Saturday, September 29, 2018

DIY Indoor DWC Hydroponic System Build FULL GUIDE

Since moving into a condo with no real land to garden in, I've really been dreading not having fresh vegetables right outside. I did manage to bring one of my containers, but there is very little space in the little "front yard". Not to mention, it being northfacing, it receives minimal sunlight. There's other problems too, such as some local pests. I've caught frogs chomping on my Chard and seedlings, and aphids have colonized the Kale plants I have inside it.
In my new place, I did have quite a bit of real estate in my bathroom, which I was previously using to store the fermenters for my Kolsch. I figure there would be enough space here to do some indoor gardening.
At first I was incredibly ambitious (because if you're going to dream, you may as well dream big). I wanted to setup an NFT system along a frame built out of the lights and PVC salvaged from my indoor nursery build. It made a lot of sense too to have the growing region elevated as the sink gets in the way Although reality did hit me as I had never actually built or run an NFT system before. The amount of space needed for the parts (pipes, reservoir, etc) would have overwhelmed the vanity.
Conceptualizing where the NFT would go if it had been built
Since I was pretty experienced with DWC systems back in college and at home, I figure it would be best to keep it simple and use that technology again. However, the challenge running indoors would be to provide the appropriate lighting without breaking the bank on electricity costs.
Fooling around with the measurements, I was able to construct a downsized frame where the lights could be suspended over the growing container. I learnt from the first build that a 10 gallon tote with more rigid walls is better than a 30 gallon tote with flimsy walls. Luckily, the frame fit perfectly over the 10 gallon tote. Dimensionwise, it is approximately 26"x19"x20" (LxWxH). The lengths and fittings cut to create this frame are the following:

8 - 3"
2 - 5"
4 - 7"
10 - 20"

4 elbows
16 tees

With the frame and tote in place, it was time to start working on the lighting. Watching some videos, I purchased some power strips and socket adapters which setup a nice lighting rig as portrayed below.
For the setup, the power strips have been ziptied to the top of the frame facing downward. The light bulbs in this attempt are 60W LED bulbs at 5000K. I wired up the power strips to a timer, which was plugged into a surge protector on a GFCI plug. It was time to see if my rigged up setup would turn on.
Success! This lighting rig should do the job. I have these lights plugged into a mechanical timer which run for 14 hours per day. With the lights in place, I zip-tied up the surge protector running the timer to the frame.

In the mean time, the tote was prepared for the net pots by drilling 2" holes at ~5" spacing. For a system of this spacing and net pot size, small plants like lettuce and basil are ideal. Tomatoes and peppers would be too large for this setup, unlike the previous setup at my college apartment.

Back at the lighting, I was experimenting with reflectors as to not blind myself on a daily basis. Reflectors would also help concentrate the light downwards toward the plants. The design pictured below did not make it too far.
With the progression of this system build, it was time to get my seedlings underneath the lights. This was also the time to get some airflow over the seedlings too. I purchased a 6" clip-on fan for this. This fan is hooked into a separate timer which runs at 15 minutes on, 30 minutes off. The fan is needed to prevent the seedlings from getting too leggy.

More development with reflectors. Found some cardboard and lined that with some aluminum foil. This was exactly what I needed. At this stage I had the light directed straight at the seedlings, but this would eventually change. The top of the frame was covered with a full board lined with foil at this point.
Eventually I came to realize that the lighting needed to be buffed up significantly in order for my seedlings and plants to grow. Using an app (RGB light sensor), the lux at the base of the tote barely topped 8000lx. Due to the way the lumen formula is, the further the distance, the less light reaches its destination.

I didn't like the idea of lowering the height of the frame, but I found a solution that made more sense. I found some socket splitters at the store and plugged them into the socket adapters on the power strips. In doing so, the amount of light has doubled and the bulbs were slightly closer to the plants.

After installing more reflective panels, and running my app again, the light given off was of sufficient quantity. Not bad for 8 60W equivalent bulbs. This does effectively double my electric bill too.
The final touches on the system were installation of the remaining reflector panels along with the air pump and tubing to aerate the system. I used the same pump I had lying around from my Kratky setup upgrade. The pump was hooked into 1/8" airline tubing through a hole drilled into the top of the tote. This connected to a tee, splitting off to two airstones.

After filling the reservoir with ~6.5 gallons of water, 3 tablespoons of the fertilizer, and 1.5 tablespoons of Epsom salt (and eventually, a tablespoon of Calcium Acetate solution), the seedlings were transplanted in.

Half the seedlings in.
That completes the build. Below is a parts list of what I used to put this thing together. Based on that and the photos, you should be able to replicate this yourself. Remember, do not mix electricity and water together.

Build parts summary:

Growing media:
1 -- 10 Gallon tote
12 -- 2" Net cups (never hurts to have extras lying around)
Fertilizer (15-30-15) (1/2 tablespoon per gallon)
Espom Salt (1/4 tablespoon per gallon)
Rockwool Cubes
Seeds (Lettuce, Bok Choy, Basil, Cilantro, Swiss Chard, Kale, etc)

Lighting/Electrical:
8 -- 60W equivalent LED daylight bulbs
3 -- Power Strips
4 -- Socket outlet adapters
4 -- Light socket splitters
2 -- Mechanical Timers 
1 -- 6" Clip-on Fan

Aeration: 1 -- Aquarium Air Pump
2 -- Airstones
1 -- Airline Tee
1 -- Check valve
1/8" Airline tubing
Link to a bundle with accessories described  

Frame:
3/4" Sch 40 PVC pipe
3/4" Sch 40 PVC Elbows
3/4" Sch 40 PVC Tees
UL Rated Zipties
Aluminum Foil
Cardboard

Tools used:
Powered Drill
2" Hole Saw (recommend purchasing a hole saw set) 
PVC Cutter
Tape Measure
RGB Light Sensor (App)

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