Hardware Store Hydroponics

Science fiction movies often portray horticulture in the future, be it terrestrial or aboard spacecraft, with hydroponic gardens overflowing with leafy greens and brightly colored fruit. There is no soil, just clear water that hints at future-people creating a utopia of plant strains untethered from their earthly roots.

This star-faring food production method is not fiction if you forego the polycarbonate tubing, neon accent lights, and gardening robots. For his 2020 Hackaday Prize entry, [AVR] shares how he creates a bed for sixteen plants with parts sourced at a nearby home-improvement store. It may lack the visual pizzaz of the Hollywood versions, but it will grow soil-less crops on a hacker budget.

The starting point for this build is a sturdy wooden base. The PVC tubing and fence parts on top are light, but the water inside them will get heavy, and if you grow large plants, they become surprisingly heavy. Speaking of water, the sub-category of hydroponics this falls under is Nutrient Film Technique, or NFT, which uses a shallow stream of water laden with all the nutrients for plant growth. The square fence posts provide a flat top for mounting mesh cups where the plants grow and a flat bottom where the stream continuously flows. A basin and pump keep the plants refreshed and fed until they are ready for harvest.

Compile A Hydroponics System From Source

Tending to a garden is usually a rewarding endeavor, as long as there is good soil to work with. If there isn’t, it can either get frustrating quickly having to deal with soils like sand or hard clay, or it can get expensive by having to truck in compost each year. Alternatively, it’s possible to set up systems of growing plants that don’t need any soil at all, although this requires an automated system otherwise known as hydroponics to manage water and nutrients sent to the plants.

This setup by [Kyle] is unique in that it uses his own open-source software which he calls Mycodo to control the hydroponic system. It is loaded onto a Raspberry Pi 4 (which he notes can now be booted from a USB drive instead of an SD card) which controls all of the peripherals needed for making sure that the water has the correct amount of nutrients and chemical composition.

The build is much more than just a software control panel, though. [Kyle] walks through every part of setting up a small hydroponic system capable of effectively growing 15-20 plants indoors. He grows varieties of lettuce and basil, but this system can work for many more types of plants as well. With just slight variations, a similar system can not only grow plants like these, but fish as well.

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Adding Mobile Control To Your Gardening

[The Cheap Vegetable Gardener] wanted to check in on his garden from the road so he wrote a control app for his WinPhone. The hardware work is already done; having been built and tested for quite some time.

The implementation comes in two parts, both shown in the chart above. The grow box is behind a firewall as you don’t want random folks turning on the water and grow lights on a whim. The first part of the interface takes care of this separation by providing a set of functions on the host machine. The second portion is the phone app itself which calls those functions and displays all the pertinent information from the status of the lights, heater, exhaust, and water pump, to the current temperature and humidity. He’s even used Google Charts to graph data over time. The app itself took about two hours to code with no prior experience, a testament to the level of approachability these tools are gaining.

Greenhouse Guard

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[Seth King] sent in his latest hack where he used an Arduino to regulate various aspects of a greenhouse. He has sensors for soil and air temperature as well as light and moisture. He built a custom circuit that uses relays to power fans, lights, and heaters. Using timers and the sensor data, the devices can be triggered to create the perfect environment for sprouts. He hopes to make the whole thing wireless by integrating XBees, but for now he ran a USB cord to his computer.

Related: Automatic grow light

Automated Plant Growing

The Cheap Vegetable Gardener sent us his fully automated grow chamber project. In the quest to have fresh strawberries year round, they’ve made some progress in the area of automating their plant care. The whole thing is controlled by a computer that can turn on/off the lights and adjust the temperature. It also takes snapshots and logs the environment conditions so you can chart it all out nicely. The automated watering feature isn’t done yet, but hopefully will be soon.