Because soil is so overrated, seriously.
I hate to write this down, but I will do it anyway: The system is dead, and I am not going to replace any plants anymore. I will try to pot the last couple of plants if they survive the day, and then I am going to shut this project down. When your plant roots start to smell like a swamp, you know it will go down pretty quickly. And if slimer started to invest the pump and clogging up the internals, you know its game-over. So, I decided not to continue this project anymore and consider it a total bust. I might reboot this project when i have a new house, my girlfriend supported me on this idea, so not all hope is lost, however I will do it with a better setup and a better understanding of my failures.
Couple of things for those that want to follow in my footstaps, here are some things that I have been running into and the fixes I have done:
- Ultrasonic misters will heat everything up to a nice 45C, killing all plantlife.
- NPK in an aeroponics system can kill plants pretty quickly
- Be aware that caterpillars will infest your system and eat everything before you had the chance to spot them.
- Keep everything clean. I constantly faced brown goo in my pipes clogging everything up
- Get yourself a decent cooling and water pump, preferrably one with a filter in front.
- Slimer will always lurk in the dark corners, waiting for you to not pay attention and then strike
- Make sure you can carry the water, or have a drainage pipe.
- Be prepared for water leaks. They WILL happen!
- "flexible" pipes are not that flexible as it seems when they are constantly under water.
- Have a backup plan. You will face the problem that stuff starts dying.
- If you cannot keep plants alive for more than 2 weeks, then you are doing something wrong.
- Get someone with experience on board first, before trying something that does not work.
Feel free to comment, discuss and give me ideas for a new project (either aquaponics, vertical garden or aeroponics using a water mist, anything that does not need ultrasonic foggers). I am absolutely sure that the next project will be in a new house, with a new garden and most likely will have a greenhouse so I can try out new things. So, if you happen to stumble on my project, please DO read all my logs, they contain a great source of information and can be really helpful if you want to pursue my dreams...
Goddammit, resetting my "days without failure" board back to 0. One day I am going to build a board like that, but for now, I feel like this project is eating at me. Nothing goes right, and there is always some external force making sure that you cannot wake up and be happy. I am not sure where that stupid animal came from, but it chewed out a lot of the strawberry plants before I finally found it and transported it to a safer location: Next to the pidgeys. Lesson learned: No matter how hard you try, nature will always find a way to fuck with your brain.
Well, one plant died already. Drooping and the next morning I found it dead. Cause unknown. It just shriveled and died. Another plant also started drooping, so I started an investigation and found out that this plant had issues with rotting roots. I quickly cleaned out everything that could cause the rotting, cut off the roots that were completely black and also added a fan on top of the bucket to add some wind, hopefully so that the roots get some fresh air and don't soak themselves to death. Seems that the open window did not provide the airflow the plants needed... Checked this morning, plant is still drooping but I hope that it will recover soon, else I need to get another plant. And i am already currently running out of good usable runners...
So, after a long week of praying and hoping that everything went well, I finally decided to clean the tank, hopefully this time without too much issues. So, I grabbed the second bucket that I use in case of emergencies & when I need to transport them, and realized that some of them have grown little healthy roots. Giving the plant some extra water in the beginning proved to be helpful, since the little plant that was on "drip feed" seemed to have recovered pretty well and stuck the head up after a day or 2, and kept that way.
Cleaning the tank & water pump seemed to be a bit annoying though, since the pump does not seem to pump that quickly anymore. Might be that I need to replace it with a better pump in the future, but for now it seems to work fine.
The plant on the left seemed to start drooping, so had to change the water pump from one guy to the other. Hopefully without too much issues...
Well, apparently hackers don't have green thumbs. At least I don't. Managed to kill the two plants, and this time I know exactly what went wrong. Quick recap of the losses:
1. Water too hot? Plants die. 4 victims.
2. Too much fertilizer? Plants die. 2 victims + heavy casualties in the outdoor garden.
3. Cut the plant off too soon? Plants start to droop. 1 victim in ER, recovering.
4. Just pure clean water? Plants are thriving!
Things I learned: The water cooler works fine. However, I should stop using fertilizer for the moment, and look for better fertilizer, because the junk I have works fine on the peppers, but causes the strawberries to go evil. Some websites recommended cleaning the tank with a solution of bleach. I don't use bleach, in fact I dislike using bleach. So I went for something I used when I was in university and the dorm guys made a mess out of the plans: ChemiPro Oxi. Its used by home-brew beer brewers to clean their tanks, and its supposed to be "food-safe". Cleaned out the pipesystem, cleaned the complete tank (which was a mess of brown goo) and made sure that there was no junk left.
The lower right plant was planted last week, the others were planted yesterday. Note the one on the bottom left, that one was having issues before I planted it in here, now it seemed to pop up its head.
Well, it seems that the plants I put in the aeroponics system are working, and they seem to be working fine. I had to add a lot more water in the system than I anticipated (its almost full) but because of that the fog seems to spread out nicely, even to a point where it goes over the buckets.
The plants I put in are 2 fresh ones, I will put a new picture on here when they have recovered and look better, currently they don't look that well. One of the things I noticed is that the roots need to be soaked in the fog. On my first attempt I put too much pebbles in there, causing most of the roots to be suspended above the fog. After some digging into the wet pebbles and putting the plant lower in the ground, I finally reached a point where the plant finally stuck his crown back up, so I can only assume that my idea worked.
I noticed though that there is some weird goo in the tubes, not sure what it is or what it is causing them, but as long as there is a constant flow of water I don't feel too problematic with it. I do have to make sure that it will not cause too much issues though, so I have to be careful and keep watch on it.
Suggestions on how to proceed are welcome, I was thinking about adding some form of a water sensor in there to detect if the water is still flowing and to measure the temperature, but that might take a while. At this moment when I come home the water feels cold to the touch, so the heat exchange does seem to do its job pretty well and makes sure that the water stays aerated and cool. Nice hint for those with hot water issues: Try to cool the water down using airflow, works better than buying a 70-100 USD chiller...
I have been trying the system for a while now, and it seems like everything is working as expected. The water level is kept at a steady temperature, and it does not seem to heat up anymore. Hurray for that!
The outdoor plants are making nice strawberries right now, however the snails thought the same thing and started chewing on them as soon as they turn red. I had to remove a LOT of small snails every morning, hopefully that won't be a bit of an issue later on. I do have to mention that they are currently producing the new batch that will be used in my hydroponics system, hopefully it wield more success than the last batch I had in there. One of the things that I do notice and most likely need to be changed in a future version is that the pump works best if its a peristaltic pump (the one that is used for pumping food liquids etc). This pump is a bit noisy and I am not sure how long it will take before the system will eventually grind to a halt. When the clay pellets seems to get wet due to the water vapor they start to dispense a very fine dust. The transparant pipes seem to have gotten a bit brown, but as long as the system keeps pumping I am not replacing it with something else.
"Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong" - Murphy's law
Somehow my water outlet managed to get himself unstuck during the day and decided to go haywire. Leaving everything in a nice watery pool. On top of that, when I came home and found the whole pool of water, I did not suspect my attic to be THAT hot... No airconditioning there, so sweating like hell while trying to mop the floor. Luckely no power shortage or anything like that, just a lot of water spilled everywhere except for the power supply. Gotta be more careful next time. I also suspect that my beer suffered the same fate as my plants. It has never been so hot in that stupid attic as these last couple of weeks!
Well, one of the things I have learned: Cooling systems are crucial if you want your plants to survive. It took me some time, but I got myself a cooling system. Yes, you heard it: I am cooling the water. When the plants were dead, I realized one simple yet problematic thing: The fogger tends to heat up the water (even though it is not supposed to). And if the water becomes too hot, the plants will curl up and die...
So, I did what every respectable hacker would do: I thought about a good way to cool down the system. Which would take me a fridge, a peltier element and a lot of other components... Which would set me back over 100 euro for the fridge setup alone (70 euro for a cooling unit, 30 usd shipping, piping material and a water pump). Then, I realized: What if I use the same system that I want to use for another project of mine? So, I went out, ordered some stuff, gutted out an old computer that I did not use anymore and voila, it works. Do note that you need access to plumber tape though, just in case.
Its working now for 3 days without any problems. What you see in the picture is the new system that I built. What you don't see in the picture are 2 little plants that I manage to salvage from another gardening project (growing peppers), with a bit of luck they will survive and show me that it will work better than their counterparts downstairs.
There are currently 2 fans cooling down the radiator. I did not turn on the third fan, since it is very loud and noisy. It does however work really well to cool down the radiator, just in case the water temperature starts to rise to malicious levels... I have to design a good way for this. The hard drive is just there to provide a ballast to the power unit, you don't want to have them running without at least a good source of power drain.
Next thing on my list is to add a power meter to see how much power I am actually using, but at this moment it seems like everything is working perfectly. The water is chilled down to acceptable levels, however I still need to find a way to make it a bit more permanent and to make sure that the system is being controlled by some sort of controller, so that I don't have to power this on for a long period of time and actually save energy.
When I started this project I would not expect to run into problems this soon, but I did. I am not sure if its just me NOT having green thumbs, or if is just a lack of knowledge (my last biology class was too many years ago). My plants were going weak, started to shrivel and since yesterday dark brown spots started to appear on all the plants, despite my best efforts to find out the cause of the problem. Most websites suggested that it had to do with funghi or infection, but these plants were healthy and their brothers/sisters were sitting outside and doing great.
Then it struck me. How much SUN are they receiving per day? Aren't they getting a heatstroke? Apparently they are sitting in full bright sun for the most of their day, behind glass, getting toasted by the sunny weather while their leaves are getting wet by the fog which is leaking out. Took them into a more "shaded" area, hopefully this will help them get a bit less stressed out. Hopefully they won't die, would be a quick ending of an otherwise promising project...
I bet that people will say "you idiot!", but I am not the guy with a green thumb... I am a software engineer with a soldering iron and crazy ideas.
First step is to get some strawberry plants and all the components you need. You can either get them from the store, but I got them directly from my garden.
Drill the holes: For these plants you need to drill holes around 12cm in diameter. It depends a bit on your personal preference how you want to drill them, but note that plastic can be rather tough for drilling.
Put the pots in the holes. If you have done it correctly, then you have now the basis for your aeroponics system. All you need now is to place it at a sunny position for your plants to have the most light (either by the window or under a light bulb)