I’d been working up to building a hydroponic system at home for a few months now and with the success of my solar powered, fully automated irrigation system, I realised it would be simple enough to combine the two into a hydroponic set up.
I’ve tried to do this as cheap as possible, which I think I did alright, but mind you I didn’t own any of the tools previously.
What You’ll Need For The Setup
I sourced most of this stuff off eBay and Amazon. For the tools I went to Gumtree or Craigslist. Use whatever classifieds is the most popular in your area.
- Solar panel
- 12V DC battery
- Charge Protector
- Weekly Programmable Timer
- Irrigation Lines
- Caulking Gun
- Reservoir (I used a 70L storage tub)
- 12V DC pump
- Hydroponic Unit (I used a 100mm diameter stormwater PVC pipe)
- Hole saw bits*
- Hydroponic pots*
When getting the hydroponic pots and hole saw bits, make sure that the diameter of them are roughly equal. Otherwise the hole might be too big or too small and then you might have to start the project again.
Where To Start?
Drill The Holes For Your Hydroponic Pots
Begin by measuring out the spacing you require between each of the plants. I’ll be growing chilli plants (jalapeno, bird’s eye, habanero, the ghost pepper seeds are still on the way), so I keep my spacing to around 250mm. This will leave me with 4 pots in a 1 metre length of the PVC pipe.
Drill into your makes with the hole saw bit with a size that matches your hydroponic pots.
Place the pots inside and make sure they are a good fit. If they are a bit loose, consider using some glue to fasten the pots.
Set Up Your Irrigation System
Start by drilling a hole low in your reservoir. You should make the hole the same size as the irrigation tubing you will be using.
I’m using a submersible pump so I place my pump directly in the reservoir and feed the irrigation lines through the base of the reservoir. Use the silicon to make watertight the intersection.
Drill a hole in the base of the system. This will provide the entry point for your water feed. It’s important to try make this hole as low as possible because if it’s a too high, the roots of the plants will be submersed in water 24/7 and they will end up rotting (it would also be beneficial to tilt the system ever so slightly to ensure gravity draws the water down toward your inlet, that way, when you have finished the ebb and flow the water will mostly drain out).
Use a connecter (I use the 8mm thread double male connecter) and attach your irrigation system from the pump to here.
Next drill a hole near the top of the PVC pipe that is just below the lowest point of the holes you have made to hold your pots. This is an important part, as this hole offers the return fluid to the reservoir. If it’s too high the water will instead spill out of the holes cut for the hydroponic pots – bad system. Very bad system.
Connect your irrigation line to this outlet and run it back to your reservoir. You can drill a hole of the same diameter in the lid and just feed the line in.
Now your hydroponic system is mostly set up sans plants and growing medium. Next we’ll move onto the solar panel automated part. You can also read this article I wrote recently which covers the exact same thing but for a water system in the garden.
The Automated Solar/Battery Powered Part
You’ll need some basic understanding of safety here. DO NOT SHORT THE SYSTEM. Or some really nasty stuff will happen.
- Connect your solar panel to the charge protector
- Connect your charge protector to your weekly programmable timer (follow instructions on this)
- Connect the weekly programmable timer to the pump
- Finally connect the charge protector to the battery
For the greatest energy generation your should face your solar panel North on a 30 degree incline.
Programme your timer to run for the designated amount of time and days.
I think you’re good to go?
I bought a cheep and cheerfull tabletop water feature pump from here for about $15. It has a max waterhead of 60cm. I initally tried it on the irrigation system, but it just doesn’t have a high enough flow rate. In the hydroponic system it’s perfect. It draws a really low current so there’s pretty much no risk of my battery going flat and the system missing a water cycle.