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Hey everybody, I finally finished my first window farm (WF). It consists of an air lift and 2 rows of plant containers, with 5 containers in each row.
I started figuring out how to build a WF, from scratch, about 3 months ago. I live in Denmark so buying a kit was out of the question. It took me a while to understand how the system was supposed to work, and then another while to figure out how I was going to build one myself. I had no experience working with the stuff needed to do this. Stuff like air pumps, tubes, and valves so it was all very confusing to begin with. I didn’t know anything about growing hydroponically either but ever since I saw the TED talk with Britta Riley, about a year ago, I have been interested in the project.
Now my WF is finally up and running and the plants grow bigger every day. So I want to thank this lovely community and the people behind the WF project for teaching me. It has been a lot of fun, and a little infuriating from time to time, when something just wouldn’t work the way I wanted it to.
I went through a couple of test systems, all of the air lift type, before landing on the one I am using now. At first I tried anchoring a tube on the bottom of a big water reservoir, but even though I knew this worked for others, I never managed to make it stable. The air from the pump kept flowing back into the reservoir, instead of lifting the water upwards. I then tried putting a small reservoir at the end of the row of plant containers. This worked very well; the reservoir had a tube in the bottom that went into a U-bend, which prevented air back flow to the reservoir. Unfortunately this setup forced me to reduce the number of plant containers I could have in a row, and I had to add water to the reservoir often, which was annoying. My current setup looks like this:
For reservoir I am using a 10 l (2.6 gallons) water container with a tap that is big enough for 2 tubes to fit into it. I made a plug of silicone sealant around the ends of the 2 tubes, to make a water tight fit (see info. box 1 on the sketch). To make sure the plug stays in place I wrapped some duct tape around the joint.
After leaving the tap of the water container each of the 2 tubes goes into a U-bend. *The U-bend needs to be at least 30 cm (12 inches) from top to bottom to prevent air back flow. (Thank you, Brian White, for sharing this information, the diagram you made really helped me a lot: http://our.windowfarms.org/files/2012/04/contest-with-u-April-7th.jpg)
After the U-bend there is a t-joint, where the water meets the air from the pump. I put a check valve on each of the 2 tubes leading the air to the t-joint, to prevent water reaching the pump (see info. Box 2 on the sketch).
In an effort to decrease the amount of plastic in my WF, and because I thought it would look good, I tried using coconut shells as plant containers. I hollowed out 10 coconut shells, cleaned them, and coated them on the inside with mineral oil to prevent them from absorbing water. I made a braided rope and nets for them to hang in. It looked really good but unfortunately the shells cracked. I think it happened because the shells I got were very old and dried out. I bought them all the same place but later on I tried with a shell bought at another place and it did not react the same way as the others. So I still think it could work with coconut shells, but I grew too impatient and my seedlings grew too big for me to do it all again with other coconuts. I turned to the well known plastic bottle instead, and I am very satisfied with the result.
I reused the rope I used to hang the coconut shells from but had to find another way to attach the new plant containers to the rope. I ended up with a kind of button on system which allows each plant container to be removed without dismantling the entire row. This highly modular system has the advantage that I don’t need net pots in the containers. I couldn’t find any net pots that would fit so I had to do without. If I do get my hands on some good net pots I will use them, though.
So I wanted to use coconut shells as plant containers, partly, because I wanted to reduce materials that could leak toxins into the water and plants. About this I have now come to think that the plant containers are actually the least important part. Most of the time, the water is in the reservoir or the tubes, so it’s more important that these parts don’t contain anything that will leak into the water. As the water drips into a plant container it goes straight through the clay pebbles and into another tube. Most of the clay pebbles that come into contact with the container are dry, as the water runs through the center part. I therefore don’t think the plastic bottles will be able to leak anything into the water, and if it does it will be minimal, compared to the reservoir and tubes.
1 Air pump: Sera air 275 R plus. It has 2 outlets, a power regulator, and it comes with 2 check valves
2 Water container with tap: 10 l (2.6 gallons). (It has the glass and fork symbol, which means it’s intended for food contact; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_safe_symbol)
3 Tube: 4/6 mm (0.15 inches/0.23 inches). I used about 6 m in total (19.6 feet)
4 Tube close up: It has the glass and fork symbol too.
5 T-joint and check valve: I used 2 of each.
6 Water bottle: 2 l (0.5 gallons). I used 10 of these.
7 Twine: 2 mm. (0.08 inches). I used about 10 m in total (32.8 feet).
9 Spray paint: 1 can
10 Buttons: About 1 cm in diameter (0.4 inches). I used 40 of these.
11 Wire: 0.3 mm (0.01 inches). I used about 2 m in total (6.5 feet).
12 Power drill
13 Drill bit (4 mm – 0.15 inches) and screw bit (6 mm – 0.23 inches).
14 Hobby knife
16 Belt punch
17 Duct tape
19 Clay pebbles (Leca): I used about 5 l in total (1.3 gallons).
20 Nutrients: Biosevia grow and Biosevia bloom
21 PH test kit (I didn’t use this to make the WF but it’s good to have afterwards)
22 Seeds, soil, egg shells, and egg tray.
23 Planted seeds in egg shells. This is how I grew my seedlings.
The essentials for making an air lift type WF: air pump, water container, tubes, valves and t-joints, grow medium, and nutrients.
The rest (tools, plant containers, plants) can be improvised.
After making the plant containers and assembling the system I transplanted the seedlings into the WF by carefully uprooting them, cleaning the soil from the roots, and putting them into the clay pebbles. The seedlings I have transplanted have all survived, it’s been about 2 weeks now. I also tried transplanting some cuttings from grown plants into the WF. One cutting was from a tomato plant and the others were from a basil plant. The tomato plant cutting had been growing in soil for a while and had become rather large. I thought it had grown too big to survive the transplantation and for a couple of hours it looked like it would die. Then it suddenly started getting better and the next day it was definitely on the mend. After 2 days it was back to normal. (The bend on the stem is caused by the way it has been growing before being put in the WF).
The basil cuttings (3 in total) had different reactions: the first had grown pretty big in soil but it had no problem adjusting to the new environment. The second had not developed roots yet and for a long time, after putting it in the WF, it looked like it was dead. All the leaves fell of but I just let it be and now it has developed new leaves and looks like it will survive. The third already looked rather droopy when I put it in the WF and like the second one it dropped its leaves and looked like it was dying, but now it has developed new leaves too.
Besides tomato and basil I am growing chives, thyme, chili, and lettuce.
Row 1, from the top: chili, basil, thyme, chives, and tomato.
Row 2, from the top: chili, basil, thyme, lettuce, and chili again.Later I want to grow more lettuce and some strawberries, cilantro, mint, and pepper.
I don’t have a timer on my system at the moment but I will probably invest in one later on.
Thanks for reading and happy window farming.
It was fun trying to figure things out and finally finished the very first one.
I want to plant more and more. I get greedy.
↓↓↓↓Here is the video clip to see closer. ：）
This is coming from a completely genuine place of curiosity. Sorry if it’s been covered elsewhere, I couldn’t locate any threads on it since the search function on here is kind of clunky.
Does anyone know why the window farms system (diy version) uses an air lift system as opposed to a water pump system?
Is it energy consumption?
It seems like the air lift system over complicates the system – adding additional parts and experimenting. Wouldn’t it be more simple to get a larger water source (E.G. 5 gallon bucket) and drop the water pump in and use the rest of the setup the same? This would obviously require you to use non-recycled materials – but I think most people are just buying water bottles anyway for the system, and a 5 gallon bucket would last forever with adequate care.
Is the reason aesthetics?
I guess a bucket on the floor doesn’t look nearly as visually pleasing as the hanging bottle version, but there has to be some kind of work around for this.
Really interested to hear other builder’s thoughts on this.
I have mine currently set up with the air lift system and it seems to work out alright – but in the spirit of the project I am on the lookout for alternatives to make everyone’s lives easier.
Vertical pallet planter, slightly different Airlift method.in a 14 inch high bucket and pumps about 4 ft high
I am doing a couple of vertical pallet planters and changed the airlift to suit the planters. In this case, the next planter will have 2 wooden legs in plastic buckets. The water will drip down the legs and back into the buckets. I usually use the t joint method outside the bucket but I also appreciate that not everyone has room for a u tube that is one ft lower than your T joint. I tried a few different methods and this one works.
This way uses all the depth of the bucket and you might get a little bubbling when it restarts for a few seconds but usually not. Note that once again, I got a few days where the tubes acted funny before they behaved themselves. Pretty sure it is whatever sheen or grease is on new tubes. I think all new tubes need to just sit low with nutrient running through them for about a day before you put them up in position. There is almost zero drainback in new tubes and that is what is causing the problem. Newbies are going to be very confused by this.
My pallet planter project is at instructables A very interesting aspect of this (for me) is that the air pump is 120 ft away from the planter. (It still works and pumps the air through 1/4 inch tubing all the way to the greenhouse). Brian
Hello fellow windowfarmers!
I finally completed my first single-string, 3 container attempt at a windowfarm, and it’s .. well, it’s very basic and Frankenstein-y, so I’ve taken to calling it my ‘ghetto farm’. I started with one set of components and am basically upgrading as I go along. It’s a T-joint airlift, because I wanted something fairly simple. (HA!) My duplex has a central furnace, not forced air, so the big picture window I can use in the spring/summer is in a room that is far too cold in the winter months – and of course, I get the bee in my bonnet to start this project in December… So, the first thing I needed to do was find a way to hang the windowfarm above the heater at a position where the plastic bottles/tubing won’t melt and the plants won’t cook, and then get a source of light. Due to my seasonal affective disorder, every bulb in my house is a 100w full spectrum, but I’ve found with plants in dirt, the ceiling bulbs are too far away, so I purchased a SunBlaze narrow footprint light for this purpose.
The plants right now are from the few packets of seeds I had available that weren’t flowers or root vegetables – spring lettuce mix and Alpine strawberries of the Mignonette variety. They were started in rockwool, in the net cups with hydroton, sitting in a water + fish nutrient bath with the light right above the container. See second picture below – you can see the container with the new baby plants in it on the shelf. The lettuce sprouted and is growing but not terribly well – hoping the new nutrients will help. The Alpine strawberries sprouted so fast you could almost see the growth minute by minute. Because I fail at math as well as physics, I started two more net cups of strawberries so will have to set up a second string of containers next. I think window farm strings are like potato crisps and cats – it’s not possible to have just one. I also found more last-season herb seeds at the hardware store, so I can try my hand at heirloom basil, peas and beans. We’ll see how that goes.
Modular wire cube shelving like these ($25)
Topfin Air 1000 air pump from PetSmart. It has two output nozzles, but I have one blocked off by a piece of tubing with a knot on the end. There’s no way to change the air pressure, and a new pump has been ordered and should be waiting for me when I get home tonight. (already had, but website lists for ~$10)
25′ of 1/4″ vinyl tubing from the hardware store (this does not fit standard aquarium equipment like t-joints. Will eventually be replaced.) ($2.50)
8′ of black pvc tubing from the petstore (I already had this, unused, from a Betta setup, wound up cutting it into 2″ pieces and using it as connectors because it fits perfectly inside the vinyl tubing. Website lists it as ~$5)
Metal T-joint ($1)
Discard A Stones – air filter stones, but I really wanted the plastic part. The white filter stone is not attached in the package. The picture lies. ($2)
3-1.5L Evian water bottles, because they’re the only kind that had any curvature in the center to hold the pots. ($1.25ea/$3.75 total)
3-3″ mesh pots. ($1ea/$3 total)
Rockwool cubes to start plants in. (Way more than I need – $10)
Hydroton (Way more than I need – $6)
Chrome duct tape (because more reflective surfaces for light = good thing, right?) ($1.50)
Velcro ties (aren’t long enough, going to be replaced with 12″ zip ties this week – they hold it but not as securely as I’d like.)
1.5gal Brita water dispenser like this one – mine is not electronic and I’ve taken the white plastic insert out of it completely, so it holds more than the “1.13″ gallons it claims. (already had – $25 if you had to buy one)
SunBlaze T5 21″ (need a longer one, will probably replace with 2-48″) ($25)
Zoo Med AquaSun 24 hour timer. ($15)
Started with Lilly Miller Alaska Fish Fertilizer, because it was the only ‘non burning’ fertilizer I could find locally. (I’ve ordered Botanicare CNS17, and Botanicare SeaPlex, which should hopefully arrive tonight. The Alaska stiiiiiinks.) ($10)
1-silicon potholder I bought at the dollar store, cut up into small squares and placed under the plastic connecters of the wire cube to prevent melting. (not pictured, it was added after the first set of pictures) ($1)
Total potential cost: $144.75 – I had many of the parts already, so didn’t pay that out of pocket for this setup but it is probably about that when I factor in the cost of the replacement parts I’ve ordered.
I have the cubes configured in a 2-wide, 3-tall setup. On top of the heater, it puts my top container at about 6′ from the floor. The air pump sits on the water reservoir, on a table to the left of the heater, about level with the bottom of the cubes.
I cut the front hole in all three Evian bottles before I cut the hole in the bottom for the cap to fit in – don’t do this. It makes the plastic much harder to work with. I wound up cutting the top container opening too high, resulting in water spitting out the front from the air lift. This was fixed by putting a cheap plastic sandwich baggie over the top and tucking the ends into the hydroton, which works as a splash guard. I’ll probably end up replacing this bottle and using it as the middle or bottom container when we set up the second string. Drilling into the caps was super easy and I accomplished that with a pen knife. The bottom container’s cap was fit with the clear vinyl tubing, which was originally attached to the black aquarium tubing and set in the bucket, but now it’s all just the clear vinyl and feeds back into the top of the water dispenser.
Bottom half of bottles were wrapped with chrome duct tape, mostly because oooh shiny but also because I thought having more reflective surfaces would be a good thing, since I’ll be using grow lights this winter.
Stacked them and velcroed to the center line of the cube unit. Found out that the velcro wasn’t nearly long enough, so there’s two per unit for top and bottom with nothing supporting the middle container but pressure of the other two containers and gravity. This will be rectified as soon as my long zip ties arrive. It’s stable, but not as stable as I’d like.
The vinyl tubing was run and leak tested and boy, howdy, did it leak. It’s just slightly too big for all of the aquarium fittings, so I scrounged up my old black airline tubing and imped it all together, which made it watertight. I wanted the clear tubing so I could see any problems with water pressure when starting out, so I could correct it before replacing with the black tubing.
The original reservoir had the bottom tube running into a 2gal bucket sitting on the floor. This worked for about 2 hours and then lost pressure to the point where the water only made it halfway up the tubing. Because I fail at physics and apparently didn’t grasp that the water supply should have, y’know, pressure.
After much more reading on here, I was intrigued by Lincoln Jones’ post detailing his use of a water dispenser. We went to the store and purchased a 1.5gal container of water with a dispenser spigot, took it home, and aquarium-caulked tubing into the spigot. Failure – it kept leaking, no matter how much caulk was globbed into it. There was no way to thread the tubing through the dispenser, and the second time it dumped water all over my floor, I was hard pressed to not take it outside and see how far I could drop kick it.
Then I recalled that I had an old Brita dispenser sitting on top of the kitchen pantry. The white plastic insert lifted right out, leaving me with a clear dispenser much like the one in Lincoln’s picture. The top of the spigot also unscrewed, joy of joys.
Took one of the plastic bits from the Discard A Stone set, and cut one prong off it. Using aquarium caulk, I glued it into a 8″ piece of vinyl tubing. When it dried, I dropped it into the spigot, and then screwed the spigot top back on to see if it fit. It did. I now had a spigot I could turn on and off. Unscrewed the top of the spigot, put more aquarium caulk down the spigot, let it dry, checked the seal to make sure it was water tight – and it was, yay for that. Screwed the spigot top back on a final time, and then filled it with water to check that the seal was still water tight – and it was. We were in business.
Used a piece of the black aquarium hose to connect the 8″ from the dispenser to the water supply hose of the airlift, which is about 7′ of hose coiled on the floor. The air pump is sitting on top of the water dispenser to ensure it was higher than the water supply. This works, but is obviously not the most ideal setup. Due to the electrical outlet and lack of extension cord, it’s my only option at the moment.
Turned the spigot on and let water run down into the water supply side of the hose. Then turned on the air pump. I was very glad I had a drip shield on the top container, because the pressure sent the bubbles of water spitting out at force. It is, in fact, giving my plants too much water. I’ve purchased a new pump with adjustable air flow (should be waiting for me when I get home today), and purchased a timer.
The problem with the timer is, when the water starts up again, it bubbles back into the reservoir. We’re going to try a longer length of tubing on the floor because I suspect the airlift is less high than the water supply hose at this point. So for now, the timer isn’t being used. The light is still in its horizontal placement over the baby plants, but the plan is to buy longer SunBlazes and put them vertically on either side of the containers, held to the wire cubes with zip ties. The nice thing about the SunBlazes is that they come with a connector to daisy chain, so they only require one electrical outlet. I have absolutely no information about water pH or nutrient content or anything at this point – this was the ‘can I get it running?’ stage. The next stage is ‘can I keep the plants alive in it?’
Even with the high water output – it works. Of course, in the process, I’ve replaced a bunch of parts and already started enough plants that I have to start a second string of containers. So there will be an update to this post shortly, which will contain better pictures of the reservoir setup. Below are the camera pictures I took of the very first setup, which as mentioned only worked for about 2 hours.
But part of the fun of DIY is tinkering, right? Right.
Image of the top planter with its baggie splash hood
First two planters, containing lettuce, with the baby plant tray and light behind on the left. Light is not on. It is about 1.5″ wide. There’s no velcro on the middle planter because I ran out of velcro ties. Zip ties arriving (hopefully) tonight.
This was the first reservoir attempt, which failed utterly. The airline tubing wouldn’t stay in the bottom, even when I had it wound through a tupperware container full of rocks and a jar candle sitting on it. It was also not set up to put any water pressure into the tubing. This has since been fixed. It worked for about 2 hours and then lost pressure completely. We’ve redone the reservoir entirely – this is just a picture so you can all cringe at my completely horrible first attempt. I fail at physics.
It’s easy to get a little greedy. Continuing to build and build. Now I have turned my two columns into four with the help of these instructions from @gaiatechnician (Brian White), I managed to use a pump with two outlets to provide four columns with water. I have used 6 T-connections and 4 air controls.
The pump is on a timer that is on every half hour between 09:00 and 22:00. The fluorescent lamp is running from 08:00 to 21:00. It was a bit difficult to balance the air flows, but now it seems to be fairly stable.
My system is generally quite unstable, probably because my water tank is so small (less than 1,5l) and the tubes have a tendency to float or move in the water tank.
Lettuce, paprika, pepers, tomato and basil. The paprika I got from a friend. All plants are grown from seeds.
In my windowfarm I have chosen to use clay pellets. Before putting the pellets in the bottles I washed them to get rid of all the dust, but apparently not thoroughly enough. Dust from the clay have gradually come loose and clogged the system.I don´t know if there are different qualities of clay pellets. But I have bought different brands in different price ranges and there has always been with both dust and small pieces of broken pellets.
Now that I bought new pellets, I have washed and washed and washed to be sure to remove all loose particles.
When you think you’ve washed enough, wash some more.
1.In my very first attempt I did as it said in the instructions. I cut a V shape into the cork. It worked pretty well at first, but after a while it started to let through too much water and suddenly it didn´t let any water through. It was completely blocked.
2. In the next attempt I just made a small hole in the cork. This meant that water was allowed through at regular intervals, smoothly. But the hole also meant that there where some splashing and dripping on to the plants which they didn´t like.
3. So I made the hole bigger and used some of the leftover pipe. This worked fine, but after some hours it began to leak and part of the water wanted to go on the outside of the tube.
4. So today I used a glu gun to seal the space between the cork and the tube. So far this works great.
We’ll see if it holds..
Now I have finally got my windowfarm up and running.
I made the structure last year, sowed the seeds several months ago, and planted the tomato plants in the structure about one month ago. So far I have watered by hand, but today I managed to build the pumping system.
However, I have encountered some problems. The two biggest so far:
1. The system will not start up again when it has been switched off. I wanted to have it on a timer but every time it´s on standby I have to rearang the air needles to make it start. I will try to find a solution, but if you have an idea, please write a comment.
2. The air pump I am using is not the quietest. I have tried to put the pump in a box with towels to muffle the sound. But it still sounds too much. And I’m a little afraid that it will overheat in there. Maybe I´ll pick it apart and check what it is that makes the sound, or I´ll try to change the box or I´ll just buy a new pump. Some other suggestions?
Column to the left: Chili pepper, tomato, chilli pepper.
Column to the right: Chili pepper, basil, chili pepper.
Today I also started watering with a nutrient solution adapted for hydroponics. I hope it will make the plants a little stronger with time.
Since the windowfarm hangs in a window with little natural light I have put up an extra lamp. A fluorescent light fixture with a light that simulates daylight.