Hydroponic and/or solar-powered container gardening?
January 17, 2007 1:26 AM   Subscribe

Solar-powered and/or hydroponic apartment gardening: have you done it or something like it? Do you like or dislike any commercial solar kits or hydroponics kits, or suppliers of seeds & equipment for container gardening?

I'm good with plants, but I haven't gardened with a focus on producing food since I was a kid. I've started doing research on container gardening, minimal solar systems, and hydroponics -- both on mefi & elsewhere. I'm looking to set up a system that will pay for itself within a couple of years (cost of all the gear vs. what I'd pay for the amount of organic produce it produces), so we're probably talking under $1000.

So this question is about putting those three elements together with budget as a big factor, and about specific crops to try. I'm thinking cherry tomatoes, strawberries, basil, mint -- generally, any stuff I like that's both expensive to buy organic and decently efficient to grow in a container.

Have you done this or anything like it?? What were your successes & failures? Do you recommend any particular suppliers of hydroponic kits, solar kits, or seeds?

For reference: I'm in NYC, facing south-by-southwest with sun all day; I pay for my own electricity; and I have only a fire escape (no balcony), so I can only put very minimal amounts of stuff outside -- we're talking shallow windowboxes plus hydroponic containers just inside the windows with additional (artificial) lighting. Thanks for all thoughts!
posted by allterrainbrain to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Another factor is that I'm in a small studio apt., so any artificial lighting would have to be right in my living space. Therefore I'd be REALLY grateful for any opinions/links re. hybrid bulbs that are energy efficient but not traditional fluorescents.
posted by allterrainbrain at 1:30 AM on January 17, 2007

The coolest setup I want is a freshwater fish tank that circulates its nitrogen waste to an automated watering system to all my plants. Then, have the pumps for the fishtank run off of a battery system that is supplied from solar power.

That and a pony.

With a tiny monkey to ride on it.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 1:41 AM on January 17, 2007

Response by poster: Ha... Believe it or not, I've wondered about that too... and the next question would be whether anything could be grown that would be good food for both me & the fish. :)

I started this by thinking about combining gardening with my individual-dosage houseplant irrigation system. Lots more control than a hydroponic system, but more complex too (maybe unnecessarily so... depends on the plants).
posted by allterrainbrain at 2:25 AM on January 17, 2007

Presumably the fish should be edible, too? While we're talking ponies, I'd be tempted to throw some edible scavengers like crayfish and shrimp in there.

This beginner's guide came up on Make a couple of months back... I kept it for the mycology link. Might be helpful.

(I don't have much useful to add, except to say good luck - sounds like a cool project.)
posted by Leon at 3:30 AM on January 17, 2007

Is AeroGrow too silly? I got one for Xmas with the herb kit (two kinds of basil, mint, parsley, dill, cilantro, chives), planted it Jan 2, and they've all sprouted and are on their 3rd and 4th pairs of leaves. It's not noisy but it is very bright. The herbs require the lights on for 17 hours and off for 7, so if it was in my bedroom I'd need to have it in a closet if I wanted to sleep longer than 7 hours. Everything's on a timer and the included nutrients are organic. They offer a tomato kit too, but they don't advise combining elements from different kits because of different light and nutrient requirements. Though I've heard that experienced gardeners do combine kits.
posted by xo at 6:05 AM on January 17, 2007

Optional Additional Seed Kits - $19.95 each... doesn't sound very self-reliant, instead of buying veg you are buying pre-seeded seed pods.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:56 AM on January 17, 2007

This guy seemed to have some good advice...http://www.geocities.com/apartment_garden/ground.htm

Plus, I would take a look at the AeroGarden thing. It is pricey but instead of buying it try to duplicate it on a grander scale. Looks pretty straight forward.

Also, if you got a nice size fresh water tank you could probably throw a few catfish in there. They will be ready to eat in about eight or nine months. Just feed them your left overs and they will grow like crazy.
posted by bkeene12 at 7:44 AM on January 17, 2007

Not to get off topic, but thought I'd chime in that when I clean my fishtank, I dump the waste water into the house plants and they love it.
posted by Area Control at 8:29 AM on January 17, 2007

I'd go ahead and check out your local hydroponic store. They'll have a bunch of all in one type systems that vary from an herb garden system to large garbage can systems that could maintain a bananna tree. Once you see the components, you'll find that it would be pretty easy to set one up yourself from stuff you buy there, the hardware store, and target/walmart.

When you design your own you'll be able to customize it to your liking. It will come down to buying an appropriately sized tupperware container(s), an airpump, aquarium airstones, and all your nutrient and pH reagents. Pretty simple and the simplest setup will be self contained.

Recirculating the nutrients is beneficial but you'll need a separate resevoir with a water pump and some irrigation hoses.

As for lighting, the hydro lights can be pretty obnoxious. I think the smallest light you can buy would be a 100 watter. Ask at the hydro store which light you'll want for specific plants - mercury vapor is blue spectrum, a good all around light, and high pressure sodium is red spectrum ideal for flowering.

(my experience is in peppers, of course).
posted by premortem at 8:34 AM on January 17, 2007

For what you're considering I'd suggest you reconsider hydroponics. For small scale indoor gardening good old fashion container growing in dirt is a lot more forgiving, cheaper to set up and easier to manage.

Look into newer high-output fluorescent lights, such as high output T5 fluorescent grow lights which may be easier to manage in your space.
posted by nanojath at 9:55 AM on January 17, 2007

Here's the place I use for seeds:
http://rareseeds.com/ , they've got good stuff. My setup is very easy...styrofoam cooler w/ a garbage bag inside (nutrient eats styro), lid turned upside down, holes poked w/ a soldering iron, seedlings placed through holes and into nutrient. A small fish tank aerator supplies the o2. Change water every 2 weeks. Easily supports 6-12 leafy greens, meaning you just peel off a layer every couple days for your salad.

Working on an ICF system and greenhouse for spring though...
posted by TomMelee at 9:59 AM on January 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

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