Small “Bread Rack” Scale DIY Hydroponics

These two systems for hydroponics / aeroponics grows look good to me. They are simple, cheap, and work.

I could easily set one of these on a a small wire “bookcase” sized shelving unit (that I already have) under a “grow light”. I have a couple of shop lights that are almost never used. In fact one of them is over my garage “workbench” that has become a junk storage depot. It has a south facing window. Just clear the bench off and I’ve got room for 2 tubs with the artificial light fixtures already in place. Buy a few “Gro-Lux” bulbs if I want to speed up the growth. Easy starter experience (if you consider cleaning out part of the garage “easy” ;-)

The first video is a simple deep water Kratky Method in 5 gallon buckets. I’ve seen another video that I can’t find at the moment that uses rectangular tubs, like the 2nd video, but with an aquarium pump and bubble stone in the bottom to give some aeration. For now, I’ll put a different video I don’t like as much in the Bonus Section. (It is too long and the guy kind of oversells it). This video is 8 minutes:

This second one is fancier. They build an aeroponics unit in a tub using spray nozzles. 20 Minutes, but with a lot of build specifics and a way more interesting design.

While many of these put the plant holes on a square grid, I’d be tempted to offset them to more like a hexagonal packed order:

  H    H    H    H
    H    H    H     H
  H    H    H    H

Though I doubt it matters as the light is from straight above and there’s plenty of room for small leafy plants.

I think I could easily give up a “desk sized area” or a “book case sized” part of the wall space to have green salads all year round and fresh vegetables for cheap in the dead of winter.

Bonus Section

This bonus video uses a “kit”. I doubt I’ll do that just because I’m cheap and I don’t want that small a system, even for getting started. BUT, the video is fun ;-) From IKEA, so “some assembly required” ;-)
2 minutes with catchy music:

Here’s the one that’s closer to what I want to make, but in a video nearly an hour long. A first few minutes view will give you the basic idea. Rectangular tubs, bread rack, aquarium pump and aeration stone. One hour:

I could be happy with a “Salad Closet” all winter long ;-)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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11 Responses to Small “Bread Rack” Scale DIY Hydroponics

  1. Chris in Calgary says:

    Isn’t it fun what you can do with video editing software these days? That lettuce grows at an alarming rate in the video. They didn’t show the part where the giant lettuce plants outgrow the house and chase the kids down the street …. :)

  2. E.M.Smith says:

    @Chris in Calgary:

    Yeah, that was part of what I liked about the video ;-)

    FWIW, I was thinking about the floating Styrofoam grow beds and realized I could make a small one using my black construction tubs. Just add the Styrofoam (and maybe a bubbler). Since I have some old aquarium gear from when I was running several tanks, all I need to get is styrofoam and a hole saw.

    The ends of the tubs taper so if I cut the foam for about 3 inches down, as the water is used up the “float” will catch on the ends and expose the roots to air (Kratky Method) and also indicate when I need to add more solution. So a bubbler is not strictly needed but ought to enhance growth when running.

    I also can’t use this outdoors in rainy season as it fills up with rain… but under cover or indoors or for the (usually) 7 or 8 months a year of no rain, it wold be fine.

    So I’m going to investigate that as my “minimal first trial” step. Would be a nice size for me, too. I don’t really need a 4 x 8 foot “bed” with one on big sheet of Styrofoam covered in lettuce as is the commercial style.

    So one sheet, cut, drill holes, mix solution, insert cups, plant, done. Seems minimal to me ;-)

    If I like the whole process and results, then I can start looking at fancy it up and bringing it indoors into bread racks and buying lights and all that… If I don’t like it, I’m out one sheet of cheap insulation board and a few dollars of cups (or I can use styro cups as some folks do and be out about $1…)

  3. E.M.Smith says:

    Like a miniature tub sized one of these:

    They make a 4 x 8 foot box, lay in a plastic sheet, cleat it, then float a styrene panel on to make a “floating garden”. Their intro has a panel floating on a “kiddie pool”.

    That’s what gave me the idea of just making panels for my existing construction tubs… Panel and cups and solution and I’m in business…

  4. J Martin says:

    I quite fancy the version that has edible fish swimming around in the water, their waste acts as fertilser for the plants. I forget what its called.

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    @J. Martin:

    Aquaponics.

    I may eventually get there, but first I need to get plain hydroponics right. For the fish, your “input” is fish food, and that costs more than fertilizer chemicals. OTOH, fish are better on the plate than kale ;-)

    There’s lots of YouTubes on DIY Aquaponics systems. One uses a 5 gallon aquarium for the fish and a very small grow pan for the plants. A trial system if you will.

    Biggest problem is that you have to master a particular species of fish matched to your climate first. So trout where it’s cold (and they are tricky to spawn), catfish where it’s moderate, and tilapia where it’s hot (and they are tricky to prevent spawning ;-) Some folks do bass or perch or whatever, but then you must check the local laws on keeping “native fish” in captivity… (California is BSC on that… Bat Sh..)

    I may get there after I’m in Florida and water isn’t priced like cheap wine…

    Right now my interest is in reducing my water use via hydroponics and getting lettuce and chard without leaf miners ;-)

  6. Timo Soren says:

    I have never seen a single person, on their own, continue the hydroponic gardens they have attempted. The work and effort were far in excess of the results. I look forward to you decision in 1 year in what you will do. Just my two cents.

  7. E.M.Smith says:

    @Timo Soren:

    I’m pretty sure I’ll continue it. The only question is at what scale. Why?

    1) I have a fixation on “not running out of resources” and this is the exemplar for land.

    2) At $2 / small Bag-O-Salad even one lettuce pays for it.

    3) I like fussing with chemicals.

    4) My two preferred environments have significant “issues” with leafy saladings. Where I am now water is priced like cheap wine, so the 85% savings with hydroponics is a big win. I’ve suffered consistently from a plague of leaf miners. In Florida there’s a downpour every afternoon in summer and bugs that will eat everything. Both are solved by a “Grow Room” with a shelving unit of lettuce…

    5) Turning over a square of dirt to 2 feet deep is getting harder as I get older. Water flows easily.

    6) I have a fantasy life involving living in space. Having a small “salad closet” scratches that itch about “what would it be like to live on Mars?” in a partial way (gravity still sucks ;-)

    7) I’m a cussed uncompromising cuss who refuses to surrender. I just don’t quit if there is any way to not quit. Heck, I’ve been tugging at loose ends of the Climate Crap for over a decade now and it took me about 40 years to finally bag a Ph.D. and I’m STILL working on making vacuum tube toys (first started doing it in about 1968…) and writing FORTRAN (started in 1973 or so). Yes, I’ve made IC gear and I’ve just learned Python, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop things I started “only” 40 years ago! I had one Russian class about 1975 and did poorly. I STILL take the book out and work on it some from time to time. ( I can read more of it now…) It’s hard to get folks to understand this one. TIME is just not a factor for me. Once I start something, unless I’ve finished it, it is with me FOREVER until success. I can set it aside for a week, or a year, or a decade, but it is as fresh a problem as ever and I just turn back to it some day and pick up where I left off. So having started hydroponic gardening, I’ll never stop it fully. I might skip a year, or make it one jar on the shelf instead of a whole greenhouse of it, bit it will ALWAYS be with me. FWIW, I first started being interested in it about 1977. I’ve slowly added bits of understanding and interest. I’ve only now made my first “kit” of it and planted something. It is more likely to accelerate from here than slow… as I’ve finally made the commitment to practice it. I have a hard time explaining the multiple decade time scope to folks who think a year is a long time… Maybe my time sense is skewed… W.W. II was just yesterday, the Mars Colony 2nd Generation graduation ceremony is approaching tomorrow….

    8) I really REALLY like playing with plants AND chemicals and this lets me do both! What’s not to like? ( I once saved lentil seeds for 16 YEARS before planting them out to see how many survived… I wanted the answer… it is a lot… They are the longest storage legume I’ve found due to the high tannin in the skins) I’ve been doing plant experiments for about 60 years now… chemicals stuff about 50…

    7) Did I mention I really LIKE playing with plants, and chemicals? And eating? And the physics of light, and light sources, and making food from “nearly nothing” and teaching others how and inventing new ways? FWIW, the rock wool cubes bothered my nose (dust is an irritant) so I have two experimental seed sprouters going with paper towels in a mesh cup instead. Yeah, I’m already working on “how to fix a problem”…. and you think I’m going to STOP if I run into a problem? I THRIVE on problems! I LOVE problems! The more crap and stumbling blocks and obstruction in the way, the more I push at it! I’m already loving it, and I’ve not had anything happen yet other than a stuffy nose and itchy eyes. (Avoid the rock wool unless you get it very wet first. DO NOT break off a chunk when dry…) Learning and exploring and inventing “are my thing” and this offers it…

    Other than that, not much ;-)

  8. Timo Soren says:

    As I said, I look forward to it! I have taught for 30+ years and nothing you said is actuallly a negative or a negarive correlation characteristic that I would guess applies. However, your #7, is a first for all the years.

    Anecdote, one of my former students, who was Math and Economics, decided grad school was not for him, got into, logistical support for agri-business’ modern innovation. Really loved solving these things. They did get the hydroponic side working well in MN, but the ROI wasn’t worth it for any commerical side but lots of young farmers did get involved. It just the length of stay was limited.

    The tilapia fish side did not work out for any large scale as the minimum temp required for growth was too high for year round production in MN.

    They did get a great indoor basement system working, that he was convinced would have worked great in an insulated attic even better, due to higher temps, but could not figure out a way to reinforce the ceiling for the weight. The temp differntial required too much electric to solve even with a 0 cost investment.

    I know the feeling of personal investment in problem solving I raised a banana plant to production in central MN, over a period of 6 years. Almost impossilbe without a full size greenhouse. Wildly fun.

    Just promise to keep us posted.

  9. E.M.Smith says:

    @Timo:

    There’s lots of folks doing hydroponics. Inside 10 miles of me are two stores that only sell hydroponics kit. The one visited (where I got my stuff) had at least a dozen customers buying stuff while I was there, and not just ‘starter kits’… Some of these folks were clearly in full on production.

    Oddly (or maybe not, this IS California…) they had special fertilizer formulations just for “bigger Buds” on your Cannabis… One retired guy got to talking about his lettuce and tomato production and how it had improved over the years

    I note your discussion centered around MN and cold driven costs. Realize in California in Silicon Valley that just isn’t an issue. Hardly any wind most years for 3 seasons, and temperatures are usually quite benign. Even now, in a Very Cold May, it’s about 53 F at night / 70 ish in the day. Humidity rarely anything but perfect unless it is raining. Biggest issue is usually just water being scarce. As the Hydroponics systems cut back about 85% on that, I’m all for it on that grounds alone.

    One of my major problems has just been having the top 5 inches watered, but below that never getting really wet. Plant roots hit the dry zone and growth just stops. So you either need to do a BIG DEEP watering (that costs a minor fortune…) or deal with a lot of frequent shallow watering and fertilizing. Then we now have a “new law” that we’ll get something like 50 gallons / day for “indoor use” based on an estimate of what you OUGHT to be using outdoors for landscaping… then you get penalties. So that right there means “grow a traditional garden get whacked”… While I hope to be in Florida before that’s an issue, I’m preparing now anyway.

    Oh, and I don’t need it to be economically competitive. IF my lettuce costs me $2 / head, that’s fine even for the open leaf lettuces. A SMALL Bag-O-Salad costs $2 and will make one big salad or two dinner salads… So any actual decent growth will cost less! (My lighting costs “in production” will be zero as this is going in the sun…) My 8-Ball squash are already making more than I can eat at near nothing cost while it’s about $2 / lb in the grocery store. (It drops to about $1 as the season gets warmer). Basically I’m not trying to match farm wholesale prices, but retail in the city prices… a much easier “lift”.

    As to keeping folks posted: Certainly! I expect to get several articles out of this along the way (just to document for myself various things learned). Like noting that I watched a Youtube tonight (from Oregon iIIRC) where a guy with a big greenhouse did a test of 4 different fertilizer mixes vs 4 different lettuces. So 4 boxes with the floater in each box holding 4 rows of different lettuces.

    Did Miracle Grow, Miracle Grow Tomato, Petes? Something, and the industrial product most folks seem to use that’s a 3 part mix – MasterBlend. Now I’d already decided I was, eventually, going to buy some of the MasterBlend stuff, but “for now” had just started some experiments / test cases with Miracle Grow + Epsom Salt. Well I was a bit worried by the articles all saying Miracle Grow alone was bad. So here was my direct test case on a video.

    Best: MasterBlend.
    2nd Best: Miracle Grow Tomato
    Good: Miracle Grow Regular
    Not So Good, the other one…

    Note he did NOT add any MgSO4 or Ca. So my mix ought to be even better.

    Yes, the Miracle Grow was not as good as the MasterBlend. Lettuce was only about 3/4 as big. Frankly I expected it to do even worse without the Epsom Salt. So this gives me hope my mix will be “good enough” for getting started. IIRC the “Tomato” version has more Ca in it and maybe a higher nitrogen content.

    I’ve also learned that the “garden soil” I got in bags to get some pots started (back when) is deficient in Mg too. One brand in particular. the plants potted in it were lime green until I added a spoon of Epsom salt to each and watered it in. So that bit of learning from the Hydroponics playing is already paying off. Mg is needed to make chlorophyl, and now they have greened up nicely. I’d have never known the Miracle Grow was Mg deficient but for jumping into the hydroponics thing.

    FWIW, my one dinky lettuce looks to be a little bit bigger already. I have a strong LED bulb and a fairly bright compact fluorescent over it. I’d guess about 3500 lumens / “200 W incandescent equivalent”. Plus it gets morning sun through the window. Eventually I’ll move it outside once it is growing well / proved the system works.

    This is the stuff I’m going to buy:
    https://www.amazon.com/MASTERBLEND-4-18-38-Complete-Combo-Fertilizer/dp/B072F2BL9D

    Eventually…

    But just knowing that Miracle Grow + MgSO4 is “good enough” means I can move on to the rest of the process using what I’ve got already.

    Also saw a video where someone was growing onions hydroponically. As I’ve regularly had a hard time growing onions (largely due to shallow roots and that dry soil issue) and the one time it worked really well was a planter box in a tub with constant water in the bottom (so self wicking) I’m quietly hopeful I can get a full growth of green onions going, at last … I suspect it will take pearlite as a growth medium and some kind of cover for the “cup” so it doesn’t blow away, but I’m OK with that. IF I can consistently get green onions, that would make the whole thing a perpetual keeper ;-) But we’ll see. ( I did manage to grow a full sized garlic this year! Currently drying. Grew it over winter here and it seemed to like that better than the dry summers… so their’s hope for my allium skills yet…)

    I think what I like most about it so far is just that the trying it is already improving my general garden skills and awareness. Being a bit more disciplined about the whole thing.

  10. E.M.Smith says:

    Today I made my first full construction tub sized hydroponic tub.

    Cut and drilled the Styrofoam, washed and filled the tub with nutrient solution, floated the styro boards and placed the cups in it (including the one lettuce that had been on my office shelf).

    I have 10 holes of the 3″ sized “net pots” and 6 of the 2″ sized. So a total of 16 plants. I have a lot of seeds sprouted now in the seed starter, but they are still in the very small stage (like sewing pin sized) so I’m not seeing that as big enough to plant out yet, so not sure what or when I’ll be filling those cups.

    Cost was about $10 for enough Sytro-board for two tubs, $3 for the net cups, $3 for a “sample” jug of proper nutrient (of which I used about 1/10 to 1/20th of it. So that’s it for variable costs. (Oh, and a $10 bag of clay balls that’s enough for all the tubs I’ve got, Maybe $1 / tub?)

    For fixed costs, I already had the tubs and I’ve forgotten how much they cost me decades ago. Maybe $10? Then the “biggy” was a 3 inch hole saw at $20. They only had that size, deep socket, in the deluxe Milwaukee brand. I also spent $8 on a smaller hole saw but it was the wrong size. I ended up using a 1 1/2 inch wood bit (flat) and then using a net cup to enlarge the hole by twisting it back and forth in the hole. The size I ought to have gotten is likely 1 3/4 or 1 7/8. It is possible a full 2 inch would work, maybe The 3 inch sits a bit low in the 3 inch hole, and it is likely that a 2 3/4 or 2 7/8 inch would have it sit better (end touching the water not 1/4 inch under it) but I’m happy to use “wide mouth jar” rings to elevate the cups as needed.

    As cutting the plastic foam causes zero wear, those tools will last forever… so cost / board will be an every decreasing thing.

    I used a bread knife to cut the straight cuts and it works very very well.

    Only real surprises were that it is a bit more annoying to remove the foam disks from the drill than I’d anticipated (use a screwdriver in the cutouts in the hole saw); and the spade bit makes a rough cut with way more “styro-snow” than I expected. Do it somewhere easy to clean up.

    All in all, very easy build.

    Now I just need to do the planting out and waiting ;-)

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