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Why is Hydroton so expensive and what else will work for cheap?

I stopped by a place today that sold Hydroton in 50 liter bags. Seem I will need 4-5 bags at $40plus each. That's about $200 bucks plus tax kids! WOW

Since this seems to be the preferred medium, I thought I would consider it. However, now reality is setting in and I am looking for something much less expensive to use in my grow bed?

What economical products are some of you folks using? Is it readily available? I would appreciate any and all suggestions.

Thanks,

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Great suggestion about the 5 gallon buckets. Thanks

Jon Parr said:

Nice Vlad, you're a poet

And you don't know it

But your feet show it

They're Longfellows.

Gravel is my media of choice, and 3/4" or bigger allows space for worms and roots.  Any drain rock that doesn't fizz will do, and I don't wash it.  I know I'm in the minority here, but here in Cali (and I'm assuming most everywhere) drain rock is already screened for size, and washed. Of course it's not super clean, but the sand settles to the bottom of the grow bed for the worms to mineralize, and the silt clouds the water for a couple of days, big deal.  And don't buy it bagged at Home Desperate or Lowe's, please.  Go to your local rockery, nursery, landscape supply, whatever, and buy it without the plastic bagging.  This gross misuse of plastic needs to stop. If you don't need a truckload, bring a few five gallon buckets. My local rockery charges a buck for a bucketful.

Jon,

    I would recommend that some one get a sample and have a close look at the stuff they are getting before they skip the washing part.  I've seen a few people get really bad situations by not washing the gravel when it was pretty full of clay.  Each region is going to be different and if there is a lot of high pH clay around it could affect a system long term too.  I saw one set of pictures of a system where they simply filled their grow beds with their gravel and started running system water around only to later realize that about 3-4 inches of clay had settled in the bottom of the sump tank, fish tank, and grow beds only to require them to empty everything to clean it out.  Where I am the rock is usually sandy but I'm still going to rinse it because I'm not really interested in encouraging too much of an anaerobic layer in the bottoms of all my grow beds since over time the roots and solids will add to it and if you start out with the beds half full of sand, you will probably need to clean the grow beds sooner rather than never.

Now some people do ok not washing their gravel, how necessary it is to wash your gravel will depend on the gravel you are getting.  I would recommend washing some of it just to see how much small stuff you will be getting off of it and then make the judgement about if you are going to wash it all or not.  Do some tests to figure out if the stuff washing off the gravel would cause pH issues as well.

I would not assume that gravel being sold has been washed/rinsed unless it is advertized as washed.  It is likely screened but you might have to look to see how well it is screened.  Something sold as half inch might mean different things depending on how they sell the sizes above and below.  The 1/2" brown river rock I buy is actually more like 1/4" to 1/2".  Some Expanded shale is sold as 1/2" but it is everything below 1/2" while another product I looked at had a 3/8" product for sale and a 1/2" product and a 3/4" product so the 1/2" was not so bad.  This is all to say that just because some one half way across the country or world has done fine with "pea" gravel or something, don't assume that means that "pea" gravel is the same around the world.

Lovely, Vlad.  I nominate you to write the family Christmas letter.

Vlad Jovanovic said:

Whether 'tis Nobler in the Grow-bed to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous pH,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of Carbonates,
And by opposing end them: die, the buffer
No more; no fizz, to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Fizz is heir to? 'Tis a consummation of acid and base...

No fizz rocks is what you're after. Like TC said... limestone is not appropriate for AP, and limestone will fizz in vinegar.

Thanks Ellen, but ever since my ..."There once was a girl from Nantucket..." routine, I'm usually banned from that honor 

I switched from hydroton to expanded shale and so far it is working fine. I bought it in bulk from the local garden center for $99 per cubic yard. Over here it goes by the name of Bark Stone. 

Gary, is this the same as stone bark?  I've seen that at Birch Tree for $115.  I've been (kind of) cruising redi-mix concrete operations because we occasionally use expanded shale in lightweight concrete.  I've picked a few pieces out of concrete and washed them off... they didn't really look like bark.  But a pile of the stuff may be a different story...

Needless to say, I'm having a hard time figuring out what to buy!  Where'd you get yours?



Gary Lanning said:

I switched from hydroton to expanded shale and so far it is working fine. I bought it in bulk from the local garden center for $99 per cubic yard. Over here it goes by the name of Bark Stone. 

Vlad, did you grow up speaking English? (it's a personal question, but this is the internet so you can always lie extravagantly).

Vlad Jovanovic said:

Thanks Ellen, but ever since my ..."There once was a girl from Nantucket..." routine, I'm usually banned from that honor 


Yes, Ellen it is stone bark-I gave the wrong name for it. I bought it at Best Bark and Stone in Hudsonville. I did some extensive research on it to make sure it is safe and not some by-product of the steel industry. I was able to track down the manufacturer and they assured me it is simply heated shale and not a by-product. It's main use is for light-weight concrete. Our system is very new- just harvested our first lettuce, arugula,  and swiss chard yesterday and this grow medium seems to be working as well as the hydroton we used to use. 
Ellen Roelofs said:

Gary, is this the same as stone bark?  I've seen that at Birch Tree for $115.  I've been (kind of) cruising redi-mix concrete operations because we occasionally use expanded shale in lightweight concrete.  I've picked a few pieces out of concrete and washed them off... they didn't really look like bark.  But a pile of the stuff may be a different story...

Needless to say, I'm having a hard time figuring out what to buy!  Where'd you get yours?



Gary Lanning said:

I switched from hydroton to expanded shale and so far it is working fine. I bought it in bulk from the local garden center for $99 per cubic yard. Over here it goes by the name of Bark Stone. 

Wow that is personal Yeah. I mostly grew up in a multi-lingual environment. English was one of them.

Ellen Roelofs said:

Vlad, did you grow up speaking English? (it's a personal question, but this is the internet so you can always lie extravagantly).

Vlad Jovanovic said:

Thanks Ellen, but ever since my ..."There once was a girl from Nantucket..." routine, I'm usually banned from that honor 

Personal question perhaps Vlad, but I'm gonna guess it is really a compliment on your writing/communication skills in English.

Thanks TC (and Ellen), funny, because I am sometimes told that I have horrible communications skills. (Well, according to my wife anyways) 

Thanks Ellen and Gary for the Stone Bark/Bark Stone comments. I've done some shopping for expanded shale, but haven't had much luck. The local stone supplier had no idea what I was talking about. I'll have to make a stop this weekend and see if they have any "stone bark".

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