Alright, so you’re thinking you’re ready to try this. Here are a few things I suggest you keep in mind:
1. First things first, don’t overcomplicate things. When we started planning our set-up, we created CAD drawings to design and build a standalone structure out of PVC pipe to support all the lights and bins so that it could be completely custom and we could break it down and easily ship it whenever we moved. The problems with all that? It would have been a couple hundred bucks for the PVC pipe we’d need for the structure. We’d have to custom order certain joints to build it. Once it was built it would have been impossible to alter without buying and cutting more pipe. It was pretty ridiculous. Fortunately, we had a moment of clarity and realized we could make everything much easier if we just put the garden on a large, fold-up table from Costco and mounted the LED lights from the rafters in our unfinished basement. So don’t make it complicated.
2. Consider how much you want to grow and what you want to grow. It’s important to think about how much space your hydroponic garden will require so that you can plan where to put it. Will you have just a couple basil, cilantro, or pepper plants or do you plan to grow substantially larger collard greens, zucchini, or red swiss chard which will require much more space. This brings me to my next point…
3. Figure out where you will set up your hydroponics. You can get creative here, but keep in mind that hydroponic gardens mean you’ll be using water (kind of obvious, but bear with me). We have spilled. We’ve had irrigation lines leak. We’ve accidentally turned on the water pump while testing the set-up and had water go everywhere. In other words, make sure you put this somewhere where you aren’t going to be royally hosed should you get into your own water-related mess (in other words, don’t put it in your living room, on carpet, next to Grandma’s china cabinet, etc). An unfinished basement, laundry room, or even garage are good options. That said…
4. Keep in mind the temperature of the space where you plan to create your garden. Some plants need warmer/colder temperatures. Your grow lights can help heat up your plants, but no amount of lighting will make it warm enough in your unheated garage for basil to grow in the middle of a Canadian winter. Just like there’s little you could do to cool down your hot garage enough in the middle of a Texas summer to make your cilantro happy.
5. You also want to make sure a water source and drain are near your garden so that whenever you have to add water to your system or dispose of water, you don’t have to lug a big bucket of water through your house.
6. It can be a bit expensive to buy everything when you’re getting started (buying the lights in particular), but know that once it is all set-up your costs drop dramatically. All you’re left with are nutrients for your system, the energy to run your set-up, and seeds. A bottle of nutrients lasts a long time, the energy your set-up requires is minimal, and there are so many seeds in each pack that you won’t have to buy more for a while.
7. You don’t have to buy a pre-fab kit to start your garden. If we’d done that, a kit the size of our set-up could cost over $4,000! In the next few posts I’ll be detailing how we built our hydroponic system almost entirely out of items you can find at your local hardware and pet store.
When it comes to our garden, we knew we had quite a few plants we wanted to grow and we happened to have a perfectly-sized niche in our unfinished basement that was large enough for a large, fold-up table that could accommodate multiple plants and still have room for us to walk all the way around the table and have easy access to every part of our set-up. There’s not a bit of carpet downstairs (thankfully) so any water spills are easily cleaned up with just a towel. Our basement is cool in the summer and in the winter we have some electric baseboard heaters that keep the temperature cool, not freezing. We have also mounted Reflectix (a thin reflective insulation) around our entire garden space which not only reflects all of the light from our LED grow lights, but also keeps our growing area a bit warmer than the rest of the basement. Finally, we have a large utility sink in the corner of our basement giving us easy access to a water source and drain.