I actually first learned about using hydroponics (growing without soil) to grow vegetables in Disneyland, of all places. I went to Disney for my mom's birthday last year, and we managed to find this poorly-advertised tour of Disney's Epcot's gigantic greenhouse and insane hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics systems (they really have all of the 'ponics covered). Many of the restaurants in Epcot get their vegetables from these systems. One of Disney's gardening interns gave the tour, which lasted close to two hours. It was by far the most interesting part of Disney World for me. It totally blew my mind. It just made so much sense: plants put less energy into their root system because all of the necessary nutrients are delivered straight to their roots (in soil, roots have to grow all over the place in search of nutrients); and therefore, they put more energy into producing fruit. Not to mention the great space saving benefits of hydroponics and how much lighter it is than wet dirt, which is important when gardening on the roof.
So early last summer, at the peak of my hydroponics obsession, I built this greenhouse and hydroponics system (with some help). I decided to go with a Nutrient Film Technique system.
I built it out of vinyl fence post covers, cpvc pipe (pvc pipe isn't UV resistant!), brass fixtures, black rubber tubing, and a giant 54 gallon storage container for a reservoir. I started it seriously a week before I had to leave for Poland for three months so it wasn't completely finished before I left (but it was real close!) so all of my seedlings ended up just roasting on the roof. When I got back, I planted leafy greens and they grew until mid January in the greenhouse. At the end of the winter, the plastic I used started to disintegrate because it wasn't UV resistant and was the best I could get from Home Depot. This season, I replaced all the plastic with appropriate greenhouse polyfilm, installed aluminum wire lock base to secure the plastic (the stuff the real greenhouses use), bought a new sturdier reservoir container, and JB installed the vent fan with thermostat. I've got a lottt of vegetables growing now, both in soil and in hydroponics and I think it'll be cool to compare them.
Mason actually loves going on the roof, even though he's really scared of heights and has to be carried up and down a sketchy ladder.
The new vent fan and shutter.
JB rigged the door with this really neat pully system. The counterweight is a chunk of an old pipe that was in our basement and used to be a still-working corroded leaky pipe in our house.
This is the ladder you have to climb to get onto the roof.
Here are some photos of the beginning of the summer last year:
I learned a valuable life lesson from building this greenhouse: Do it the right way(which usually means the more expensive way) the first time and you will save yourself a lot of time and money in the long run... or even the pretty short run actually.