The first step in creating the right hydroponic garden for your needs is to create a plan. First, consider the space you have available for your intended garden. Don't forget that if you plan to grow indoors in a tight space, you will also need sufficient room to access your garden and to perform routine maintenance such as pruning and nutrient changes. For this purpose, leave yourself ample space to work. Don't try to fit too much garden in too small of a space. Remember, a hydroponic garden will give you a significantly higher yield than a soil garden of equal size. If you plan to grow indoors, you also need to consider access to direct sunlight. Most plants need a minimum of 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight and a total of at least 12 to 14 hours of light each day. Most plants will not benefit from more than 18 hours of light a day. A south-facing window is a good place to start (assuming you live in the northern hemisphere). To provide supplemental lighting, or if your indoor garden location does not have access to direct sunlight, consider purchasing a High Intensity Discharge lighting system. See the HID lighting section of this book for everything you'll need to know to choose the right light for your needs.
If your garden will be located outdoors, you can take advantage of the natural sunlight. Make sure you consider the effects of the weather on your system, including the path of the sun and the temperature ranges for your area. Direct sunlight will heat up the nutrient solution in your garden, so make sure you consider this when locating the position of your garden's components. You'll want to maintain the nutrient temperature between 65 and 75 degrees for best results. Nutrient solution temperatures outside this range will slow the growth of your crop and can be detrimental as noted in the section on nutrient solution microbiology. Also note that if rainwater gets into your system, it will cause the pH and concentration of your nutrient solution to drift. So make provisions to keep rainwater out of your hydroponic system. Rainwater is more of a problem with the planter type of designs, such as the Dutch Bucket and the Autopot, because they have a large exposed areas of growing medium to receive precipitation. You can minimize the rainwater problem by cutting skirts from plastic bags and placing them around the stems and over the grow sites. To protect the reservoir and nutrient solution from excessive heat and strong direct sunlight, consider using Celotex or another type of reflective insulation commonly available at building supply stores. Make sure all your electrical connections are kept dry, as per manufacturer's instructions. Note that most timers are not waterproof!
OK, we are almost ready to get started. Next, gather up the proper tools to make your job easy. A sharp razor knife, hacksaw and electric drill will make things easier, a 2 7/8" & 4" hole saw will be required to build the Aerospring and PVC gardens. While PVC is easy to cut with a hacksaw, cutting perfectly circular holes into the tubing is going to be next to impossible without this tool. If you don't own a heavy-duty 3/8" or 1/2" drive electric drill, you can most likely borrow or rent one. You will probably need to buy the 2 7/8" hole saw.
Hole saws this size usually consist of two parts: an arbor that holds the drill bit (for drilling the pilot hole), and the actual hole saw, which looks somewhat like a half a food can with a saw-toothed edge. Note: Follow the directions on using this equipment before you pick it up, because this equipment can be dangerous without exercising proper care and precaution. If you don't own any power tools, or have experience using them, you may consider hiring an experienced handyman or carpenter to cut the holes for you. The best way I've found to cut these holes is to use a drill press and "shop clamps" to steady the pipes while cutting. But I've also built several 4" and 6" systems using nothing more than a 12V cordless drill and steady hand. So don't be discouraged, just plan it out in your head, take it slow, and just to be sure, measure everything twice, cut once!
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