Gardening Ideas forum: Article Idea: Easy and Inexpensive Aquaponics

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Name: Liz Shaw
Gilbert, AZ (Sunset Zone 13) (Zone 9a)
Arizona Gardener
Enjoys or suffers hot summers Region: Southwest Gardening Region: Arizona Ponds Aquaponics Hydroponics
Herbs Container Gardener Vegetable Grower Gardens in Buckets Cactus and Succulents Miniature Gardening
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LizDTM
Sep 13, 2017 2:56 PM CST
It's very easy to grow herbs, lettuce, and other small plants indoors using a continuous flow aquaponics set up that is easy and inexpensive to put together. I am not a DIYer, but I was able to do this with a minimum amount of swearing. Most of the swearing was because I had to figure this out myself, so I've already done that for you. Here's what you'll need:

*Sturdy storage bin to use for grow bed (mine is 15" x 22") - try to buy black if you can. Cement mixing pans from Home Depot will work for this and they are already black. If you don't buy black, you'll need to spray paint the bin black to avoid algae buildup.

*Bulkhead fitting ( $4 at Amazon - search on Lifegard Aquatics 3/4-Inch Double Threaded Bulkhead ) and a threaded standpipe to fit. Or buy it all for about $7 (see picture at http://www.growwurks.com/botan... - I didn't buy from this supplier, so this isn't a recommendation. Just showing you the picture.) I recommend the second because it will save you heartaches later on.

*Shelf, brackets, and hardware to mount it to wall - size of your shelf will depend on size of your storage bin.

*10 gal fish tank (you can find at thrift stores or buy at Walmart - do not buy the full set up - just the tank)

*Aquarium pump ( $8 at Amazon - for an example, search for Maxesla Submersible Pump 80 GPH (300L/H) Fountain Water Pump For Pond/Aquarium/Fish Tank/ Statuary/Hydroponics with 5.9ft (1.8M) Power Cord )

*Black tubing to fit your pump output

*Bubble stone and air pump (about $10 for both at Walmart)

*Shop light (about $10 at Walmart)

*1 or 2 feeder goldfish (about 45 cents each at PetSmart)

* Hydroponic clay pellets ($17 at Amazon for more than you'll use. You can use pea gravel, but it will make your grow bed MUCH heavier and you'll need to reinforce your shelf. I recommend the pellets.)

Here's what it will look like when you're done, except you'll be smart enough to use black for the bin and tubing.
From the side: Thumb of 2017-09-13/LizDTM/1c34bf
From the top: Thumb of 2017-09-13/LizDTM/ecaf4f

Here's how to set up:

Stage 1
1. Spray paint the grow bed if necessary.

2. Cut a hole near a corner of your storage bin to fit your bulkhead fitting. This is the hardest thing about the set up, I promise.

3. Attach bulkhead fitting and test for leaks. Hopefully you won't have leaks, but if you do, seal them with 100% silicone. (Plumbing section at Walmart.) Keep testing until you don't have leaks.

4. (Only if you didn't get the full fitting.) Cut standpipe to a height about the same height as the sides of your bin. If your standpipe doesn't already have holes in it to allow water flow, drill holes in it starting at about 1" above the bottom of the bin.

Stage 2
(Once your grow bed is water tight and fully plumbed)
1. Measure your storage bin from one edge across to the bulkhead fitting. You want your shelf to be a bit shorter than this measurement. Look at the picture above and you can see the bulkhead fitting coming down out of the bed near the left front corner.

2. With your tank in place, determine the height for your shelf and install it. I set mine up so that the brackets are even with the top of the tank. This way the tank is helping the brackets support the weight of the grow bed. Place your grow bed on the shelf.

3. Set up your tank with bubble stone and pump. Attach tubing to pump and run it up to the grow bed. Use a zip tie or duct tape to secure your tubing so that the water will be pumped into the bed at the opposite end from the bulkhead fitting.

4. Rinse the dust off the clay pellets. This will require multiple rinsings. Fill the grow bed with the rinsed clay pellets. If you didn't get the specific fitting I linked to, make sure that the top of the standpipe is above the clay pellets. You don't want pellets getting into the pipe and blocking it.

5. Fill the aquarium with water. Keep at least 1 to 2 gallons nearby. Turn on the pump. Water should pump up through the tubing, flow through the grow bed, and return through the bulk head fitting back into the tank. Watch this for a while to make sure that you have the same amount of water draining out as you have going in, otherwise, it will eventually overflow. Once you have the water continuously cycling, top off the tank so that the water remains at the proper height.

6. No matter how many times you rinsed the pellets, you will probably have a lot of cloudiness in the water from clay dust. This is infuriating, but normal. Just keep the pump flowing and within a day or two, the water will clear.

7. Hang your shop light over the grow bed.

Stage 3
(Once the water is clear)
1. The fastest way to get your new set up ready for fish and plants is to use some water from an aquarium that has already cycled. If you don't have an aquarium, ask a friend who does to give you a gallon from their tank when they clean it. You will have evaporation from your set up, so little by little add a gallon of this. until you've got it running.

OR

If you've got fish fertilizer, you can dilute this in a gallon of water and do the same thing.

OR

You can use a product by API called Quick Start. It's about $15 at PetSmart.

2. After a few days, of this cycling, go get your fish. You can use any fish, but feeder goldfish are cheap and they are dirty. Dirty is good. Their poop and pee is what fertilizes your plants.

3. Plant your bed.

You can directly sow seeds into the clay pellets if you want, but if the seeds are tiny, they may wash into the tank. In the picture from the top above, you can see some direct sown seedlings coming up.

It is also perfectly OK to fill a plastic pot (or solo cup with holes in the bottom and sides) with rinsed clay pellets and then nestle it down into the bed so that the bottom of the cup is close to the bottom of the bed so that water is keeping the lower pellets wet. Direct sow into the pot.

Grocery stores are now selling what they call "hydroponic" herbs. I just put them, pot and all, into my grow bed and they are doing fine.

I also start seeds outside the grow bed in a double solo cup system and once the plants are big enough they can be transplanted into the grow bed.

You can also do this this with small plant starts you bought at a nursery or grew yourself from seed, just rinse as much of the soil off the roots and transplant them into your bed. I've got a couple of cauliflower plants growing in a bed right now.

Fresh herbs and lettuce year-round make this totally worth it.
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. -Anaïs Nin
[Last edited by LizDTM - Sep 13, 2017 2:59 PM (+)]
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Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Seed Starter Vegetable Grower
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Weedwhacker
Sep 13, 2017 3:06 PM CST
Liz, you make this project sound so interesting -- as well as relatively simple -- that I just may have to give it a try; I even have a 10-gallon aquarium that I'm not using, plus another aquarium that I AM using, to get the cycled water from. Smiling

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Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
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joannakat
Sep 13, 2017 3:15 PM CST
Liz, wow! This is really amazing. I'm guessing that people can get most of the materials through Freecycle or some other local giveaway forum. Especially the aquarium. I think lots of people keep them and after a while, don't want them anymore.

So glad you posted this! Thumbs up
AKA Joey.
Name: Liz Shaw
Gilbert, AZ (Sunset Zone 13) (Zone 9a)
Arizona Gardener
Enjoys or suffers hot summers Region: Southwest Gardening Region: Arizona Ponds Aquaponics Hydroponics
Herbs Container Gardener Vegetable Grower Gardens in Buckets Cactus and Succulents Miniature Gardening
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LizDTM
Sep 13, 2017 3:23 PM CST
@Weedwhacker, make sure you share some pictures! I'd love to see what you do with it.

@joannakat, I got the shelving free during bulk trash pick up, I got the tank at Goodwill, and I found shelving brackets in my garage.

If I was going to spend some real money on this, I would definitely upgrade from a shop light to a real grow light. It's on my list Drooling
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. -Anaïs Nin
Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Vermiculture
Image
joannakat
Sep 13, 2017 3:25 PM CST
LizDTM said:@Weedwhacker, make sure you share some pictures! I'd love to see what you do with it.

@joannakat, I got the shelving free during bulk trash pick up, I got the tank at Goodwill, and I found shelving brackets in my garage.

If I was going to spend some real money on this, I would definitely upgrade from a shop light to a real grow light. It's on my list Drooling


I love that you did that! I'm HUGE on repurposing!
AKA Joey.
Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Seed Starter Vegetable Grower
Greenhouse Region: United States of America Region: Michigan Enjoys or suffers cold winters Butterflies Birds
Image
Weedwhacker
Sep 13, 2017 4:03 PM CST
LizDTM said:@Weedwhacker, make sure you share some pictures! I'd love to see what you do with it.



I will! (it will likely be a winter project, so don't start holding your breath yet...)

Question -- how many hours/day do you run your shop light? Also, is there a reason to not put a cover of some type on the aquarium to slow down evaporation of the water?
“Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight." ~ Albert Schweitzer /
Cubits.org - A Universe of Communities[/I] / Share your recipes: Favorite Recipes A-Z cubit
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Name: Liz Shaw
Gilbert, AZ (Sunset Zone 13) (Zone 9a)
Arizona Gardener
Enjoys or suffers hot summers Region: Southwest Gardening Region: Arizona Ponds Aquaponics Hydroponics
Herbs Container Gardener Vegetable Grower Gardens in Buckets Cactus and Succulents Miniature Gardening
Image
LizDTM
Sep 13, 2017 5:01 PM CST
@Weedwhacker, I run the shoplight about 14 hours a day. If you put a cover on the aquarium, you'll have to cut holes in it to let the water get out and back in. Just haven't figured out how to do that - when you figure it out, post the tutorial Rolling my eyes.
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. -Anaïs Nin
Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Seed Starter Vegetable Grower
Greenhouse Region: United States of America Region: Michigan Enjoys or suffers cold winters Butterflies Birds
Image
Weedwhacker
Sep 13, 2017 5:05 PM CST
LOL, Liz -- if the aquarium comes with a "hood," there is usually a panel that is made for cutting out areas for hoses, filters and such. Otherwise -- you could always just use some aluminum foil, or a piece of plastic that will partially cover the top but leaves room for the equipment.

Now I'm getting anxious to try this out but there just isn't time right now, at the end of my gardening season -- still have salsa to make!
“Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight." ~ Albert Schweitzer /
Cubits.org - A Universe of Communities[/I] / Share your recipes: Favorite Recipes A-Z cubit
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Name: Jackie
Lake Lanier, GA (Heat Zone 7) (Zone 7b)
☺ I love flowers!! ☺
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GenXNEGeorgia
Sep 17, 2017 8:23 PM CST
LizDTM said:It's very easy to grow herbs, lettuce, and other small plants indoors using a continuous flow aquaponics set up that is easy and inexpensive to put together. I am not a DIYer, but I was able to do this with a minimum amount of swearing. Most of the swearing was because I had to figure this out myself, so I've already done that for you. Here's what you'll need:

*Shop light (about $10 at Walmart)


Liz -- this is great information! Thank You! I think we're going to have to try this during the winter!

Question - are you using one shop light with two fluorescent lights? (It appears to be; I just wanted to check) I was wondering if this is enough light for plants that require full sun. I would LOVE to grow lettuce and basil in the winter.

A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust. — Gertrude Jekyll
Name: Liz Shaw
Gilbert, AZ (Sunset Zone 13) (Zone 9a)
Arizona Gardener
Enjoys or suffers hot summers Region: Southwest Gardening Region: Arizona Ponds Aquaponics Hydroponics
Herbs Container Gardener Vegetable Grower Gardens in Buckets Cactus and Succulents Miniature Gardening
Image
LizDTM
Sep 18, 2017 10:02 PM CST
@GenXNEGeorgia Yes, I'm using 1 shop light fixture with 2 fluorescent lights in it. My lettuce is leggy. If I was going to invest money in this set up, I would get a better light for sure.
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. -Anaïs Nin
Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Seed Starter Vegetable Grower
Greenhouse Region: United States of America Region: Michigan Enjoys or suffers cold winters Butterflies Birds
Image
Weedwhacker
Sep 18, 2017 10:06 PM CST
Liz, are you keeping the light right close to the plants? When I start my seedlings under shop lights I keep the lights within an inch of the tops of the plants.

Also, it occurred to me the other day that it might be helpful to have a fan blowing on the plants, which makes them stronger.
“Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight." ~ Albert Schweitzer /
Cubits.org - A Universe of Communities[/I] / Share your recipes: Favorite Recipes A-Z cubit
C/F temp conversion / NGA Member Map
Name: Liz Shaw
Gilbert, AZ (Sunset Zone 13) (Zone 9a)
Arizona Gardener
Enjoys or suffers hot summers Region: Southwest Gardening Region: Arizona Ponds Aquaponics Hydroponics
Herbs Container Gardener Vegetable Grower Gardens in Buckets Cactus and Succulents Miniature Gardening
Image
LizDTM
Sep 19, 2017 7:29 PM CST
That's probably another problem. I don't have it that close for this set up. I need longer chains.
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. -Anaïs Nin

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