The more people we have on this planet, the more food we need. Naturally, this extends to water, another precious resource that generally plays a part in farming and food production. And honestly, we’d probably all eat a little better if it were really easy to grow healthy things like spinach. Well, that excuse doesn’t work anymore, thanks to [J Gleyzes]’ Ultratower. It’s a simple-to-use hydroponic tower that uses recycled mist to water plants, ultimately saving water in the process.
The ‘ultra’ part is a function of the way mist is created. In this case, it’s done with three piezoelectric disks mounted under a tank in the top of the PVC tube. Stick up to twelve plants in the little cubbies, and their roots will grow down the inside, where they’ll receive a fine shower of water at your command. Water that runs off the roots collects in a small tank at the bottom, where a pump starts the process over again.
At first, [J Gleyzes] had trouble with the piezo disks — using 1.7MHz disks created too much heat, warming the water up to nearly 40°C (104°F). Since cooking the spinach prematurely would be bad, they experimented with other values, finally landing on 108KHz. Be sure to check out the video after the break.
Hydroponic systems are an increasingly popular way to grow plants indoors using a minimum of resources. Even some commercial farming operations are coming online using hydroponic growing techniques, as these methods consume much less water, land area, and other resources than traditional agricultural methods. The downside is that the required lighting systems often take an incredible amount of energy. That’s why [ColdDayApril] set up a challenge to grow a plant hydroponically using no more than a single watt.
The system is set up to grow a single pepper plant in what is known as a deep-water culture, where the plant is suspended in a nutrient solution which has everything it needs to grow. The lightning system is based around the Samsung LM301B which comes close to the physical limits for converting electricity into white light and can manage around 220 lumens. A special power supply is needed for these low-power diodes, and the light is efficiently directed towards the plant using a purpose-built reflective housing. By placing this assembly very close to the plant and adjusting it as it grows, [ColdDayApril] was able to take the pepper plant from seed to flowering in 92 days.
It’s worth noting that the rest of the system uses a little bit of energy too. A two watt fan helps circulate some air in the hydroponic enclosure, and deep-water systems usually require an air pump to oxygenate the water which uses another two watts. This is still an impressive accomplishment as most hobbyist builds use lighting systems rated in the hundreds of watts and use orders of magnitude more energy. But, if you’re willing to add some fish into the system you can mitigate some of the energy requirements needed for managing the water system even further.
[Billy] has a special interest in passive hydroponics (also known as the Kratky method), which is a way of growing plants in nutrient-rich water that does not circulate. As the plant grows and liquid level drops, only the tips of the roots remain submerged while more and more of the root surface is exposed to oxygen in a harmonious balance. However, “thirsty” plant types (tomatoes, for example) throw off this balance, and the system needs to be modified. To address this, [Billy] designed and printed a passive float valve system that takes care of topping up the reservoir only when needed, without using pumps or any other electrical equipment.
Commercial or industrial float valves are too big to use in his small tanks, which led [Billy] to test dozens of DIY designs. He used everything from plastic water bottles to pipe ends, but nothing quite measured up. With 3D printing, [Billy] was able to create a sealed, lightweight float that exactly matched the housing and tube locations.
The way [Billy]’s float valve works is by using a hollow object as a kind of buoyant plug inside a housing. When the water level is high, the buoyant object rises up and presses a strip of silicone against an outlet, preventing water from flowing. If the water level is low, the buoyant plug drops and water is free to flow. With a reservoir of fresh nutrient-rich water placed above the grow tank, gravity takes care of pushing a fresh supply down a tube, so no active pump is needed. Combined with a passive float valve, the system pretty much runs itself.
Watch [Billy] give a tour of his system and valve design in the video embedded below. He’s got a lot of experience when it comes to working with projects involving liquids. Only someone as comfortable as he is would make his own DIY dishwasher.
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.
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.
Microgreens, also known as vegetable confetti, are all the rage in fancy restaurants around the globe. Raised from a variety of different vegetable seeds, they’re harvested just past the sprout period, but before they would qualify as baby greens – usually 10-14 days after planting. There’s a variety of ways to grow microgreens, and [Mr Ben] has developed a 3D printed rig to help.
The rig consists of two parts – a seed tray and a water tray underneath. The seed tray consists of a grid to house the broccoli seeds to be grown, with small holes in each grid pocket to allow drainage. They’re sized just under the minimum seed size to avoid the seeds falling through, and also provide a path for root growth. Beneath the seed tray, the water tray provides the required hydration for plant growth, and helps train the roots downward.
[Mr Ben] notes there are some possible improvements to the design. He suggests PETG would be the ideal filament to use for the prints, as it is foodsafe unlike PLA and ABS. Additionally, precautions could be taken to better seal the water tray to avoid it becoming a breeding ground for insects.
[Todd Christell] grows tomatoes in hydroponic buckets in his backyard, and recently he suffered a crop loss when a mechanical timer failed to dispense the nutrient flow as directed. He decided the solution was to add a sensor array to his home network.
[Todd]’s home automation setup runs on a Raspberry Pi loaded with Jessie OS and Node-Red, with Mosquitto as his MQTT message broker. With a sensor network in place, [Todd] would get updates on his phone alerting him if there was a problem with the pumps or if the nutrient bath was getting too low.
The proposed hydroponic setup would consist of an ESP8266-12 equipped with a DS18B20 waterproof temperature sensor, a reed sensor detecting nutrient levels, and a relay board triggering one pump to fill the grow buckets from the main sump and another to top off the sump with the solution from a reserve tank. One early problem he encountered was the electric fence (pictured above) that he employs to keep squirrels away from his tomatoes, interfered with the ESP8266’s signal.
The idea is to have pods mounted on a rotating assembly, similar to the carriages on a Ferris Wheel. By rotating the wheel slowly, each pod spends a certain amount of time submerged, and a certain amount of time in free air. This allows the water level to remain constant and only the pods need to move.
The tank for the build is a simple plastic storage bin from a local hardware store, with the wheel assembled from various odds and ends and laser cut components, making this a build very possible for those with access to a hackerspace. A stepper motor provides the motive power, with the assembly completing approximately one rotation per hour.
[Peter] has run the device for several months now, noting that there are issues with certain plants maintaining their hold to the wheel, as well as algae growth in the water medium. There’s room for development but overall, it’s a great build and we hope [Peter] will be serving up some delicious fresh salads soon.