How to Make a Universal Hydroponic Unit

Getting Started In Hydroponics

Hydroponics Setups

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It is easy to make a unit that can be used for all the systems described in this chapter. Take a two-to five-gallon plastic container and cut a hole near the bottom large enough to snugly hold a plastic tube with a minimum inside diameter of 3/8". Cut the tube three inches taller than the pot. Push 1 of the tube through the hole from the outside and affix the end to the inside bottom using a silicone or other type of glue, or PVC tape. Caulk the seal with plastic glue or caulk.

Making a tight, leak-proof seal can be difficult if the plastics are incompatible. Roughing out both surfaces sometimes helps. Another way of attaching the tube is to use a piece of threaded plastic pipe, two washers and two nuts. Tighten the two nuts on either side of the container wall. It is advisable to use clear plastic tubing so that you can see the water level and drainage action. If you're using a two-container system, such as the wick or reservoir system, it is still easier to use an outer container with a tube, which facilitates draining. (Some commercial units have no drainage, which makes it difficult to change the nutrient/water solution.)

Plastic bags are convenient containers, but care should be taken not to disturb the roots when moving them.

Chapter Five

Good News for Late Planters

Marijuana can be successfully started in late July and still come in early in the fall. This makes it easy for people who have not had a chance to do their planting early, and allows growers to increase the size of their crops. Late plants will not be as big or yield as much as earlier plants, but their quality will be just as high.

Starting plants indoors is probably the easiest way to begin. The plant's initial growth can be spurred by using metal halides and a CO2 enriched atmosphere. Under good conditions, and depending on the variety planted, the plants should be six inches to one foot high within two weeks, and should grow at a rate of six inches to one foot per week for the next six weeks. A six-week-old plant will be four to six feet tall; a four-week-old plant, two to three feet; a three-week-old plant, one to two feet. Of course, the plants will not fill out as an outdoor plant would. As long as they get enough water, they won't be damaged by the hot August sun. There is one problem with starting plants indoors. Unless the natural light cycle is modified, they will start to flower almost immediately if they are early-maturing varieties. To modify the light cycle, the night must be interrupted, because the plants determine their flowering time according to the number of hours of uninterrupted darkness. Shining a light over the entire surface of the plant in the middle of the darkness cycle will stop the plant from going into its flowering stage. A powerful flashlight, fluorescent light, or incandescent light will do. Car headlights also work well. The darkness cycle should be interrupted every night, until you wish the plants to go into the flowering stage.

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Blackout room. Note opaque plastic used to shield plants from light.

Blackout room. Note opaque plastic used to shield plants from light.

Unless the plants are to be brought indoors for finishing, or there is a long growing season, light modification should be terminated by August 15. The plants will start to flower almost immediately and will mature near their normal time.

The opaque cover is removed to expose plants to light. This way, the photoperiod of the light cycle can be controlled.

Backyard growers may find it convenient to grow plants in portable containers so they can move the plants between the basement or garage and the outdoors. Then they can manipulate the light cycle to their needs, using an artificial source such as metal halides or fluorescents to supplement the natural light. Should there be an overcast or rainy day, the plants will still get plenty of bright light indoors. At night the plants can be locked up safe and sound, away from the greedy hands of thieves. Also, spotting helicopters will be unable to locate the plants while they are sheltered.

To increase outdoor plant growth during the early stages, spray the plants with carbonated water several times a day. Make sure not to use club soda, which contains salt. Instead, make your own with a home soda maker, which uses CO2 cartridges, or buy seltzer, which has no salt added.

You can also make carbonated water using a CO2 tank and attached hose emptying into a container of water. If the container can be safely pressurized, the amount of CO2

dissolved in the water will increase. Dry ice, which is frozen CO2, can also be used.

If the young plants are sprayed several times a day; their growth can be speeded up considerably. As the plants grow, it becomes less cost-effective to spray them, but it is still worthwhile.

Smaller plants may be started months later than their larger sisters, and will flower at about the same time. Their potency will be about the same, since it is based not on their chronological age, but on their maturity. Although yields on small plants are low, these plants can be placed much closer together. (In Morocco, in many cases, plants are grown by broadcast seeding, which may produce as many as 25 plants per square foot.) A 10' x 10' area, a total of 100 square feet, covered with plants one to two feet high in four inch pots, placed nine per square foot, would yield a good stash. Each plant would consist primarily of a main stem with a joint's worth of buds on it — roughly

900 joints.

Chapter Six

It's a Gas

Plant growth is determined by five factors: heat, water, nutrients, light, and carbon dioxide. An insufficient amount of any one of these can seriously debilitate your crop. In an indoor environment, heat, water, and nutrients never pose any problem to the cultivator: ample supplies of each are readily available. Light is provided by using natural light and/or a variety of artificial sources (see Chapter 10). This leaves carbon dioxide (CO2).

CO2 is a gas that makes up about .03

percent (300 parts per million, or "ppm") of the atmosphere. It is not dangerous. It is one of the basic raw materials (water is the other) used by plants in the act of photosynthesis. And it can make those little buggers grow like crazy. When plants are growing in an enclosed area, there is a limited amount of CO2 for them to use. When this CO2 is used up, the plant's photosynthesis stops. Only as more CO2 is provided can it use light to continue the process. Adequate amounts of CO2 may be easily replaced in well-ventilated areas. However, a more-than-adequate amount — .2 percent (2000 ppm), or six times the amount usually found in the atmosphere — can increase the growth rate by up to a factor of five. For this reason, many commercial nurseries provide CO2 enriched air for their plants.

The two most economical and convenient ways to give your plants all the CO2 they'll ever need are: (1) use a CO2 generator that burns natural gas or kerosene, and (2) use a CO2 tank with a regulator.

CO2 tank with automatic regulation and flow control can more than double the growth in an enclosed grow room or greenhouse.

CO2 tank with automatic regulation and flow control can more than double the growth in an enclosed grow room or greenhouse.

First, of course, you must find out how much CO2 is needed to bring the growing area up to the ideal level of 2000 ppm. To do this, multiply the volume of the growing area (length x height x width) by .002. The result represents the number of cubic feet of gas required to reach optimum CO2 range. For instance, a room that measure 13' x 18' x 12' contains 2,808 cubic feet; 2,808 x .002 equals 5.6 cubic feet.

The easiest way to supply the gas is to use a CO2 tank. All the equipment you'll need can be obtained from a welding supply store. The tank, which comes in 20-and 50-pound sizes, can be bought or rented. (A 50-gallon tank, filled, has a gross weight of 170 pounds.) To regulate dispersal of the gas, a "combination flow meter regulator" is required. It regulates the flow to between 10 and 50 cubic feet per hour. A solenoid valve turns the flow meter on and off. This can be operated manually, or by a 24-hour timer. The timer should be a multicycle one, so that the valve can be turned on and off several times each day. If the growing room is small, a short-range timer is needed. Most timers are calibrated in ^-hour increments, but a short-range timer can keep the valve open for just a few minutes if necessary.

To find out how long the valve should remain open, divide the number of cubic feet of gas required (in our example, 5.6 cubic feet) by the flow rate. For instance, if the flow rate is 10 cubic feet per hour, 5.6 divided by 10 equals .56 hours, or 33.6 minutes (.56 x 60 minutes 33.6). At 30 cubic feet per hour, on the other hand, the number of minutes would be 5.6 divided by 30, then multiplied by 60, or 11.2


Be sure to place the tank in an area where it can be replaced easily. Run a hose from the top of the tank unit to the top of the garden. CO2 is cooler and heavier than air and will flow downward, reaching the tops of the plants first. Gas and kerosene generators work by burning hydrocarbons that release heat and create carbon dioxide and water. Each pound of fuel burned produces about 3 pounds of CO2,

1/ pounds of water, and about 21,800 BTUs (British Thermal Units) of heat. Nursery supply houses sell CO2 generators specially designed for greenhouses, but household-style kerosene or gas heaters are also suitable. This apparatus needs no vent. The CO2

goes directly into the room's atmosphere. A good heater will burn cleanly and completely, leaving no residues, creating no carbon monoxide, If a heater is not working correctly, most likely it will burn the fuel incompletely and create an odor. More expensive units have pilots and timers; less expensive models must be adjusted manually. Heaters with pilots can be modified by using the solenoid valve and timer.

At room temperature, one pound of CO2

equals 8.7 cubic feet. Remember that it takes only 1/3 of a pound of kerosene (5.3 ounces) to make a pound of CO2. To find the amount of fuel you need to use, divide the number of cubic feet of gas required by 8.7 and multiply by .33. In our case, 5.6 cubic feet ^ 8.7 x .33 equals .21 pounds of fuel. To find out how many ounces, multiply .21 by 16 (the number of ounces in a pound) to arrive at a total of 3.36 ounces, a bit less than half a cup. Heaters do not specify the rate at which they burn fuel, but they almost always state the number of BTUs produced in an hour. To determine fuel use, divide the number of BTUs produced by 21,800. If a generator produces

12,000 BTUs per hour, it is using 12,000 -21,800, or about .55 pounds, of fuel per hour. However, only .21 pounds are needed. To find the number of minutes the generator should be on, divide the amount of fuel needed by the flow rate and multiply by 60. In our case, .21 (the amount of fuel needed) ± .55 (flow rate) x 60 equals 22.9 minutes.

CO2 should be replenished every three hours during the light cycle, since it is used up by the plants and leaks from the room into the general atmosphere. Well-ventilated rooms should be replenished more often. It is probably more effective to have a generator or tank releasing CO2 for longer periods of time, at slower rates, than for shorter periods at higher rates.

The simple process of supplying plants with CO2 can increase the yield of any indoor garden considerably, so plan on decreasing the turnaround cycle of your garden — or raising the height of the ceiling.

Chapter Seven

The Super Grow Room

American marijuana cultivators are the most sophisticated, scientific farmers in the world. In just a few years they have mastered the techniques of breeding, hybridization, sinsemilla cultivation, and curing. They have doubled and redoubled the yield and potency of their crops. Although the media usually concentrate on outdoor "farmers," most outdoor growers these days raise only their own stash, or operate in a limited area using a controlled environment — i.e., a grow room. The high cost of marijuana and the risk involved in its cultivation have constantly challenged the cultivator to develop techniques that use space most efficiently. The potential for a high profit has also given growers the incentive and ability to experiment, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the indoor garden. I have seen the super grow rooms (SGRs), and I believe. These growers have succeeded. SGRs are based on the idea of limiting factors.

The plant's rate of metabolism — and subsequently its growth rate, maturation time and yield — are governed by environmental conditions that are linked together in a chain.

Metabolism can proceed no faster than permitted by the five limiting factors: light, heat, water, nutrients, and carbon dioxide. Super grow rooms meet these necessities, automatically or semiautomatically, by using timers that regulate irrigation, lighting, and CO2

enrichment. Recently I had the pleasure of seeing two automated grow rooms. The first was lit naturally, with supplemental lighting from metal halides. The corrugated sheet-steel roof had been replaced with Filon, a transparent corrugated plastic sheet made especially for greenhouses. Exec, as he wishes to be called, grows uniform commercial crops which vary according to the season. He has two growing areas: a starting room and a main growing area. His spacious starting room is divided into a germination section, lit by fluorescents, and a seedling section lit by two halides. Seeds are germinated in 4" pots and transplanted 10 days after germination into a 2% quart container Exec has designed a planting schedule that matches each plant varieties' seasonal habits with day length.

Here is his planting and control schedule:

In November, Exec starts equatorial seeds. He prefers a Nigerian-Santa Marta hybrid. He repots 10 days after germination, keeping the germination room lit 24 hours a day. The plants are removed to the large growing area about 3 weeks after germination. This area is completely roofed with Filon, and has 10 halides for supplementary light. Total area is 1,000 square feet. When plants are moved to the large growing area, they are repotted again, this time into 2-gallon containers. The lighting is set at 12 hours, to coincide with natural light. These lights burn only when the sun is out, so that suspicion is not aroused by the lit Filon roof.

To control the flowering period, Exec has strung rows of removable incandescents, each 100-watt light bulb illuminating about 9 square feet. For the next three weeks he turns these lights on for 1 minute (the minimum time on his short-range timer) every 90 minutes. This prevents the plants from starting to flower. Around the middle of January, he turns off the incandescents. A week later he turns the halides down to 10 hours, where they remain until the end of flowering. Exec claims to have had varieties that would not ripen until the light was down to 8 hours.

Around March 1 the new crop is planted. This time he uses either a Southern African-Afghani or Mexican hybrid. These plants are replanted around March 15 and then, around April Fool's Day, they replace the earlier crop, which is now ready to be harvested. Exec cuts the plants up and hangs them to dry in his starting room, which he now keeps entirely dark. He manicures them only after they are dry. Exec has a busy schedule transplanting the new residents of the growing area into 2-gallon pots. He keeps the halides on for 13-14 hours and then once again he uses his incandescents nightly, this time for two weeks, until about April 15, when he turns the halides down to 11 hours and covers the roof with long shades made from agricultural shading material. He manually opens and shuts the shades, closing them at dusk, as the lights go off, and opening them late in the morning as the lights come on. In late spring he sometimes uses only sunlight during the brightest part of the day.

On May 15 Exec plants another new crop. This time it is definitely an Afghani-Southern African, which flowers at 14-16 hours of light. By June 15 the Southern African-Mexican hybrid is ready, and the Afghani-Southern African plants are placed in the main garden. They are given only a natural-light cycle, and the halides supplement the natural light only on cloudy days. On July 15 they are shaded, to put them into harvest cycle, receiving no more than 14 hours of light. The plants are ready by August 30, and Exec replaces them with a Northern Mexican-Kush cultivar, or sometimes an Afghani-Kush hybrid that he's planted a month earlier. He uses flashing incandescents until September 30, when he lets the light cycle drop back to day length. The plants are ripe by December 15, a nice bit of Christmas cheer.

Exec gets four crops a year, uses a minimum of electric light, and is able to grow in a large area, arousing few suspicions regarding spinning electric meters.

He uses a propane heater during the cool months. This enriches the air with CO2 while providing heat. At other times he uses CO2

from a tank. During the hot months he uses a ceiling fan and several high-powered window fans, but even so, at times the room gets a little too warm for optimal growth. Cannabis grows fastest when the temperature ranges between the 60s and the 80s. If the temperature gets higher, photosynthesis stops; if it is lower, photosynthesis slows down. With about 500 plants per crop, Exec has no time to water them. Instead, he has a drip emitter attached to each container, and each day he waters his plants by turning on a valve for a few minutes. First he determines how much water the average plant needs. Then, using a simple formula — amount required ^ flow per hour x 60 — he arrives at the number of minutes needed for watering. His emitters flow at the rate of one gallon per hour (gph). If the plants require 8 ounces, 8 ± 128 x 60 3.7 minutes. When he is not around to take care of things manually, he estimates the plants' needs and then sets his short-term timer, which regulates a solenoid valve.

He adds soluble hydroponic nutrients and other fertilizers and minerals to the water solution several times a month.

These plants are only a month old. They are thriving in a near perfect environment, nutrient, water, and CO2.
The same plants a month later.

The second garden I visited, administered by Elf, was lit entirely by halides and sodium vapor lamps. Elfs area totals about 225 square feet, of which 175 constitute growing space. He cultivates about 80 plants per crop and claims that he can grow five to six crops per year, but works at a more leisurely pace. Elf too has a separate starting area. He can start a crop every two months, using the germination area for about one month before setting the plants in the main garden. Plants are started in 2% quart containers; when they're moved, he transplants them to 1 % gallon containers. Sometimes he starts from clones, which takes longer than starting from seeds, but is ultimately less effort since there are no males to deal with. Three weeks after the plants enter the main growing area, its light cycle is reduced to 13 or 14 hours from constant light. Six weeks later, the plants are ready to harvest. Equatorial varieties take longer to mature, but Elf prefers them to the stuff he sells, so he has a growing room for his own stash. It is stocked with exotics. Elf ventilates his area with two duct fans and open windows (which are covered to seal in light). CO2 is injected into all three rooms from a CO2 tank with a timer.

Elf waters his plants by hand, using a 5-gallon container and a / gallon pitcher. This takes less than an hour. At maturity the plants require about 1/2 gallon of water every four to seven days, depending on temperature. This saturates the container and partially fills the tray underneath it. Each container holds a mixture of vermiculite, perlite, Styrofoam, and foam rubber. Plants that are bigger than most receive extra water between irrigations. Smaller plants receive less water. He uses a combination of soluble fertilizers, and contends that his own urine, either fresh or fermented, is the best source of nutrients available. His plants were healthy and had no nutrient deficiencies. But the taste...

Chapter Eight

Why Dope Gets You High

Aside from set and setting, the main factors in determining the quality and intensity of the high are the amount, and the particular ratio, of cannabinoids present in the material.

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