Hooked on Aquaponics
The opposite of green on the color wheel is red. My entire life I have been plagued with a red thumb. Until just recently I have had a longing to be surrounded by plants though.
A few months ago my husband bought me succulents because the florist told him they were near impossible to kill. I wanted to conquer my fears and become a crazy plant lady so I researched and researched and studied plants.
I had a vision to fill my wall above my turtle tank with shelves and have the whole wall covered with lush greenery. One of the dilemmas I had was the pain of having to climb up there and water them on a regular basis. I began researching self watering gardens and stumbled across Aquaponics. This made perfect sense to me because I already had a large water source on that wall from my tanks.
What is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics is a completely natural process that mimics all lakes, ponds, rivers and waterways on Earth. Aquaponics is a system for farming fish and plants together in a mutually beneficial cycle. Fish produce wastes that turn into nitrates and ammonia. These aren't good for the fish if they build up too much, but they're great fertilizer for plants. As the plants suck up these nutrients, they purify the water, which is good for the fish. The only input into an aquaponics system is fish food.
My system is an Nutrient Film Technique (NFT). The system operates by providing a slow, steady stream of nutrient-rich water to the plant roots in a narrow trough. The water is circulated using a combination of pumping and gravity draining. I have also decided to use my turtle tank. One of the pros of using my turtle is she produces much more waste than fish and she has a much more entertaining personality.
Here is a break down of all my supplies I used to create this system along with the links on where to purchase them:
20 Feet of 4" PVC pipe- $65
6-4" test plugs-$33.48
10 ft piece of 1" PVC- $5.66
2 inch net pots- $10.97
2 inch foam pot collars-$10.99
Pipe Strapping- $6.58
3 Uniseals- $15.54
Zip ties- $7.78
1 3/4" hole saw-$11.48
2" hole saw- $12.48
10 ft Clear PVC 3/4in tubing- $8.38
2- 3/4in PEX 90 degree elbows- $5.64
Copper 3/4" pipe strap- $3.98
To start my project I mapped out how I wanted it on the wall using yarn. I measured how long each piece would be. My top section is 7ft long, middle section is 10ft long and bottom portion is 3ft.
I then measured 6 inches in and started marking where my 2" wide holes would start on each pipe. I marked all the holes at 9" from center apart. I took the pipes outside and started drilling out all the 2" holes. This makes a huge plastic shaving mess. After each pipe was drilled I made sure to wipe the holes out to get all the little shavings off and I used a leaf blower to blow out all the shavings from the inside. My entire system has 25 spots for plants.
Then I used the 1 3/4" hole to drill where my exit and enter lines would be. On the 7ft pipe I drilled a 1 3/4" hole on the top right (on the same side as my 2" holes) as my enter point and then drilled another hole on the bottom left as my exit.
On the 10ft pipe I drilled a 1 3/4" hole on the top left as my enter point and then drilled a hole on the right bottom side as my exit.
The 3ft pipe has a 1 3/4" hole on the top right as the enter point and a hole drilled on the bottom left as the exit point.
Once all the holes were drilled, I enlisted my hubby to help lift the top 7ft pipe and strap it to the wall. When you strap them onto the wall, you need to give the pipes a slight decline in the direction the water will be flowing. This allows for the gravity fed draining to occur. My 7ft pipe declines to the left and 10ft declines to the right and the 3ft pipe declines back to the left.
After the first pipe is up, you need to insert the Uniseal into the bottom hole and then very firmly shove the 1" pvc pipe into the seal. It helps if you dip the end of the pipe in water first. You can cut the 1" piece of pvc pipe to your desired length depending on how far down you want the other line of 4" pvc pipe to run. My 1" pvc downspouts are approx 12 inches. I needed my hubby's muscle power to insert the downspouts, it is extremely difficult to get the pipe into the seal because in order for it to make a water-tight seal, it needs to be super snug. You only need to use the Uniseal for the downspouts. The other end of the 1" pvc will just rest into the open hole on the top of the next run.
Continue repeating the process with the rest of the pipes. Once they are all strapped to the wall, screw tight the 4" test plugs firmly to the end of the pipes.
Now you have a water tight system and its time to attach the pump and get water flowing through the system.
Attach the clear pvc tubing to the pump and use a zip tie to secure it. This is where you want to make sure you have a pump that can lift the water to your desired height. The pump I chose has a lift of 8.2ft. This is very important. If you get a pump that has a small lift height the water will not be able to shoot up to the top of your system. Submerse the pump into the tank and run the tubing up your wall to the very top pipe and secure the tubing to the wall with your copper pipe strap. This is where you want your elbows. Cut the tubing and insert the elbows and secure with a zip tie. Once both of your elbows are attached, insert the tubing into the top entrance hole. Now you're ready to plug in the pump sending water through your system and check for leaks.
Now comes the fun part....
After your system is running and watertight, it's time to start thinking about what plants you would like in your system.
These are the plants I decided to use:
I bought all my plants at our local greenhouse and brought them home. The aquaponics system does not use soil, so here came the messy part. You need to gently wash off all the soil with warm water so just the bare roots are showing. Once all the soil is rinsed off you are ready to insert them into the net pots with the foam collars. The foam collars help to stabilize and support the plants while also blocking light to get to the roots. Next you'll place them into your drilled holes and sit back and marvel at your beautiful masterpiece. I will also be adding supplemental lighting to my system in the next week or so and I will post an update once that is complete.
I will be adding my updates below:
I planted the system on May 15th
May 19th- Everything is running beautifully. The plants are thriving and look healthy. My snapdragons bloomed. The dill is the only plant not looking so good.
I am a 30 something year old single mom of two. I have a 16 year old son and an 14 year old daughter. They are keeping me busy and on my toes in this new phase I call "Teenagedom".
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