Do It Yourself .. A Simple System.

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Header pipe and "U" tube at inlet end.
Click the image to enlarge.



One view of side rail and pipes.
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Another view of side rail and pipes.
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The Author's sump tank. The yellow device is the float switch, which turns the pump on and off.
Click the image to enlarge.



The Author's sump pump removed from the sump tank.
Click the image to enlarge.
Before building your hydroponic system, you will need the following:
  • At least six hours sunlight each day with a Northerly aspect in the Southern hemisphere (or a Southerly aspect in the Northern hemisphere).
  • A 200 Litre plastic drum to hold the nutrient solution. This will easily hold sufficient nutrient for more than eight modules. (The Author has eight pipe modules plus two larger concrete troughs for growing tomatoes, all fed from a 200 Litre plastic drum.)
  • An electric pump for the nutrient solution with a discharge pipe at least 32 mm NB (nominal bore) diameter.
  • An electronic timer for the pump, preferably one with a built-in battery to hold the settings if the power fails.
  • A sump tank to run all drains into if building on the ground and drainage height is a problem.
  • A sump pump that can deliver drained nutrient solution up to the nutrient tank or divert drainings to another tank in the event of wet weather. Diversion is necessary to prevent too much rain water excessively diluting the nutrient solution in the main nutrient tank.
  • Plastic pipe (32 mm NB) from the pump to the distribution header, and for draining each module's water box back to the nutrient tank or sump tank if you are using one.
  • 12.5 mm copper service pipe U-tubes (one per module).
  • 160 mm plastic storm water pipe for the growing tubs (one 6 metre pipe will give two modules), to be mounted in an elevated position (above the pump height and above the nutrient height in the main tank).
  • A sturdy frame or support for the growing tubs (pipes). The Author has hot-dipped galvanized tube frames, for long life.
  • Plastic electrical conduit for distribution of nutrient solution to the growing tubs. 12.5 mm copper service pipe needs to be a force-fit in the conduit.
  • PVC solvent cement for joining pipes (not all joints are cemented; some are greased to allow the joint to be taken apart).

METHOD.

Cut the bell end off the 160 mm plastic storm water pipe, then measure it for length and cut into two equal length pieces. This will give two growing modules.

With each module (half-length pipe), mark out areas to be cut out, leaving at least two bridges along the pipe and bridges at each end. Please see the drawing below.



Click the image to enlarge.

Leaving the bridges is necessary to keep the pipe round. The cut-outs can be taken out with a router or a jig saw.

To plug the ends, make disks out of lighter gauge 100 mm plastic storm water pipe.

Method:

Cut 180 mm off a 100 mm pipe, then slit it down one side with tin snips or a hacksaw. Now dip it in near-boiling water until it softens, then flatten it out and put a flat board such as a breadboard on it, then stand on the board until the plastic cools. When it cools (it will still stay flat), use a pair of dividers or compasses to draw a circle equal to the inside diameter of your 160 mm pipe. Then cut out carefully with a fine toothed saw to the required diameter. Three disks are needed for each module ... one at each end to seal the ends and one to form the water box. This last disk is drilled with many holes and eventually covered on the sand side with fiberglass mesh to retain the sand media. Please see the drawing below.



Click the image to enlarge.

To fit the end disk, insert it as you would a butterfly valve, then rotate it to position, tapping with a small hammer if necessary. Glue in with PVC solvent cement, both sides. Likewise, fit the perforated plate and glue it in. Cut a circle of fiberglass fly screen and glue that on the sand side of the perforated disk with PVC solvent cement.

To fit the drain tube, cut a hole in the 160 mm pipe, on the bottom side midway between the end plate and the perforated plate, with a hole saw. The drain tube should be 32 mm NB and no longer than 150 mm, as its bottom end fits into the bell end of a removable (un-glued) pipe below it. Carefully determine your desired sand height, then lower the tube about ten mm, then mark the tube and withdraw it, then drill three 1/8 inch holes around the tube such that the holes will drain the water box. Next, fit the drain tube and glue it in with PVC solvent cement. Note: This height is 10 mm below the height in the illustration above. The Author has found better drainage at this new and lower level.

Each module needs an electrical conduit pvc tube (NB about 12 mm) the same length as the module, to be the nutrient distibution tube. It should be drilled every 100 mm with an 1/8 inch hole to distribute nutrient solution (keep these holes in a straight line). 12 mm copper service pipe should be an interference fit in this tube. Block one end with about 50 mm of copper tube, flattened on one end and folded in a vice to seal it. Fit the inlet end with about 120 mm of copper tube, jammed on about 40 mm (softening with hot water first will help). Clip this distribution tube on to the side of the module with brass straps and brass screws and orient the holes so that they squirt nutrient solution to the middle of the 160 mm pipe module.

The next thing to consider is the header pipe. It is the last big pipe coming from the pump and feeds each module's distribution tube with nutrient solution. It needs one outlet per module, which must be mounted on the top side of the header pipe. This way, the pump pushes the trapped air out first, followed by nutrient solution. If the outlets were mounted on the bottom side of the header, there is no way of controlling the flow.

METHOD:

Carefully drill a 1/2 inch hole in the header pipe opposite each module. Now, carefully ream it out until a piece of electrical conduit about 50 mm long will be a force fit in the hole.

Next, cut a 250 mm length of copper pipe and bend it in a spring bender into a "U" shape with legs equal in length. Warm up the 50 mm length of electrical conduit and force it over one end of the copper "U" tube. Now, fit the electrical conduit end into the hole in the header pipe and glue in with PVC solvent cement.

The copper "U" tube is joined to the nutrient distribution tube with a suitable length of plastic garden hose. The header pipe and the inlet to the distribution tube are on the opposite end of the module from the water box, which is the drain end. Please see the following sketch to clarify the description above.



Click the image to enlarge, and compare it with the top photograph on the left hand side.

A competent handyman should be able to fit 32 NB PVC pipe from the pump to the header pipe, and from the water box drain tube back to the 200 Litre nutrient solution tank or to a sump tank if you are using one. Plan your setup before you start building it and allow a few universal joints here and there so that the system can be dismantled for modification. With the Author's system, the riser tubes below the water boxes are not glued; they are merely greased so they can be pulled apart if necessary.

Please be sure to read Hints for Success (the second last page). It gives some very handy advice on tuning up your system, and reveals some of the "tricks of the trade".

If you need clarification on any points, please feel free to E-mail me.

The next page is a brief discussion on the choice of growing media.

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