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Hydroponic Tower Design (DWC)

DWC stands for Deep Water Culture. Its a method of hydroponic growing where you have plant roots growing straight into a reservoir of nutrient water, and air is pumped right into that water in order to provide oxygen for your plant roots. 

Somebody else was nice enough to put together this whole DIY set of instructions for a very typical setup for this kind of system: 

http://www.instructables.com/id/My-Indoor-DWC-Hydroponics-System/step2/The-Deep-Water-Culture-Design-Materials-and-Method/

Classic bucket design. It does a job, but it has limitations. I'm not even going to get into all of the details of managing a system like this with nutrient levels and ph. I personally don't go to nuts about managing my hydro stuff. I try to find a middle of the road amount of nutrient that I can use over the whole life of the plant. It probably costs me a little in my output, but I lean towards ease of use over small gains in output. If you're looking for a resource to learn more about the basics of different hydroponics systems, I like this site: http://www.hydroponics-simplified.com/

Rethinking the component structure. Alright, so let's look at that bucket system again. It has a snorkel on the side to see the water level, which is a nice feature from a functional point of view, but doesn't look great. Now you can't just make the bucket clear because you will expose the roots to sunlight, and that is no good, because the UV will scorch those guys. BUT, if we provide protection for those roots, then you can definitely have a clear outer container. I'm suggesting an opaque pipe inside of a clear pipe. A lot of people want to black this whole thing out no matter what, but since our water is being constantly churned with our air pump, I don't see a big problem. 

I also thought that it might be nice if it was tall enough to grow in front of a window. I designed a small top cap and 3D printed it in ABS (plastic). It was nice and small so that it wouldn't be too expensive in production (I'm thinking ceramic), and held the same net cup that I currently use in the Amphora planter. Same rockwool growing medium as well. I put a small hole for an airline to run to the airstone, and ran that guy down into a section of PVC (sched 40 for drinking water). The upper cap actually wraps around the top of the pipe keeping it centered. That was it:

I think it came out pretty nice! I'm running a small airline tubing to this air pump https://www.amazon.com/Tetra-77851-Whisper-Pump-10-Gallon/dp/B0009YJ4N6

Its fairly quiet, and I just let it run all day because its only 1.5watts and I would rather just keep churning the water. I did have to use one of these long, flexi-snake style air stones because the regular hard air stone was rattling around in there making a lot of noise. After a couple of iterations on the upper cap in plastic printing, I had this last one done in a ceramic 3D print, so the finishing is really nice. The major body of the planter is an off the shelf vase if you can believe it. Its about a 4" diameter and 31.5" tall. 

I tested by planting jalapeño from seed:

 

I actually found it really interesting how the water line created a distortion of the pipe, making the level of water even clearer.

Growth. Not too bad at all. I harvested 2 rounds of 3 peppers. They were all on the smaller side but it was to be expected considering the amount of sunlight I was getting in the North-West windows. 

Downfall. Spider mites... Without fail, they eventually take over. I try to slow them down with an organic oil spray (Monterey - All Natural Mite and Insect Control), and maybe I could use a real pesticide, but then what is the point of growing this clean stuff at home? Ultimately I chopped it down. Not a bad run. I haven't replanted it yet, but I am worried about bugs on a system that has been built for growing larger plants in front of a window. 

Let me know in the comments what you think, and if this is a product that you are interested in despite the potential pest problems. It is something that I could do made to order with 3D printed top caps. Thanks for reading!

-Brad



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