Hand-Crafted Automated Hydroponics

Hi everybody!! Long time hydroponics enthusiast, I’ve been tinkering with NFT and DWC setups for the better part of a decade now. I found my passion for high tech gardening in high school and got my degree in Controlled Environment Horticulture from CSU.

A year ago I was hired at a Denver based startup where they were prototyping an off grid self sustaining hydroponic greenhouse for food production. We failed to raise money and they shut down a few month ago.

Not ready to work for someone else again, I’m going to try it out all on my own!

Now, down to the stuff you are interested in.

Frame is made out of basic wood, woodworking skills are getting better with each unit! There is a 1x4 plastic grow tray to contain the water for each level and laser cut HDPE algae resistant lids with 20 holes each, so water is never near the wooden frame. Each site has a 3D printed locking mechanism so mature and heavy plants don’t tip over.

This is all controlled by a ras pi 4operating Mycodo. 48v quantum LED strips ordered directly from Shenzhen, driven by 1000ma dc-dc Meanwell drivers. 60 available watts to each 40" strip. A level on full output can hit 800+ ppfd at 8".

All sensors are from Atlas Scientific, as well as the 4 peristaltic pumps.
I’ve got a relay controlling a 120v submersible pond pump and a UV light, both located in the bottom reservoir box.

Mycodo has been a wonderful beginners journey into the world of IoT hardware devices. Kyle’s detailed guides helped me along the whole way, and to him, I/we owe a great deal of gratitude.

I have goals on building about a dozen of these systems over the next year, units headed to local businesses, such as a craft pizza shop here in Denver, and units headed to friends and family. I have plans on making non automated versions, and non hydroponic versions intended for the outdoors.

I still have ambitions for updating the Mycodo end of this project. For instance, if I wanted to change the lighting schedule, lighting intensity, or nutrient profile, I would have to get onto my Mycodo page and head to edit my functions. Totally fine for me, but I intend to give these to friends and family, specifically my mom. I need a way for her to interact with these basic parameters in a non “under the hood” way. I’m not experienced in this type of UI request, but would really like to find someone to help me get to my goal of “plug and play” for good ole moms sake.

First post ever, so I’m hoping I included the picture correctly!
If you would like to follow along we are @customcultivations on instagram.

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Looks great, congrats!!

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I worked in manufacturing for a while… Just out of curiosity, what is your total cost per unit for materials? And how many labor hours does it take to fabricate and finish the complete frame? Is the cost comparable to something like this?

Why not use something like this for the frame instead?

You’re only using a UV light in the tank? No oxygenation? So that kills all the bacteria, including any beneficial bacteria? And no air pump for agitation and oxygenation? How are the plant roots getting O2? With no agitation in the tank, what prevents mosquitoes from breeding in there? You’d need a pretty serious (and expensive) UV light to kill mosquito larvae.

Also curious, looks like you have maybe a 10-15 gallon reservoir? When your shelves are all full of mature plants, how many gallons per day of water loss from transpiration are you observing? I bet it’s easily 3-4 gallons per day since the unit isn’t closed in and running humidity control. How do you top off the tank every day to prevent the nutrient solution EC from skyrocketing? Is there a tank-level sensor?

Personally, I am growing and now breeding my own cannabis. So having Mycodo and a few really cheap sensors is worth the cost and the learning curve for me because it would cost me $200 an ounce buying it at a dispensary as opposed to about $10 per ounce growing it at home. My small home-made system only cost about $300-400 total using recycled items and cheap off-the-shelf parts from local hardware stores and Amazon, so the system has already paid for itself several times over. But for growing salad greens and herbs, I can’t see the return on investment ever balancing out with one of these multi-thousand-dollar “appliance-type” hydroponics systems considering how cheap greens are at the grocery store, especially when you start factoring in maintenance like calibrating peristaltic pumps and re-calibrating and replacing expensive EC and pH probes on a regular basis. Unfortunately, most end-users are not going to want to deal with that kind of stuff :frowning:

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Hi, thanks for your detailed response. I’ll try and address all your points.

So the frame is made of basic lumber, a 3 level system as shown is about a hundred dollars. I have thousands of dollars in woodworking tools and years of woodworking experience, but anyone with a saw and hammer could technically build this!

Compared to rise gardens cost of $1,100, my total cost of materials is much less.

I’ve been using wire racks and hydroponic systems together for almost a decade now. It works, absolutely, but it is super ugly, and nowhere near as beautiful as a quality handbuilt frame.

Yes, no air pump is correct, but i have plenty of oxygen in the system. We’ve been using this particular system for about a year with no problems of mosquitos or any other oxygen related problems.

8 gallon reservoir. Transpiration is certainly a factor, my house humidity is around 40%, but even completely full of plants I only can use max 2 gallons of water, and I believe 60-80% of water uptake is turned into transpiration? So less than your estimate of 4 gals a day lost to the air. My systems are usually connected to a mechanical float valve to top up on water, although this particular system does not have that installed just yet. I usually dump a Liter into the system per day.

Heyo! I also grow my own cannabis, but, outdoors in soil! My local Denver ounces are about $120, but I grow my own for about $3 an ounce… 6 lb harvest every October with about $300 overhead.

And absolutely, if you place a ROI on my system when compared to store bought produce, this certainly wont save you money (In the short run)!!! But, I HATE grocery store bought veggies, and I LOVE veggies that are grown by me. For me that’s hard to place a value on. I also LOVE having guests over to my house and having my hydroponic garden being the center of attention.

Luckily I don’t have to calibrate my peristaltic pumps! Calibrating pH probes is a task I’ve been doing for over a decade, and it’s just another chore for me.

Again thank you for a detailed response, excited to have others chime in soon!

Also! Quick math time! Lets say you own a pizza shop (my first client) and need a TON of basil. It’s really expensive, Cost of Basil at $10-22 a lb, and usually the quality sucks when out of season.

Our system has 3 levels of 20 sites. Lets do a grow time of one month (excluding germination). I avg about an lb of basil weigh after about 30 days of growth. 3 levels @ 20 sites x 12 months per year is 720. 720lbs is $7,200-15,840 per year gross rev.

So you could definitely save money (if you needed 720lbs of basil) or run a really cool local business where you are the BASIL MAN.

Getting into price economics and ROI is weird too though. Lets say I live in St. John U.s BVI’s. Their produce is 10x what we in the contiguous us pay for, and the quality is abysmal at best.

Just thinking out loud :slight_smile:

Truly beautiful build. I think you’re on to something.

In my experience, basil and many other tender herbs grow crazy via hydroponics. Side benefits are they also clone well so you not only shorten the time to harvest but also improve the flavor and quality as the clones are essentially mature.

Thank you for the response! Propagation via cloning helps eliminate lots of issues many indoor farmers may face such like poor germination, slow beginning growth, and non of the benefits cloning gives such as uniformity and disease resistance. We clone basil, oregano, cilantro, lavender, ect!