Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My hydroponic tomatoes - using Autopot system

As part of my quest for optimal health, I've decided to grow my own vegetables. However, in mapping out my plan, I encountered a few challenges. First, I've never grown my own food, so I have a learning curve. Second, I live in Minnesota, where the growing season is fairly short. My goal is to grow food year round. To do that, I need to learn hydroponics.

The above photo is my first attempt at hydroponic tomatoes. The plant on the left is a Burbee Big Boy and the other is a Heartland. It's day three, and they're still alive. Today is May 20, and when I walked out onto the deck this morning, it was only 42F outside.

"How are you guys doing this morning?" I said to my plants, which also include a few stalks of asparagus (not shown). I interpreted their stoic silence as a sign that I've not lost my sanity or my plants.

The AutoPot system is a no-brainer way to get into hydroponics. Well, there are a few things to learn, but much of the complexity is cut out. The kit includes the trashcan-looking container on the left (it holds the water), the reservoir that holds its two pots and a magic float valve. The valve lets in more water from the tank once the plants drain the water to a specified level that triggers the float mechanism to drop. A bottle of plant food is also included.

I've used clay pebbles instead of soil as a medium to support the plants. These are basically rolled up balls of clay that have been fired. Apparently, they pop like popcorn in the kiln, making them light but strong enough for support and drainage.

To assembly the AutoPot system, you first attach the tube to the float. The tube connects between the water reservoir and the AutoPot float valve (the blue item in the photo below).

Next, you remove the shipping restraint from between the float valve compartments (shown below).

Next, you press the float valve down onto the T-bracket in the center of the AutoPot reservoir. This is inserted into the half-moon-shaped portion of the valve (below).

Next, snap the cover over the float valve. You can pop this loose to look into the AutoPot reservoir if you ever wonder whether or not water is flowing to your pots.

Next, place the included black filters into the pots (see below) and the included gold and black filters (gold side up) into the AutoPot reservoir trays (see below). The filters keep debris from the plant side from contaminating your water. The gold filters keep plant roots from entering the reservoir, becoming entwined with the holes that allow water into the pots.

Next, I added about an inch of the clay pebbles to the bottom of each pot to keep the roots from resting on the bottom (see below). I felt this would provide better drainage under the roots.

Next, insert the tube and rubber plug into the hole in the bottom of the main water reservoir. Insert the plug until the oval disk is flush with the side of the tank. This will be the most difficult part. One tip is to moisten the rubber plug before insert it into the hole. Another tip is to reach into the reservoir and pull the plug through as you twist it in on the other side.

Next, connect the water filter to the end of the tube inside the water reservoir.

Next, put water in your main reservoir. I put 5 gallons. I plan on emptying any remaining water in two weeks and adding fresh, so 5 gallons may be too much. We'll see.

I'm told that I should test the water and make sure it is around 6 to 6.5 pH level. I purchased a kit from Bachmann's. My tap water seems to be around 7. A guy at the hydroponics store told me that if I let the water set for 24 hours, chemicals that are causing higher pH would evaporate. So far, I haven't seen much change. I think I'll buy a higher-resolution test and test again. If it's still high, I'll buy some pH down liquid at the organic store. Of course, my neighbor has been growing garden tomatoes for years with this tap water, and they seem to like the water just fine.

Below is what the pots will look like if the floats are working properly. The water comes up just high enough to reach the roots of the plants.

I added plant food to the water in the main reservoir according to the directions on the bottle.

Next, I gently shook the dirt off of the roots of plants and put them in the pots. I filled the pots around the plants with the clay pebbles. I may have used more pebbles than necessary.

The AutoPot system is expandable. I plan on adding several more pairs of pots to the same main water reservoir. I purchased the initial system locally at Interior Gardens:
1620 Central Avenue NE
Suite #115
Minneapolis, MN 55413

It's a really fun store to visit. They specialize in hydroponics, but any gardener would love the store.

The system can be expanded by adding more pots. The water line uses a T-connector to split the line between the pots. There is a point at which you need to add a larger water reservoir to feed the pots- if you really go crazy adding systems. Below is a photo from, the manufacturer's web site. The photo shows two additional pots, but you can add many more.


Red Icculus said...

What's weird is that I lived a block from that place for a couple years. They are really nice people. You should tell them about your blog. I am sure they would love the publicity.

garethhopcroft said...

hi kenny,

I have just found your blog,well done on growing some great hydroponic produce!

I have used autopots for quite a few years now and i have to say that the aquavales can rarely be used straight out the box. You need to 'calibrate' the aquavalve so the flood height is correct. See this blog post about it>

Obviously you have done ok so far by not calibrating the valaves but you may get better results next time???

I would also recommend using a substrate with a better capilary action like coir or perlite next time.

Keep up the good work.


Duncan said...

Hi Kenny, I've recently discovered the autopot here in Australia, due to the season I have grown beans. It went so well I bought another tray today to expand my setup. Thanks for your blog it was very informative and an inspiration to give it a go myself. You can see it here.

hydroponic said...

Thanks for the post, we will post your Build your own hydroponics system article. I will post for our customers to see your articles on your blog Build your own hydroponics system

katty said...

Is very helpful to change our habits, we need to think the obesity is very danger for everybody, is like a pump that can explot any time. So is necesary to take care of ourselves, exercising and taking good and healthy food and stop eating junk food. The life is too short, so we need to take care of us every single day for enjoy the things that the life gave to us. I bought my house through costa rica homes for sale so i want to enjoy it for long time. That is why i eat healthy including tomatoes, lettuce, vegetables and fruits.

Americancontainerconcepts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Americancontainerconcepts said...


Thanks for the post, we will post your Build your own hydroponics system article.Nice first attempt at hydroponic tomatoes.

Phileeppa Hole said...

First of all I would like to tell that you have done an excellent job there to create hydroponic tomatoes to using Autopot program. I liked all the details and images a lot.In reality, I will also try this at house.
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orion vaughan said...

It is very helpful tips for me. I defiantly use your tips in my work. Thank you for nice tips.

Kelp4less said...

Paying for water sucks. Why buy watered down nutrients. Buy direct bulk nutrients and make your own liquids for 1/4 of the cost at Kelp4less

Susan Johnson said...

If you have essential knowledge of gardening you can effectively build your personal hydroponics garden. Enjoy gardening!

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Green Lamp said...

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