Aquaponic Gardening

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Hi, Anyone have experience with inexpensive homebrew vertical aquaponic systems? I saw a writeup somewhere on one using 2-liter pop bottles for vertical grow tubes:

http://www.sharingsustainablesolutions.org/vertical-aquaponics-2/
http://www.hort.net/lists/community_garden/feb02/msg00062.html

If it works, this beats plastic pipe cold, let alone the commercial systems. So I'm probably going to try it, and will report on what I learn, but first I'd love to know if anyone here has cautions, mods, etc.

My first thought is that the bottles won't last long outdoors in the sun, but if the rack is well-built it should be trivial to swap new ones in as they wear out.

Also - once you allow for space to walk around the plant rows, and that one can only reach so high (very much a factor for me), vertical doesn't seem to actually take up much less space than horizontal aquaponics - what do you find?

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My vertical set up takes up 70 sq feet - in that area I have 170 plants growing (herbs, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, okra, beans and will soon be putting in strawberries and other items as crops get changed.). I do not see how that same number of plants could be feet in a bed with the same footprint and still be able to harvest the middle.

My 70 ft includes a walkway down the middle, if it was one continuous row the footprint would be even smaller.

There is no reason the plastic bottles won't work if kept out of the direct sun. That is because the UV will break down the plastic in the long run, but also the heat buildup could cook the roots. It'll be interesting to see how it works. I'm using a styrofoam shipping cooler as a growing container (the ones from Omaha Steak Company are great, I got mine from a neighbors trash).
I went the 5 gallon bucket route and chained together 26 of them on my little deck and in my Florida room. Just prior to flowing in those it goes through 4 x 20 gallon mud tubs for growbed/biofilter and then out to 2x120 gallon
Koi ponds. I like the netpots. Moving plants with larger root systems from bucket to bucket is a cinch. I do plan to upgrade to a system similar to Lynx but for now, especially since I am leasing this house, my bucket/tub setup works well. It's already gone through 2 moves np. I have my buckets split into 2 groups. The indoor set and the outdoor set. Each set has a dedicated controller bucket with 4 1/2 inch hydrofarm flexible tubing lines coming from the bottom. Each line has a chain of 3 buckets hooked together in serial with "T's" and "elbows". Flooding the controller bucket also in turn floods the other 12 buckets in that system. I swap the water back and forth between the pond and the bucket systems. Each bucket system is preceded by growbeds. It gives me a lot of options in placement, depth, medium type. I have so many different types of plants growing. If interested ill post some pics. I had a 100 gallon tote but that was probably not good for the fish. The Koi pond was easily installed and cost $80. I do happen to have 10 x 5 gallon water bottles that I wanted to convert into a tower system. I'll let you know how that works. Obviously the clear bottles need cover for root protection but I think I can solve that.
Good points all around. We just don't have enough data about chemicals leaching into water, or their uptake by plants. I've wondered abut the styrofoam floats and plastic liner I use in my flat system, and the borate-treated lumber that supports the troughs. Sigh.
Well, in my floating raft system at max I get a small plant - lettuce, beet, strawberry - every 6", or 64 in 16 square feet. Larger plants are limited by the plant. I don't have time to do heavy trellising on tomatoes, so they sprawl; they will grow at 4 per 16 square feet if I have enough fish, but they're a mess.

I'm thinking of painting the plastic bottles or wrapping them (aluminum foil?). I just thought of the cook-the-roots problem yesterday. I can just put the whole thing in the shade, too; all of the small crops grow wll in the shade here.
Warnings or tips.
Well first, beware any drip tubing, 1/4" tubing will clog and need clearing out all the time. Avoid drippers or tiny fittings.

But how do you get the flows small enough not to simply overflow your bottles? It won't be easy especially if you get any plants growing a good root mass. 2 liter bottles and smaller are going to be rather restrictive to roots of any larger plants. Root clogging of the containers and drains is a likely issue.

How well will this work? Well how much time do you want to be spending painting/wrapping new bottles? I've seen many Bottle hydroponic systems but I don't know that they are doing more than providing a few herbs and lettuce nor if the system could support much more than an aquarium.
Certainly, no large plants! and you're right, no small fittings outside, they'll clog with algae. I think algae growth would be minimal in wrapped bottles with a medium like coir - the medium will also tend to filter it and absorb light at the top of the bottle.
As to labor - one of my design goals is to find systems that people can get into for very little up-front cost, and expand modularly if they want to. The minimum I, or anyone else reputable that I know of, have been able to put together a float-bed system of reasonable size (64 sq ft growing area) for is about $700-900. (If you know of a cheaper setup, of that size, that really works, let me know!!!! ) Here in Hawaii it's at the high end because everything has to be shipped in, and space is a real concern because land is insanely expensive.
Often the tradeoff for capital is labor, or working lifetime, and that might be OK. People need to try aquaponics to see if they like it, and more will try it if doing so is low cost. If it works out, with some flaws and hassles, they may then step up to a bigger, more solid system. If not, no big loss.

Now I'm thinking about using a bucket system for taro - they're big plants and need to be anchored, but then will grow upright. Not much market for it anywhere else, alas, but here, profitable and deeply appreciated.
I have a design that depends on overflow from each to the next. It took me 1 large trashbag and 2 minutes to ducktape the trashbag to the outside of the 5 gallon water bottle. Once I have completed testing on one or two levels on the tower i will go ahead and finish it and post it. So far my materials are 1inch PVC as main stem, 3inc PVC as spacer, Zephyr hills water bottle cut in 2 places to form a large funnel and cap. I ducktape it all together and cut holes with a hole saw all around and walla... :P I have not exposed the trashbag to the water in the system but the duck tape will be. I couldn't find anything on this saying ducktape would be bad but i suppose any kind of plastics\adhesives aren't good. I figure my water was stored in the bottles so it must be ok? I think i can use zip ties instead of the ducktape. i will give it a shot ;)


TCLynx said:
Warnings or tips.
Well first, beware any drip tubing, 1/4" tubing will clog and need clearing out all the time. Avoid drippers or tiny fittings.

But how do you get the flows small enough not to simply overflow your bottles? It won't be easy especially if you get any plants growing a good root mass. 2 liter bottles and smaller are going to be rather restrictive to roots of any larger plants. Root clogging of the containers and drains is a likely issue.

How well will this work? Well how much time do you want to be spending painting/wrapping new bottles? I've seen many Bottle hydroponic systems but I don't know that they are doing more than providing a few herbs and lettuce nor if the system could support much more than an aquarium.
Daniel post these to your photo album. I suggest you make an album. Other wise we have to download each pic one at a time.
Oh ok Will do.


Michael Cosmo said:
Daniel post these to your photo album. I suggest you make an album. Other wise we have to download each pic one at a time.
Ok here it is :)


Daniel E Murphy said:
Oh ok Will do.


Michael Cosmo said:
Daniel post these to your photo album. I suggest you make an album. Other wise we have to download each pic one at a time.
Though not able to support as many fish as the 64 SF raft system, the Barrel Ponics system is a good inexpensive system to build as a starter system. I went and figured retail price on all the parts to build one (using a $15 price for used barrels) and I even included an over estimate on price of the water pump and bagged river rock as media. Total for that came to under $300 when I did it in 2008. Very good starter system with Free illustrated instruction book for building it.

Well, I built a vertical system using an 80-gallon stock tank and 3 rows of 2-liter pop bottles, each dripping downinto the bottle below. I filled the bottles with lumps of coral and put the plants in peat pots on top of that, then tucked some coir wrapped in netting around the peat pots. I was careful to put the plant starts where the water drip would definitely get to them.I ran the water directly from the fish tank up to the top row.

 

results - basically worked pretty well. I've taken it down because the location was really too shady, but will build another vertical system as soon as I get time. I did have to check every day to be sure the drip streams were running properly, not overflowing out of the bottles. I added little strings running down from the openings in the top-row pipe to conduct the water at that level. After a while I started to get a lot of crud in the pump, so I added an overflow settling tank (5-gal bucket) with some fine netting draped across the top. I cleaned this every day and it helped.

 

I did notice that the plant roots didn't push far out of the peat pots, which they should have in that time.i don't know whether that was due to poor growth overall (shade) or poor water circulation through the rocks. I planted lettuce, beets, radishes, and leeks.

 

I had no problems with the system chemistry or the fish. I hope this is useful info (learn from my fail) and will let you know how the next one goes in a few months. It will have an inground pool for the fish, 2' x 5' x 3' deep, 2 stages of settling, and larger grow pots made of recycled cat-litter jugs.

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