Summer Project - Hydroponic Strawberries

Day 1

I've been wanting to try this for a while, and Ikea have made it a bit easier by releasing a series of items that allow you to create a DIY indoor hydroponics garden/farm. Last night I picked up a set of items that have allowed to start. The end goal is to have an indoor farm producing strawberries (A bakers favourite fruit...think jam!), though I'm starting a little smaller and more basic.

So...hydroponics. Growing plants without soil. The Ikea sysem uses 2 growing mediums...Starter Plugs (made from stone wool) and pumice stone. Seeds will spend the first 1-2 weeks in the Nursery in a starter plug, and then be transferred to the Cultivation Units where pumice is used. Both growing mediums are suspended in water (with some fertiliser added), and the Cultivation unit has Grow Lights, so they can be placed pretty much anywhere

So, this morning I have started the initial run. I've picked 2 seed types (Pak Choi and White Cabbage) to run through with. Both have similar growing times (approximately 1 week in the Nursery, and then ~6 weeks in the Cultivation Units before harvesting. I've done 15 of each (the projected germination rate for each is 90-92%), and the Nursery (filled with ~5 litres of water) is now sitting on my office window sill, where it will get plenty of light.

Initial challenges;
1) The grow lights on the Cultivation Units are significantly brighter than I expected. The plan was to have them in my office, however they sort of light the house up...bit of an issue at night. They ned to run for at least 16 hours a day, so I'm going to get a plug timer to turn them off at night (probably 10pm - 6am). The other option is to move them into the garage, or re-arrange the games library and slot them in there, with some type of door.

2) Looking ahead to strawberries, I probably won't be growing from seed, but rather buying rootstock. This is only available in autumn/winter, which gives me some time to tweak the farm. Most commercially grown strawberries are actually done hydroponically already, which is good. I've identified a compact, suitable species (Flamenco, which is whats known as an ever-bearer), which could produce upto 3 crops per plant (from the initial reading I've done, they need to go through a chill period between flowerings, and I'll need to manually pollenate the plants)

Day 1 Photo

They are ready to be moved when there are 2 leaves showing. Expected in 6-7 days for both. I'm hoping that competition for spaces in the Cultivation Unit motivates them go grow well (15 of each type, and only 8 spaces for each in the Cultivator...)


Day 6

The seeds have generally germinated well...looks like there are ~13 viable cabbage plants, and ~11 Bok Choi. I think tongiht they will be moved over to the Cultivation Units.

I've done some work on preparing an indoor growing area. As I said before, the grow lights are remarkably bright. I've cleared some space in the shelving system in my office (the one that holds all the board games, and also has my miniatures on display), and then built some "light shields" to enclose a couple of the shelving units. This was somewhat trickier than I initially planned. I have a job lot of thick craft paper, which I originally used, however that did nothing really. I then lined it with gaffa tape, however that aain did not really block off that much light (they really are quite bright). I've ended up sandwiching a layer of tin-foil inbetween a couple of sheets of paper, and using that as the walls to what I have affectionately called the "Grow Lab". Trialled it last night, and while there is some light spillage (mainly down to the somewhat open design of the shelves) it's not really noticeable outside the room.

The grow lights themselves have been linked upto a Hive-enabled smart plug (to go alongside the heating and hot water in the house). This means that I can also control the light remotely, or via a schedule. Ideally they will be on 24/7, however it will be good to have the ability to fine-tune that.

babychaos's picture

Broken links, sir! :(

brainwipe's picture

I guess linking to Google photos doesn't work. Moved to an image host...

babychaos's picture

Christ, that's brilliant. Can I be the first to say that your Biology degree wasn't a complete waste. ;)

brainwipe's picture

How long before someone calls the police?

brainwipe's picture

Probably once the grow lights go on. It would be worse if it was all in the garage, as I wouldn't bother with light shields then, so the place would be glowing all the time.

My biology degree was a complete waste, as I'm doing all this off the instructions Ikea provide, and if/when strawberries come into the equation, internet guides. This is flat-pack gardening.

babychaos's picture

HAHAHAHAH! "Flat pack gardening" is my kind of gardening. To nerd this up further, is there any additional monitoring that you can do to optimise growth?

brainwipe's picture

Not really, unless I had a sealed environment. Commerial greenhouses would regulate temperature, humidity etc, but that would require a lot more kit, and (probably the biggest issue) noise, as I'd need fans to regulate airflow in and out of the biome. If things start to go wrong then pH monitoring of the nutrient solution is advised (should be slightly acidic), however Im aiming for low touch/low maintainence. So far my total imput has been a single top-up of the nursery.

Looking ahead to strawberries, the biggest challenge will be convincing them to flower, which will almost certainly involve a fridge. If I try to do any from seed a freezer is also involved.

babychaos's picture

The 16 favoured seedlings* were transferred into the cultivators last night, and are now sitting in the "Grow Lab" (as it's known on the house Hive network). fairly painless process, though crushed pumice is one of those substances that gets everywhere. The plantlings and plugs were placed in little baskets, filled with pumice, and then suspended in a water/fertiliser mix. It's all designed to stop light reaching the fertiliser reservoir, which should stop anything growing in it. The 2 cultivators (one with 8 Pak Choi, one with 8 White Cabbage) were then placed into the Grow Lab, lights turned on, and the light shields dropped down. They'll be getting 24-hour light now, and all I need to do is check on the reservoir levels (you can just see a small stick next to the funnel...that's a water level indicator). They should take approximately 3 weeks to reach maturity.

I checked them this morning, and none of them look dead.

*Why do we call them seedlings? Normally a -ling is a smaller version of the main thing...duckling, gosling. Surely they should be called plantlings?

babychaos's picture

That looks awesome, Peteling. I love the picture of the lab itself, it really does look like you're being a naughty boy. I know this because EMW has one ine in GTA V. Henry Rollins works there...

brainwipe's picture

1 Month In

The 16 seedlings have now spent 3 weeks in the Grow Lab, where they have been subject to 24 hour light, fairly warm conditions (average house temperature has been around 25'C, based on the Hive thermometer in the upstiars bedroom), and kept well watered and fertilised. Each unit (holding 8 seedlings) has been going through about 1 litre of water a week...

The results are...mixed. The white lettuce has done rather well, and is now growing rampantly. The Pak Choi has fared less well...half the seedlings never really got going, and died, while the others are in varying states of health. What I think may be the case is that the roots were damaged during the transfer, or perhaps I moved them a day early or late. The other notable feature here is that as the leaves are less dense, there has been algal growth on the growing medium (this is not an issue, and is noted as a possibility). The Pak Choi has been significantly less thirsty (roughly half the water usage of the lettuce)...upsurprising, given the difference in leaf cover.

I'll probably cull/harvest the plants next week, so what I'll do this weekend is start up another series of seeds. I have another species (Chard) which requires the seeds to be soaked for 24 hours prior to being placed in the Nursery, so I'll aim to have them up and running Sunnday evening. The Nursery is now also in the Grow Lab, and at some point I plan to remove the light brackets from the Cultivators, and instead mount them to the shelves directly, which should give a bit more space, and I can probably fit a 3rd Cultivator unit in there.

I think what I have learnt here is that the transfer from the Nursey to the Cultivator is a clear point where plants can die. In theory strawberries won't have this issue, as I'll initially be using bareroot stock. I do wonder if you could make some sort of shround to cover the pumice growing medium once the seed has taken root...this would reduce water loss, and should also stop algal growth.

babychaos's picture

The difference in growth there is staggering. I'm really impressed with the lettuce. At what point do you feel there might be time for a harvest?

brainwipe's picture

This weekend. I set the rhubarb chard seeds in to soak last night, and they will be I the nursery for 6 days, so I should be aiming to put them in the cultivators Saturday or Sunday.

babychaos's picture

Do you have any sense for the taste of the lettuce or will you just have to wait and see?

brainwipe's picture