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I've been thinking about building an aeroponic system from scratch for a while, and this week I gave it a first attempt.
The garden has been largely dominated by the massive eggplant lately. The eggplant itself is quite healthy, but it's a bad neighbor to everything else in the Turbogarden. It's simultaneously crowding it's neighbors and shading them under it's large canopy.
As far as I've researched, nobody is producing a single-site hydroponic/aeroponic unit...let alone free hydroponics plans...that are easy to follow. I thought it was time to make one.
I've spent a long time looking at other free hydroponics plans and thinking about how to assemble a hydroponic unit from scratch... I came to a few basic parts that would be necessary, then expanded on the idea:
I started looking for my reservoir first. I considered lots of containers, from the simple Home Depot bucket to more exotic containers. I ended up choosing a dog-food container. Take a look at the photo, and I'll start to explain why I decided on it.
I found a made by Gamma Plastics. It's intended to be an air-tight container for pet foods, but I had other ideas in mind. I liked the large water-tight door, the generous capacity for water, and the flat top of the container. It's naturally good at holding water, and is not prone to leaks.
You're probably noticing that there's a bucket on top... That's intentional. I decided to separate the reservoir from the plant's "chamber". The bucket has been fitted to hold a 6" net pot. The plant lives entirely in the bucket. Since the reservoir can be separated from the bucket easily, I can clean the reservoir without disturbing the delicate roots.
How are they connected? Well, I wanted to make a system with as few points of failure as possible. Water likes to obey gravity, so in the chance of total failure, the water can fall safely back into the reservoir. It's the path of least resistance.
The bucket has a hole drilled through the bottom. The reservoir has a matching hole drilled through the top. Take a look, and it will make more sense:
That's actually a "through-hull" fitting, it's used in boating. It's a sealed "pass through" that leads directly down into the reservoir. This serves as our water-return. The holes in both the reservoir and the bucket were drawn using a simple compass, and were rough-cut using a Dremel tool. They were then sanded using a small drum-sander to achieve proper size and roundness.
Once the unit was dry-fit properly, I sealed the "through-hull" fitting with aquarium sealant, to ensure that it was totally water-tight.
The lid of the bucket has been cut to accommodate a large (6") net pot. The lid supports the weight of the plant, and the roots are able to hang freely inside the bucket. Here's a top view of the bucket's lid (and pot) for perspective:
Before we continue with construction of our free hydroponics plans, let's stop and talk about aeroponics/hydroponics for a moment. Aeroponics describes a special breed of Hydroponics, where the roots of a plant are sprayed with an aerated nutrient solution. To make a spray, we force water through small jets.
Luckily, these jets are pretty easy to obtain. I bought a handful of them at my local hydroponics shop.
The small micro jets are threaded, and usually screwed directly into PVC fittings of your choosing. Since nobody online seemed to know quite what size they are, here's the final answer: The micro jets are threaded to fit a 10-32 machine thread hole.
It's easy to make them fit into PVC. Simply drill a hole of appropriate size, then cut the threads with a 10-32 tap. 10-32 is a standard size (it's the fine-thread version of a #10 machine screw). You should be able to buy a 10-32 tap quite inexpensively at nearly any hardware store. Personally, I really like the Craftsman TapDriver. It's a screwdriver-shaped handle that stores taps internally. It's very convenient.
You're able to construct the supply lines for the micro jets by simply using 1/2" PVC and fittings. It's easy to cut and glue PVC, and it doesn't require a lot of special tools.
Now that we know how we intend to supply the water; we need to know how we're going to get it there... We need a pump.
Although these pumps look convenient, and you may see them in other free hydroponics plans, they lack sufficient power to make the jets work. A crappy pump will make your jets "dribble". You'll need a proper pump to get them to the critical pressure.
After some searching and testing, I wholeheartedly recommend anActiveAquaAAPW250. The ActiveAqua brand is represented by Hydrofarm, and their pumps are just what you need. Shockingly, the ActiveAqua pump actually cost me less than the far-inferior pet-store variety.
Speaking of pumps, the ActiveAquaAAPW250 (and larger) pumps offer an important and convenient feature. They have a pipe-thread connection to the pump. Many brands of pump simply have a tubing "slip fit" connection. I don't like "slip fit". It's not strong, and it's not reliable. Threaded connections are much stronger, and they'll make your life a lot easier. In this case, theAAPW250 has a 1/2" pipe thread connection for the "outbound" water. Here's a photo with the thread visible:
Ok... Now we've got all the ingredients involved in our free hydroponics plans together ... Let's make it work.
I wanted as simple a connection as possible, so I got an idea early in the project: If I made the "return hole" in the bucket large enough, I could pass the supply line for the jets through the middle of it (meaning that I only have one hole to worry about instead of two). This leads me to my sprayer system.
Our free hydroponics plans offer a very simple setup. The pump shoots the water straight up a length of PVC pipe. This pipe is capped at the top, and the only way for the water to escape is through three micro jets at the top. Here's a closeup of the jets at the top of the pipe:
The cap is just a regular 1/2" PVC cap. It's been drilled and threaded for three 10-32 sprayers, which screw into it nicely. The PVC cap is solvent-wended to the pipe to prevent leaks.
The pump rests inside the reservoir, with the sprayer-pipe extending vertically. The sprayer-pipe travels through the large "through-hull" fitting that connect the bucket and reservoir, and stops just below the plant's basket. Here's a photo of the whole thing assembled:
Also, just so you can see it from the top, here's another angle:
I like this design a lot, as it's pretty simple and free hydroponics plans for you.
The water shoots out of the sprayers, and is carried back to the reservoir by gravity. The pump is always sitting in water. The whole system is designed to be as leak-resistant as possible, while allowing for easy cleaning.
The big "door" on the reservoir allows for easy access when you're testing and adjusting your water. Additionally, you can completely disconnect the bucket from the reservoir, should you want to do more extensive cleaning. Since the plant never leaves the bucket, it's always shielded from damage and accidents.
The last part of the project was allowing the pump's cord to exit the reservoir. I put the hole both as high as possible and as far from the the "return" as possible, to minimize leak concerns. It's pretty simple. I drilled a 1" hole through the reservoir using a hole-saw, and fitted it with a large electrical grommet for a finished look.
We give you free hydroponics plans, but here's what you'll have to buy.
This is a rough estimate of the costs involved in building this home made hydroponics:
Total materials cost: Roughly $67.
That's not bad, based on the costs of commercial hydroponics units. I bought all the parts for this project locally. The bucket and PVC were from Home Depot. The through-hull fitting was from a boating store. The pump, microjets, and net pot came from my local hydroponics shop.
The Vittles Vault you could get by using the link above. Honestly, I just loved the easy access of the big watertight door, and was willing to incur the expense for a nicer maintenance experience in the future.
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