Beginner Advice

Hi Jason, Lee here from Durban South Africa. Firstly, your site has been invaluable. Thank you. There are a few questions that I need to ask before I get the thing up and running... Will be starting on a very small system till I find my feet. Have opted for the NFT system.

Equipment: 68 litre (16 gallon) reservoir feeding 5 meters (16 feet) of 110 millimetre (4 inch) CYLINDRICAL piping.

Q1: All your diagrams show a square setup. However, I was unable to find square piping big enough, and so opted for cylindrical pipes. Is this still ok? I have bought capillary mats, which I will wrap inside the piping to try disperse the water more evenly around the inside of the pipe.

Q2: I purchased a pump which would (by the time it reaches the start of the system) deliver 12 liters (3 gallons) of water per hour. Is this too much? I read that it should be apx 1 liter per hour...

Q3: Will be using Vermiculite in the pots, will I still need to water this medium once the plants are established, or will they get ALL the water they need from the system?

Q4: I have a very small air pump inside the reservoir. How much air do you think would be suitable. Would it be better if I discarded the air pump and install an inline venturi system instead to deliver the air and keep the reservoir water mixed?

Thanks again for your help with this site, here's looking forward to a successful first attempt :-p

Answer: Lee- round pipe should work just as well as square pipe for this type of hydroponic system. Many drip systems use 1-2 gallons per hour per plant, so a 3 gallon per hour pump for the whole system would seem a bit too small in my opinion. However, test it out with a few plants first before you decide to change may turn out to work very well.

The individual plants, if potted in vermiculite, should draw up plenty of water from the capillary mat. Just to be sure, make sure to keep an eye on them the first time you try the system out. Seeing that you are NOT growing your plants in standing water, the plants should do well whether or not you have an air pump in the nutrient reservoir. The venturi system would probably do a better job at keeping the contents of the reservoir evenly mixed.

One final piece of advice....if using this system outdoors in a hot environment, you may want to consider wrapping the pipes in aluminum foil or tin foil. This reflects most of the sun, and keeps the insides of the pipes from warming up as fast. I hope this helps you out Lee, and Happy Growing!

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Apr 16, 2010
One more Question
by: Lee

Thanks for advice. System is up and running - NO LEAKS !!! Final question, when do I top up with fertilizer? Have bought the powder fertilizer especially for hydroponics. Do I wait for the water to go clear before adding more, or is this a once a week type thing?

Added Response- Lee, as long as you have enough nutrient solution (compared to plants), you would normally check and adjust the nutrient solution strength (and the pH) once a day. The correct amount of nutrient solution is about 1/2 gallon to 1 gallon per plant. If using less than this, you may need to check/adjust your nutrient solution more often.

By the time you plant your first crop, you should be fairly comfortable with your feeding plan. This means, for any particular week of plant growth, you already know what the nutrient solution strength should be. Hopefully you have a TDS meter (or an EC meter) to make testing easy. Simply check the solution once a day, and (if the number is too low) add a little fertilizer. If the number is too high, add a little plain water. Lastly, check the pH of the solution and adjust it if necessary.

After two weeks of managing the nutrient solution in this way, dump out the old solution and start with a freshly mixed batch of nutrient solution. For more detailed information on managing your nutrient solution properly, check out my how to grow hydro page.

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AffordableGarden Design&Setup

(10 week update below)

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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 24 years, and it is the perfect food production solution in my opinion.

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