Aquaponic Gardening

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Well, I've been getting enough questions and comments that TCLynx suggested I start a discussion so here it goes- I definitely want to hear about anyone elses attempts at vertical hydroponics, and I'm more than happy to share any details of my system that folks are interested in.

 

TC- Where do you find that media? I get my media from a large plastics company- the problem is, they only sell it in massive quantities (i.e. minimum orders of thousands of square feet, min. $5,000.00 an order or so). I got my intial stuff as a researcher, so they were willing to work with me.  I'm currently using the stuff for my towers, and I'm trying to start a business selling towers (eventually) so I can make big orders.  If you want a chunk of it, i could send it to you, or if you were interested in more, i'd split an order with you however you want.  i also have lots of scraps- it's really cool stuff and it would be great to see more folks playing with it- i'd send you some scraps if you want. email me if you're interested- i'll send you thier contact information too if you want- but i've found they're really unwilling to work with folks interested in small quantities (they're wholesale).

 

 Have you used if for any purposes other than your vertical growing towers? If so, what did you try and how were the results compared to other media.  I've played with it a lot over the past couple years, and it's neat stuff. there are some folks using similar material for floating islands.  I've used it as filter material, and water diffusion material, but the towers seem to really be what it works best for.

Have you tried direct seeding into it or only with seedlings? What are your seed starting methods for the seedlings going into the towers.  The material isn't suitable for direct seeding- it's too coarse and porous, and really doesn't "hold" water  like most starting materials.  I start my seedlings in peatmoss or rockwool and then transplant the seedling peat/rockwool and all.  I've experimented with different starting techniques, and the tubes do best with a peat/perlite/verm. mix that just goes straight into the towers.

Hope that starts to answer your questions. I'll put up some pictures of how i transplant.

 

Nate

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Yep, constant flow keeps the microbes happy, and it's much easier on most pumps. oh and at high flow volumes these tubes really oxygenate the water- i don't use any aeration in the tanks that tubes drain into.

TCLynx said:
(my last system (aeroponic) had some disease issues).

And hence your support for UV sterilization.

Wow, for some reason I through your towers were much taller than that. 4.5' long isn't so extreme at all. So that is kinda like 4 lb of fish per foot of well wetted media material!!!!!!

Perhaps I'll be setting up some towers for my quarantine system which is currently under filtered!

You run constant flow to those towers right?
So are you set up with the fish tank low or in ground and pumping up to towers draining directly back into the fish tanks?

What kind of flow rate through each tower do you think you are running? (in gallons per minute?)
Alright, I'll answer Aleece's question as well as Sheryl's ( from photo commentary) :

my tanks are elevated and i pump up to the towers- not the best design, but like i said it's a retrofit of sorts. I'm running really high flow rate per tower (around 10 gal. per hr.) but they function well anywhere from 0.5 gal./hr up to 20 or 30 gph depending on what you're trying to accomplish- fast rates for more oxygenation, slow rates for more complete nut. removal- for me 10 gph seems to be a nice middle ground although i've found that these are pretty forgiving. i really like how low maint. they are in that regard.
Sheryl- dry, each tube is pretty light (I'll weigh them today) but once the plants get going they increase in weight rapidly. my mustard greens will turn out about 16 lb.s of greens/tube*mo on average, so total plant biomass is probably around 25 or 30 lb.s/tube (mature) on average, with waterweight i've had some really loaded tubes weigh around 40 pounds. most weigh mid 30s at harvest. The tubes are hung by a rope with an "S" hook on one side that hooks through a hole in the housing- it's not hard to unhook. I use unistrut and conduit-unistrut connectern to hold lengths of regular iron black-pipe in place. fully loaded with mature plants (16 tubes) my unistrut sags but isn't too strained. I'm building a simpler support structure for these things (ground based) that will be much better than my setup. I have everything designed, i'm just trying to find someone who does custom brackets at this point (i could do it but i don't feel like welding for 2 wks. straight after work). The towers drain directly into the fish tank at the bottom. I'll post a photo. my fish spend half of thier days trying to get at the roots. it's pretty funny. i think you're right, if you have limited space this is the way to go. i've been pursuing the theoretical potential of tower production for a couple years now, and finally think i've got it figured out (for aquaponics at least).
How heavy are the towers? I'm trying to think of the best way to convert this to a small scale in an apartment. Can I hang them from a hook in the drywall popcorn ceiling, or would I need to build a frame to hang them from? Do you use all natural lighting? How could artificial lighting work?
Oh boy, Emma, you have been bitten bad by the AP addiction and expansion bug....

Emma Lysyk said:
How heavy are the towers? I'm trying to think of the best way to convert this to a small scale in an apartment. Can I hang them from a hook in the drywall popcorn ceiling, or would I need to build a frame to hang them from? Do you use all natural lighting? How could artificial lighting work?
Hi Emma,
Dry the tubes are light, but once there are plants in them, they get heavy quick. i'm getting between 4.5 and 5 lbs of shoot biomass/vertical foot for most of my tubes so fully loaded they run about 10 lb.s per foot. I have a bunch hanging from a steel support structure right now (all together they're between 350 and 640 lbs.) but i'm some hung from vertical poles now. if you wanted to do something like this, i would suggest building a support structure- although you could mount one on a stud- if you were installing against a wall. i'm installing two towers (pure hydroponic) in my house this weekend on steel support structure. just wondering, what size of a system are you looking to build? one of these things goes a long way. like i said, i'm using 16 of these now to filter 2000 gallons. . .

As for artificial light- it should work just fine. just flip it's axis from vertical to horizontal...

Emma Lysyk said:
How heavy are the towers? I'm trying to think of the best way to convert this to a small scale in an apartment. Can I hang them from a hook in the drywall popcorn ceiling, or would I need to build a frame to hang them from? Do you use all natural lighting? How could artificial lighting work?
Sylvia, yeah.. It's time I fessed up ;) I'm even looking into where I could go to study it for college. I think I finally found a subject that I want to learn enough that I could sit through classes for - and a subject where I wouldn't be teaching the teachers about it (Actually happened in several graphic design classes).

Nate, Right this moment it's purely speculation and trying to figure out how it would work... I don't have tons of space in my 2 bedroom apartment, so the vertical format might work a lot better than grow beds. My main motivation is that since it would drip in a very localized spot, I would be able to cover the half of my tank up again. Leaving it exposed with river fish concerns me, especially since I had one of the silver dollars jump out as I poured them in the tank at start up. It's not really a situation I'd like to relive!

I have maybe 3 - 4 ft of clearance above my tank, so I would probably keep them short - 2 ft max. I might try to put one together to see how they would work with fruit-bearing produce, strictly experimental.
Nate,
The towers, what are they made of? Is it just PVC fence posts? Which size?
Nate,
I really like your design. Like everyone else I would have a hard time buying $5000 worth of the media! Living here in the desert in Southern California we use what we call swamp coolers or also know as evaporative coolers. In these coolers there are pads that have water flow through them and then air is pushed through to make a cooling system for our homes. The stores sell these pads made of different types of materials, but one in particular is made out of a blue fabric that looks very similar to what your using, but just thinner. I actually used it in my biofilter for my Koi pond. I wondering if this would work as well layered in your 4" tubes. If you would like I could send you a sample of it to look at. It could be a very reasonable solution. They come in like 3'x3'x1/2" sheets. You could probably go onto Homedepot.com or Lowes.com and pull them up to look at. The only draw back to them I think would be that sometimes the fibers come loose and would get into the water, but that could easily be taken care of with a screen of some sort at the bottom of each tower. Love the way the system looks! Hope you don't mind if I give it a whirl!
Sorry it's taken me so long to respond- I think you could cut them down to 2 or 3 feet no problem. they seem to be very flexible as far as heights go. if you have a hard time finding materials, i think i'll have a company up an running selling these things within the next month and a half. I don't want to use this site to sell things, but i'm thinking about trying to find aquaponics folks who would want to buy them at cost essentially to test them out. and tell me what they think. something to keep in mind.

Emma Lysyk said:
Sylvia, yeah.. It's time I fessed up ;) I'm even looking into where I could go to study it for college. I think I finally found a subject that I want to learn enough that I could sit through classes for - and a subject where I wouldn't be teaching the teachers about it (Actually happened in several graphic design classes).

Nate, Right this moment it's purely speculation and trying to figure out how it would work... I don't have tons of space in my 2 bedroom apartment, so the vertical format might work a lot better than grow beds. My main motivation is that since it would drip in a very localized spot, I would be able to cover the half of my tank up again. Leaving it exposed with river fish concerns me, especially since I had one of the silver dollars jump out as I poured them in the tank at start up. It's not really a situation I'd like to relive!

I have maybe 3 - 4 ft of clearance above my tank, so I would probably keep them short - 2 ft max. I might try to put one together to see how they would work with fruit-bearing produce, strictly experimental.
hi jeff, I got a chance to go to Lowes (a town over) and check out the material you were talking about. it looks a bit fine to me. if you use it, let me know how it works. i fear you're going to have problems with drainage and tearing (if you do, let me know- i've been thermoforming cleated washers all week and think i have some designs figured out). the stuff i use is much more coarse and has a really high shear strength and won't crush down that much. the problems i forsee are with drainage and media tearing/crushing when you're pulling inserts. and it would definitely be worth asking the company who produces it if there are any other chemicals in it, or anything that will degrade or leach out. the stuff i use is food-grade and that seems to be where most hydroponic mfg. is going these days.

thanks for the comment on how they look. i'm a little proud of them- they took a lot of time to cook up and get working (hell, i'm still burning time trying to improve them, testing different components, prototyping, etc.). i think they look good too- kind of simplified. you should see what my basil is doing in them right now. i'll post a picture today or tomorrow.

Jeff Givan said:
Nate,
I really like your design. Like everyone else I would have a hard time buying $5000 worth of the media! Living here in the desert in Southern California we use what we call swamp coolers or also know as evaporative coolers. In these coolers there are pads that have water flow through them and then air is pushed through to make a cooling system for our homes. The stores sell these pads made of different types of materials, but one in particular is made out of a blue fabric that looks very similar to what your using, but just thinner. I actually used it in my biofilter for my Koi pond. I wondering if this would work as well layered in your 4" tubes. If you would like I could send you a sample of it to look at. It could be a very reasonable solution. They come in like 3'x3'x1/2" sheets. You could probably go onto Homedepot.com or Lowes.com and pull them up to look at. The only draw back to them I think would be that sometimes the fibers come loose and would get into the water, but that could easily be taken care of with a screen of some sort at the bottom of each tower. Love the way the system looks! Hope you don't mind if I give it a whirl!
I am very excited about trying the vertical tubes. (I have been busy putting in my traditional garden and my back won't take this another year.) I live in an area of eastern New Mexico that has been called a 'food desert'. A group of us are interested in encouraging local gardeners and producers for a farmers market here. I and they are interested in having fresh greens to offer. I know you are reluctant to discuss selling your tubes on this site- but I wonder if I could contact you to discuss getting some supplies of the tubes and medium to try. I dream of a community greenhouse filled with these.

Nate Storey said:
Sorry it's taken me so long to respond- I think you could cut them down to 2 or 3 feet no problem. they seem to be very flexible as far as heights go. if you have a hard time finding materials, i think i'll have a company up an running selling these things within the next month and a half. I don't want to use this site to sell things, but i'm thinking about trying to find aquaponics folks who would want to buy them at cost essentially to test them out. and tell me what they think. something to keep in mind.

Emma Lysyk said:
Sylvia, yeah.. It's time I fessed up ;) I'm even looking into where I could go to study it for college. I think I finally found a subject that I want to learn enough that I could sit through classes for - and a subject where I wouldn't be teaching the teachers about it (Actually happened in several graphic design classes).

Nate, Right this moment it's purely speculation and trying to figure out how it would work... I don't have tons of space in my 2 bedroom apartment, so the vertical format might work a lot better than grow beds. My main motivation is that since it would drip in a very localized spot, I would be able to cover the half of my tank up again. Leaving it exposed with river fish concerns me, especially since I had one of the silver dollars jump out as I poured them in the tank at start up. It's not really a situation I'd like to relive!

I have maybe 3 - 4 ft of clearance above my tank, so I would probably keep them short - 2 ft max. I might try to put one together to see how they would work with fruit-bearing produce, strictly experimental.

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