Last time we wrote about our journey with aquaponics and now it’s time to talk about hydroponics too. From the get-go we were experimenting with hydroponics (and built several different hydroponics setups – like this) so we have a deep understanding what a hydroponics grower would need to bring in his A-game.
Next to our smaller hydroponics projects we partnered up with other hydroponic growers who have tremendous experience with growing different plants and herbs with hydroponics, so we could have some field-experience, that we would use for the development of AquaShield.
This time I would like to introduce you a Hungarian hydroponics grower – called Green Drops Farm – who are operating a small urban-indoor hydroponics farm. They are also the developer and manufacturer of their own hydroponics tower. We know each other for some time, so once they decided to start their indoor farm, it was no question, that they would like to monitor and control the whole site with the AquaShield.
One of the groom rooms at Green Drops Farm: growing basil like crazy
In the last couple of months AquaShield was responsible to monitor the PH, EC, temperature, humidity and light intensity in all grow rooms as well as to control the LED grow-lights and it did a good job. Now Green Drops Farm plans to expand their operation and start some more hydroponics towers and with this, there are some new interesting challenges for AquaShield also. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves!
When we first talked with Gréti and Sándor – who are the founders of Green Drops Farm – they wanted to have a monitoring system to get real-time information about the PH and EC of the circulated nutrient solution and also wanted to control the grow lights, so they wouldn’t have to set up all analog-timers by hand.
We installed a complete AquaShield package into their indoor farm. Back than they have 2 rooms for growing and 1 for starting seeds.
At Green Drops Farm they grow basil, lettuce and just started experimenting with microgreens
For the 2 grow rooms we installed 2 Light-and-Humidity modules (that also host a temperature probe), so they could get data for temperature and humidity inside the grow rooms, as well as a constant feedback about the LED grow lights. As there is no natural sunlight, by monitoring the light intensity they could set up alarms, so if one of the grow lights fail, the light intensity will drop and they will get a notification immediately.
In both rooms the grow lights are controlled by the AquaShield. There is a common trigger set up in the AquaShield software to turn on all grow lights at 6:00 and turn them off at 20:00 every day.
Super efficient LED grow lights mounted on the wall
The AquaShield unit is placed in the seed starter room. Also the main nutrient reservoir is here, so monitoring PH and EC is easy and convenient. Next to the PH and EC probes there is also a temperature probe submersed in the nutrient solution.
Till this time Green Drops Farm was mainly producing basil plants, so it was enough to monitor PH and EC at only one point (but this will change in the future). For the optimal growth, AquaShield is set up to alert the staff once the PH drops below 5.5 or rise above 6.5. Next to the PH we also track how the EC and temperature develops. AquaShield alerts the user if the EC drops out the 1.6 – 2.2 (S) interval as well as if the temperature drops below 18C.
All the grow towers are fed from a common nutrient. There is a pump submerged, that is run by a timer to run 10 minutes in every hour. Now, that the Green Drops Farm plans to produce strawberry, lettuce and other herbs (next to basil), they will need different PH and EC setups, so they will split the single nutrient loop for 3 smaller systems that will be all monitored and controlled by a single AquaShield. It is possible, as we can connect several Sensor Modules to the same AquaShield Control Module, so this single AquaShield will host 3 PH sensors, 3 EC sensors and 3 temperature probes for the 3 different nutrient tanks.
That also means, that AquaShield will have to control 3 pumps (submerged in the 3 nutrient tanks) and monitor the water level in all tanks. It is also possible, as a single AquaShield could monitor 6 liquid levels.
There is a dehumidifier installed in both rooms that keeps the humidity levels below 60% (it’s a fun fact that the condensed water is drained back to the main nutrient tank). Once the existing system is split to 3 different sub-system, all dehumidifiers will be controlled also by the AquaShield (so Green Drops Farm will be able to monitor and control everything from the AquaShield Dashboard).
Both grow rooms are fully loaded with grow towers (and basil)
There are also some new features that will be introduced to Green Drops Farm once they finished the reconfiguration of their indoor farm. With the new AquaShield 2.0 they will be able to track VPD (vapor pressure deficit) and dew point. VPD controls plant transpiration rates, stomata opening, CO2 uptake, nutrient uptake, and plant stress. Knowing this, they will be able to maintain the optimal environment more easily.
Next to VPD and dew point, the AquaShield will track the CO2 levels in all growing rooms and control a valve to blow in CO2 for faster growth of the plants.
CO2 monitoring, PH and EC dosing will help Green Drops Farm to maximize yields
Last but not least, with our new dosing pumps, they will be able to easily control the PH (using PH+ or PH-) and maintain the optimal EC by adding nutrients based on the AquaShield’s EC readings
That’s it! Quite high-tech, isn’t it? As you can see, AquaShield is a swiss army knife for hydroponics and could be configured to handle all tasks of any growing environment.
Although this is the end of this post, this story is far from over. I’ve just talked with Sándor and Gréti and they plan to start a much larger hydroponics site with more than 100 hydroponics towers – that means more than 100.000 plants grown at the same moment. Sounds cool, can’t wait to start building it 🙂