Setup a Hydroponic Garden in Your Backyard

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The living space of the planet being threatened by the expanding human population and by solid wastes unceremoniously dumped everywhere. People who don't care about the health of the populous are genetically modifying foods at a frightening rate. Pollution, pesticides, herbicides and the lack of care within the food industry, all threaten your health. If you want to eat healthy food, alternative ways to growing your own food are desperately needed.

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If you're living in a congested metropolis, you may feel you'll never lay your eyes on a garden again. This is why urban gardening is in demand, as it gives you some control over the food you eat. Urban gardening is challenging due to space limitations, but with a little creativity, and some hard work, you will benefit from creating your own garden, and enjoy the fruits of your labor with pleasure and satisfaction of a job well done.

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A logical alternative to a traditional garden, is a hydroponic garden. You can easily setup a hydroponic garden in your backyard or even in your garage.

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What's With Soil-Less Gardening?

You'd think after all these years of gardening without soil, people would be used to it by now. If not, perhaps it's because there used to be vast lands for gardening and farming, especially in the rural areas. Whatever made people in the distant past come up with the hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Floating Gardens of China, are certainly worth looking into. It was in 1930 when Dr. W.E. Gerick of the University of California experimented with hydroponics and had a breakthrough. He is often called "the father of modern hydroponics", and it has developed and evolved through the years. Many are benefiting from hydroponics, particularly urban gardeners.

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The concept of hydroponics is growing plants in a liquid mineral solution, rather than planting in soil. This method of growing food has many benefits.

  • Soil-borne diseases caused by insects and bugs, fungi are virtually ruled out.
  • Nutrients necessary for healthy plants are delivered directly to the roots via the hydroponic system several times a day, creating robust plants.
  • No weeding is necessary. Just a gentle pull of infrequent stray ones are all that's required.
  • You save on water, as there's less used.
  • Water and nutrients are reused over and over making it ecologically friendly.

Things You Should Know Before Embarking On Hydroponic Gardening

  1. 1
    Growing Medium.
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    It acts as an aerator, supports the root system and is an efficient deliverer of water and nutrients. Different types of hydroponic systems demand different growing mediums.
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    1. An expanded clay aggregate (Hydrocom) or expanded shale are light and airy enough to let oxygen penetrate the plant's root system easily. Both grow rocks that can be reused. Although the Hydrocom lasts longer than shale; neither will barely affect the pH of the nutrient solution. It works well in an ebb and flow type system.
    2. Rockwool, the horticultural grade, is produced from limestone and volcanic rock, melted and pressed into identical sheets, blocks or cubes. It's good for all types of systems because it holds 10-14 times as much water as soil. It has a pH of 7.8, so it may raise the pH level of the nutrient solution. It is commonly used for propagation and often used only once.
    3. Oasis cubes are lightweight pre-formed cubes used as a starter medium. They retain water well and have a neutral pH.
    4. Coconut fiber (coco coir), is the first "organic" growing medium and one of the most popular. It performs very well - large oxygen capacity, high root stimulating hormones and protection against root diseases.
    5. Perlite is the great mainstay of hydroponic gardening and one of the best growing mediums. A mined material, it's inexpensive and has a good wicking action. The only drawback is that it does not retain water well and so can dry out between watering.
    6. Vermiculiteis another cheap mined material. It is used in combination with perlite, as it retains moisture and perlite does not. An equal mix of the two is ideal for drip type and ebb and flow hydroponic systems.
    7. Soilless mix(s) contains many ingredients like perlite, vermiculite and sphagnum moss. Considered organic, it is used in many systems like container wick systems and non-recovery drip systems.
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  2. 2
    Nutrients
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    are the elements in the soil that a plant gets, food for plants, and are available in concentrated form, which can be dissolved into the water (2-3 teaspoons per gallon of water)
    .
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    1. It comes in liquid mixes or powered mixes in two containers, one for growing and another for blooming.
    2. The liquid mixes dissolves easily in the reservoir and has a pH buffer, while the powdered mix usually has none, and does not dissolve as easily, but is less expensive.
    3. Organic or chemical nutrients can be used for a hydroponic system.
    4. The organic compounds are found to lock together, which can block the pumps from doing their work.
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  3. 3
    pH -
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    The ideal range for hydroponic-grown plants are a pH between of 5.8 and 6.8
    .
    6.3 is considered optimal. This is easily tested through pH-testing kits. The pH should be checked once a week and for any signs of nutrient deficiency. You'll re-balance the pH with soluble potash (to increase the pH) or phosphoric acid (to lower pH).
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  4. 4
    Know the hydroponic systems.
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    You need to familiarize yourself with the various types of hydroponic systems so you can assess what will work best for you.  
    1. It is characterized as active or passive, and as recovery or non-recovery. An active one uses a pump to move the nutrient solution, while a passive hydroponic system use a capillary action of the growing medium or a wick.
    2. Passive hydroponic is too wet and its oxygen supply is not enough for a good growth of the plants. With regards to recovery, it applies to the reuse of the nutrient solution, while in nonrecovery, the solution applied to the growing medium cannot be reused.
    3. The commercial hydroponic systems are the Wick Systems (passive non-recovery type), Nutrient Film Techniques (NFS) (active recovery type), Ebb and Flow System (active recovery type), and Continuous Drip (active recovery and non-active recovery type).
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What About Home Hydroponics?

If you have a bent for engineering, buy an inexpensive hydroponic system, just to see and understand how it works. Later, try building one yourself. If you wish to plunge into building, do your research well and make your design guide. Look at some home hydroponic systems now to see if it's something you can try out first.

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Free standing, recirculating pump-based hydroponic system.

Materials You Need

  • GPH fountain pump (170-200)
  • Plastic container with lid (27-gallon)
  • 4 inch PVC pipe at 4@48"
  • 3/4 inch PVC pipe
  • 3/4 inch PVC elbows (8 PCs.)
  • 4 inch PVC end caps (8 PCs.)
  • ¾ inch steel pipe plugs (8 PCs.)
  • Black PVC pipe tape
  • Wooden support stand (4 pcs. lumber)
  • Nails, screws (8 PCs.) and wire
  • Reflective insulation
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Small Greenhouse Materials

  • PVC pipe
  • Pieces of wood to use as braces (length as desired or needed)
  • Nails or screws

Equipment

  • Guide for cutting pipe and Hacksaw
  • Drill
  • ¾ inch drill bit
  • 4 inch hole saw
  • Hammer

Garden Supplies

  • Standard garden seeds and plant starts
  • Standard starter cells and seed starting medium
  • 16 4-inch hydroponic net pots
  • Expanded clay pellets
  • Nutrient solution
  • String and plant clips

Steps

  1. 1
    Each of the 48-inch grow pipes has four grow sites (spaced a foot apart) with a net pot each.
    Fill the pot with clay pellets.
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  2. 2
    Used the 4-inch pipe caps to close the pipe ends for a snug fit.
    If water leaks, wrap the ends with black PVC pipe tape.
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  3. 3
    Drill a ¾-inch hole in the PVC at both ends of each horizontal pipe.
    This serves as an inlet and outlet. Position the inlet ports high on the end caps, and the outlets low to balance the flow of water. If it drains too fast, the water level will be low; if the outlet is placed too high, the pipe will fill up fast and overflow.
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  4. 4
    Put a ¾-inch steel pipe plug in each hole with outside threads to serve as thread tap.
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  5. 5
    Build your wooden stand to anchor your hydroponic system.
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  6. 6
    Mount the system to the stand using nails or screws.
    If using wire, make a very strong tie to carry the weight of growing plants.
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  7. 7
    Fill the reservoir (plastic storage container) with nutrient solution.
    Always keep the lid on to avoid evaporation and debris. Use reflective insulation around the reservoir to deflect sun when it gets too hot so water temperature won't shoot up.
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How it Works

  1. 1
    The water is pumped from the reservoir through the ¾" PVC tubes up to the four 4" PVC grow pipes.
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  2. 2
    From the top grow pipe, it flows down to the next pipe below, and so on to the rest of the pipes.
    Then the water drains back to the reservoir.
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  3. 3
    The 170-200 GPH fountain can push water high to about 7 feet and can pump 170 gallons per hour.
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  4. 4
    Keep 2-3 inches of water in the tubes.
    If there's any pump failure, the roots are kept wet and fed until the system is fixed.
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Planting Methods

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  1. 1
    Grow your plants in a growing medium.
    You can try peas and tomatoes.
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  2. 2
    Wait for roots to develop well before transplanting or transferring to your hydroponics' net pots.
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  3. 3
    Use a small greenhouse (closet type) and cover around your system if the sun gets too hot.
    (Construct it out of PVC pipe and make it rigid with the use of wood bracing and cover with 7 ml painter's plastic.)
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  4. 4
    Add string support for vines to cling to.
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  5. 5
    Cut back roots that grow so much that they may block the pipes and cause water to back up in the system.
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  6. 6
    Thin out the hydroponic garden as needed.
    That is, you may remove some plants if the roots get too dense and they affect the easy flow of water nutrients.
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  7. 7
    Harvest your greens regularly as they will just grow back.
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Simple Hand Watered Bucket

Use for large plants like peppers, tomatoes or several small plants like herbs and lettuce.

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Materials Required

  • 5-gallon dark colored bucket
  • Fiberglass window screen (optional)
  • Hydroponic fertilizer
  • pH test kit

How to Assemble the System

  1. 1
    Drill a few spaced holes (3/8 or ½ inch in diameter) around the bucket about 4 cm (1 1/2 inches) above the bottom.
    The bottom serves as the reservoir for the nutrient solution. It goes (wicked up) to the plant's roots through the capillary action of the growing medium.
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  2. 2
    Optional:
    From the inside of the bucket, place a window screen over the holes. Hold the screen as you put in the growing medium (perlite or vermiculite). Or glue the screen with a silicone sealant, but wait for it to cure before putting it in the growing medium. This is only needed to keep the growing medium from falling out. Skip if not necessary.
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  3. 3
    Add the prepared growing medium.
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  4. 4
    Plant your seedlings, seeds or rooted cuttings in the growing medium.
    Seeds that have already germinated are better to use.
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  5. 5
    Fill the reservoir with water and mix your nutrient solution; check the pH and adjust as required for the plants.
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  6. 6
    Add the pH-adjusted nutrient slowly to the bucket until you see it leak out of the overflow holes (about 10-15 percent).
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  7. 7
    Repeat step number 6 periodically as needed.
    Check the plants' condition now and then so you know if it needs watering or not.
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How to Feed and Care for the Plants

  1. 1
    Fill the reservoir with water, mix your nutrient solution and adjust pH as needed.
     
    1. To mix, use a one-gallon milk jug and mix a gallon at a time. You can mix more to use at your convenient later.
    2. You will have to aerate your nutrient supply with an aquarium type air pump and air stone to keep from stagnating.
    3. Put the on lid loosely.
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  2. 2
    Attach the drip line to the submersible pump and put the pump into the reservoir.
    Plug the pump into the timer; set the timer and plug it into the outlet. For a start, set the timer to come on for one minute, once or twice a day.
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  3. 3
    Make sure the drip line is positioned so that the nutrient solution runs out at the base of the plant.
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Tips, Tricks and Warnings

  • Don't use any metal parts in the hydroponic system, to avoid any possible reaction with the nutrient solution.
  • Flush your system clean every year to avoid any remnants of disease.
  • Put a protective cover over your nutrient water tank to prevent any growth of algae that may block the system.
  • Use a dark colored plastic bucket or other material to prevent algae growth
  • Start with smaller vegetables to get used to the system before going to bigger plants that need more attention.
  • Wear a dust mask when handling perlite, as its dust is dangerous to your health.
  • Don't use vermiculite straight (use an equal mix with perlite) as it retains too much water and can suffocate the roots of plants.
  • Use a filtration system for soilless mix(es), as its very fine particles can clog the pump and drip emitters. Pantyhose can be used as filter on the return line and the pump inlet.
  • Keep your hydroponic system out of heavy rain. If water gets into the bucket, the nutrient water will be diluted. If it's out in the open, have an overhead frame that can be covered readily by painter's plastic during bad weather
  • Keep your plants in an area where they will receive a good amount of sunlight.
  • Research the kind of plants that grow well in hydroponic systems.

The hydroponic system is not as easy to succeed at as traditional soil planting, but you just need to be patient while learning - through trial and error. Once you get comfortable with setting up a hydroponic garden in your back yard, you will want to experiment more. Eventually, you will have a yard full of food and flowers, all grown the hydroponic way.

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Questions and Answers

How to set up an Ebb and Flow system using 4 inche PVC pipes Vertically?

I have seen an outdoor horizontal system by Kevin Todd. I already own a system 4 inches 10 feet long vertically, that I am not too happy with.

You will want to set your pipes vertically with a pump at the bottom base reservoir. I personally found that setting individual pipes and reservoirs as separate units worked best.

I have an 8 meter x 4 meter house and wish to set it up as a hydroponic garden.

Where can l purchase the equipment?

The online kits are for small indoor gardens. It is best to get your pvc pipes and other supplies at a local hardware stores. Aquatic pet stores supply the hydroponic fertilizers. Additionally you can get hydroponic fertilizer supplies through websites like Greenhousemegastore.com THIS ONE.

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How to make wood stand for a hydroponic (for beginners)?

I want to prepare a wood stand for a hydroponic system. Please explain in detail, for beginners. I have tried: Nothing

You can use two wood fence posts and create a stand or make a wooden box.

For Wooden Stand: FoodAbundance has created a stand using two fence posts and winds pvc piping around the posts which doubles the amount that can be planted in the hydroponic garden: VIEW IT HERE

For Wooden Box: mhpgardener has a fantastic step by step tutorial making a water table with three separate sections: VIEW IT HERE

I would like to start a hydroponics at my house, I have some ideas but I have no idea about nutrients rates, types, requirements for plants.

I have some ideas about the setting up but the rate of nutrients for good production. Could you shed some light on this? I have tried: Set up drums with plants planted in them. I think it was caused by: I adopted hydroponics too early when I should have done some research or sought advice.

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How can I get materials to setup a hydroponic system?

I need information on how to setup a hydroponic system.

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Can I use hydroponic for setting up a "drought friendly" yard in SoCal?

Water here is more expensive than gas. Can I use hydroponic to save water, having plants or trees in my yard? How? Can I "hide" the hydroponic soil under standard mulch?

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Categories : Gardening

Recent edits by: Maria, narayana, garry Donnelly

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