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My interest in hydroponics goes way back into my childhood when I tried to grow a been sprout from a seed (bean) on a bed of wet cotton. The idea of growing a plant without soil intrigued me but being young and not understanding about the nutrients a plant needs to grow I was never able to get the plant past the sprout stage. That and I have always had a black thumb when it comes to growing plants.
Jump forward a good 30 years and my interest was peaked once again when I took the behind the seeds tour at Walt Disney World. It was time to try again but this time I would think about it and research it more for about a year. Thankfully the available knowledge of hydroponics has increased greatly in the past 30 years and I was able to find much information on the subject.
My first attempt at a hydroponic system was built from some rough plans I found on the internet. I used a large Tote and cut holes in the lid then glued short one inch PVC Pipe couplers into the holes. Inside the tote I used a pond pump connected to a PVC pipe that was a closed loop around the inside of the tote with garden misters glued into it. I then filled the tub half way with a nutrient solution from General Hydroponics. I used cotton balls to hold the seeds in the tubes. I also mounted a shop light over it and used florescent grow bulbs on a timer for day/night cycle.
This set up did not work very well. The plants had a hard time growing in the cotton, The misters would clog and could not be replaced, and my spray interval was not right.
For my second try I rebuilt the PVC loop and this time I drilled and tapped (threaded) holes in the pipe for replaceable spray nozzles I bought on eBay. I also bought a timer that let me tune my spray on/off cycle better. Then I used different media to hold the seeds in the tubes to determine what worked best.
I tried Cotton balls again, cotton gauze, open cell foam, and floral foam. Of these the winner was the open cell foam followed by the cotton balls. I think this is because the foam is easier to grow through then the cotton and wicks the right amount of water where as the cotton tends to over saturate. The floral foam proved to be too dense and saturated for the seeds and the gauze basically would fall apart dropping the plant into the water below. I also got a PH meter and salinity tester to make sure the nutrient solution was within acceptable tolerances. Which it was. I would include more detailed specifics but this all happened in early spring before my house was flooded so I am just going over what I did in general.
This time it worked much better and it even survived the flood since my house only got 2 inches of water inside and my power never went out. So there was no contamination and the light and water cycle was never interrupted while I was away from my house for the week waiting for the water to subside. Eventually though the plants grew to such a large size that they began to touch the light and crowd each other out. This lead to Phase 2.