In my post about basic the basics of hydroponics I mentioned the potential high cost of entry but with a little creativity this can be avoided. I went through this exercise and here is a pretty inexpensive way to try out hydroponics without having to spend hundreds on a prebuilt system. The solution I came up with cost me $1.00 to setup though I did have many of the items on hand, if I had to purchase everything cost would be in the $10-15 range.
- Small shoebox sized plastic tub /w lid — (I purchased a clear generic one from Home Depot for $1.00)
- 2 inch hole saw and drill
- 6 — Empty Trix yogurt cups (can be any brand as long top is approx 2 in diameter)
- Duct tape (no one should be without this)
- Pond fogger – single disc (can be found on eBay for less than $10, I had one from humidifier)
- Water (tap water is fine, fancy bottles work as well)
From looking at the supplies this might be able to guess the construction steps, but I will list them out anyway.
- Take lid and add drill six 2-inch holes using hole saw. If the tub is not made of rubbery material be sure to take your time to slowly create the holes to prevent cracking/shattering. You can also do this with a utility knife but for non-rubber lids I highly suggest against it if you like your fingers.
- Test fit your cups and ensure they fit snuggly, if they do not quite fit you can use some sandpaper to expand the holes slightly
- Remove cups and cut (utility knife) or burn (soldering iron) 1/4 in lines in a pattern similar to the figure to the right to ensure extra support and prevent the medium (perlite) from falling through. WARNING: Burning plastic emits toxic fumes and should be done (if at all in a well ventilated area) Knifes are sharp and can cut fingers so if you not careful. I would recommend buying 2 inch hydroponic net pots which can be purchased for about $0.25 each online, which I would have done if I wasn’t so impatient.
- Given that nutrients+water+light=algae, be sure that your box is as light tight as possible. If you container is not clear like mine you should be in good shape, otherwise cover your box with duct tape or spray paint the box using plastic adhering paint. I would recommend keeping a small vertical line exposed so you can get a quick look at water condition and level without having to disturbing the plants.
- Fill cups with perlite 4/5 full (some expansion may occur)
- Pour water into cups until reservoir is full
- Dump water out water
- Repeat steps 4-6 until water appears clear
- Cut small hole in the corner of the lid and feed power line to fogger through
- Put fogger in tub and fill with water until it is about 1/2 inch above fogger
- Replace lid and plug in fogger and enjoy the mysterious fog
What can I grow with this?
The short answer is anything. Self regulation wicking properties of perlite it should keep most plants happy for some time. The major limitation you may see is some types of plants will outgrow this setup and will require transplant outside in soil or in a larger hydroponic setup (coming soon). Though with careful selection of plants and frequent harvesting you can grow many plants to maturity in this small system. It did not occur to me until after I completed the project but the size and spacing is pretty close to that of an AeroGarden so plants like greens, herbs, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, peppers would do well in this system. For starting plants you can simply drop a few seeds, cover with some perlite and a clear plastic container (I used empty applesauce cups, but bottom of water bottles also would work well) You may also add seedlings by carefully placing in them in the damp perlite.
What about nutrients?
Keeping the project cheap I opted to use some balanced liquid plant fertilizer I use for my seedling/indoor plants. I mixed it at the recommendation it stated for indoor watering (2 pumps per gallon) I noticed it did not contain any Magnesium I also added a half a teaspoon of Epsom salt. After a couple weeks empty contents and replace with water let run for about an hour to allow sediments to clear up and then empty contents. This is good for your plants but also can help keep the disc on your fogger clean. Refill with water and nutrient mix and repeat. This will work for most plants in vegetative state of growth though if you want your plants to move to a flowering state (peppers, tomatoes, etc) I would recommend purchasing specific hydroponic solution for flowering plants.
For a very small investment you can have your own hydroponic system and experience the benefits of growing without soil.