DIY Hydroponic Gardening on $31.90

I kill plants.

I don’t mean to, but I didn’t inherit my grandmother’s green thumb gene. Seriously, though, I can’t even grow grass on my lawn. It’s all clovers.

On a positive note: I’m really good at growing clovers.

A little over a year and a half ago, I had seen video of Epcot’s hydroponic & aeroponic garden, I’d heard about aeroponics in Star Trek: Voyager, and had even read several blog posts about it. I was hooked obsessed.

So, with my wife’s blessing, I started my own hydroponic garden. I gathered whatever materials I could get for free and then ran over to Jolly Green Hydroponics off of Midway & 635.

The Original Setup:

  • 1 Used Folger’s Coffee Can (courtesy of my father in law) = $0
  • 4 Net Pots = $1.00
  • Clay rocks = $10 – a really big bag
  • Rockwool = 4.95 – like 20 or 30 squares (more than I need currently)
  • Habanero seeds = $3
  • Hydroponic nutrient solution = $12.95
  • Fish Tank Air Pump & Air stones (courtesy of a good friend of mine in the fish tank business) = $0
  • TOTAL = $31.90

Hydroponic Coffee Can, net pot, and air stone.

Super simple setup. There’s not much to it, other than this.

Sprouting through the rockwool.

It’s Alive!!! The roots were down through the bottom of the rockwool cube at this stage. I really should have removed the plastic wrapper on it. I believe I did finally remove it one day, but it was a mess.

Hydroponic Habanero Pepper after 2 months of growth.

The Habanero plant didn’t grow very fast. It took about 2 months to get it to this point. I think it needed more light than it was getting in the window and from the plant light. I also didn’t have the most optimal nutrient solution.

Really big leaves!

The leaves grew much larger and healthier than they ever got with the Habaneros I was growing in the dirt in 2008. A couple of them were about the size of my hand. Note: I didn’t get the nutrient mix quite right at first. I was experimenting with different things. One thing I learned is that Miracle Grow makes lots of bubbles and overflows the whole apparatus. At the same time, though, the roots were really happy with the oxygen from the bubbles.

New apparatus with a 5-gallon Home Depot bucket.

It also grew larger and produced more than the old fashioned (dirt grown) habaneros did. It grew so large that I had to buy a new bucket for it. Yes, I need to sweep under my plants. Thanks. It might grow better if I paint the bucket black, so less light gets inside.

The roots of the hydroponic habanero plant.

Lots of roots! Note: roots don’t like light… so don’t pull them up into the light and take flash photos!

The Final Product: Habanero Peppers!!!

Produce. It makes very yummy hot salsa. I freeze them so they last longer. It produces WAY more habaneros than I need. This is why they look fuzzy… It’s the condensation forming on the peppers because they’re so cold.

Check out my “Super Awesome Hot Salsa recipe.” It goes well with the habaneros.

Lessons Learned:

  • Things happen quickly… more so than with dirt. Dirt may run out of a nutrient, but it can take a while.
  • With hydroponics, you need to take a look at the plant and see how it is doing every couple days to make sure it’s getting everything it needs (this is probably also true of traditionally grown plants… Maybe I’ll try that next time I grow something in the dirt).
  • The plants really want to grow. They’re not suicidal.
  • Rachel is very supportive of my mad scientist activities. I must take care not take advantage of her patience so she does not get disgruntled with my future projects. She’s Super!
  • I don’t hate gardening. In fact, I love it.
  • Roots grow to amazing sizes.
  • Habaneros are one of the few plants that can self pollinate. All I have to do is shake the limbs whenever there are flowers. This simulates the effect that wind has on the plants when they live outside.
  • Certain types of seeds germinate better under different conditions.
  • It doesn’t take much money, time, or effort to get started.
  • Once you’ve got the starting materials, you can have several other plants going at minimal cost. I’ve already got plenty of clay pebbles, rock wool, and net pots (I have 4 net pots total, I think).

More Variables that need testing:

  • Sunlight – I should try to waterproof the apparatus and move it outside.
  • Artificial light – I have a plant light. I need to build an apparatus for it, but not in the kitchen / dining room.
  • Water Temperature. I do not track the water temperature.
  • Nutrient supply – I just add nutrients when I notice the leaves do funny things.
  • Ph levels. I do not track the acidity or basicity of the water at all. So far, it’s still alive and it’s been over a year.
  • Flowing hydroponic troughs. I’d like to test a trough system where the nutrient flows the whole time.
  • Aeroponics.
  • Air Temperature – I’d like to have the apparatus inside a greenhouse so I can regulate temperature & humidity better. Right now, it stays inside the kitchen / dining room, where the temperature usually stays between 65-77 degrees F. Habaneros are tropical plants, so I think something around 85 degrees F would work better.
  • Rockwool block covers. While trying to get the seeds to germinate, they eliminate a lot of the light / algae growth. Maybe I could have gotten the spinach / lettuce to germinate… especially if it were a darker color, so it trapped warmth better.
  • Paint the orange home depot bucket black, so less light gets to the roots. I probably ought to do this before I take it outside.
  • Other stuff.

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