This year I decided to go beyond the Hydroponic Lettuce setup I did an Instructable for "Low Income Hydroponics" and try my hand at Aquaponics. We have a Goldfish/Koi pong that has been in our garden for about the last 12 years. It was in dire need of a cleaning but I decided to put all that great dirty water to use. Here is what I did...
Step 1: Vertical Garden Build
First, my son and I built a vertical garden from common materials from Lowe's and some 4 inch Rockwool cubes.
- We purchased a 4 foot section of PVC railing post and two end caps
- We ordered from Amazon 12 of the 4x4 Rockwool cubes
- We had 1 Eye Ring Bolt from a previous project
- We had a screw in hanger from a previous project
All total, I think we spent about $60 on this part of the build.
It is very easy to assemble this tower. Simply place the 4x4 post on top of a table saw and adjust your rail so that you can run a cut all the way down one side of the post. You basically want to remove a 1 inch section from the post so I set my guide rail on the saw 1.5 inches from the blade and ran my first pass. After this was done, I flipped the post over so I was starting at the bottom of the post and ran another cut using the same rail guide. This removed a 1 inch section from the post down one side. This is where the plants will stick out of.
Next, I took the rockwool cubes and with my son's help, pushed them up into the post and filled it almost completely.
I took the end cap that I planned to use on the top and cut out a hole so I could put the eye bolt into it and secure it with a nut and washer.
I then bolted the top and bottom end caps to the post and was ready to plant it...
Step 2: "Dutch" Bucket Build
The next part of our Aquaponic build involved blue Lowe's buckets, four in all.
- We purchased 4 - 5 gallon blue buckets at about $2.75 each but you can pick something up for free if you check out your local deli or grocery store - pickle buckets are sometimes given away along with icing buckets.
- We purchased 4 bucket basket lids from Amazon
- I purchased 5 Gallon Elastic Opening Strainer Bags to keep the Perlite out of the pond
- 4 - 1 inch rubber grommets (3/4 inch internal opening)
- 4 - 3/4 inch 90 degree plastic elbows
- Drip Irrigation Kit - I got a kit on clearance because someone else had opened it and returned it for $15 so always check for deals
- Pond pump - anything similar to this one - just need to make sure you have the proper fitting to connect it to the Drip Irrigation system above. mine came with the proper fitting.
The setup is really simple:
- Drill a 1 inch hole in the side of each bucket 2.5 inches up from the bottom. I used a hole saw and t worked great.
- Insert the grommet into the newly drilled hole - this is the only tough part - to ensure there are no leaks, those grommets fit Very snug! I took me a good few minutes to work each one in.
- Insert the 90 degree elbow into the grommet in the side of the bucket with the end pointed down. This controls the drainage back into the pond.
- Insert the strainer bag into the bucket and place the elastic around the top lip of the bucket to hold it in place.
- Put the bucket basket lid on top of the bucket and snap it in place.
- Fill the basket with the Perlite
- Use the drip irrigation kit to run from the pump that you will place in your pond up into each bucket
Step 3: Making the Connections for the Vertical & Bucket Aquaponics
I used a hook to hang the vertical garden I made from the fence along side my pond. I situated it so the bottom of the vertical garden hung just into the pond itself to let the water flow back in.
Next I set up the 4 buckets along the top of the pond so the 90 degree elbows were positioned to return their water back into the pond.
I connected the pump to the fitting and the hose from the drip irrigation system and set the pump into the pond on a shelf (brick) that kept it off the bottom so that it did not pull in too many leaves and clog up.
I then ran the drip tubing to each bucket and up to the vertical garden. I used "T" connectors so all the buckets and the vertical garden are "in series" with each other.
Lastly I turned the pump on and used the adjusters to make sure the water would drip into the buckets and also make it up to the top of the vertical garden.
I have not put a timer on the setup yet but I think I will at some point. I just want to see how this does.
Step 4: Low Cost Hydroponics
I am not going to go through all the steps again for this system. You can find the details in my previous Instructable here: Low Income Hydroponics
This time instead of just lettuce seeds, I also planted 4 strawberries. I planted the same types in the vertical garden to compare the output once they start producing. I am very interested to see it they do better being fed fish waste or the hydroponic nutrients.
The two white topped totes were done exactly as the other Instructable describes but the larger fish tank is using a piece of Styrofoam to float the lettuce seeds on. Both have the air stones underneath supplying the oxygen.
Lastly, this year I purchased a 4 outlet Active Aqua Air Pump instead of using the individual small pumps for each system. Hopefully, this will save some energy. I also blocked the 4th outlet as I am only using 3 at the moment.
Step 5: Sitting and Watching...
Now comes the fun part, waiting to see how this system does. All in all, I probably spent just under $150 for everything (some things I already had) so it was not too bad. The Aquaponics system was more costly than the Hydroponics systems so I will have to see how it plays out.
I am hoping that the plants help clean the pond and and get all the nutrients they need from the sun and fish so I should not have any additional costs for nutrients.
Thanks for reading, I will update as things develop.