the other on top, to create a sandwich with the charcoal in the middle. Hang that in front of (or strap to the back of, etc.) a box fan and you'd probably be surprised how well it sucks up smells. I'm only using cheap fluorescent lights, but that's at least in part to keep electrical costs down and I'm not after record-setting crops. In fact, I'm going to have to pull some basil out of the setup because I don't use it fast enough.
jerry on 2/16/2007
Just getting ready to add my seedlings, basil, chives, parsley and lettuce, to my new homebuilt unit. I am using 6 gal containers that are left overs from my other hobby, wine making. I have 2 set up with 4 pots in each and I have them in a wooden box I made. For light I put together 3 sets of red/blue/green leds running off a 12 v supply. Should be up and running by this weekend. I have one question and that is the water level, should the pots be just above the water level or immersed in the water?
J Wynia on 2/16/2007
Everything I've read has the bottom of the cups just barely into the water. This way, the roots aren't "in" the water, but, because of wicking action in the materials the roots are sitting in (the rockwool, etc), they get the liquid and food they need while still "breathing" as much as they need to. Of course, if you push that too far, you'd be filling several times per day to keep adjusting for evaporation, absorption, etc. So, I aim for about a half-inch into the water and it seems to work OK for me.
IndoorGrower on 2/16/2007
@jerry: I'd love to know how your LED lighting setup works out. How many diodes do you have in parallel? How come you included the green ones?
jerry on 2/17/2007
Here is how I made my led light source. I bought 3 (6 x 4) plastic containers from the dollar store and drilled 40 holes in the top (snug fit for the leds and when I solders them all together and tested it I then hot glued the leds in place as a added precaution. For the 40 leds I used 25 reds, 8 blues, 6 greens and 1 ultraviolet for each container in the following combination. 5 parallel strings of 5 red leds. 5 parallel strings of 3 leds made up of either blue,green or the ultraviolet one. I had the green and ultraviolet and thats why I used them. What I read is that plants like red and blue. I put a 150 ohm resistor in each parallel string and for a power source I used a 500ma +12v DC wal-wart. I made up 3 of these led light containers and all three together draws about 450ma. Easy to mount as I just screwed the bottom of the plastic containers to the bottom of a pine shelf, put the top ( containing the leds) on and thats it.
Mark on 2/17/2007
Nice DIY project! I have somthing similar I'm doing here in Michigan during the winter months. I'm Blogging the various stages along the way over at http://markhudy.spaces.live.com Again, nice project indeed
Rick on 3/4/2007
Thanks to both of you. Herbs it is! Can't wait to get started.
Cigar Jack on 2/24/2007
Thanks for the information. I've been cooking more and more lately and also taking a liking to Mojito's so I've started to put thought into growing my own herbs. My garage isn't insulated and my house is kind of small, I wonder if i can rig up some kind of hotbox for something like this.
Dylan on 6/12/2007
Nice setup. I'm an apartment dweller and don't have anywhere to actually "plant" anything. I've been using an Aerogarden now for a couple of months and the idea of having a little larger and less proprietary setup is starting to grow on me (no pun intended).
Rick on 3/15/2007
J Wynia, I want the net basket holding the rockwool cubes and the roots down in the nutrient solution, correct?
trisch on 5/16/2007
Hey everyone! I just built something similar, and if any of you are having problems with knowing when your water level is down too low, you could do what I did... Instead of the lid, I cut out styrofoam just a little smaller than the top, and cut out my planter holes. This way the plants go down with the water level while floating at the correct level. You can also see when to add more water. I have my roots completely submerged and have not had a problem with this, although you could easily cut the holes smaller to have them up higher! Also, I just use $7 fluorescent bulbs for plants/aquariums from Home Depot. 15 watts only. I guess we'll see what happens :) Happy gardening! I'm excited. Does anyone know what happens when your plants, say, tomatoes get too big? Does one have to move them to their own bucket or something? That AeroGarden seems to hold tomatoes fine.. I am going to build an aeroponic garden next. They are only a tiny bit more complicated it seems.
Rick on 3/4/2007
Thanks so much! I want to do this with my 4th grade class. We have a bank of windows with morning sun. Will that suffice? Also, do you find herbs easier to grow than tomato?
Cigar Jack on 3/4/2007
Rick, I've been doing a ton of reading on this and it sound like tomatoes require a good amount of sunlight so you may want to supplement your light with some florescent. Herbs don't require near the light that they do and I'm actually going to attempt to grow some in my house under a florescent light.
RichC on 6/2/2007
Nice project. We started with the AeroGarden to see if this is something we wanted to get into. It resulted in our first DIY 4 plant garden. If you're interested in our idea take a look at http://www.gardeningcamp.com/thewiki/index.php/Hydro/BucketGarden Everyone should give it a try.
J Wynia on 3/4/2007
I'd definitely go down the herb route for kids instead of tomatoes for several reasons. One is that tomatoes require external support and are going to have difficulty remaining upright without structure around them. The light is another reason. Just a bit of fluorescent light and your herbs will grow fine. Tomatoes require more. The final reason is that I think herbs like mint can lead to lessons about these plants being where the mint flavors in candy (always a favorite kid topic) come from. If you grew spearmint and peppermint, etc. they can taste right from the plant, you can mix up sugary mint drinks, etc. You could do the same with tomatoes, but mint just seems like an interesting classroom project to me especially given the growing conditions.
AZ from IA on 11/14/2007
Several times the use of a regular florescent light has been mentioned. Most pet shops and many home supply stores have special ultraviolet lights that would seem to work better due to the type of light plants use. Either that or use full spectrum lighting that has been proven to be healthier for both plants and animals. By the way, pet stores carry the bulbs for lizards and other animals that depend upon ultraviolet light to generate required vitamines, etc. that they cannot get from food. My daughter had a green iguana for years and you could sure tell when the lights needed replacing as the animal began looking sickly.
Rich DiMartino on 8/5/2007
RE: modifications to this setup at http://www.wynia.org/wordpress/2006/09/18/moved-hydroponic-garden-indoors-and-started-basil-in-germination-station/ I figured these questions would make more sense on this posting, as opposed to the link above. Which size net cups did you end up using for single herb plantings? Which powerhead did you switch to from the airpump/airstones? Has this made an noticeable improvement over the airstones?
Aerogarden Hydroponics System on 8/21/2007
I have been growing with the Aerogarden since I first saw it on a late night TV commercial. All of my friends that have seen my hydroponic Aerogarden have asked where I got it, and I even gave several as gifts! It has really gotten my feet wet using hydroponics, and I think they are amazing. However, one trend that I see across many people I know that use them is there is just not enough grow space. The plants using this aeroponic technology grow so fast that you quickly run out of space. Then you have to keep trimming your plants, or transplant them outside, or to a large system. Because of our cold winters, I usually transplant our hydroponically grown tomatoes and strawberries to our Flowering Chamber, which also useshydroponics, but it is much larger, and has a much more powerful lighting systems. Our fruits really flourish under the intense high pressure sodium lighting system, and all functions are computer controlled like the Aerogarden. This system is far superior in that it allows for all stages of plant growth, in a self contained system. I use my Aerogarden to start my seedlings, then move them to my grow box for eventual harvest!
Dirtboy on 3/24/2007
Just a comment on the water level. It doesn't really matter. In the book "How-To Hydroponics" there is a planter that is very similar. Its made of a plastic rectangular deck planter (I used a 3 gal Rubbermaid storage box). You attach a bubble curtain to the bottom and attach a balsa wood water level meter the same as mentioned earlier. Then you fill with LECA planting material and fill with nutrient treated water almost to the surface of the LECA. Dig a hole in the LECA until it is wet to plant your seedlings. The roots eventually grow down until completely submerged, so I don't believe there would be a problem with filling your own planter to a higher level, however with the amount of water you would have to use you may run the risk of the nutrients going sour from age. The point is that the roots can be submerged with no ill affects, provided the water is aerated sufficiently. Remember the hydroponics exhibit at Epcot? Those roots were also completely submerged.
Rick on 3/13/2007
How do you know when the herbs are ready to use? How do you "harvest" them? I'm trying spearmint, peppermint, and parsley. Also bibb lettuce, and one tomato plant. Thanks
J Wynia on 1/9/2008
You just barely want the baskets into the liquid. The rockwool will wick water up while keeping the roots exposed to oxygen.
cheryl on 4/14/2007
What does the valve do for the airstone. Do I need one? Thanks
DavidB on 5/31/2007
This is a great idea. My house mates are avid gardeners, and we live in a temperate climate (Sacramento, CA) so growing outside year around is fairly easy for us. Still, for the experiment/entertainment value, this sounds like a fun project. I'm really glad I Stumbled Upon this page. Cheers!
Patrick on 4/17/2007
Do you need to change the water any time or put in more nutrients in the water as time goes by?
kayla on 6/5/2007
HAHAH!!! ITS SO UGLYTEHEHE
Ronda on 5/7/2007
How often do you, in particuliar, refill the nutrients? I would like to build one but I am going on vacation for a week and I am trying to determine if it would all die before I got back.
J Wynia on 5/7/2007
I've been doing a complete solution swap every 2-3 weeks or so.
matt on 10/9/2007
I like your post, if you have some time check out our site: www.hydroponicsdictionary.com. We have some very cool Hydroponics Tools for anyone to use. Cheers,
torquay312 on 1/24/2008
I've been reading as much as I can about hydroponics before getting my feet wet, and it looks like by just adding a water pump and some lines, you can turn your system into the bubbletronics system that I've seen on the net. Have you considered an upgrade like this to your system?
Charldb on 1/9/2008
Hello i have a question i am just starting off and i am glad that you have this website up and running! my question is, how deep do the baskets need to be submerged into the water mix?
Tannim Kyraxx on 1/20/2008
Hi your post was one of the ones I found after I got the bug to try this from seeing a aerogarden on tv I know I was not going to shell out 160 bucks I decided to set up a ebb and flow system I am blogging the progress at: http://tannimkyraxxaptfarmer.wordpress.com/2008/01/17/hello-world/ I am going to see how much food I can grow over the next season and I'm going to try as many setups as I can even a few small aquaponics rigs Its a interesting hobby with some real pay offs in healthy food a great skill to have in any age and come on It has to be a better wast of time than warcraft right!
J Wynia on 5/11/2008
I rinsed the soil from the roots and then put them into the rockwool containers from there.
Red Icculus on 1/28/2008
I found this site through Stumbleupon. This is a basic, cheap, but very functional hydro system. It is very responsive because the roots are in the nutrient solution. Hopefully you don't have any problems with bugs when you bring it indoors. Great post!
Julie on 4/9/2008
LOVE this idea. just a couple of questions. How often do you have to add water. And do you just add water or do you mix up your nutrient bath and fill with that? Also do you think the small bubble stone will work? I couldn't find the larger circle one you used.
cra2 on 6/16/2008
Hey, thanks for posting the details of your project. For those of you with questions, do a quick google search. I did and found many, many similar efforts - complete with plans, directions, maintenance, etc. One thing I noticed is that other folks seem to clean out their system with a bleach solution every cycle or so to prevent fungus, rot, etc. Another thing I noticed is that you can achieve more efficient "aeroponic" (vs hydroponic) results by simply lowering your water level and putting a small submersible 'pond' pump at the bottom. You attach some thin black flexible tubing to it and run it straight up to just above your water level, and just below the plant roots. Essentially, you create a "sprinkler" head that draws up the water and mists the roots. I guess it provides more oxygen for the roots or something. Anyways, you then just put a timer on the pump cord and you can have that thing going on & off all day on cycles or whatever. This solution also means you won't have to worry about keeping the water level just right. You only need to make sure the water never dries up, leaving your pump to burn up. Regardless of water height, the sprinkler head's height will be constant and your spray area will cover the whole interior. good luck
Dana on 4/18/2008
I did a project for my 7th grade science fair project (won first prize) on hydroponically grown plants and how they are affected by chemicals like detergant and soap and such....verse regular plants and the hydroponically grown ones did much much better.
Andy on 5/9/2008
So after the system is rigged up how do you transfer the plants into the rockwool containers? I see you do not reccoment trying to germinate plants directly from seeds and am a bit puzzled at this part. Nice work J, and thanks for your donations to the community!
Joe Wilson on 5/13/2008
a little info on the use of fluorescent light.. for starting seedlings one can use the plain cool-white bulbs, for the flowering plants the use of a combination of one cool-white and one warm-white bulb. foliage only plants do fine with bluish light lengths of the cool-white bulbs,flowering plants also need the reddish wavelength of the warm white-bulb.
J Wynia on 8/4/2008
I've actually been planning on doing some aquaponics in the near future, either really small scale indoors (guppies and herbs) or waiting until next summer and going slightly larger outdoors.
Joe Wilson on 8/6/2008
I left a post on the link for the aquaponics, thought it was very informative and interesting. and I never thought of using guppies, think i need to get this empty 55 gallon tank back in operation with a few ideas... a nice herb garden all year around would be nice..
Sally Laird on 5/27/2008
I have been inspired by your project and will be experimenting with some of my greenhouse tomatoes and jalapeños (some in regular soil, and some with the hydroponic project). I'm in Alaska, so growing these in a greenhouse is the best way to go for me. However, I thought I'd share a technique I've used for supporting tomatoes without using stakes or cages in my greenhouse. I plan to do this again with tomato plants growing in the hydroponic plastic tubs. Attach a nylon-coated clothesline cord to a hook at some height above the tomato plant (as high as possible for those indeterminate varieties that grow tall), tie knots down the line every 12 inches or so, and suspend over the tomato plant. As the plant grows, use pieces of panty hose or little velcro ties to gently tie the stem of the plant to the cord just above a knot. As the plant grows taller, you can add more ties to the cord to continue supporting the tomato. I suppose if you'd like to try this outside, you'd have to find something to attach the clothesline cord to - perhaps a deck railing, or a wall. Happy gardening, everyone.
hydroponics on 7/5/2008
Hi, We are in the same thoughts J. I love hydroponics also which consider contributed a lot J. But one thing for sure in Hydroponics Gardening there are some pest that may harm your hydroponics gardening check this out http://hydroponicsdictionary.com/insects Thanks for your info.
Chris Anderson on 8/2/2008
If you are interested, I have been teaching this in my classroom for a few years now, here is a link to my video, we also throw fish in the mix and do "Aquaponics" http://www.teachertube.com/view_video.php?viewkey=f9ec0e115fe2077e5c48
Cigars on 9/18/2008
Great article. I checked out the link to the video that chris anderson posted. Very interesting stuff.
Dee on 1/5/2009
I though this was a great idea until I tried it and discovered I was tool challenged. Plus it took up way too much space in my tiny apt, and there was no attractive way to hook up a light system. If you find you are also tool and space challenged, here is an idea. Buy an Aerogarden bowl $30, 1 season gardeners kit $19 (for the baskets), drill a small hole in the top of the base, through which you have an airstone attached to a regular aquarium pump (just like JWynias). No drill? Base is plastic, heat a screwdriver and use it to melt a hole. The foam can be replaced with foam from hair rollers (new). The other option for the tool challenged, a bit more expensive though, is a PowerPlant Pro. Retails for $80, has six holes, and you use your own seeds.
Joe Wilson on 3/22/2009
Why sure you can get a smaller tub, and use little 2 inch cups for each of your plants.. small airstone, and smaller pump requirement.. Might even be able to use the PowerPlant light setup.
J Wynia on 3/28/2009
Sure, a hole saw would make the holes a bit more tidy. However, if I was after tidy, I probably wouldn't use Rubbermaid totes in the first place, aiming for something made of wood and lined with pond liner instead.
Joe Wilson on 3/28/2009
@J.Wynia "get out the wood burner and make it really artsy with your name on the side of it., with some flowers etc..lol..
Joe Wilson on 4/7/2009
@Lauren, the pictures on here show the hydroponic system outside.. yes they can be done outside. Though I bring mine in when the elements like rain,snow,hail etc is in the forecast. I don't want to waste my nutes and risk a loss in my crop. Might want to place the airpump in a cooler area using something too give them some shade so the air pumped into the nutes is cool. I just made a little bubbler from a plastic folgers coffee can with 2 1 7/8 holes in the top for a mini cloner.. it seems to be working okay so far... and i take it out on the porch during the day now that spring is here...I've seen people drop an ice cube in their nutes to bring the temp down when they take them outside to bring the level up and cool it down, without any problems..
Shanker on 7/9/2009
I have set up a hydroponic garden using COCOPEAT as the substrate. I have experimented with all kinds of vegetables. The key to the success of a HYROPONIC garden is the NUTRIENT formula. There are variations depending on the type of plant you wish to grow and also depending on the climatic conditions available or created artifically. This hobbyist blog and other blogs could be excellent resources to discuss issues: http://geekgardener.wordpress.com/
Paula on 1/3/2009
thanks for this info and yay for the Midwest! looking forward to trying this and saving a bunch of $. ($60 is small change in the Bay Area...I don't think you could buy dinner for that there.)
Grow Box on 8/26/2009
I have bought from lots of websites online but http://www.natureshydro.com had the best deals on hydroponic grow box systems and grow lights i could find. Please let me know if there are better sites
Joe Wilson on 3/27/2009
@J Wynia , if you where do this all over again would you recommend a whole saw, i would think it would make a better cut in the long run. though they do run for a pretty penny, and some people don't have the money for all the tools too make a small project sparkle
Lauren on 4/3/2009
can you do a hydroponic container outside?
T Doe on 1/11/2009
First off thank you very much for your visual aids. I have been searching for a how to such as this for too long. I wanted to ask you how often do you need to change out the nutrient solution/water mixture? Also does the little blue piece of tubing that prevents your house from frying come with the air pump? If not what is it called? Thanks again!
Pat on 1/29/2009
Great tut. Question. What is the cheapest lighting system you can use for herbs and where can you get one. Thanks
Lauren on 3/22/2009
Can this system be adapted so I can grow some herbs/lettuce on my counter?
Ryan on 2/28/2010
I'm using something similar, but based on the earthbox setup. Still I get huge plants with little attention. My question for you is about stevia plants. I'm just about to order some seeds and I hear they are quite difficult to raise from seed. Do you have any advice?, Regards Ryan
jack on 12/23/2009
One of the systems I use and like are AutoPots, I use a 50% mixture of coir and perlite. The only power they need is gravity.
brian d on 10/28/2009
how often do you have to change the nutrient solution/water in the tub?
Salvia Divinorum on 7/13/2010
Did you hear that in Finland, the police are going after hydroponics manufacturers because they say they promote cannabis production? I think the overall trend is towards decriminalization, which makes actions like this stunning. I've been involved in hydroponics for two years myself. It can get really cultish among us hydro freaks :)
debbie on 3/31/2010
i started tomatoes from seed six weeks ago. i transfered them into my bubbler waaay to early, because i was excited. ( they barely had there first true leaves) they did not grow one bit for two weeks! then i switched from the long flouresent tubes to a row of five compact flouresent bulbs (i think they are 200 watt equivalent) and in four weeks they've shot up to about 2 feet. i have the lights on for 18 hours per day. i also have some cucumbers and they are doing really well too. has anyone thought of trying strawberries? i planted some of those strawberry plugs you buy in the bag into a little three gallon bubbler and they are going crazy!
NHL Jersey on 4/7/2010
I have one of these tubs in the garage at home. I'm gonna build one of these tonight with it. I only wonder if it sat on the patio during the summer, if the plastic would start to crack. Anyway, thanks for the idea!
Lauren on 4/9/2010
RE: NHL Jersey - I did exactly that - had a plastic container on my patio all summer and it did not crack. Perhaps because of the cool water in it. I very successfully grew tomatoes and basil. The peppers were not happy in the hydroponic setup. If anyone has suggestions on growing peppers this way, I'd love to hear. Lauren
J Wynia on 3/10/2010
I bought the seedlings for stevia instead of seeds for the reason you mention. Everyone seems to describe stevia as really difficult to raise from seed.
blog comments powered by Disqus
Or, browse the archives.
© 2003- 2014 J Wynia. Very Few Rights Reserved. This article is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. Quoted content or content included from others is not subject to that license and defaults to normal copyright.