Welcome to the ongoing story of one man’s journey into the world of indoor growing.

Grobot v2 First Impressions

I like it. I really, really, like it.

They added full motion video and DVR capabilities and still managed to make the whole thing smaller, faster and lighter! The new mount is head and shoulders above the old one as it is also smaller but adds a tighten-able tilt adjuster that works very well. Not sure how I feel about them moving the light and motion sensors off of the main unit and into a separate sensor array with the temperature and humidity sensors, but I guess it makes sense. The little cage over the temperature and humidity sensors is a nice touch, though.

And most of all, I like that it’s still Open Source Hardware!

Instructions, part list and 3D-printable files:

Lessons Learned The Hard Way Yet Again

So it turns out that no one really uses dosing pumps for continuous drip systems, because dosing pumps are designed to be precise and run intermittently. They are not at all designed to run continuously and if you insist on doing so they will die, often horrifically with smoke and melting plastic.

So after much soul searching and many, many pumps, I decided to go back to the drawing board. And by drawing board, I mean the nice folks over at KnowESys. They suggested that since my bucket system was inspired by the “WaterFarm” system, maybe I should take a cue from that system for the pump as well. Marc even showed me how to fashion an air-lift pump out of three types of rubber hose and a PVC pipe, and a few days later he sent me a new drip ring designed and 3D printed for me! He said he would publish the files, so I’ll post that in an update when he does.


Grobot Sneak Peak

I wasn’t able to get any pictures, but when I was over at KnowESys HQ last week meeting with the guys, I got a sneak peak at the next generation Grobot, and let’s just say I think it’s a winner. The new one is considerably smaller and more square-ish than the original.

Not that the original model is any kind of a slouch, though! Mine has been working very well for months now and I have some pretty great data to show for it. Unfortunately, the actual grow has evolved so much, I haven’t been able to consistently measure the same thing for any length of time, so I’m hoping things will stabilize a little in the months to come.

I have to say, I’m not thrilled with these bucket-shaped bulkheads. They’re kind of a pain to install, and if you use E6000 instead of gasket maker, they are not coming off again ever with conventional tools. Also, the hoses slip off fairly easily and seem too thin to adequately circulate the nutrient solution.

Stay tuned!

Moving to monthly

Sorry folks, but I’ve been growing so much I have little time to blog these days. And honestly, the system practically takes care of everything between cloner and harvest, but setup and takedown are a fair bit of work. Trying to get to more of a pipeline where the buckets stay in place and the plants cycle in and out, but that’s easier said than done! In any case, I have less to report and less time to do it in, so I’ll be scaling back my posts to once a month for now.

This months amazing insight? Bucket-shaped bulkheads.

You too can print 16 bucket-shaped bulkheads in just 24 hours!

You too can print 16 bucket-shaped bulkheads in just 24 hours!

What are bucket-shaped bulkheads? They are a convenient way to attach hoses to buckets, which is crucial when making a circulation system for your grow. I have two attached to each bucket and the buckets are in a big chain with an extra bucket for my fluid level sensor and pH probe. On one of the tubes coming out of each bucket, I attached an inline valve, which makes adding new buckets into the chain pretty easy. The reservoir/sensor bucket has a valve on both hoses and I alternate which one I close when I add nutrient solution to force circulation in alternating directions. That will have to serve as a proxy for a circulation system for now until I can figure out how to create a steady directional flow through automation.

Hydro Setup 2.0

OK, true to my word, this week’s post is about the new system I designed and built.

First off, I should point out that there’s nothing wrong with my cloning and early vegetative growth systems. You can’t really beat a plain old bucket with a pump inside attached to a rotary sprayer and eight to twelve 2″ cup holes in the lid. I’m making just one small change which is a feature I borrowed from the new bloom system design…

So the new system… I already leaked that it was inspired by the commercial “WaterFarm” product, which is a drip-ring clay-pellet bucket-based system. So that’s where I started.

At first, I went with square buckets too. They’re a little harder to source than the round ones, but we’ve got a bunch of empty square cat litter buckets that are virtually identical in size and shape. Once you get the lid off, they stack well and all, but I just wasn’t thrilled with it. Just a smidge too tall when stacked like that and I wasn’t sure there was enough room for the size root mass I want to grow. SO… Round buckets it is!

Just get a standard hardware store 5 gallon bucket (no lid) and put a standard nursery or grow store 4 gallon pot inside it. They fit together so well, it’s almost like it was designed that way on purpose (spoiler, it was). Similarly, drop a 3 gallon pot inside the 4 gallon pot and you’ve got a beautiful drip bucket system on your hands for under 10 bucks. Just add a $15 peristaltic pump, a little 6mm OD rubber tubing and a drip ring and you’re good to go! One of the nice folks over at KnowESys even designed a 3D-printable drip ring for me. He promised to post the files on Thingiverse and I asked him to include the full bucket design, so I’ll pass that info on to you just as soon as it’s available!

I haven’t implemented the reservoir-linking-circulation-system yet, but watch this blog for details as I do!

As promised, here are the 3D-printable-drip-ring files:

Back to the beginning

I am waiting for you, Vizzini! -Inigo Montoya

Well, it’s been a painful two weeks as I’ve deconstructed my grow, then designed a new one nearly from scratch. Fortunately the guys over at KnowESys were there for me with some suggestions. They were all concepts I already knew, but I guess I needed to hear it in that context and that order.

  1. The volume and branching of the root mass mirrors the volume and branching of the top side.
  2. Tightly spaced plants lead to tall skinny plants.
  3. Most commercial hydro systems were designed to grow lettuce.
  4. The more plants per system, the more catastrophic the fail.
  5. Multiple, smaller systems will fail less painfully but more frequently.
  6. All systems eventually fail.

So yeah, I knew that stuff already because I did my homework, but I guess I needed the experiences of the last few months to really understand how that applies to the issue at hand: “Grow more better!”

The other thing I contemplated for my new system was: Hydroponics, aeroponics, coco fiber or dirt? I’m big on the whole reduce/reuse/recycle thing, so the idea of throwing out dirt or coco fiber on a regular basis just didn’t sit well with me. I’d been using an aeroponic system with 6″ tubes in bloom, and for the reasons enumerated above it’s become pretty obvious that it’s designed to grow many smaller plants, not a smaller  number of larger plants like I want.

I also decided that I would research commercially available systems for their pros and cons and then see if I could build a better mousetrap on my own. There are a ton of great systems out there, but the one that really caught my eye was the WaterFarm system by GH. Self contained systems for each plant, so your pump dies and it only affects one plant. Plus since the bottoms of the roots stay wet for a long time even after the pump dies, the consequences of system failure are less dire as well. But it also has some of the advantages of a larger system as well in that you can daisy chain the reservoirs and use a single controller for many plants.

But I’m going to make you wait a week before the reveal… I’m putting the finishing touches on it now. I think you’ll find it was worth the wait!

Radio Silence

Sorry for the dry spell, folks. Pulling in my first crop was WAY more work than I thought. I swear I spent more time over the last couple weeks processing than I did the prior three months growing. Phew! And after the initial euphoria wore off, I realized that I was getting less than a fifth as much by weight out of my plants than the other growers I know. Sure they’ve been doing it for years, but surely I can do better than twenty percent! I’m going to take a couple weeks off here and contemplate the best way to do that, so stay tuned!!!

Walking the walk

Just a quick mid-week update to show you what I mean about the way my pH “walks” during the course of a day. I suppose I should let the grobot correct the pH for me automatically, but I’m not sure I’m ready to hand over the responsibility to a machine yet. Which is odd, because I’m not doing a particularly good job of it myself!

Video of me dosing the grow reservoir:

pH Grow Reservoir


The wait is over

First harvest. For reals. So exciting! I started this project at the beginning of the year and now I get to harvest the first fruits of my labor: The first plant in my bloom system, that big one I had to bend 90 degrees. It grew 3 feet straight up and then three feet horizontally across the trellis. I ended up having to use three fuzzy pipe cleaners to secure it into place!

So proud. Peace.