Bradford Hinkle writes: “I have absolutely no experience with hydroponics. I have almost no experience growing plants at all, even in the old fashioned way. I think the last time I grew something was in a 10th grade science class and I’m pretty sure it didn’t survive long. Why then did I jump at the opportunity to volunteer at Shanghai’s Xinchejian makerspace? Because I want to learn about technologies that potentially allow me to be more self-sustaining, healthy, and happy. Like most of you reading this, I live in a cramped inner city apartment and would like access to more fresh veggies. Sometimes the best way to do something is to do it yourself. I got in contact with Roger Mu, Xinchejian’s residential hydro and aquaponics specialist during an open night at Xinchejian and he talked me through the process. We agreed to a start date and I thought of some meaningful questions to help guide my learning process. With Roger’s help I want to answer the following questions over the next few months.
- Can I keep a few plants alive and hopefully, get some nice veggies to eat?
- What can I do to scale a home hydroponics system for yield and longevity?
- Is the result or yield worth the time invested for the average person?
Answering all of these questions is the optimal outcome. Frankly though, if the only thing I get at the end of this is some nice jalapenos to garnish a salad with, I will be happy. I freaking love jalapenos. Roger already had some young plants sprouted and ready for transplantation. I like variety, so I went with a tomato, cucumber, and jalapeno plant. We filled buckets with Leca (Lightweight expanded clay aggregate). These small, porous clay rocks will act as a medium for the plants roots to sit in. The pores in the clay rocks allow the nutrient solution to wash over the roots and then easily drain out so as not to suffocate. Once the roots were firmly in place, the next step was to get our shelves set up in the enclosure. It was a bit of a mess… But once we cleared it out there was plenty of space. We then set up our watering system. Here’s an overview of the system and how it works. Basically, we filled a reservoir (bucket) with a nutrient solution (food for the plants). The water pump will rest inside this container and periodically pump the nutrient solution through the hoses to our plants, washing over the roots and flowing through a drainage system back into the reservoir. We didn’t have a proper hose outlet so I 3d printed one. (It’s nice find practical uses for my printer.) The pump is hooked up to an electrical outlet with a timer so we can easily set a schedule for feeding. Here’s a shot of the hose assembly. Here’s a shot of my plants after running the hoses to them. I’m excited to see these grow over the next few months. I’m excited to see what else I can learn about plants in the process. And, I am especially excited about jalanpenos.”