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

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

Orange Manzano in 32 gallon Kratky setup

I setup a Kratky method non-circulation hydroponics container for my Orange Manzano this year. It worked very well for the short time I had it out before season end. I used a 32 gallon trashcan filled with 30 gallons of water. I added 5 ounces (1 tsp/gal) of Dyna-gro 7-9-5. The trashcan lid had a hole cut out for the net pot, which contained the Manzano plant. Video showing setup and results below.

Office plants, Kratky window garden and AeroGarden

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Aerogarden

Introduction

I’ve been growing two sets of plants in my office.  I have three plants in an old AeroGarden 6 Elite, and three in small containers growing using the Kratky non-circulating method. Both sets of plants are getting Dyna-Gro 7-9-5 at a rate of 1 tsp/gallon. The ppm, I think, comes out to around 500.

Kratky Window Garden

The Kratky grown plants (Tiny Tim tomato, Cinnamon Basil, and Sage) have only been getting light from a Western facing window in my office. They are doing really well in the small  containers. They are feeding quite a bit now, so having to fill more often. The Cinnamon Basil is probably around 24″ high and has been topped twice. The Tiny Tim tomato is between 12″ and 18″ and is producing fruits.  I also have a Sage plant that is about 12″ to 14″ tall.  It was set back a couple weeks ago from running out of nutrients. I pulled off all the dead leaves and it appears to be recovering.

AeroGarden

My AeroGarden has another Tiny Tim tomato, a Lime Basil and a Mexican Dwarf Piquin pepper. I topped the tomato last week, and it is now pushing out fruits. The Lime Basil is starting to flower. I’m going to let it go to seed and save those. The Mexican Dwarf Piquin is loaded with peppers. One just started turning ripe. I’ve cut it back two or three times. It’s a very fast grower and super productive.

Video

Using the Kratky method to start or germinate seeds and transplant seedlings and sprouts

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Materials needed

  • Sponge for holding seeds or sprouts. I like the Park Seed biodome sponges, but you can use aerogarden sponges, rapid rooter plugs, rock wool, etc…
  • Container for holding the sponge. This has to let water/air through, small net pots work great, as do AeroGarden baskets. The AeroGarden baskets will fit perfectly in bottles that have a 1 1/2″ mouth.
  • Hydroponic nutrient solution – I use MasterBlend mixed with MgSO4 and Ca(NO3)2. More information on that here. There are many options, check with your local grow store or search on Amazon for something like DynaGrow. Mix about half the strength you’d normally use, but test first. For my Masterblend mix I use
    • 1.6 grams/gal 4-18-38 MasterBlend
    • .8 grams/gal MgSO4 (Epsom Salt)
    • 1.6 grams/gal Ca(NO3)2
  • Container for holding the nutrient solution. This can be anything really as long as it securely holds the net basket. You might half to carefully cut the top down to make it fit. You can also put these into flat lids for containers like totes. Just make sure the hole is just the right size to prevent the net basket from falling through.
  • Seeds or a sprout

Process steps

  1. Fill the nutrient container to the point where it touches the bottom of the grow sponge up to 1/2″ from the bottom.
  2. Place the seeds or sprout in the grow sponge and place it into the net basket/cup.
    • With seeds, just place them in the top of the sponge. If there is no indentation in the top, make one about a 1/4″ deep by 1/4″ wide.
    • With sprouts, cut the sponge halfway lengthwise. Spread it apart and place the sprout stem inside.
  3. Place the net basket in the growing container.
  4. Place the grow container under a grow light or outdoors if the weather permits.

Video of this process:

How to grow lettuce using the Kratky method

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How to grow lettuce (and anything else) using the Kratky method of fill and forget non-circulating hydroponics.

Kratky grown lettuce

Materials needed:

  • Tote – The capacity needs to support a minimum of one gallon per plant. Also take into account you will lose some volume between the lid and net cups, unless have a tote with a raised lid. So, for a 10 gallon tote, six plants is good.
  • Lettuce seeds – You can get these anyway, lowes, walmart, etc… or amazon and ebay. They are very inexpensive, usually 1-3 thousand for two or three dollars.
  • Net cups – I like using the three inch net cups, but you can use whatever you have.
  • Hole saw – If using the three inch cups, a three inch hole saw (and arbor) cuts the perfect size. This is not necessarily true for the two inch cup and two inch hole saw, unless you get two inch cups with wide lids.
  • Grow sponges – This is to hold the seed until it germinates and sprouts. You can use peat based sponges like what AeroGrow and Park Seed sell, or rockwool. Rockwool needs to be pre-treated to lower the pH. I using the 6-0 refill size biodome sponges that Park Seed sells. These cost around 18.00 for 120.
  • Growing medium – This is to anchor the plant, you need something with good aeration. Clay pebbles (hydroton) or coco coir chunks work great.
  • Nutrients – Check with your hydroponics store, or search online. Most will work fine, like Maxibloom, Maxigrow, Dyna Grow, etc… I use a mix of MasterBlend, MgSO4 and Ca(NO3)2. More information on that here.
  • Grow light – T8 shop lights are fine. I personally like the Utilitech brand that Lowes sells, because the housing is so narrow that you can fit three side by side on an 18″ shelf. Try to get the daylight spectrum bulbs. CFL and LED lights work great too.

Steps:

  1. Drill holes in the tote lid using hole saw. For three shallow 10 gallon tote I made six holes.
  2. Place sponge in the net cup and fill around it with grow medium, i.e. Clay pebbles, coco coir, etc…
  3. Place a small pinch of seeds (3-5) in the top of the sponge. It should have a small hole in the top for seeds
  4. Put the tote in place where it will stay and fill with nutrient solution. It should come up to a half inch to an inch from the bottom of the net cup. You can place an empty net cup in there to check the water level.
  5. With the lid secure, place the filled net cups in the lid.
  6. Turn on the grow lights and leave them on 24/7 until the sprouts come up and produce at least one set of true leaves
  7. Once the sprouts are strong enough to stand on their own, start thinning them down, eventually to just one per net pot. If there are several, this should not be done all at once.
  8. When the individual remaining sprouts have matured and have at least a couple sets of true leaves, put the light on timer and run 10-12 hours per day.

* The links to Amazon are affiliate links.

Here’s a video of the process:

Pepper Grow and Indoor Garden Update from 1/22/17

The following video shows an update on my 2017 pepper starts, as well as circulating and non-circulating hydroponic lettuce grows. Also my DWC Jamaican Hot Chocolate and self-watering containers housing the Thai Dragon and Tien Tsin peppers.

This year I’m starting my seeds directly in the AeroGardens or in my DIY AeroGarden that I made.