Hydroponics Update

Spinach about a week after nutrients added.

 The spinach I was growing managed to complete most of its life cycle. Around a week after my last post I added the nutrient solution to the plants’ water, thats when they really started to take off.  I had one hiccup during the test run where I didn’t properly sent the flow rate of one the IV bags and half the nutrient solution was lost. If I was a little less… well lazy that day… I would have replaced it , but I didn’t.  So the IV bag ran out of nutrient solution and some of the plants died before they reached maturity.  Luckily, the rest of the plants managed to reach their flowering stage.  So overall, the IV bags were incredible useful. Thanks Jordan for the idea!

 Seeing how classes are starting to pick up, I figure now is a good time to stop the experiment and take some time to look over my notes.  But, I hope to have another prototype built by the end of next month. ( Btw, sorry for not being around open house lately to discuss hydroponics, I have a night class that meets at the same time this semester).

Speaking of which, a friend of mine who frequently stops by open house, Ian, has taken the plans of the hydroponic garden I built two years ago and built one of his own at home.  Suffice to say, the plants have grown wild and are firmly in control of his bedroom. Given how successful his garden has been, he’s inspired me to dust of my old plans and think about building another, LARGER, set up for just for show (the hydro setup currently at Hive is mainly for experimentation).  That’s all for now…

Spinach reaching maturity.

 

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New hydroponic setup… Let’s just say my carpentry skills are a little rusty.

So here is a quick update on my hydroponics setup at Hive76.  In my previous post I uploaded a video on a hydroponic garden I built in my basement two years ago.  My goal was to build the setup with as little moving parts as possible to ensure the garden required little maintenance.  With the hydroponic garden I am building at Hive76 I decided to keep to the spirit of simplicity but a completely different approach with it.

With my latest version I am using medical grade IV bags to store the water above the plants.  Then by attaching a mechanism to the IV bags known as a ‘flow controller’, gravity pulls the water from the bags to the plants below at a consistent rate.  The rate at which water flows through that controller be anywhere from 5 to 250 ml / hr.

The IV bags and flow controllers are great because they are very inexpensive (one IV bag and flow controller cost me a few dollars from medtecmedical.com).  Plus they can potentially be reused since they are being used on plants and not humans if you are careful to prevent contamination. But possible the most useful thing about using IV bags is that they require no energy to operate, which further reduces costs.

IV bags filled with water.

To evenly distribute the water that is supplied by the IV bags to the plants, I put the plants within a medium of rockwool cubes that are about 1 cubic centimeter in size.  The rockwool essentially acts as a sponge that takes the water that is supplied by the IV drip and evenly distributes it to all the plants within the container.

I’m testing my current hydroponic setup on spinach seeds at the moment.  The plants are still in their infancy so I have not added nutrients to their water supply yet but I plan to do so in about a week(adding too high a concentration of nutrients to young plants can damage their roots).  My short term goal is to monitor the spinach in my hydroponic setup through its entire life cycle, taking general notes along the way.  After the plants have finished their life cycle I want to take some time to build a second prototype and post its plans on Hive’s webpage. Hopefully by that point, the system will be a useful platform for scientific experimentation. Then the real fun can begin!!!

Gravity flow controller: controls the flow rate of liquid from the IV bags.

Germinating seed in rockwool and temperature probe.

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Hydroponics at Hive76

My current project at Hive76 is working on indoor hydroponic systems.   The project comes from an interest in plants that I picked up from tending to my mother’s  garden as a child.   My family was fortunate to have enough land for a sizable garden when I was growing up, but now that I live near center city Philadelphia, good plots of land can be difficult to find. So I naturally turned to hydroponics because it is not limited by land area the same way that traditional farming is.

Hydroponics has the potential to revolutionize farming as we know it because it allows for plants to be grown in highly controlled environments.  This means that the light, water, and nutrients that plants need to thrive can be optimized to promote rapid growth while reducing waste and pollution.   Also, as mentioned before, hydroponics systems be built vertically instead of just horizontally, which is a huge benefit in dense urban environments like Philadelphia.

Even with all the potential benefits of hydroponics, it has yet to become a competitor with traditional farming in the open market.  There are many reasons for this, one reason is that the cost of lighting in an indoor hydroponic system will always cost more than traditional farming, which gets its light for free from the sun.  (Luckily the cost of lighting is dropping all the time with advancements in florescent bulbs and LED technology.) Another reason is that there is a lot of politics around farming that doesn’t favor the development of hydroponics.

Despite all the this, hydroponics is still holds a lot of potential to revolutionize agriculture.  It is also a great way to learn about plant science.  I’m particularly interested in using hydroponics to develop a low cost platform for amateur science experiments.   The hope is that by empowering people with the right tools , the next breakthrough in agriculture might come from a high-school student’s science fair project!

The hydroponic system that I am building at Hive76 is very much in the early stages. In the meantime, I wanted to post a video on a previous hydroponic system that I built in my basement 2 years ago.   It works by flooding the roots of the plants with water supplied by a reservoir below.

Enjoy and stay tuned for updates!

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