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.