Sunday, July 31, 2016

Mini setup during the summer break

While I was back in France, far from my hydroponic setups, I couldn't resist to build another setup for next year. I'll have to rely on my inlaws to start the seedlings, but the idea is to get tomatoes & herbs for next summer.
I'll have to build the sensors for my next trip in February so I'll be able to remote monitor the installation.

The Grow Pipe

 First we'll start with a standard 100mm gutter water chute pipe. They are quite easy to find in 4m length or pre-cut. Get the Elbow that fits the 100mm. In France, they are not 90° but 87° so when you make a U with 2, the long pipes are not parallel.
I took one Male-Female, and one Female-Female elbow.

  • 2 x 100mm rain water pipe, 1m long,
  • 2 End caps (punch down connections,
  • 1 Male Female 87° Elbow
  • 1 Female Female 87° Elbow
  • PVC Glue
Take 2 mn to check the type of PVC glue you are buying. While in Hong Kong, they are all Hot Weather grade, in France, 80% of them are cool temperature grade... So when it's hot, they dry super fast.

The end caps I found are ready to connect 32 & 40mm pipe by just punching the pre-cut hole. It is quite convenient so you don't have to drill or loose length with adapters & reductions.

 Just glue the end caps on the 1 meter pipes. I have one intake positioned on top of the pipe, while, the water exit is on the lower part of the pipe.

 To keep the grow pipe in place on the water tank, I found these glue-on reductions (32mm). I will not glue them, but just clip the 100m in the brace.
You can see the Female-Female Elbow, and the Male-Female one.


The trick here is to use off the shelf items from any constructions/DIY shop. You are looking for opaque flexible pipe, so I found one to connect tap to the washing machine. They are threaded and come with the seals, so it's quite convenient. I also grabbed a flex to water pipe adapter and a 32mm pipe to 1/2" PVC connector.
The male connector of the washing machine hose will go on the Water Tank side and connect the flex pipe.
The female side will connect to the 32mm pipe adapter. On this side, I had to use a short 32mm PVC pipe glued inside the 100m end cap.

  • Washing Machine connection kit
  • 32mm to threaded adapter (that fits your washing machine kit end)
  • hose adapter (that also fit your washing machine kit end)

The water tank

At the same DIY/Construction shop I found a super deal for 3 totes. They are 75l and what you need is a complete opaque one. Don't get any clear clothe storing ones...
Mine comes with wheels, but once loaded with the water, they'll probably crash...

  • 1 Big opaque tote (50-75l) big enough to support your grow pipes

The only thing that I had to order online is a little  pump. This is the minimal power I found on Amazon, and it's tiny.
You can be picky and go for the lower power consumption. The needed lift is not big (40cm) so you'll have many choices.

  • 50cm of clear aquarium hose (10-12mm)
  • 1 mini aquarium pump (40cm lift)

To connect the pump, drill the tote on the top of the tote. The hole has to be the same size as the male end of the washing machine connection kit. Grab a seal that fits, and screw the hose adapter.
You can then connect the clear tube (10-12mm) on the hose adapter, and plug the pump on the other end.
Place the power cord where the cover will still lock. 

As we want our tank to support the grow tube, place it on top of the cover and mark down where the braces would sit.
Then drill a 32-36mm hole for each of the 4 braces.

If you drill 36mm, the pipe will go inside and then you can glue it, if you drill 32, then use a piece of 32mm pipe as leg to sit on the bottom of the tote.

Here, I took the option of drilling 32mm, and use 32mm legs.

Last part: water return

As you remember, we have 3 holes in the end caps, two at the lower part, one at the top.
For the water return, we'll use one of the bottom one. If it's a NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) system, you don't want a lot of water in the pipe... If you want to convert it to a DWC (Deep Water Culture), then use the top hole for the exit as well.
We'll use:

  • 50cm of 32mm PVC tube
  • 1 Female Female 87° elbow
  • 1 Male Female 87° elbow
For this one you'll have to adjust the small part of 32mm pipe in between your elbows to match the distance between the grow pipe and the return hole in the tote.
First drill the 32mm hole in the tote, then glue one elbow, and position the exit elbow.

The system is almost finished once you get the exhaust pipe in place.

You can also use that setup with the grow pipe fixed on a wall, then your In & Out would need to be repositioned.

One more step before the Final one

Connect everything and fill some water in the tank (about 10cm) and give a try. Check your connections and seals and it should not leak... It is better to reglue pipes and check for leaks now than after drilling the grow site holes.

Finally: the grow site holes

Finally, you can drill he hole for your net pots. Now it is really up to you and what you want to grow. 
Vines or bushes like tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis would need more space between roots. Herbs and Lettuce can accommodate a higher density.

So just order the net pots first or grab some at the local gardening shop and draw a line a the top of your tube and calculate your spacing.
I like my net pots black (no light no algae) and now some of them have a carved surrounding to accommodate a circular grow tube.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

New indoor project: green wall

As we have a small aquarium with guppies, I started to think about running a green wall of house plants (that can clean the indoor air at the same time). I went online and found a nice set of planters from Greensun that can be mounted on the wall or on a metal frame.

The Greensun planters can be daisy chained and they have this water drop, but it is quite messy, and also, there is not much water in each planter, so I added some 1/2" PVC pipe on top of the water outlet to raise the water level to flood each planter, and then drain it creating a syphon with a simple U made of elbows.
Another add on to prevent water to spill between each planter is to put a piece of 10mm clear tube between each planter, that would drain the water out to the next planter.

At the bottom, you can see my favorite IKEA Trofast Bucket that host the 12V pump. I've added a little plastic bottle with acrylic fibers as a filter as described in this video. That will prevent clogging. I'm also using Reverse Osmosis quick connect tubing to bring water to the top as clear tubing will allow algae growth.
For now, it is not a real Aquaponics setup, as the sump tank is not connected to the aquarium, but I'm transferring some of my water changes from the aquarium to the green wall (most of the time they go in the regular Hydroponic setups).

Sunday, November 22, 2015

We're moving !

Our landlord decided to get back the apartment so we are moving. Sorry, I can't change the name of the blog to 28th Floor mini farm, but the spirit is still there... Unfortunately the balconies are different but at least we got 2 !
I tried to pack everything for our movers to process without killing too many plants, but that's where hydroponics aren't easy... traditional soil plantations, they know how to handle, but hydroponics... not really. So I disassembled the whole system and reorganised the plants to fit one or two Ikea green Trofast.

The good thing about Hong Kong, is that they are super fast... 3 hours after packing the plants, they slammed the door of the new one, and everything was installed... Ok, it took me the afternoon to setup the new system (I cheated a bit by preparing the frame on the little balcony).

Unfortunately, moving tomatoes in November with all the rain and humidity didn't help, and they never turned ripe... and the vines rot :(

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Typhoon cheap protection

This time, I didn't want my seedling to die after the strong winds of the Typhoon (not that bad in fact after wise). I had to protect the setup, without creating a sail... A simple food wrap around the structure gave enough protection to the young radis, tomato plants & basil...

For sure we are less exposed as we are facing west/north west, but we had enough wind gusts to slice the seedlings during the previous Typhoons. We'll see this week if they survived.

New water tank system

Last summer, I ran out of water because of a tiny leak, but also because my daisy chained IKEA Trofast buckets system didn't work. So September was a fresh start, with new ideas. A lot of garden hydroponics/aquaponics systems are using food grade blue barrels, and it happens that they are widely available in Hong Kong: any construction supplier have these as bins, or they recycle them as so.
I went to a nearby shop and selected a 60 Kg barrel, 80 HK$: worth it ! Cheaper than 2 IKEA Trofast for more than 4 times the volume. It comes with a locking top, so I wonder if it can be pressurised or not...

I also ordered some 1/2" Uniseal online as they are an easy solution to have the PVC tubes going thru the buckets and keep a good seal. I also got a little UV light from the Fish Market. They are made to be inline in your water flow and kill all nasty bacteria.

3 holes are drilled on top and fitted with the Uniseal: 2 in the front, one in the back. Another 12V pump will go at the bottom equipped with the same inline 25cl bottle filter (so cheap & so efficient). The 2 front hole will connect with the sump. One is coming from the sump pump, and the other is the overflow. You need an overflow system as it is a 2 pump system and whatever you do, the two identical pumps will not have the same flow after a while.

The overflow is going thru a syphon with the intake about 20cm below the max level, so as soon as the water reaches the top of the Uniseal, the water drop will initiate the syphon, and will empty the top of the barrel in less than a minute, back to the sump.

As the sump will get all the water system and the main tank overflow, it needs to handle a bigger amount of water. By linking several Trofast buckets from the bottom (with Uniseal), I manage to enlarge the water reservoir.

As you can see, there are 4 buckets linked, but the last one has an elbow and a vertical tube. This is the overflow for the sump system. When too much water is getting in the sump, the water level will go up, and reach the top of the tube, and overflow in the last bucket. This is the last chance before the sewer ! In fact, I could put a security pump here with a water level switch: if it reaches the max level of this bucket, then we can pump the water back to the main barrel...