Instead of adding another hydroponic tutorial to the Internet. I decided to write this post to share some tips rarely included in the videos and Instructables. These tips should put you in the right frame of mind and save you some frustrations.
This advice may be obvious for DIY professionals but will be useful for the part time handymen or women.
- Accept that your garden will be unique and dependent on the materials available to you. Not all of us have a Costco around the corner so you will not be able to find the same parts as the guy in the video. This is an important attitude which will open your mind to using different materials and parts. This in turn will save you time hunting parts that are don’t exist in your location.
- Before you even start building anything watch as many instruction videos as possible. This will expose you to the different methodologies and parts used by different people. The system you build will likely borrow components from different setups.
- Stay away from imprecise designs. An imprecise design is the vertical garden made using a torch to soften the PVC pipe. Once pipe is soft an object is used to create a hole for your pot. There is nothing wrong with the design, it is too much for a beginner. Too many things can go wrong. In my case I burnt the PVC pipe, I struggled to heat the pipe to the right degree and the holes I made where not consistent. Eventually I went with a horizontal garden. I used a drill bit to make the holes.
- Pick up a pen and paper or install Evernote/OneNote on your phone. Walk the aisles in the hardware stores around you. Take notes of components you could use to build your systems. Check both plumbing and electrical PVC sections. Base your design on what is available to you.
- Unless you go to a specialist hydroponics shop the guys at the hardware shop will likely not understand what you are trying to build. Most people buy plumbing supplies to build or mend sinks for example. When you explain to the hardware guy you don’t want a particular fitting to fix a sink, he will likely have a glazed look on his face. You won’t fare much better in the gardening department because the pipe fittings are for irrigation systems. When you say you want to build a soil less garden most will shake their heads. Keep this in mind when asking for help in selecting parts. The point I am making is be careful you don’t get discouraged by people who don’t understand what you are trying to build. Unless you are prepared to give an overview of hydroponics gardens or show then a video on your phone, choose your questions.
- Rubber is your friend in creating joints that do not leak. I had to use silicone in PVC to PVC joints to make sure the joints did not leak. All the parts made from rubber such as the grommets and rubber ferrules did not leak. If you can get a part made of rubber then go for it. This is the trick I used to make watertight joints on rubber. I had a 6 mm PVC connector which I needed to connect through a rubber ferrule. I drilled a 4 mm hole in the rubber. Put the rubber in hot water to soften it then pushed the 6 mm connector through 4 mm hole. The result is a tight seal.
- Forget about the nutrients, plants and growth medium until you have a leak proof system running. Build your complete system and pump water through it for some time to see that there are no leaks. Time for me ended up being a couple of months. In that time my system had many leaks which I fixed. I threw out my vertical system for a more precise horizontal system. Making changes to your system with plants is harder and more stressful to both you and the plants. With rubber joints you don’t need a glue gun. Glue guns will be another level of complexity you don’t need. You will need to know something about the types of PVC you are using and use correct glue.
- Put some thought into how you are going to change your nutrient solution. Are you going to move your reservoir and empty it in the garden. Are you going to replenish the existing solution. How is the reservoir connected to your system. Will the connections hold up to constant coupling and decoupling. The first few times I moved my nutrient reservoir I created leaks in my systems. The system was too rigid and the vigorous movements to free up the reservoir to empty it created leaks. I don’t move my reservoir anymore. I mix nutrient in a separate container and use a jug to replenish through a funnel. I make sure to plug the inlet. Once in a while I will move the reservoir to empty and clean it.
Pick small plants to start off. I picked up one of those trays with an assortment of plants as trial. Here is the thing, hydroponic plants grow fast. The tomato quickly outgrew the little balcony where my garden was located. After I harvested a few tomatoes I had to get rid of the plant
Get some recipes for the plants you are growing. Hydroponic plants grow fast. I didn’t know what to do with all the chilly, spinach and kale I was grew.
Hydroponics is an enjoyable and rewarding hobby. You could stick to the minimum electrical components, a pump and a timer. Or you can have a mini computer connected to IOT electronic monitors that send temperature and EC readings to the cloud. I suggest starting simple, growing some plants then growing your system. Fix the leaks before connecting to the cloud.