Vertical Hydroponic Gardens

by Bambi Perez
(Knobel, AR.)

I have a couple small greenhouses in which I grow my bedding plants. I would like to grow vertical produce for my family all year. I have very little space. Do you know how to set up a vertical hydroponic garden that I could grow lettuces, spinach, herbs and such in? Thank you for your help, Bambi



Answer:

Growing a hydroponic garden vertically may pose an extra challenge (obviously), but can be done a few different ways. If you are creative, hands on, and like to problem solve, then your system will only be limited to your ingenuity (and possibly your patience). Any homemade hydroponic system is a work in progress, where you begin with a basic idea and will usually have to make adjustments and/or changes along the way.

The most important thing to keep in mind are the requirements of your plants...as long as these needs are met, your system design will work fine. The system needs to provide:

1.water for the roots
2.oxygen for the roots
3.nutrients (in the water)
4.physical support for the plants

All hydroponic systems have a nutrient reservoir, where all of the water (and nutrients) for the system are kept. In different ways, nutrients are moved to the plants' roots, and then allowed to drain back to the nutrient reservoir. A vertical hydroponic system will be no different. In the system pictured above, a low pressure pump constantly fills the PVC pipe at the top of the garden with nutrient solution.

A hose at the other end of the pipe, placed high, maintains the standing water level in the tube while allowing the overflow to drain down into the next PVC tube (and so on). An air pump and air stone in the nutrient reservoir keep the nutrient solution oxygenated, providing enough oxygen to the plant roots. The system design is similar to my most successful homemade hydroponic system, only adapted to grow in a vertical fashion.

I can forsee a couple of problems with this setup. First, you would have to keep the pipes level because of the standing water in the pipes. Second, 4 inch PVC pipes with standing water in them can weigh quite a lot.

Another option would be to use 4 inch rockwool cubes with a drip system, perhaps in PVC rain gutters for drainage. A drip system would require a water pump that operates with higher pressure, which may increase the chance of leaking. Also, drip systems are notorious for clogging (although using an in-line filter will reduce the problem). Finally, any system where you have to replace the grow medium each crop, like rockwool, will be more expensive to operate. The extra expense may not be worth it, especially if you are just growing lettuce.

My final suggestion is what I would probably do myself...consider an aeroponic system. While the one on the following aeroponic system page is made horizontal, it would only take a little modification to make it into a vertical system. With no standing water, the pipes in the system will be much lighter. Also, you won't have to buy new grow medium with each new crop.

The only drawback is that the above system is based on a high pressure water pump. If you want some ideas about building a low pressure aeroponics system, check out this post I wrote to another visitor. In the last two paragraphs I go over some ideas for a new system design. Just keep in mind...no matter how you design your system, you will still need to maintain your nutrient reservoir properly and provide proper lighting/temperature control. Good luck, and happy growing!

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Find out the cheapest and easiest ways to garden productively in this article.

Hi everyone, Jason from Jason's Indoor Guide here. When I got started with hydroponic gardening more than 22 years ago, my first garden used rockwool cubes and B.C. Nutrients....and I remember thinking to myself yeah, sure, there may be a lot of advantages to gardening with hydroponics, for example there are very few pest problems, therefore very little pest control, no weeding, no plowing or tilling the soil, no soil testing or having to add things into the garden soil, no watering the garden....but for someone who just wants to grow their own vegetables and have more control over their food supply and the quality of the food that they eat, the cost of constantly having to buy grow media and hydroponic nutrients makes this an expensive hobby for most people.

I suppose when you take into consideration how much money you save NOT having to buy food at the grocery store, it is surely cheaper to grow your own food hydroponically even with the cost of high quality nutrients. Nevertheless, I didn't have a whole lot of money to work with and I needed to make my efforts as affordable and effective as possible....and in the last 20 years I HAVE learned a thing or two!

As you browse through Jason's Indoor Guide, you will notice all of the systems that I use personally are homemade systems. As I got 3 or 4 years of experience under my belt, I quickly adopted a preference to standing water systems and systems that use expanded clay pellets or lava rock, because the media is re-usable and it eliminates a huge operating expense. So once a hydroponic system is built, garden maintenance is minimal- check and adjust the nutrient solution daily, and to change it completely every 2 weeks....and the biggest operating cost is the hydroponic nutrients. (and the electric bill, lol).

And, regarding the cost of the nutrients....I experimented for about 3 years with making different compost teas and nutrient teas, but there is still a lot of expense $$$ associated with making high quality nutrient teas....like kelp meal, liquid seaweed, rock dust, bat guano, un-sulfured molasses, worm castings. You can eliminate a lot of this expense by becoming an expert at making high-quality colloidal humus compost, and use your properly made compost as the basis of your hydroponic nutrient solution.



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Unfortunately, I have been gardening for over 20 years and I have only just recently mastered this difficult skill....and even then, only because I happened to find a very easy to follow, high quality technique and decided to follow the instructions to the letter. I produced more high quality compost in just one week than I was able to use in a whole year! I highly recommend it. It is one of the top 3 things you can do to increase the productivity of your food production efforts, while at the same time decreasing the amount of effort required to grow all of your own food, and decreasing the total cost of operating your food production system.

And when I say decrease operating costs, I mean decrease them to almost ZERO, especially if you are producing your own nutrients.


High Efficiency
Hydroponics

One final solution to eliminate the cost of your hydroponic nutrients: Imagine a hydroponic system that does not require you to buy any nutrients, does not require you to make your own compost, and does not require you to brew your own nutrient tea. Seriously! No cost and no effort as far as providing nutrients to your plants is concerned. Plus, at the end of the gardening cycle, you harvest all of your garden vegetables, PLUS YOU HARVEST FISH from the system!


Aquaponics

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This solution is aquaponics. If you are serious about producing all of your own food and being self-sufficient, this is the ultimate solution for reducing expenses (as much as possible), reducing the total amount of work required, and maximizing the productivity of your gardening efforts. I have been gardening for over 20 years, and it is the perfect food production solution in my opinion.


Produce garnden vegetables AND fish together. Eliminate fertilizer costs!

Besides mastering how to make high quality compost, learning aquaponics is one of the top 3 things you can do to increase your garden productivity, reduce your total costs, and reduce your total work. The product that I learned from is called Aquaponics4you. With all of my hydroponic gardening experience, the first time I came across the Aquaponics4you product I knew immediately that it was something very special! Place an aquaponics system outdoors and use the sun instead of grow lights, and you have reduced every garden expense to nearly ZERO!


High Efficiency
Soil Gardening

This is where my advice ends for people growing in water. But some of you out there are in love with soil gardening and organic gardening, and rightly so! It's a pro-human activity. It is pro-conservation. It is pro-life. It nurtures and promotes life at all levels, from the micro-organisms to beneficial insects, to healthy humans. It's natural. it's spiritual. Gardening is written deeply into our DNA, like how you feel watching a bonfire or sitting by the ocean or next to a river.

My friend John at Food4Wealth has more than 20 years experience organic gardening, so he reminds me a lot of myself. He knows organic gardening like I know hydroponic gardening, and over the years he has learned just about every trick there is to organic gardening. He knows what makes the plants grow, and he knows how to do it with as little effort as humanly possible. His garden never needs digging, naturally repels pests, has no weeds, always produces more than his family is able to eat, produces vegetables everyday all year round, and....only requires 8 HOURS of light, easy effort PER YEAR!


Low effort organic gardening!

Years and years of experience and results can't be argued with....the Food4Wealth gardening strategy is one of the top 3 things you can do to increase your productivity, reduce your total costs, and reduce your total work....specifically for organic gardeners who love soil gardening. THIS is the most efficient and productive way to do organic gardening, period! And combined with the ability to make a years' worth of colloidal humus compost in just one week (see World's Best Compost), this overall organic soil gardening strategy is just unstoppable- foolproof, low cost, and low effort!

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