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Last season I kludged together a prototype system to completely automate my feed to waste hydroponic system. In addition to pumping the nutrient solution out of the mix tank for 3 minutes every 3 hours. It would detect when the mix tank is empty and fill it with water until it is full using float switches. While it is filling it also pumped the appropriate amounts of nutrients from three concentrated nutrient tanks. This made it a completely mindless hydroponics system.
I also tried some different growing mediums last year. The basic medium I was using for growing was a 50/50 blend of Perlite and Vermiculite and this works really well but at the end of the growing season/plant growth cycle the roots make its reuse impossible and all new material needs to be used. So in some pots I used Pea pebbles I bought at home depot and in others I used clay balls.
I planted pea plants in the pots with the clay balls and this worked well and the plants were easily removed and separated from the clay which made the clay reusable but it is so light I don’t think it will hold bigger plants that need more support.
The Pea-Pebbles barley worked but with difficulty and much reduced yields. I think this may be due to it draining so quickly letting the roots dry out more. It was also difficult to recover at the end of the season as it did not separate out from the plant material and tended to break and grind it. Thus it would need to be washed and filtered and I am not sure how to do that. Also it is very heavy.
I am now designing a more integrated control board that will more neatly pull all the functionality together for next season. I am also going to add some sensor circuits which will be needed for running a recirculation system. Even though I have not yet had much luck getting a recirculation system to work.
My recirculation efforts last year were a complete failure. I had a lot of problems with the water return. I believe the drain lines were too small and offered too much resistance so instead of draining it would stay in the drip bucket under the pots instead of returning to the mix tank under the deck. There was also a lot of buildup of algae in the drip buckets.