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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The fence post sleeves are what I first considered, but my main goal was to have something where I could slip a plug into the media without having to pull it from the tower. Granted, even with the square fence post sleeves, a person could use a "rib spreader" type tool to open the slot wide enough to slip a new plug in. But with the piece that I had, it never came back perfectly square. Using the 4" round drain pipe, the tower always pulled itself back together perfectly round again.

As for the media, Matala ( designed their media specifically for the purpose of creating a lot of biological surface area and void space. It comes in 4 densities and I've found that the black (low density) and green (medium density) media work best for these towers. A 24" x 39.5" pad is only $30 to $35 from Amazon and you can build 4 towers out of one pad. The rest of the PVC parts (per tower) barely amounts to $2, so the $10 estimate per tower isn't far off at all.

Boy, you hit the nail on the head.  As a result of my bug problems, i have patches of dead space in my towers.  Only way to fill them is to remove the media and reload.  For me, this system is just a lab for experimentation.  Once the wife and I get into our retirement home, then it will be time to get serious.  In the meantime, i'm looking to add another 4 or five towers to the system, because of location they have to be odd sized.  I'm going to try your design when I do.  BTW, the other issue I have with 5' towers is I'm 6'3" and really tired of banging my head on the supports.  I raised all mine to 6'4" and put plastic ckirts on the bottom to control water flow.

Thanks Max for the info and pictures.  You saved me some time fooling around with a prototype. 

I had the same Idea about making a tower out of round pipe. 

I want to buy a couple from Nate because He is so great about sharing his information.  Like Robert, I have limited funds to begin my system.

My greenhouse used to be a dog run, so is just 5 feet wide.  Vertical is the only way I can get anything grown.

Someone mentioned using dutch buckets with the towers draining into the buckets..  I think it could be done with a drain out the bottom of the bucket the way Max does his tower drain.  Or you could just have the buckets drain into a rain gutter that would carry the water back to the fish tank/pond.  That way You could remove a bucket or tower to replant or whatever.

I just did a little research on spreader pliers.  I think battery terminal spreaders will work.  They collapse down to less than 1/2" and will spread almost to 1".

My Wish for You,,, A Very Happy Thanksgiving.  Paul.

Thanks a million on the approval of my hack job. :-)

All 3 of my vertical planters drain into an NFT tube that I grow lettuce in. So, I don't see a problem draining them into dutch buckets. My other two planters are the same old cup-style strawberry towers which I am not proud of. They leak, too much water exposure to the light, and they're too heavy.

Here's a fairly clear view of my experimental system in my basement, it should give people a pretty good idea of how all of the plumbing is routed. Again, this is just my experimental system, only based on a 30 gallon aquarium with 4 fantail goldfish and 4 koi. Whole system takes up an area of 9 feet by 4 feet with a 6.5 foot tall ceiling and only uses less than 125 kilowatt hours of electricity per month (less than $15). Definitely not something that you're going to feed a family with, but still yields in the neighborhood of $2000 per year in organic produce. The two towers on the outside are no longer being planted, I'm just letting their existing plants finish their life cycle and I'll replace them with another ZipGrow knock-off like the one in the middle.


One more photo...This one shows how the water from the towers and NFT tube are returned to the aquarium. The NFT tube could just as easily be replaced by dutch buckets sharing a common drain line. That may actually be something I take a stab at later on, I do know they work a heck of a lot better for tomatoes and peppers than flood & drain beds do.


When working with tomatoes in a dutch bucket i'd recommend getting the rollerhook and trellis clips (  You'll probably also want to replace the waxed twine on the roller hook with a better twine (Johnny's sells it on the previous page..  I recommend the 3 gallon size buckets if you can get them and either wrap in black plastic or paint them black.  I put rock in the bottom 3" of the bucket (shale or river rock), then insert a paint strainer and fill to the top with perlite. Set your drain about 1 1/2 - 2" from the bottom of the bucket and use 1/2" pvc and gromment.  Then to avoid algea, take a scrap piece of pvc and push it into the perlite below the surface and then add your drip line inside the pvc.  Some folks use two buckets in lieu of the rock in the bottom.  They put the drain in the bottom of the outer bucket and drill about 8 - 1/2" holes in the bottom of the inner bucket.  Everything else is pretty much the same as mine.  As long as the top stays dry, no algea.  I would also suggest single stem approach for the tomatoes and be prepared...  Mine stretched out are over 25 feet tall.  Also keep your peppers closer to the light source and well groomed.  As your tomatoes get taller, gently lower them and loop the stems at the bottoms.

Hi Friends,

Whew, I almost lost my fish pond!  My daughter and son-in-law I live with were doing yard work; which neither should ever get close to, and they seriously discussed using my fish pond as a place to dump some gravel they wanted to remove from the  property.  Close call!!

Anyway, I am going to finally embark, I think that is a nautical term, on joining my pond with the grow boxes I have been using this past summer.  Here in Western Washington, I have winter broccoli setting flower, so I should be able to grow crops at least 9 months of the year.

My plan is to build about 8 or 10 of the home made zip towers, as mentioned above, I will buy a couple from Nate Story.  I plan to have my zip towers drain into my grow boxes, then back into the pond.

Question? What do You use for fish food?  I have koi and goldfish, so I just feed them rabbit pellets; 50 lb bag for $15.

A bag should last me 6 to 8 months.

Thanks for the excitement of planning!!

My Wish for You,, A Very Happy Thanksgiving!!


Long eared fish should be a smash hit. Not so sure about the fuzzy tail though. :)

Maybe that is why they are growing so well...  I haven't seen any sign of ears, Yet; but will keep watching.  It will be fun watching gold, long eared sort of fish hopping across the bottom of the pond.

Max how much do you have to compress the Matala to fit in the PVC?

None...Matala is sold in sheets that are 24" x 39-1/2" and all densities are 1-1/2" thick. Cut out two strips 2-7/8" x 39-1/2" and they slide into the 4" drain pipe with very little resistance. I cut mine on a table saw, feeding the sheet backwards into a fine tooth blade in order to get a smooth cut. You can either plant the tower as you slide the media into the pipe, or you can spread the media apart after it's in the pipe and drop your starter plants/plugs in between the two strips of media.

Please note, unlike ZipGrow towers, you do not need a wicking strip. The little shower head in the top cap of the planter ensures that all of the media is saturated with water/nutrient from top to bottom. The only time I would consider a wicking strip is if I was going to direct-seed a tower, in which case, all you need for a wicking strip is a layer of paper towel between the media strips.

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