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  #1  
Old 02-06-2012, 10:50 PM
Rivka Rivka is offline
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Default Help me design a s/h watering system

ok since i have moved to a more extreme climate and my collection has slowly gotten bigger and my free time has gotten smaller, i think its time to tackle some sort of watering system that automates at least pats of the task.
I would really love folks' input and i design and build this.

here is my set up:
  • 2 18"x48" wire metro racks, each with 2 shelves of chides about 50 plant currently but would love to add a 3rd rack once the watering thing gets figured out
  • all plants are in s/h or on a holding area waiting to be switched over at the right time.
  • this set up in in my living room in a large bay window like area with no access emediate to running water, but i do think i can drain the system out the window
  • i am string up a vapor humidifier to increase the RH, so i also am thinking of a way to pump fresh water into that tank so it can run without me for a while.
  • im considering a RO or other system to get cleaner water, mine seems to have to much resolved solids with now.

Goals:
  • storage of enough water for at least one watering, but hopefully 3 or 4. need to do the math and see how much actually goes into each pot depending on final set up. my current pots need 15oz or just under 2 cups of water to fill them once.
  • simple enough for a house sitter to run the system and refill it when I'm out of town.
  • no water spilling everywhere on my hard wood floor
  • pots get a real soak before draining, not to cumbersome physically or visually so i can still move pots around with out too much re hooking back up, some is fine.


open to all sorts of suggestions

---------- Post added at 07:39 PM ---------- Previous post was at 07:36 PM ----------

here is my current idea in the making:

using a drip irrigation (without the drip heads for a higher flow thru) like system to flow via a pump and fill all the pots, then a similar hose system coming out of custom hole on each pot (would require repotting, I'm ok with that.) that flows to a output that i can shut off while filling and soaking and then open up to drain

---------- Post added at 07:50 PM ---------- Previous post was at 07:39 PM ----------

a few questions that I'm pondering.
  • how to attach the small drain hoses to the pots, some sort of disconnect fitting, otherwise i will have a real hassle when i want to rearrange the pots or take one to the club for showing.
  • can a set up like this be effectively one direction of flow enough to avoid any contamination of one pot to another? I'm thinking that as long as each shelf is on a separate main drain line that it could, if shelves were daisy chained, i can see gravity pushing the water from above back up into the lower pots, yuck.
  • could i get pumps running that would do this from a tank on the floor or would i be better to gravity feed this from above?
  • if i have a branched irrigation system, does each pot get even close to the same amount? or would lines closer to the source get significantly more, there by overflowing before the end of the line filled up?
  • probably need a overflow tray under each shelf, with a drain line too
  • what to do about pots filling up to far and dumping the leca or flooding crowns of plants, might just be a air circulation issue i need to adress


thoughts?

Last edited by Rivka; 02-06-2012 at 10:41 PM..
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  #2  
Old 02-07-2012, 05:15 AM
Discus Discus is offline
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Rather than plumbing waste out of each pot, I'd probably add a large drip tray under each shelf and drain that to waste.

In terms of supply, in order to keep up with the ideals of SH culture, you're going to need to provide a pulse of water strong enough to basically fill the pot right up to the top and then stop and let it drain. This is a significant volume of water, particularly as the drain holes make for fairly speedy drainage!

However, as long as you realise that occasional extra "love" might be required to keep up the full pot volume flushing for no salt build-up, you can probably get away with the occasional week or more where conditions are somewhat less than ideal (particularly if you monitor the EC of your water and adjust your fert input, probably downward) - to work this out, compare your "normal" S/H waste water EC with your "fancy automated" S/H waste water.

Essentially, to get water in there, you're then going to need a pump-fed supply line. This will be somewhat ugly for in your lounge, but can be camouflaged into a "side table" with some basic carpentry. The pipes will be more of a challenge.

Get a reservoir large enough for your purposes (work out pot volumes, how many times you want it to work between fills, etc).

Get a pump and suitable pipework - I would suggest you get fairly large diameter pipe into which you tap smaller "feed hoses" to each of your pots; I'd use irrigation or fish tank airline fittings.

Get a timer that can run your pump for the right duration - this will likely be seconds. If a seconds timer can't switch the ameperage required by the pump, you'll need a relay. Remember that if you have 3 or more levels, the lower levels will get more water than the upper ones (although you can play around with valves to help mitigate this) - you'll be better off with a pump per level, although this may get expensive. Make sure the pump can handle the volume and head required.

For drainage, I'd suggest you collect all the waste water into another similarly sized container to the supply reservoir (in case of mishaps...) and have a pump in that container that either dumps it into a sink way across the house, or out the window. You can do this manually or use a float valve. With house-sitters, automation is useful and leads to fewer flooded floors.

You could even put in a relay based float switch "interlock" that disconnects the pumps should the water level in the discard reservoir become too high - also hook it up to an annoying buzzer, which has a note next to it explaining why it's buzzing and has a blinky red light of doom. This is particularly useful if you employ forgetful house-sitters who remember about putting water into the system, but forget that water goes somewhere.

Take a look at the way aquaculture people do centralised filtration, and you'll have an idea of how you can get equal flows throughout your system. If you're not sure, I can probably sketch you something quickly. The more valves you have, the more control you have, but beware of too much "back pressure" on your pump.

Also, run the system for a least a couple of weeks to iron out any kinks before you go running off out of town on business.

---------- Post added at 11:15 AM ---------- Previous post was at 11:00 AM ----------

re: some of your other concerns -

So long as the drainage out of the communal sink is fast enough, the pots are more or less isolated - each pot gets it's own clean water supply line, and the waste water doesn't get into other pots. You may have to play around with how wide your waste is - if one wide won't work fast enough, add more! you can also raise the pots up a little out of the "swamp"!.

Because the supply lines are thin, flexible hose, it's easy to take off the pot and re-arrange. I'm in two minds whether it would be better to push the hose into the pot, or figure some way of holding it above the top of the pot. Perhaps a micro-irrigation head fixed to a small stick might be the way to go, ensuring fairly even coverage of the pot (although if your volume flow is high enough, then that becomes academic).

If you have issues with pot(s) getting too full, dial down the flow or add additional drainage holes at the level you want the water to stop at. It'll change the conditions some, but is probably better than the alternative.

Gravity feeding works, but pumps failing generally means less water on your floor than when your gravity fed plumbing goes awry. Make darn sure your fittings are all properly sealed and fastened. I'm a big fan of plastic pipes that have been welded together with adhesive. uPVC piping works quite well, and you can get all sorts of awesome fittings:



Google tells me your water requirement per pot is about 1/2 a litre (443ml) That means, with 100 pots, you need a minimum volume of 50l, plus the water needed to fill the pipework (which you can work out with pi*r squared*h, a variable I can't calculate as I don't know anything about your proposed plumbing lengths or diameters). Say another 10-20 litres. That's say 70l per watering - divide that by 4.5 for gallons - roughly 19 gallons - which is not an insignificant volume of water to have lying around in your lounge. Multiply that by 3-4 for your preferred endurance, and things get interestingly large!

Let us know if that answers your queries?
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  #3  
Old 02-07-2012, 07:04 AM
Rivka Rivka is offline
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Part of the reason for the drain tubing rather than just a tray was so that I could "close" the drain lines to fill the pots with less water slower and disturb the leca less, splash less, and then let the pots soak for a few minutes. Specially nice on the plain water flush days.

I like the idea of having a second set of holes nearing the top of the pots for overflow. Like a bathtub! It might mean having my leca level a tad lower in the pot so the top of it can get soaked, but most orchid would be ok with that. A few really like to right at the top of the pots because of the way their leaves spread out.

Hmmm the math sure sucks on water volume. That measurement was me switching things over to a slightly larger pot to get everything into the same volume for uniform filling. yikes that ends up a lot more water than I use now. Which I'm guessing is closer to 10gal. It sucks because I have a unused deck right on the other side of a window from them and could put the tanks and pump out there, but I fear that would mean unacceptably cold water in the winter months.
As for hiding it inside, I'm thinking of getting a third metro rack, and in losing the lower half to hold this set up and using the top half for a blooming plant display area. Or a work area.
And yeah I do think the drain needs to straight out the window or to a drain, I'm thinking the tank would be gross to keep clean and yeah too much to ask of a house sitter.


Good thoughts keep them coming!
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Old 02-07-2012, 08:45 AM
Tsuchibuta Tsuchibuta is offline
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With some clever use of aquarium air tubing you could create overflow drain hoses from the top of the pot (above leca) and long enough to drain into a length of house gutter for drainage. The same could be used to for the bottom holes as well. I say use house gutter because it's easy to find fairly inexpensive and will be easy to get a length that you need. Finding a tray that is the exact size of your metro shelf is going to be difficult.

I assume that you own your home as you are speaking of piping waste outside which requires a hole to the outside world being created. If this is the case do you have a basement? If so how about plumbing through the floor to a basin downstairs. For plumbing i would just use small pvc with fittings to fill each pot simultaneously. If you want to control the rate of fill on each pot; caps on the ends of each filler pipe with holes drilled in would be a cheap method (though valves would be the best but expensive)

Using a method like this would allow you to just lift the pot out of the system and take it wherever you would like, the put the drain hoses back into the guttering and you are back to business.
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Old 02-07-2012, 02:31 PM
Rivka Rivka is offline
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I do not own my home sadly, I would just be doing some low inpact fitting of something through a window opening. And the set up is on the second floor, with more living space below it. This is not to say I can't have the tank I a remote location, the room below might work since I think there is a path to run the hose thru the ventilation system between floors right there.
Where to put the tank is a secondary issue to the fill and drain system, and it can be moved later as things scale up.

As for the gutter and short tubes, that would work for draining but would not allow me to close the drains to accommodate slower filling and soaking of pots. The reason for the tubes in the first place. If I didn't feel like I needed that feature I could just let them drain to a common pan.
But that did get me thinking that the did connect for the drain lines can be downstream a bit to avoid me having to fiddle with the pots. It could be where the small lined join into a larger pipes.
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Old 02-07-2012, 02:33 PM
Rivka Rivka is offline
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It's great to be thinking this out with other folks, thanks! By the time this is built its going to be great!
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  #7  
Old 02-08-2012, 10:19 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rivka View Post
Part of the reason for the drain tubing rather than just a tray was so that I could "close" the drain lines to fill the pots with less water slower and disturb the leca less, splash less, and then let the pots soak for a few minutes.
I generally discourage that Rivka, even though a lot of folks like to plug the holes in the pot when they water.

The concept is the fill the pot rapidly so that, to some degree, you "push" out the contents of the reservoir quickly. By blocking or reducing the outflow, instead you end up mixing the contaminated-and-of-questionable-chemistry reservoir contents with the fresh solution. That reduces the ability of the solution to fully flush residues, and actually spreads them around the entire mass of medium.

Do not underestimate how contaminated that liquid becomes. Every nutrient ion the plant absorbs is compensated for by the emission of another. Add to that the effect of the gas exchange occurring through the root system, and the pH and dissolved solids (type and concentration) changes pretty rapidly.
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Last edited by Ray; 02-08-2012 at 10:22 AM..
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Old 02-08-2012, 10:47 AM
Rivka Rivka is offline
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Well I simply do not have the environment to allow me to flush my pots at high speed.
Either I slow the draining down so that a can get ahead of it without a flow in that is so forceful that it makes a mess and gets water on parts of my orchid I don't want wet.
Or I halt draining for a minute or two while fill.
Do you feel your concern would be addressed if I started the flush with the drain valves open to hopefully rinse out some of the bottom and then closed and filled?

In a set up like mine it seems important, specially on clear flush days that I let things soak for a few minutes (I usually do the clear flush a few short times)
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Old 02-08-2012, 04:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rivka View Post
Do you feel your concern would be addressed if I started the flush with the drain valves open to hopefully rinse out some of the bottom and then closed and filled?
Yes indeed, that would be an improvement.
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Old 02-08-2012, 05:01 PM
Tsuchibuta Tsuchibuta is offline
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I don't think that you would need to control the amount of flow out of the pots with a gutter system as long as you had a place for the waste water to go. The incoming water could be presented to the pots in a number of methods to avoid splashing, easiest being a piece of PVC with holes drilled in buried in the pot with only a small portion exposed. This pipe would need to be larger than the outside diameter of the incoming pipe so you could slide the incoming pipe inside. The water then would go directing into the pot and disperse filling the pot. The overflow hose at the top would then keep the water from going on the floor and into the gutter system.
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