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by Lonna

3 tier, wide trough, gravity-fed (manual recirc) window farm

2:13 pm in Completed Window Farms, made from scratch (without a kit), posts with pitcures! by Lonna

Windowfarms are indeed a very cool idea. I have a really (really) big front window that is just begging to have some plants in it: it faces south, gets full sun all day, and is behind the couch so if there were plants there they wouldn’t be in anybody’s way and would add some nice visual interest to the room. Plus, I love growing things. And I love eating fresh salad. And I have the gardening bug worse than usual this year.

So … I set about designing a windowfarm that would work in our house. First of all, no pop bottles. It needs to be pretty enough to look at regularly and not upset the rest of the household with my weird experiments. The Widowfarms kits are lovely, but pricey, and anyway, I have room for a lot of plants – the window is seven feet wide. Also suspending things from the top seemed tricky – that’s a long span, and I didn’t want things to be swinging too much (I have rambunctious pets). There are two uprights in the centre that divide the window into 3 panes, so I figured I could attach something there and make horizontal supports for growing trays of some kind. I did a lot of research into hydroponics setups and found that a series of troughs set one above the other with each trough on a slight incline is pretty common: you put water in the top and it runs down each channel into the next and ends up in a reservoir at the bottom, kind of like a marble-run. It’s much like the standard Windowfarm arrangement, but wider and zig-zaggy instead of straight.

So, after several nights lying awake and pondering options, I decided to make a trip to the store and see what I could find that would work.

I was going to use PVC piping, like the Vertical Earth Garden, but the first store I went to was out of the size I needed and the next place had the pipe, but didn’t have enough end caps. Then I remembered that some people use vinyl window gutters instead, so I headed to the lumber aisle and found those. Same price as the PVC, even with the end caps – and this way I wouldn’t have to cut any holes and I would be able to easily clean the troughs when the time comes. The nice man cut the 10’ lengths in half for me, so I had enough materials to build four troughs. And it fit in the back of the van.

I also picked up two metal shelf supports to mount in the space between the window panes: I needed something to hang the troughs on, and though I intended to use the little shelf support things that come with the metal rail, they are too wide for my purposes. I found a different solution, which I will explain below.

Next there is the water: most Windowfarms use a pump to get the water from the reservoir at the bottom back up to the top to make another run. Due to the fact that we have a farm and animals, someone is here every day anyhow, so a manual system is workable (I may add a pump for backup in case of long absences – I started playing with airlift the other day but I need more fiddling time). Since gravity feed is our starting assumption, the growing medium needs to be selected to provide reasonable water retention while not drowning the plant roots. And since I’ve got this hanging, it can’t be too heavy, even when wet. And it can’t clog a recirculating system. I found a hydroponics shop in the city and made a trip there to pick up some Hydroton. I also got some rockwool cubes to start the seedlings in, though I will probably use peat pellets later on. Once they have roots sticking out of the cubes they can be nestled in among the Hydroton pellets but for starters, the seedlings need a bit more coddling.

Okay, I had my supplies and it was time to start the construction. The troughs had to be put together by attaching the end caps to each end of the gutter and sealing with silicone, and then drains added by drilling a hole in the bottom of one end and fixing a piece of tubing in place with more silicone.

At the upper left of the window is the top reservoir, where the nutrient solution (water with fertilizer in it: for starters I bought stuff from the hydroponics store, but come summer I will brew up my own with compost tea – I am not doing that now, as it would stink up the house to brew it indoors and it’ll freeze outside!). The reservoir is a black plastic jug that held protein powder, suspended on a curtain rod hanger mounted inside the window frame.

In the bottom of the jug is the business end of an IV drip set: there are some advantages to living in the same household as an EMT when it comes to drip irrigation systems! I just drilled a hole and poked the tip of the dripset in, then sealed it with silicone. Right now the tube is dripping into the bottom plant tray, because the top two trays are empty of plants. Hint: you can buy dripsets online – that’s all you need, not the bag, not the needle, just the dripset.

The troughs are supported by loops of metal cut from an old venetian blind wired to the shelf brackets. By adjusting the length of the loops a bit of an angle can be created so that the water will drain down and do the marble-run thing.

Until the seedlings get roots long enough to reach the bottom of the tray I will need to give them a bit of water through the top of each pot. The hydroton will wick some of the water from the tray, but it’s not a very deep stream of water and they may get thirsty without some help. That’s no big deal as there are only three seedlings so far (I started these a week ago on the window ledge in some peat and vermiculite and repotted them into hydroton yesterday, rinsing off the soilless mix so as not to clog the system).

The other seedlings are in their rockwool cubes in a turkey roasting pan that my husband picked up at the grocery store, on sale for $1.90, complete with plastic lid! It’s the perfect seedling greenhouse, and because the tray is metal, I can set it on top of my gas stove where the pilot lights give off just a bit of warmth. Once those seedlings are established and have roots sticking out of the cubes, they can be nestled in the trays as well, and then we’ll start the water flowing from the top and doing the full marble-run routine.

The system’s been well flushed now, and I think it’s time to mix up the first batch of nutrient solution and feed those little pea seedlings.

I think once the plants are reasonably well established this will work pretty well – until they have roots that can reach the bottom of the water trough, they’ll need some help, which is a problem the traditional Windowfarm design does not have as it is a top-feed drip system, and I’m doing subirrigation. I’ll let you know how it goes … I’m excited to see the window with greenery in it!

 

 

Hydroton / Leca alternative – Growstones

9:01 pm in Uncategorized by Michael Khadavi

I’ve been using this product instead of Hydroton: http://www.growstone.com/horticulture/

It’s made from recycled materials (bottles) and seems to be similar in cost (I purchased a large bag from here: http://www.hydrofarm.com/pb_detail.php?itemid=9630 ).  I was was wondering if anyone else had experiences with it and if they like it or not?

The particle size is larger than hydroton, but I still like it better.  I found it to be on the alkaline side when first used, so I rinse it a few times before use.

Mike

by silox

Video: Progress and 2nd Tower

6:00 am in Completed Window Farms, electronic components, energy consumption, Getting Started, Materials and Resources, Plants, Projects in Process by silox

This video was taken more recently on March 30th, 2010:

silox – 1st Week Progress and 2nd Vertical Plant Tower w/ New Plants – March 30th, 2010

This is an update after the 1st week of growing in the 1st vertical plant tower and after building/planting in the 2nd vertical tower of our hydroponic window farm.

We have learned a few things just in the 1st week of setting up, planting and running our hydroponic window farm that I would like to share with you.

*  Mentioned it in my last post, but I cannot stress enough, water quality is VERY IMPORTANT.  The first couple of days I used our city tap water to power the 1st vertical plant tower(before my first video/blog until 3/22/2010).  This was also before I purchased a simple PH testing kit.  The electronic ones are nice, but I stuck with the manual method using a small container and drops to gauge the PH for costs reasons, plus I don’t think I’ll have to use it that often due to the reservoir sizes and the water I use now.  I tested the PH of the city tap water I was using and it was over 7 which is not good. Aside from an unbalance PH, the city tap water also contains chlorine, flouride, other chemicals and various minerals.  Even though water can be naturally dechlorinated by letting it sit 24-48hrs in an uncovered bucket, you still have to worry about all of the other nasty stuff and the PH of the water.  Now, I could go through the trouble of filtering my water which I may do in some form or fashion in the future, but I find it easier and cheaper to purchase RO(Reverse Osmosis) water locally from 1 of the 2 sources less than a mile away which I did and I can happily say I’m now using it.  Right out of the gate, the PH was perfect and no impurities whatsoever.  An unbalanced PH can cause the plants to stop uptaking some or all nutrients in order to protect itself(from what I’ve read), same with all of the other chemicals inside the water.  We do have some indoor AC units that collect several gallons of condensation daily in collection containers when they are working hard all day to cool down the apartment, so we will probably look into using that water instead when the time comes to keep them on.  We are also considering purchasing an atmospheric water generator such as an Ecoloblue which also collects water from the atmosphere/humidity in the air, but also filters it afterwards which allows it to be used for drinking/cooking etc(7-8 gallons a day!) and the hydro reservoirs.

* Adequate lighting is also very important to keep the plants photosynthesizing which equals produce!  I think it’s probably safe to say that most window farms will probably not have 100% of the needed light to produce as quickly or as much as most people desire, but I could be wrong here.  That is certainly the situation in our setup and while we try to use the natural sunlight when it’s available for a few hours a day, we’ve supplemented to make up for the lack of desired light.  We added a 4ft 54W florescent bulb complete with reflector to our window farm and attached to the sliding glass door facing the vertical plant towers.  We reshaped the reflector to open up and allow for light to be casted almost 180 degrees towards the side of the plants which I believe really helps the light be as efficient as possible and keeping unwanted light from shining out of our window towards the neighbors.  You can tell the plants really are reaching to grow towards the light, so much that I’m going to need to move the vertical plant tower back just a hair to keep them from touching it, hehe.  I have the light on a timer for 12hr on/12hr off(6:30am to 6:30pm).

* Attaching the wooden dowels that support all of the plant containers on the vertical plant tower to the reservior for extra support sounded like a good idea at first, but presented some logistical maintenance problems later on.  We corrected this by mounting a aluminum L bracket (the kind designed to hold up a simple shelf) to the top of the window area so they wooden dowels can held straight up via a hook driven into the top of the dowel and inserted into a hole on the end of the L bracket.  All of the weight of the plants/dowel is resting on the floor via the bottom of the wooden dowel and the hook/L bracket assembly is to keep it from tipping over.  This allows for us to easily move or rotate the vertical plant tower and remove the reservior for water maintenance(water replacment and cleaning).  This will also allow me to move the vertical plant towers back some from the light as I mentioned above with a simple modification or two.

* We are using the caps that came with the bottles and recreated the holes in them to be smaller directly in the middle of the cap.  The plan does not call for these caps AFAIK.  Why did I use them?  To keep water from splashing out of the containers onto the floor.  Without the caps or using caps with large holes in them allows for water to flow unevenly which results in droplets that are thrown out the container and that adds up quickly over a few days.  I recut the caps to use a smaller hole(5mm) and this seems to work very well.

Recap of plants we have growing, locations and dates planted

Plants on 1st vertical tower(far left) from top to bottom – planted on 20100321:
1. Butterleaf Lettuce
2. Green Beans
3. Strawberries
4. Jalapenos

Plants on 2nd vertical tower(middle or right) from top to bottom – planted on 20100330:
1. Brussel Sprouts
2. Cauliflower
3. Broccoli
4. Eggplant

I thought it would be interesting to do a little math on the cost to run the light and pump.  With my current setup(1x 54W florescent light and 1x Petco 9904 pump), assuming a 30day month and $0.15/KWh power rate, it costs a mere approximate of $3.50 a month to run the light 12hrs a day and the pump non-stop.  Not bad!! :D

Our future plan is to put a 3 vertical plant tower in the same window on the far right.  In order to do so, we will need to purchase another 4ft 54W florescent light w/ reflector(lights can be daisy-chained together out of the box), another air pump and 4 more 1.5L Ozarka water bottles.  We pre-purchased all of the other materials with the expectations of creating at least 3 vertical plant towers total.

Will try to post an update in about a week’s time.  Happy window farming!

by silox

Video: Silox’s 1st Tower

5:06 am in Completed Window Farms, Getting Started, Materials and Resources, Plants, Projects in Process by silox

To avoid confusion, this video was taken on Sunday, March 21st, 2010 and was just now uploaded.

silox – Initial Setup and 1st Vertical Plant Tower – March 21st, 2010

The initial setup and after planting in the 1st vertical tower of our hydroponic window farm. Our hydroponic window farm is located in our apartment sliding glass door area somewhere in Texas :) We are very excited to see how our hydroponic window farm turns out and learn from our experiences. We want to use our knowledge we gain from this to setup a much a larger aquaponics setup(aquaculture + hydroponics) down the road when we move into a house.

This configuration is based from the 3-container, air lift instructions found on windowfarms.org.  We tried to get away with 5 containers, but that seemed to be too high for the water to make it(tried 1 and 2 air tubes).  We settled for 4 per tower(1 more than what the plan calls for).  We also tried getting away with just one air pump tube to power this vertical plant tower, but ended up using two like the plans call for.  I think you might be able to get away with using just one if you were to buy separate, better quality one-way air valves instead of using the ones that came with the Petco pump as each one certainly seems to provide different amounts of air resistance (tested by blowing through each one before installation).

What we are using:
- Petco 9904 Air Pump(4 air outlets and kit includes one-way air valves)
- 1 Gallon or more reservior(8L or about 2 gallons in my case)
- Various surgical type tubing, but most importantly reinforced tubing for bringing water from the reservior to the top to prevent kinking in the line
- Wooden dowel to attach 1.5L plastic water bottles to
- Sports ball air needles (1 for each air line coming from Petco air pump)
- 3″ net cups for plants
- Hydroton(or equivalent) expanded clay pellets for growing medium
- 4ft 54W flourescent light bulb w/ ballast and reflector(reshaped to redirect near 180 degrees on one side)
- Timer for light to keep it on 8-12hrs(depends on cycle of plants and natural light availability)
- Water(Qualtify makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE). Get Reverse Osmosis water if at all possible or something equivalent. Make sure PH is right(between 5.5 and 6.5) and it’s pure.
- Botanicare Pure Blend Pro Grow Nutrients(Organic) for all vegitation phases of growth
- Botanicare Pure Blend Pro Bloom(Organic) for fruiting of plants(haven’t used yet and may not be necessary, so we’ll see)

Plants on 1st vertical tower(far left) from top to bottom:
1. Butterleaf Lettuce
2. Green Beans
3. Strawberries
4. Jalapenos

We will try to post an update once a week for now until we at least harvest most of these vegetables to show trials and tribulations to get to that point(we are hopeful we will make it that far, lol)