Aquaponic Gardening

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Hi there!  My daughter and I have started into aquaponics and seem to have several systems that we're about to start.  I'm already overwhelmed.  Outdoor gardens...we're great at those, but this is new.  I now seem to have piles of pumps, towers ordered, and I think my favorite so far, is the stackable grow ups that I'm waiting to get in.  We have a large...REALLY decorated home, and we live and work in every square inch of it.  We have NO spare garage or basement storage space where I can make ugly aquaponic systems.  My challenge is to make them pretty!

One last thing - I've got it in my head that I want to try to grow grape vines aquaponically - wine grapes...since I can't do it outside in Denver.  Obviously, I need bigger pots for that.  I've got to go UP, and I've got to keep things nice looking.  Where can this group of wise enthusiasts point me?

Thanks so much for your help and suggestions!  I feel somehow driven to find ways to do this attractively and somewhat inexpensively...and to spread the word.

Jaime

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doing grapes indoors may be a real challenge.  Even if you can make the aquaponics look pretty, how are you going to make the lighting comfortable for humans while still providing enough light for the plants?

But why can't you grow wine grapes outdoors?  I know of wineries in Michigan and upstate New York and they are not growing in greenhouses.

Maybe I'll have to try planting them out there.  I'd heard that only heartier grapes do well in the front range, though we have fabulous wineries on our western slopes.  We have about 6 concord vines out back that do well.  I can try them out there.  I have two year old bare root vines staring at me right now on my office floor.  We also started making our own wine, so we thought we'd try a few grapes too.

 

The variety of grape plant will dictate where it will do well so I wouldn't speak for the variety you have staring at you since I don't know what it is nor do I really know much about grapes and growing them, other than there are types that can survive some pretty tough climates.

Also, while I believe almost anything can be grown in aquaponics, some things are going to be more challenging and with your added requirements of it needing to look pretty plus trying to do that indoors.  Well perhaps some things should be saved for after your system is more mature and you have gained a little experience with it.

But, I can't throw these in the trash....

Perhaps you just plant them in pots for now.  This time of year they should probably be kept somewhere cool where they can be dormant till spring, perhaps by then you will figure out if you can grow them indoors in aquaponics or if you should plant them out in the great outdoors.

I have seen plenty of growers who have fruit which just watered with aquaponic water that they take out of circulation. Most grapes also like somewhat acidic soil so growing them outside the system, but feed by it, would be easier.

Couldn't you make a peat wicking bed? That's what makes the most sense to me. Or, a hydroponic system fed aquaponic water and plenty of acid.
Jonathan Kadish said:

I have seen plenty of growers who have fruit which just watered with aquaponic water that they take out of circulation. Most grapes also like somewhat acidic soil so growing them outside the system, but feed by it, would be easier.

I guess you might get some leeching from a wicking situation, thus acidifying your fish water. I wish I could grow blueberries too as the soil I have around me is alkaline. It would be interesting to test it.

Eric Warwick said:

Couldn't you make a peat wicking bed? That's what makes the most sense to me. Or, a hydroponic system fed aquaponic water and plenty of acid.
Jonathan Kadish said:

I have seen plenty of growers who have fruit which just watered with aquaponic water that they take out of circulation. Most grapes also like somewhat acidic soil so growing them outside the system, but feed by it, would be easier.

Jaime, I feel your pain in wishing there were more attractive AP designs. It was my first real complaint with aquaponics, and hasn't been settled yet. I've seen a few pictures of marginally aesthetic set ups, but nothing to brag about. My growbeds are even worse, blue plastic barrels, not even all blue, some black and clear ones thrown in to boot.

The nicest little set up I've seen was at a local AP gathering, where a guy cut a wine barrel in half, coated the insides with a black, paint-on liner, and had the grow half immediately above the tank half, supported by an artistic stand of welded rebar and old iron stuff like pick heads and big wrenches and whatnot, sandblasted and sealed. It was very nice, would have looked even better with mature plants pouring out of it. I'll try and fetch a picture.

Not sure of details on growing grapes indoors, but my first reaction is the amount of room you would have to dedicate to even make a modest batch of wine. You did mention you are already packed tightly in your house, where will you hide an acre of grapes?

Well - I obviously had to do something with them, so they're in pots on my deck in the snow...hoping for the best!  So far, my favorite setup we have is the growups.  They seem to take up a small footprint and be simplistic enough to hide the pipes, tubes and plumbing.  Plants are growing and the fish seem happy enough.  I would love to see photos of pretty setups!

Hi Jaime,

 

I know grapes like a more acidic environment, so grapes might not be the best crop to start with. Research vining and climbing crops that do well in your local climate. Cucumbers might be easier to start with.

 

Growing vertically indoors, will require that you can physically reach the climbing vines. So make sure you know your end height, and that it is easily accessible with a step ladder, etc. I have grown vertically in front of a window and run into this problem.

 

If you wish to admire the fish, then a regular fish tank would work best.

 

As far as making an attractive indoor setup, I would start with dedicating a southern facing window to your project. If this is not possible, then supplemental light would be a consideration. To keep this aesthetically pleasing, I would size the tank and the bed to be the same size. You could start with a type of attractive metal rack, or go for a warmer wood look, then source bins for the bed and tank. All this could be bought at Ikea, think outside the box. Supplemental light should have a cover, so as not to be intrusive, and highlight your garden.

 

Hide your plumbing on one side and electrical to the other side of the unit. This is where it will become messy looking. If you do a neat job routing your plumbing and electrical, overall it will look better. The plumbing and electrical need to be accessible. Remember this is wet environment, so you will be occasionally be spilling water on the floor and such. A tile floor would be ideal. If you have space in the kitchen, I would set up in there. You have access to water and can crop your veggies right there, however this is not always convenient. You just don't want to be moving buckets of water and gravel through the living room and such. Make sure you have no leaks! You may want to consider an overflow back to the main tank as well. The bathroom is also a nice humid environment as well, with access to water, and supplemental light can be contained well.

 

You can set up a very small simple counter system as well to grow herbs. The easiest way to do this is to grow directly out of the fish tank. You don't even need a pump, but you will need an airstone and air pump. This simplifies the setup drastically, and eliminates the media bed entirely. However your choice of crop needs consideration. This would be more along the lines of a Nutrient Film Technique. The airstone should bubble the top of water spraying the bottom of the plant roots. Spacing is key here, not to wet, not to dry.

 

For very aesthetic setups, I would recommend looking into bonsai and iwagumi setups. The initial structure you use or build will inform the overall aesthetic. This is the most crucial step for an overall pleasing look. Before anything, make sure you are pleased with the structure, before adding water or anything. If you want something very pleasing, you will most likely have to build it from scratch. 

 

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