The Water Culture/Raft/Raceway based Strawberry system

The Hydroponic water culture strawberry raft system ready to have the strawberry runnersThis is the last Hydroponic system I am setting up to grow strawberries in this year, This system is based on a method called Water Culture, Raft system or as I like to call it my bubbler system.

As you can see if you have a look at the pictures within my post here Time based Photo’s I’ve already used this method and quite like the results.

It’s quite a simple method of growing and I like it because there is no nutrients being pumped around and due to the tank just being solid with no drain or pump holes there is less likelihood of any leaks.

I’ve already got two small NFT tank systems available for me to play with so I thought I would use one of these as a strawberry growing system this year.

The water culture hydroponic strawberry system showing the air stones providing oxygen to the nutrientsThe system consists of a tank which holds nutrient solution and also an air pump which in my case is a Aquarium Ghost 2 Air Pump, I’ve tried several different air pumps previously but this one is the only one I’ve found which seems to provide enough air without spending too much money and is also pretty much silent.  The air pump is connected through a small length of air tubing to two large aquarium air stones, These are very cheap and do a good job of supplying bubbles of air throughout their whole length.

The strawberry runners are placed in the usual net pots I have filled with clay pebbles with their crowns above the pebbles but only just, These pots are then pushed through some thick pieces of polystyrene which I’ve cut holes in. The purpose of the polystyrene is to allow the plants to float on top of the nutrient solution, Hence the name the raft system.

The hydroponic water culture Strawberry system after the runners have been growing for about 1 weekThe plastic squares of black plastic you can see in the photo’s covering the clay pebbles is to try and stop any algae growing on the pebbles, It is actually cut off pieces of old pond liner.

As this is only a small test setup, I’ve only got enough room for growing 3 strawberry plants in this system and the air produced from the air stones is only really enough to cover the roots of the 3 plants. I’ve positioned the air stones diagonally underneath where the pots float so each of the plants is guaranteed a good supply of air rich nutrients. The roots should soon suspend into the nutrient bubbles.

As you can see from the photo’s here this system is also working well currently.

The NFT (Nutrient Film Technology) Strawberry Tank

The NFT Strawberry Hydroponic System showing the places for all the clay pebble filled potsThis is the third Hydroponic system I’ve setup this year for growing Strawberries, This time  I attempted to grow them in a NFT system. I understand from reading other peoples articles and information on the web that NFT was not the ideal hydroponic method for growing strawberries but I thought I would give it another try.

As you can see if you have a read half way down this previous post Our new Cedar Alton Greenhouse – 2007 I have previous attempted this, with unsuccessful results.

The underneath of the Hydroponic NFT Strawberry system showing the matting in the channelAnyway, The plan this time was to start the tank with the nutrient solution pumping around the system and be stable. Then to make holes in the plastic cover sheet and place pots with clay pebbles in like the other systems. I did this for a day to see what happens, And surprise surprise the clay pebbles were completely dry . I’m not quite sure why I thought that the nutrients would be able to jump from thin flow of nutrient solution being pumped around into the clay pebbles. If there was a lot more of a flow maybe this would have helped but the nutrient pumps do not create that amount of flow.

The NFT Strawberry pots with clay pebbles and wicking materialI then had the bright idea of using some capillary matting to try and get the nutrients to be wicked up into the clay pebbles, I placed two wicks made up of matting into each pot filled with clay pebbles. I thought perhaps the nutrients would be taken up enough to be able to keep the clay pebbles full of nutrients. After setting this up I placed one strawberry plant in one of the pot’s and left the system running for a couple of days.

When I came back the pebbles were bone dry and the strawberry runner was not showing any sign of being alive.

It appears like the clay pebbles either need to be submerged within the nutrient solution to soak it up or drip fed from above, I may try the drip feeding method from above next year.

For now though I have decided to abandon this method of growing as it seems unreliable at best. At least I have tested one of my tanks and have a NFT system ready for running and growing the tomato plants later on in the season, These I know from experience are more than happy to be placed directly within the nutrient solution.