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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Hey, thanks, those look pretty good!

 

Kate
christopher john muns said:

here are a few pictures of my towers. ok 1 picture. so these are sold at the aquaponic source, and can be made in 3 ft or 5 ft increments. they work great for soil gardening as well.  In aquaponics they do a couple of different things.  they add aeration to the system, and act as a bio-filter. I have some draining into gutters going back to my fish tank, and are filled with hydroton.

I always gauge the price per plant.  Vertigro are Retail at 4.5 per pot.  Last 5 years or so and are real easy to stack. They also insulate cold and heat. That at 1.25 per plant.  Hard to beat.

 

price per plant is one way to do it, but you also need to calculate labor and support equipment costs as well as convenience and ease of handling.  If you have to rotate your stack to get good light, or clean out towers because of clogging and you figure your time is worth even $10/hr. the cost of maintenance quickly makes your price per plant calculation more like $9 or $10/ plant.

I've been considering some sort of vertical or NFT component in the designs for my next system and I'm really curious why so many folks are only thinking of hanging pipes vertically.  I came across an article in Backyard Aquaponics about growing strawberries in horizontally-mounted corrugated drainage pipe.  The things I like about this approach are:

  • No tricky hanging method needed...it's easier to build a vertical rack with many rows of tubes.
  • No custom melting and bending PVC.
  • You don't have to buy an expensive pre-made kit.
  • No media required makes it cheaper and easier to keep clean and maintain.

Check out this related thread to see what I mean: http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/hydro/msg0315495420684.html

Averan,

You're right- there is definitely an element of simplicity to an NFT style or aeroponic style vertical setup.  The problem for folks like myself is that this is a "dead end" for light.  Essentially, this forms a wall that light can't get through, so I can't manipulate my light penetration and configure my plant production elements in a mass.  This is also not very mobile or easy to handle (although it's arguably more simple to handle than many vertical setups as well).  Anyway, this type of setup could be very appropriate for some folks, but it just depends on application.

 

 

"Manipulate your light penetration"?  If your plants are growing, they will eventually form a wall no matter how you set it up...unless you space them so sparsely as to defeat the purpose of going vertical in the first place.  The benefit of a vertical system is simply that you can increase the usable grow space.  Light always dead-ends when it hits a plant.  If you are trying to let light pass by your vertical setup, then you're not maximizing growth or your use of space and you'd be better off sticking with just your flat beds more densely planted or going full vertical.

But Nate's hanging verticals are such that as plants grow and need more light, it's easier to move them or space them more and even pull the full towers and take them to market.

 

There are so many different methods and so many different situations.

Hi Averan,

That's where you're mistaken.  Most people don't understand that plants experience photorespiration when light intensities are too high, or think about how seedlings use space really inefficiently.  I don't have the time or energy to explain it here, but I explain it on my website somewhat.  I'll try to get some better explanations up as I have time.  http://www.brightagrotech.com/downloads/ZGCGG_CH3.pdf .  I have the data for you too if you're interested.  I've been studying light effects and massing densities for the 4 years of my doctoral research.  The reality is that light seldom dead ends when it hits a plant leaf, it often reflects.  You can use reflected light effectively-especially if it's reflecting off of a white or reflective surface effectively to dramatically increase your production efficiency.  TC is right, depending on what you want there are tons of acceptable techniques- it just depends on what you want. 

Just for the record, TC's statement is not very helpful and seems entirely obvious....kind of like saying water is wet.  The OP wanted a cheap DIY solution and it seems to me that the cheapest and simplest solution is the one I posted.  My point in posting this alternative is simply that it looks to me like not many people are considering it as an option.  I just wanted people to know they have a choice and don't have to hang pipes vertically in order to make use of vertical space for growing.

Thanks for the info Nate.  The one aspect I really like about your diagrams with grow tubes hung vertically is the conveyor approach to production.  This is a very strong advantage that your design has over horizontal tubes.

Averan,  That is a really nice set up.  I have been looking into 'windowfarms.org' (FYI for everyone someone mentioned 2 ltr bottles and this group site has some fantastic examples), but I want to do something a little more extensive than the 2 ltr bottle set ups I've seen, and outside as I'm in Mesa, Arizona and running out of ground space.  I'm also considered an expert in edible landscaping in the desert and understand the limitations of small container gardening in the desert, so the large frame work of the tubing you are showing is of great interest to me. Thank you.

Averan said:

I've been considering some sort of vertical or NFT component in the designs for my next system and I'm really curious why so many folks are only thinking of hanging pipes vertically.  I came across an article in Backyard Aquaponics about growing strawberries in horizontally-mounted corrugated drainage pipe.  The things I like about this approach are:

  • No tricky hanging method needed...it's easier to build a vertical rack with many rows of tubes.
  • No custom melting and bending PVC.
  • You don't have to buy an expensive pre-made kit.
  • No media required makes it cheaper and easier to keep clean and maintain.

Check out this related thread to see what I mean: http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/hydro/msg0315495420684.html

I have just upgraded my bottle system to a vertical bottle system using two liter bottles.  It is not fully loaded as I am still tweaking (as seen by the crazy plumbing job).  I should have 60 plants or so in a 36 square foot space (3x12).

I fill with a 12 dollar 290gph pump from harbor freight and it actually cycles a little too fast.  Hopefully when I get the last two rows in it will get closer to the speed I want.

Each row is filled through the 1/2 inch pipe and drains through a u-siphon to a 3/4 inch pipe.  Draining is very fast and the vent sounds like a toilet flushing.  It currently fills in about 6-8 minutes and drains in 2-3 minutes.  Each row has a ball valve to control the flow speed.


I used varathane to protect the wood and used one hole straps to mount the pipe.  Every other bottle has a wire-tie through the 2x4 to hold it vertical.

I am getting a lot more sun on the plants this way.  I also painted a few of the bottles black to test out warming the water a little in the winter months.  I will use foil and shade when summer rolls around. 

I will be installing a regular media based growbed in the next week to get a little more biofiltration going and to put some of the taller plants in to tie up.  I use hydroton in solo cups converted to net pots by way of a soldering iron to make holes.  I have not even used half a bag yet for 36 plants.

The Photo is here.

Catherine, do beware the extensive lengths of NFT style growing methods can have very detrimental effects on temperature fluctuations in extreme climates.  In hot summer desert situations long runs of NFT pipes Or tower sorts of things can really heat up the water and deplete it of dissolved oxygen leading to plants that struggle more than they would in another growing method.  Just something to take into account when designing a layout.

Catherine Crowley said:

Averan,  That is a really nice set up.  I have been looking into 'windowfarms.org' (FYI for everyone someone mentioned 2 ltr bottles and this group site has some fantastic examples), but I want to do something a little more extensive than the 2 ltr bottle set ups I've seen, and outside as I'm in Mesa, Arizona and running out of ground space.  I'm also considered an expert in edible landscaping in the desert and understand the limitations of small container gardening in the desert, so the large frame work of the tubing you are showing is of great interest to me. Thank you.

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