Easy, cheap, DIY wicking cups

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This year I’ve transplanted most of my sprouts from the AeroGarden Bounty and my DIY system, into Styrofoam wicking cups. These are super easy and quick to make. They are nice intermediate vessels for the plants until being moved to their final location. These setups also provide more flexibility than standard double cups do. For instance, you could remove them from the bottom cup and set in something larger for the plant/s to drink from.

Watch my video below to see how I make them.

Items that are shown or mentioned in the video:

– 20-ounce styrofoam cups ( You can also pick these up in the grocery store or places like WalMart) – https://amzn.to/2Cz2O1m
– Microfiber clothes – https://amzn.to/2WkSLUO
– HLG-100 grow light – https://amzn.to/2HVsCbv
– 48″ x 48″ x 80″ grow tent – https://amzn.to/2U5MxuJ
– Coco coir – https://amzn.to/2TuOi05
– Perlite – https://amzn.to/2uocFm7
– Dyna-Grp 7-9-5 – https://amzn.to/2uqDeH4

Hydroponic DWC seed starting system – DIY AeroGarden

DIY AeroGarden with plants
DIY AeroGarden

I make commissions off purchases made through product links in this post. This is at no extra cost to you and helps support this website.

I built this hydroponic deep water culture system for starting pepper plants. It was very inexpensive and easy to build and works well. It uses a small air pump, air stones, one-inch net cups, AeroGarden sponges (although just about any kind of growing sponge would work, ie BioDome, Rapid Rooter, Root Riot, etc… It has a built-in light stand with a Sansi 30 watt grow light.

Parts showed (or equivalent) in the video:

Commander XL 5 gallon tote – Get at Lowes
Air pump – https://amzn.to/2XNpXpB
Air stones – https://amzn.to/2TtfFfG
Sansi 30 watt grow light – https://amzn.to/2XPc8H7
Dyna-Gro 7-9-5 – https://amzn.to/2XOKz0T
Air tubing – https://amzn.to/2NV3LFI
1-inch net cups – https://amzn.to/2NV06r7
AeroGarden sponges – https://amzn.to/2TqEn0m
or
Rapid Rooter (cut these in quarters the long way) – https://amzn.to/2XOKzxV
1-inch bit – https://amzn.to/2NT804t
1-inch PVC pipe – get at Lowes
1-inch PVC tee – get at Lowes

Here are pics of some of the plants I transplanted out of this system.

Aji Lemon Drop
Aji Lemon Drop
Fish pepper
Fish pepper

How to setup a hydroponic Deep Water Culture (DWC) system in a 27 gallon tote

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Introduction

I have a pepper plant that had been growing in a 5 gallon bucket DWC, and I needed to move it to something bigger I chose the 27 gallon tote commander XXL for the upgrade container.

Parts and supplies

Steps

  1. I inverted the lid to gain more set up. I set an unused 6″ net pot in the center of the lid and drew a line around it. I free-handed a second internal line about 2″ inside the first circle. This marks where to cut.
  2. I drilled two pilot holes on opposite sides of the inner circle and used a jigsaw to cut this out. I could have (carefully) used a utility knife instead.
  3. I drilled two 1/4″ holes for the airline tubing, evenly spaced on each end (long side) of the tote. This is for the airline tubing.
  4. I spray painted the lid white and let dry.
  5. I cut my airline to the length I needed and inserted each one through the two holes I drilled and attached the 18″ air curtain tubes underneath.
  6. I added 15 gallons of water, then mixed in my nutrients. Following the recommended strength on the package. In my case, I measured 2 tsp/gallon of Flora-Nova Bloom.
  7. I moved the plant from its 5-gallon home and set it in the 27-gallon tote. I drilled two sets of two holes on each side of the net pot and secured to the lid using zip ties.

Video

Basics of a drip irrigation system

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If you’ve never used or set up a drip irrigation system before, it can seem intimidating. The best thing to do starting out is first to decide what you will be growing, how many plants, and where the system will reside. Then look at a drip irrigation kit that approximates your needs. Get a kit that has slightly more than what you need. You can buy under need, and supplement with additional parts too, but often it is cheaper to just buy a slightly larger kit.

I highly recommend Drip Depot.  Not only do they have any and every kind of drip irrigation system you could need, but their staff is very knowledgeable and helpful, to answer any questions you might have. I am an affiliate of there’s, but also a customer. I would recommend them regardless.

You can run a drip system with our without a fertilizer injector. If you don’t use a fertilizer injector, some type of supplemental plant food is necessary, such as slow release Osmocote 14-14-14, or other amendments. A fertilizer injector has many benefits, including precise control over the rate of release, and ability to stop and start feeding easily. The downsides are added complexity and cost.

The basic components of a drip irrigation system are the following in order, from the faucet:

  1. Timer (optional) – this is to turn the system on and off. I use the Claber Video 2-cycle water timer.
  2. Backflow preventer
  3. Inline filter
  4. Pressure reducer
  5. Fertilizer injector (optional)
  6. Mainline 1/2″
  7. Drip line – 1/4″
  8. Drip emitters

You’ll also need connectors for each mainline, and drip lines, These will all be included in a kit.

If you cost compare, you’ll see it’s much cheaper to purchase a drip irrigation kit starting out.

Videos

Growing Superhot Peppers in the AeroGarden Bounty

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I was able to successfully grow a 7-Pot Peach pepper in my AeroGarden Bounty. It has produced fruit, and they are super hot! In this article, I explore the pros and cons of growing super hot strains in the AeroGarden Bounty vs cheaper DIY methods.

AeroGarden Bounty

Pros:

  • Convenience and aesthetics – These look good for display anywhere in your home or office. Everything is built in, the lights, pump, timers, etc… It’s all self-contained in one system.
  • Great support – Aerogrow does a great job backing their products if there are ever any problems, and problems are generally few and far between.
  • Function – They work very well, especially for starting plants.
  • Plug and play – Does’t require any skill or knowledge to work. Just hook it up, add some nutrients and pods and it’s ready to go.

Cons:

  • High cost – For function only it’s much cheaper to build your own system.
  • Small grow space and light – The one-gallon reservoir, limited height, and light output limit the size plant you grow.

DIY System

Pros:

  • Cheaper – You get more for less, making it yourself. Especially if you upcycle used containers and parts.
  • Flexibility – You have total control over the size and type of system you make, including pumps, lights, reservoir, etc…
  • More potential for the same or less money.

Cons:

  • Can sprawl – Generally, unless designed to be, are not all in one solution, have many parts hooked together. This makes it harder to move the system around.
  • Less visually appealing – These, unless designed for aesthetics in mind, and not as pretty as AeroGardens.
  • Takes time, skills and knowledge to build – Most basic systems can be made by practically anyone, but some are more complex.

Cost comparison:

Aerogarden Bounty – https://amzn.to/2v6487S Cost, depending if it’s on sale ~ 250.00 – 380.00.

DIY solution to grow a plant 4+ times as big with lots more fruit production, including tent and everything – 350.00 – 400.00.

You could skip the tent and grow it out in the open, or fashion together a cheaper solution of reflective panels, save an additional 50-100 dollars. Being really frugal, you cut the entire cost in half, at least, still using high end grow lights.

Grow tent – https://amzn.to/2OxZmIx (Can go a little smaller and save, like a 48″ x 36″ or 48″ x 24″, but I wouldn’t compromise on height).

5-gal DWC kit – https://amzn.to/2AuJDqD (You can save if you part this out yourself, looking at 5 gal bucket, net pot bucket lid, growing medium, ie coco coir or clay peppers, aquarium pump, tubing, air stone. Check your local grow store if you have one)

Grow lights – This varies quite a bit, but I recommend HLG series lights. Cost a little more up front but will save in the long run. Something like this, the HLG 100 would do well https://amzn.to/2LMwAGA

You could also do a combination like I have of 2 x 300 watt (120 actual) with 2 x 150 watt(65 actual). But I am really just using lights I already had, not the most ideal. Eventually, I plan to move to the HLG lights or build my own. http://ledgardener.com has a lot of good info on that.

See my video below showing a comparison between the AeroGarden Bounty and a DIY solution I am running in my basement.

Video

27-Gallon Float Tote – Dual plant setup and installation guide

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Float valve controlled tote - Dual plant setup

Using a 27-gallon commander tote from Lowes, I set up a Kratky system with a float valve that will maintain the nutrient level after it has dropped. Maintaining a static nutrient level is ideal with Kratky type systems because overfilling will endanger the aeration roots. I learned about using float valves for this purpose from Matt Garver.

The beauty of this setup is it allows you to use a smaller container and finish growing your plant to harvest without worry of overfilling or running out. You can attach any size reservoir, such as a 5-gallon bucket, a 40-gallon trash can or larger.

It is important to periodically flush the growing container and refill with fresh nutrients. This practice eliminates any excess salts that may have built up, causing pH shifts, leading to nutrient lockout. The easy way to do this is to install a shut-off valve between the growing container and reservoir. When ready to flush, simply turn off the flow from the reservoir. and empty the container. You can lower the float and empty back out through that line, or install a separate drain line. Or have someone hold the plants up and turn the container over.

Another benefit of this system is having the option to change the nutrients easily by changing the reservoir. For instance, moving from a grow formula to a bloom formula.

** This system needs to be partially sheltered if outside, like under a porch cover, awning, etc…. Something that will keep rain out. Additional steps would be necessary to waterproof this for full outdoor exposure. It is possible to do, but not covered in this guide.

Parts needed

Steps

Reservoir setup

  1. Drill a 5/8″ hole in the bottom of the reservoir container, clean the hole with a sharp knife.
  2. Push a 1/2″ top hat grommet through the hole from the outside.
  3. Push one end of a 1/2″ inch barbed connector into the hole of the top hat grommet from the outside.
  4. Push a piece of 1/2″ vinyl tubing onto the exposed end of the barbed connector.

Growing container setup

Float valve installation
  1. Drill a 3/4″ hole (if using the recommended float valve, check the size first) about 1.5 – 2 inches from the bottom and side of one of the corners. Clean this up with the knife.
  2. Unscrew the locking nut on the float valve and push the threaded part all the way through the container wall from the inside, keeping the rubber washer on the inside touching the container wall. Screw on the locking nut from the outside and tighten with a wrench.
  3. Adjust the float valve arm to the depth you want to maintain and tighten to lock the position in place.
  4. Screw on the 1/2″ barbed adapter to the float valve, from the outside.
  5. Attached 1/2″ vinyl tubing to the barbed connector.
  6. Connect the reservoir and tote together using a shutoff valve with 1/2″ barbed connectors.
  7. Optionally install a separate drain line using the same instructions for the reservoir setup, adding a plug or shutoff valve to the end.
Lid
  1. If possible, invert the lid. Some of these style totes allow this, and others don’t. Just turn it upside down and test it. If you can invert it, this will give you a little more headroom. For dual setup, lay two 6-inch net pots upside down and position them evenly, mark the lid with a sharpie.
  2. Turn the net pot lids right side up and place in the circles, as centered as possible, draw around the base with a sharpie. The hole cut needs to be a little larger than the smallest circles. Draw about a half inch around that circle and this is where you need to cut, as a starting point.
  3. Use a sharp utility knife, and carefully cut around, make sure not to cut yourself. Test fit the net pots and adjust the hole size if necessary.
  4. Once the holes are cut, spray the lid with white or black paint, ideally black, then covered over with white. Or you can just cover with aluminum foil.
Nutrients
  1. Add the water. For the reservoir, fill up as much as you want. For the tote, fill mostly with water. Then put the lid and net pots in place,  and finish filling until the water comes up about 1/2 to 1 inch up the bottom of the net pots.
  2. Mix in the nutrients to the required strength. For Dyna-Gro and Flora Nova series, about 1 tsp/gallon is good. Adjust to around 700 ppm. In the video below, I am using Flora Nova Grow.
  3. Stir really well, check the nutrient strength and pH. If necessary, make adjustments.
Plants

This guide assumes you have small plants already established with roots at least 4+ inches long.

  1. With the lid and net pots installed, hold the plant in the net pot area with the roots spread and touching the bottom of the net pot.
  2. Fill in around the plant with supporting media, such as clay pebbles or coco chunks.
  3. For a couple weeks or so, check the net pots to make sure the nutrient level is still touching the bottom of the net pots until new roots are established and start growing out of the bottom.

Ongoing care

The nutrient solution will draw down as the plants and roots grow. Once it gets down to where float valve starts letting in the reservoir solution, this is a good time to flush out the growing container.  Turn off the flow from reservoir, empty and flush out the solution in the tote. Turn the reservoir back on and let new solution flow back in.  This should be repeated every few weeks after.

Video

10 gallon float tote setup

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10-Gallon Float Tote setup
10-Gallon Float Tote

I set up a 10-gallon float valve fed Kratky tote last year growing Holy Basil indoors. I’ve since harvested that Basil and am now using that for growing a large pepper plant. I moved this system outdoors to my porch. The pepper is an unintentional cross, was supposed to originally be a Lightning Mustard Hab, but produced large hot chocolate pods. This plant is from saved seed off the crossed pepper. I’ve been growing it in a small wicking tub, and it is drinking at the rate where I have to add nutrients every day. It was getting Masterblend, Epsom Salt, and Calcium Nitrate, but I switched it to Flora Nova series Grow formula. This was a gift to me from Pepper Donkey.

Video

Update on float valve feeder design

Holy Basil growing in float valve maintained feeder system
Holy Basil

The float valve feeder design works very well.  This non-circulating hydroponics system as performed as expected. The solution drew down to the point where the float valve released new nutrients from the five-gallon reservoir and has maintained this level. The roots appear very healthy and plants have done great. For a long-term run, it would be prudent to periodically flush the tote and refill with fresh nutrients to the float valve maintained level.

Video

What I’m working on, new low-pressure aeroponic system

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Update on a new low-pressure aeroponic system I’m working on. This one will support multiple containers, and reservoir fed. The controller bucket will maintain the nutrient level and house the pump that will power the sprayers.

Here are the parts I’m using so far to build this:

Reservoir fed, float valve controlled Kratky-like growing system

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Holy Basil in float valve setup
Holy Basil in float value setup
Float valve
Float valve

I set this up recently for growing my Holy Basil that I started in the water bottle, germinating/sprouting chambers.

Most people use a controller bucket between the reservoir and growing containers. This is what contains the float valve to maintain a static level of the nutrient solution.

In my design, I used a 10-gallon shallow tote and installed the float valve on one side of it. I hot-glued a plastic canvas barrier to keep the roots from interfering with the float valve. The hot glue is not holding very well. One of my viewers wisely suggested using silicone instead. So I might redo that at some point.

I filled the tote so the bottoms of the net cups are submerged by about 1/4″. The roots will grow downward and eventually drain the tote until it gets near the bottom. From that point, the float valve will maintain the solution level about 2.5 inches in depth.

Here’s the video. I’ll post updates on the progress.

Parts used:

Float valve: https://goo.gl/79NbT3
Masterblend nutrients: https://goo.gl/dstJ1v
5-gallon bucket for the reservoir
shallow 10-gallon tote – I got this one from Lowes
Kingbo50W: https://goo.gl/VCBo6X
Light hanger: https://goo.gl/LNFZwA
2×2 grow tent: https://goo.gl/AmgqqF