Some time back I was visiting a landscape contractor and longtime friend at his storage yard. While there I couldn’t help but notice the menagerie of containers with veggies and flowers growing out of them. There was an old bathtub, some buckets, a couple of metal troughs, and some black plastic pots among other things. Actually except for the good looking plants growing out of them it look pretty much like a section of the city dump.
I noticed that each of the containers had a small tube going to it from a large container which turned out to be his reservoir. I had seen Hydroponics before, but it didn’t resemble anything like this. My friend told me it was his Hydroponics garden and I should try it. He referred me to his favorite store.
I need to mention up front that there are stores I do not visit, not because I don’t like the stores, just the opposite, I can rationalize my need for just about anything! I did go to the Hydroponics store and it had shelf after shelf of bottles of magic formulas for doing the near impossible with growing plants, mainly one species of plant; marijuana. I was overwhelmed by what I saw in that store, so much so that I did not go back to that store for some time.
A few months passed before I returned to the store but when I did go back the store was gone. I was kind of relieved, because unless I was going to grow marijuana, my crop of veggies and flowers would never pay for the nutrients and tech equipment they sold. I had decided since my goal is to retire within two years and since I will be on a fixed (love that term) income I needed to become self sustaining. That meant raising my own veggies and I needed help with that so I called up my contractor friend because he still had his JUNKYARDPONICS going. He redirected me to another very well stocked Hydroponics store.
Now to digress a moment, I Googled Hydroponics and was totally overwhelmed by the number of hits there were and not only that, but the different variations of the word itself. Aeroponics, Aquaponics, Vermiponics, and Bioponics, were the ones that interested me most. I only garden organically and use no insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, biocides, or rodent poisons. I wouldn’t be interested in mixing batches of nutrients, herbicides, fungicides even if they were organic.
I found through further research that with Vermiponics, the worms produce the nutrients and with Aquaponics, the fish produced the nutrients, perfect! So off I went on my quest to become self-staining. I purchased a 24′ x 41′ x 6’ grow tray or flood table and two 12 ‘ x 41′ x 6’ grow trays/flood tables. I tried setting up a couple of containers using Vermiponics to produce earthworm tea (nutrient rich water from earthworm castings that have been soaking in water to leach out the nutrients.) the plants did ok, but, what a mess; the organics plugged up the pump and there was no way to know what the nutrient levels were. I quickly gave up on that.
I went back to the computer and Googled Aquaponics for more information. The information I gleaned from the net about the technology of Aquaponics caused a light to come on in my head. Over the years I have raised many tropical fish commercially and grown numerous plants. I also currently have a green house (which up till recently was primarily for orchids), a number of Bonsai trees, Epithelium, about 70 rose bushes and a lot of other beautiful plants and flowers all tucked in here and there wherever they fit. After taking all this into account, Aquaponics seemed like a match made in heaven.
he very moment I Googled Aquaponics, 792,000 hits were returned in 0.08 seconds. That told me something about the technology right off, it was a popular method of producing food. The net info went on forever, there was page after page of information about Aquaponics. I tried to read one after another of these sites, but, my eyes had pretty well glazed over and my brain overloaded. However, I kept going back to a site that had a catchy name I could relate too, Aquaponics Magazine. It sounded like just what the doctor ordered and it even had a very active forum.
I seldom look at maps when I go anywhere, even though I normally get lost at least once on every venture. Well, it also applies to putting things together, I am a general contractor and everyone knows a general contractor can build anything! This was no different; I joined the forum, skimmed some of the articles (apparently not the right ones) figured I had it wired, in fact I could think of a couple of “improvements” I could make myself right off the bat. So, off to Home Depot I went and after 4 trips, because of needing something else, and a week of labor I now had a 1,000 gal vat in my greenhouse for my fish. It would have been a whole lot better if I had read some of the formulas that are provided such as fish tank to grow bed ratios and other little tidbits of pertinent info while on the Aquaponics Magazine website.
Using the base formula of 2 gals of grow bed per 1 gal of fish water, a 1000 gal vat will produce enough nutrient rich water to supply a 12′ deep planter with a total area of 534 sq ft.. If I had known that at the time, I would never have built a 1,000 gal vat in a 14 ‘ x 16 ‘ greenhouse. Oh, man but I was on a roll. I was like a kid in a candy store: I bought a heating mat for four standard 20’ seed trays, a temperature controller for it (you don’t need a heating pad in a green house), an expensive timer, a Tri-Meter that monitors pH, nutrients in ppm (parts per million) and temperature. I also picked up several each of a number of different types of fittings, some air stones, some tubing in three different diameters, all the time trying to visualize what I needed them for. I picked up two 3 ‘x 6 ‘x 6’ flood tables and one 3 ‘ x 3 ‘ x 6’ flood table.
A commercial marijuana grower in an industrial park owned by a friend was visited by several DEA agents with automatic weapons, which provided me with an opportunity to pick up some more much needed items real cheap. Four 4 ‘ x 4 ‘ x 6’ white flood tables, four 4 ‘ x 4 ‘ x 1 ‘ 100 gal reservoirs, 5 timers (I still couldn’t figure out a use for the first expensive one I bought, but these were a lot less money, still haven ‘t used them; maybe someday) (26) 275 gallon per hour water pumps, five small but powerful air pumps with 6-way manifolds (I already purchased a much larger air pump with a 12 valve manifold), four wall fans and gobs more of fittings, water tubing, air tubing, air stones. Got the picture, I only have a 14 ‘ x 16 ‘ greenhouse and it isn’t a two-story! While I was struggling with the construction, purchasing all of the gadgetry my JUNKYARDPONICS friend’s menagerie was producing flowers and veggies.
For some of us the temptation is to start much bigger then we probably should. To buy equipment without really testing out how we are going to accomplish our objectives. I started to say, that may have been my situation but now that I look back, I have to admit, I was out of control. If I had, had a plan, and if I had done my do diligence as I should have to correctly utilize the space I had in the green house and if I had taken the time to go through a good part of the information located within the pages at Aquaponics Magazine I could have gotten along with much less equipment and the right equipment to build a much simpler yet, efficient set up.
I didn’t mention that I already had 20 aquariums ranging from 30 to 90 gals. I few of those would have provided all of the nutrients I needed for the flood tables and grow beds that I have. I could have done without the 1000 gallon vat, converted the 100 gallon Hydroponics reservoirs into deep water grow beds utilizing Bell Siphons doubling the grow area using less equipment. In spite of my compulsive buying, with all of the extra parts and pieces I was able to try different systems.
Consequently, I do have some nice lettuce from a 4 ‘ x 4 ‘ x 6’ RAFT system. I have kale, sweet potato plants, flowering bulbs such as Narcissus, daffodils, gladiolas, tomato plants, and a few other things from two 4 ‘x 4 ‘x 6’ MAT systems. (a MAT system is a continuous flow system, water runs continuously through the 1-1/2’ X 2’ mat of Coconut fiber or filter fabric, the plant containers sit on top of the mat.) But the happiest plant is a horseradish plant from a root I got at the grocery store it is 2-1/2 feet tall in two months. It ‘s growing with herbs and other plants in a 24’ x 41’ system with a BELL SIPHON operating the Flood and Drain flow of. Water to the grow bed. I have herbs such as Sage, Rosemary, Basil, Water Cress and several others that I picked up as cuttings at my grocery store which rooted quite easily in my system. I floated basil and watercress in a RAFT system, stuck rosemary & sage in a Deep water system; they love fish water and readily rooted. I have a rose bush and several hot chilies that I can ‘t even eat, in a Flood and Drain system that are waiting to go outside to my outdoor Aquaponic system.
Each type of system has its advantages and disadvantages; in your search through the multitude of pages at Aquaponics Magazine and the many hundreds of post on their forum from members all over the world, you will be able to select the type of plants that do well with a particular set up. I personally do not use edible fish. I prefer to use ornamental fish, such as KOI, goldfish, tropical fish and even my pet turtles. By the way, I have been revamping my greenhouse for the second time in less than a year into a more practical and productive system. It will soon have a second level of grow beds to utilize the 1000 gal vat.
Additionally, I’ve moved the excess trays, fittings and such to the outside waiting for a little warmer weather. I will be combining Aquaponics with Vermiponics (raising worms) for these. Oh, I didn’t tell you about the outdoor system yet. Remember the 100 gallon reservoirs, they are now outdoors, along with (28) 5-gal buckets piped with bottom drains and about a dozen other potted plants, chilies, artichoke, asparagus, and rose bushes. These along with a couple of water lilies and several taro plants will be connected with a 600 gallon already in-ground vat with about 200 goldfish.
JUNKYARDPONICS works fine for my friend so why not me? Wow, it is going to be one heck of a growing frenzy this summer at my casa! I happen to stop by my favorite Hydroponics store, grabbed a Hydroponics magazine picked up a few fittings, and 100 ‘ roll of Â¾’ black plastic tubing I think I have a plan’¦ Reference information: My favorite book on Hydroponics: GARDENING INDOORS WITH SOIL AND Hydroponics. By George F. Van Patten. This is the best single book on plant culture, nutrients, cloning and systems that I have found. Favorite publications: Rosebud, www.rosebudmag.com ; Maximum Yield, www.maximumyield.com ; Urban Garden Magazine, www.urbangardenmagizine.com These publications are many times available from your local Hydroponics store FREE. By far my preferred source of information is Aquaponics Magazine. It provides the information needed to be successful, no matter if your system is large or small. It offers comparison of systems and information about all facets of the trade. You can find a lot of information on the web and YouTube, but remember that much of that is incorrect or amateurish and can cost you a lot of heart ache and hard earned cash. Here ‘s hopping you become an expert APer (Aquaponics Person)