The Hydroponics Research Room

hydro gutter

The Farm Food Program is in the process of testing and modifying a hydroponics system designed and built by staff members Alan Alldridge and Meaghan Wierzbic, and students form Engineers Without Borders with the hopes of adding another venue for extending year-round production. The Hydroponic Research Room is located in the west wing of the Green Barn.

Advantages of a hydroponics system include, but are not limited to, conservation of resources (including water and soil), extended growing season, space efficiency (no need to rotate crops or to move the structure, and the plants can grow more densely packed), and protection against the elements (pests, high wind, harsh rain, harsh temperatures). Eventually the goal is to power the system through solar energy, creating a closed loop.

As of December 2012, the Farm's hydroponics system has had four units fed by a 300 gallon cistern at the east end of the structure: two 10 foot draining PVC pipes, and two tank configurations. The PVC pipes are filled with clay pellets and the plants are spaced 1 foot apart. Water is pumped from the cistern through hoses, fills the pipes, and then is automatically siphoned back into the cistern until capacity is reached. This allows for a constant flow of nutrients and water to reach the plants, but also lets their roots breath. The tanks, on the other hand, remain full of water but water is constantly being pumped from the cistern through the tanks which drain continuously. This helps to avoid stagnation and to keep a constant influx of nutrient-rich water. This unit is used for vegetables like lettuce whose roots do not require as much aeration as other crops.

During Winter 2014-2015, the hydroponic system was redesigned by Farm staff member Alan Alldridge. The new system allows 164 plants to grow at the same time with a combination of three growing systems: Gutter planting (4), floating tanks (2) and gravel tubs (2). Planting currently includes lettuce, basil and tomato plants.

The system will continue undergoing research and will continue to be experimented with and improved upon. Looking to the future, if this system proves sustainable and functional, we will turn to aquaponics,using fish as part of the nutrient-providing system.

hydro tanks Hydro gravel tubs