Aquaponic Gardening

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Hey Folks! I'm starting to hash out the plans for a hobby system in which space is a bit limited. I saw the zip grow towers and thought they were intriguing. Has anyone tried them? If so, what do you think? And how do you catch the discharge water at the bottom?

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If you search the forum.... you'll find a complete thread about them... authored by Nate Storey... the bloke that invented them...

Great! Thanks! Looks like I was using the wrong keywords. But does anyone here (aside from Nate) have them in their system?

TCLynx... uses them....

My vertical sausage is a cheap alternative

Sahib Punjabi...Sheryl Gambardella...There are folks out there who use them.

They seem very well thought out and designed. What you are paying for in a grow bed (basically) is biological surface area and plant grow space... and then you have to add in the cost of structure to support the grow bed, standpipes/siphons/media guards and ease of maintenance should calculate in there as well. If you are growing in a greenhouse physical square footage for plant grow space is pretty expensive real-estate. Once you put that all down on paper, the ZipGrow towers all of a sudden don't seem all that expensive anymore for what you're getting in the space that you're getting it IMO. I like how you can send 'dirty' water straight from the fish tank (unlike other vertical towers, NFT, DWC), so in essence they are you'r bio-filter. 

I have not ever used them personally, but that's mostly because I live on the other side of the planet and shipping costs are often much more than the cost of whatever it is that I'm ordering.

Finding a suitable media that will work long term in a 'homemade' (PVC pipe or whatever) vertical application is no mean feat, there are a number of problems that will crop up and make life miserable over time. There some technical details here if you haven't run across these already...

Space is an issue. We're building a greenhouse, but it's a shared house and I have ~180 sq ft and a family of 6 that I'd like to feed. I initially wanted to do a raft system, but now I'm thinking raft and vertical.

Bob, I like your idea:)

If ZipGrow towers are cost-prohibitive for you, it's not too hard to make a functional clone (note: I didn't say physical clone). All it takes is a 38" length of 4" PVC drain pipe with a 3/4" slot cut down one side (preferably in the area where the manufacturer's printing appears), two 4" PVC end caps, one 1-1/2" PVC end cap, a 3/4" PVC elbow with threads on one end and a slip fitting on the other, and two strips of Matala brand low-density black pond filter media cut to 36"x2-3/4" (it already comes in 1-1/2" thick sheets).

If you want to make a more physical clone, then simply use a 4"x4" vinyl fence post sleeve. They're a little more expensive than 4" drain pipe and only available in 8' lengths. So, I'm guessing you can now figure out why ZipGrow towers are only sold in 5' and 3' lengths.

Assembly is painfully simple. Each 4" PVC end cap gets a 7/8" hole drilled in the center (best to use a drill-press and a spade bit at slow speed). One of the caps gets a 1-1/2" PVC cap glued in the center of it which has multiple 1/8" holes drilled in it to create a shower head. This is your top cap and your water/nutrient feed goes in the 7/8" hole in that cap...With the other cap, heat up the hole with a heat gun or torch to make it pliable and then thread in your 3/4" PVC elbow, let it sit and cool back to its solid state. Remove the elbow, apply PVC primer and cement to the threads in the cap and elbow, then put them back together to set up.

Planting the tower with plugs or strawberry root-stock is really simple and doesn't require any kind of wicking strip, simply sandwich the plugs or root-stock between the two strips of Matala pond filter media and slide them into the PVC drain pipe with your plant tops extending out through the slot. Put your end caps on and you're ready to hang it. If you have any reusable zip-ties (such as the ones use on home dryer exhaust hoses) you may want to strap one around the middle of the planter just to keep the slot the same width from top to bottom. The top cap is held on by two cup hooks threaded through the cap and the drain pipe, but could also be held on by drilling larger holes and using the S-Hooks on 1 foot long bungie cords. The tower simply sits in the bottom cap since it's actually held in place by my drain line plumbing.

Total cost for all parts in one planter is less than $10 US. The water/nutrient trickles down through the Matala pond filter media totally even and symmetrical. The filter media is specifically designed to create a great deal of biological surface area and has plenty of void space. As for the question of "food-safe plastic" in this DIY planter, all I have to say on that point is that I have yet to see any aquarium/pond pumps, poly water/drip line, etc - sporting food-safe advertisements. As an engineer friend told me one time, there is no such thing as food-safe plastics, not even in the bottle that your oh-so-healthy bottled water or plastic jug that your milk comes in - the harder the plastic, the "safer" it is, but there is no such thing as a 100% food-safe plastic.

I am only posting this for the benefit of those people who want something that works equally as well as the patent-pending ZipGrow towers (filed by the University of Wyoming for the application, not the actual device) but can't justify the $50 to $70 price tag. I do not sell these planters, so I am by no means infringing on the patent pending. Use this information as you see fit and feel free to expand upon it or improve it (A'la Open Source).


Here's the tower a coupe days after being planted with starter plugs. The plug is just deep enough into the Matala filter media to get a steady supply of water/nutrient and the top of the plug rests all the way up against the slot in the planter. As you can see, even though the plugs are inserted horizontally, the plants automatically correct themselves in a few hours and bend towards the light source. So, while it might not be as pretty as an actual ZipGrow tower, it is easily just as effective and functional.


Max, I'm jealous...  I thought I was being creative, but your solution is 1/3 the price of mine and better put together.



Suzi,  as tight as you are on space, you might want to consider using dutch buckets along with grow towers  I use 5 gallon buckets only because they were cheaper than 3 gallon, which everyone else seems to be able to get for free or next to nothing.  I'm uncertain what the utility of mixing towers and raft would be, pretty much if you can grow it in an NFT or Raft, you can grow it in a tower.  Root veg and fruiting plants need a little more root space for structure.  In my aquaponics system, my towers provide 75% of my nitrification work, and fit in a nice compact space.  I currently have 5 shallow F&D beds, but getting ready to tear one oue and replace it with dutch buckets.  In my hydro system, i'm running dutch buckets, NFT, and experimenting with a wicking bed.

I'd be curious to see your design just to see if there is anything that could improve upon my little hack job.

Mine are pretty simple.  I found a fencing company willing to sell me 5' - 4" PVC fence caps, and after an exhaustive search with my limited knowledge, I surrendered and bought my media from Nate.  I followed his basic installation instructions, but am fixin to do some re-work on the input side of the plumbing.

 Sorry for the side view...  As I said, yours are much more elegant.  Also should add that the loopers did a LOT of damage.  Just recovering now.

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