For this group project, we were assigned the following task:
Use the Arduino to build a gravity drip, ebb and flow, or NFT hydroponic system for 4 plants that pumps water to a storage container, stops when full, drains completely than restarts the pump at a certain time later.
With that in mind, one thing struck me immediately and that was the idea of making a hydroponic system that resembles the rice terraces seen in places like Guilin and such.
So basically, the terrace system creates a system that allows the water to overflow into the following container and so on. In an attempt to replicate this, we searched for and tried to design the best possible way to do this, while also keeping in mind that this system would also have to drain which is one thing I don’t believe the terrace system does.
Somehow we got extremely lucky, or maybe just good at searching through trash and bumped into a styrofoam container that fit perfectly into what we were trying to do.
Another reason why this styrofoam container fit into exactly what we wanted to do was becuase I wanted a horizontal system versus vertical as I felt nearly everyone was doing horizontal systems and I wanted ours to stand out. Secondly, its a mobile system that can be taken anywhere. Thirdly, it’s used purely out of recyclable materials and lastly, I could later make the center part into an aquaponic system with fish in the middle area.
Below you will find a picture of the box, while yes it seems fairly simple which is what we aimed for, it took an extremely long time to perfect and ultimately caused multiple “I HATE STYROFOAM MOMENTS”… More to come later
So how does it work… The water is pumped from the right side all the way to the top left container where it fills up until it reaches one inch from the top where it will flow to the next container, then once that container reaches 1.5 Inches from the top, it flows over to the next compartment where the water flows across to the other side once it reaches 1.5 Inches. This water then reaches the other side at 2 inches and proceeds to repeat the process twice more before draining into the main compartment. So that is how it fills up….
How does it drain through….
Sooo it drains due to the laws of equilibrium. If the water level is higher in one compartment, it will lower it to equal the other. This law is essentially the basis of this whole project, so with that in mind we prodded tiny little holes which would gradually allow the water levels to decrease in the compartments and balance that of the main compartment. In the end, the water level of the main tank was around 2 inches when balanced with everything else. Ideally, this isn’t perfect as not all the water drains out; however, it should still get cycled out as the water level in the main compartment goes down as the pump fills up the compartments. Also to avoid killing the plant with the little bit of water left in every compartment, we will put rocks on the bottom to raise the plants level.
It takes around 5 minutes to drain and 10 minutes to fill up completely.
So now you know how the system works, I can get into the problems we faced. First, don’t ever use styrofoam with water unless you 100% know it won’t leak. Believe it or not, Styrofoam does leak even when there aren’t any holes. Unfortunately, ours was one of those that had microscopic leak holes…. SO after filling it up, we both got soaked along with our stuff as we didn’t realize styrofoam was capable of leaking.
So, how do we fix a hydroponic system that leaks everywhere? Tape, lots and lots of tape. Originally, we tried to use plastic and hot glue to make a bag like a compartment; however, the issue with this is it would making draining all the more complicated and I had already poked tons of holes everywhere ):
After 20 minutes of attempting to glue the plastic to the bottom of the container, I gave up in a fit of madness. The plastic was melting along with the styrofoam so it literally was useless…. After discussion with the fellows they suggested I use spray stuff that would make it waterproof; however, I imagine that will kill the plants real fast. What we ended up doing was using tons of tape. I’m not joking, we literally spent an hour taping everything 10 times over so nothing could leak.
Another problem we faced was the pump was pumping water too fast which lead to the first to third container overflowing. To fix this, I simply made small waterfalls on each container which made overflowing impossible
I’m super happy with how this project turned out, not only was it simple and different, but it also functions extremely well. Yes, we faced a few issues but we overcame those and I think produced an excellent and innovative hydroponic system that will be able to grow plants. Furthermore, we aim to place a hood on top of the system in hopes of maintaining a high humidity and more ideal climate than the current conditions provide. .