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Building a Floating Hydroponic Garden

Building a Floating Hydroponic Garden

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HS943
Building a Floating Hydroponic Garden
1
M. Sweat, R. Tyson, R. Hochmuth
2
1. This document is HS943, one of a series of the Horticultural Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food andAgricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date June 2003. Revised November 2009. Visit the EDIS Web Site athttp://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.2. Michael Sweat, county extension director, Baker County, Richard Tyson, extension agent II, Seminole County, and Bob Hochmuth, extension agent IV,North Florida Research and Education Center – Suwannee Valley. Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences,University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.
The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information andother services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex,sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service,University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A. & M. University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating.
MillieFerrer-Chancy
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Interim
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The Aztecs amazed the Spanish conquistadorswith their floating gardens, and now 500 years lateryou can impress your friends and neighbors withyours. A floating hydroponic garden is easy to buildand can provide a tremendous amount of nutritiousvegetables for home use, and best of all, hydroponicsystems avoid many pest problems commonlyassociated with the soil. This simple guide will showyou how to build your own floating hydroponicgarden using material locally available at a cost of about $50.00 (Figure 1).
Figure 1.
Lettuce in floating garden system.
Construction Steps
• Build a rectangular frame using 2-by-6-inch or2-by-8-inch treated lumber. The frame shouldbe 4 feet, 1-inch wide by 8 feet, 1-inch long.This size frame eliminates the need to trim thefloating styrofoam, however, the size can bevaried to suit personal needs.• Line the frame with a 6-mil polyethylene plasticsheet to form a trough to contain the nutrientsolution. Be sure the site is level and free of anydebris, which could puncture the plastic liner.• Secure one end and side of the liner to the topedge of the frame with 1-by-2 inch furring stripsor lattice using wood screws or small nails.• Place a 4-by-8-foot sheet of 1 1/2 inch thick styrofoam insulation in the lined frame. Makesure the edges have sufficient room to allow thegarden to move up and down. If necessary,adjust the frame to make it square with thestyrofoam. The styrofoam sheet will create afloating platform in the wooden frame you haveconstructed.
 
Building a Floating Hydroponic Garden2
• Fill the water garden with approximately 20gallons of water. The water will form the plasticsheeting to the sides of the frame. Secure theother end and side of the liner to the top edge of the frame.• Continue filling the water garden with water toa total depth of at least five inches. Keep track of the total gallons of water you add.• Add water-soluble fertilizer, such as 20-20-20with micronutrients, at a rate of 2 teaspoons of fertilizer for each gallon of water used in thewater garden. In addition, add Epsom Salts(magnesium sulfate) at a rate of one teaspoon foreach gallon of water. Use a soft broom to mixthe water & fertilizer in the garden or premix allfertilizer in a bucket before adding to watergarden (Figure 2).
Figure 2.
Nutrients needed for floating garden.
Light rainfall will have little effect on the watergarden; only extensive flooding would requirefertilizer adjustment based on the amount of water added by rainfall. The solution in thegarden needs to be replaced periodically foroptimum production. You can grow two cropsof salad greens in the same solution beforechanging the entire solution and starting with anew batch.Commercially available "net pots" (Figure 3)or styrofoam coffee cups with slits cut in thebottom may be used to hold the young seedlings.• Use a hole saw or sharp knife to cut holes in thestyrofoam. A 2 1/2-inch hole saw is needed todrill the correct-size holes in 1 1/2-inch thick styrofoam when using the 3" Net Pot or astyrofoam cup with slits cut in the bottom andtrimmed at the top. Using 2" Net Pots willrequire a 1 3/4-inch hole saw for the 1 1/2-inchstyrofoam (Figure 4). The hole size should allowthe bottom of a cup to be level with theunderside of the styrofoam. It is very importantthat once the cups are placed in the holes, they donot extend down lower than 1/16 inch below thebottom of the styrofoam sheet! This allows theroot mass to wick up water without being totallysubmerged, which might lead to drowning of theroot and plant death.
Figure 3.
Lettuce transplant in net pot.
• Optimum plant spacing for most plants wouldbe 6 inches from the sides and 12 inches apart toform 32 holes for planting.• Transplants used in this system should be grownto be fully rooted in a typical soilless media.Transplants can be grown at home in many rootball shapes in a loose media, purchased fromgarden suppliers, or grown in compressed peatpellets.• Place young starter transplants directly into thecups. Use toothpicks, if desired, to hold thetransplant in an upright position. Do not removethe potting soil from the transplant.
 
Building a Floating Hydroponic Garden3
Figure 4.
Drilling holes in styrofoam for transplants.
• The most critical aspect is the depth of placement of the net pot or transplant root ball inthe solution. Do not place the pot or transplanttoo deep in the solution. A flat bottom transplantcube or disc media will wick up more water thana pointed root ball. If the media seems too wet,tilt the cube so only a portion of the root ballactually touches the water.• After placing the young transplant in the net potor styrofoam cup, do not add any potting mix orother material around the young transplant asthis will keep the roots too wet and inhibitoxygen intake (Figure 5).• Add extra water and fertilizer as needed to keepthe styrofoam sheet floating on a minimum of 5-inches of solution.
Figure 5.
Hydroponic lettuce root system.
Crops
Several leafy salad crops such as lettuce(romaine, boston, bibb, & leafy lettuces, Figure 6),mustard greens, mizuna, mint, and kale grow wellduring the cool season. There are fewer crop optionsfor the warm season, however, basil, Swiss chard,cucumber, watercress, and some cut-flowers, likeZinnia and sunflowers have done well. Growing withfloating systems does not override the normalchallenges of gardening in the warm season inFlorida.
Figure 6.
Healthy lettuce being grown in a standard 4x8 ftfloating garden.
Not all crops do well in the floating gardens;however, small-rooted, short-season crops generallygrow well. Crops that prefer wet rooting conditionsgrow better than those that prefer dry conditions. Forexample, watercress grows very well, and periwinkledoes not grow as well in a floating garden.
Container Choices
This publication guides you in the steps to builda 4x8 ft floating garden using wood and a plasticliner. Many simple containers can also be used tomake a floating garden. Examples include: children'spools (kiddie pools), small plastic storage containers,trash cans, and buckets. Many shapes and sizes of containers will work, but they should be able tomaintain a 4-6 inch depth of nutrient solution for thebest success.

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