Ate a salad from our growbed today! Wahoo!

Seedlings

Hey Everybody! Welcome back.

Sorry for the long absence. It’s been a couple of months since we posted. Long story as to why, but the most important thing to note is that we did a complete reboot of our system – and it works!

The biggest problem we were having with our prior system is that we could not get bacteria to grow. After ruling out a lot of different things, we eventually determined that it was a water quality issue. We believe that the tap water we were using, even though we would let it sit for a day to off-gas the chlorine, was still toxic enough to the bacteria to keep them from growing. I guess that’s not a terrible thing for city water, but it’s definitely a terrible thing for an aquaponics garden.

One thing, or I should say person, who helped us determine this is Tawnya Sawyer of Colorado Aquaponics. We attended their four hour workshop at the GrowHaus. We got a lot of great information and we recommend attending one when you get a chance.

OK, not going to go on at too much more length here, but we wanted to share some pics of our new system on this day, the occasion of us eating our first meal from lettuce grown in our growbed, right here in the system you see depicted.

We are kicking ourselves for forgetting to take a picture of the full salad bowl before we ate it, but sometimes, despite living in such a digital and connected world, getting caught up in the experience comes before documenting it!

We’ll update you more later on the details, for now, enjoy:

 

Whole RigGrowbedSeedlingsFish Tank

 

Drainage Subsystem Saga Part 2 – running budget total – lighting: $219 – everything else: $update soon

fullemergencydrain

I’ve been holding up this post until I had time to update the budget total, but that might take longer, so I’m just going ahead will update that later…

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

Did you come back to continue the saga of the drainage subsystem? Well you came to the right place.

When we left our intrepid heroes in the last episode, they were wrestling mightily with the existential crisis incurred as a result of an impossibly difficult task. Namely, they were attempting to make continuous micro-adjustments to the speed of the water pump which adds water to the grow beds of their aquaponics system, at the same time as making micro-adjustments to the ball valve in their output flow control, in the attempt to perfectly balance the two.

Photo by Eric Helder

Failure meant one of two things. In the first case, the water would continuously rise (however slowly) and, if left unattended, the water would eventually overflow the grow beds. Alternately, the water would continuously lower, draining the grow beds to the point where they would be empty of water, and thus empty of life-giving nutrients and fluids for the growing plants. The balance point between the two proved as elusive as a winning lottery ticket or the ability to divide by zero. How to resolve the dilemma?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, our heroes decided that an emergency overflow drainage system would suffice, in a situation of gradual overflow. Reasoning that it was better to overflow and drain than allow the grow beds to completely empty if left unattended, the two resolved to find parts to make it happen. Here’s what they found:

 

 

 

 

 

Known oh-so-colorfully as the ‘faucet shank extender’, this piece provides the main conduit through which the overflow water runs. Threaded on the outside for use with a plastic nut, it is also threaded on the inside, which is handy for adding those now-famous sprinkler-system parts. An extra nut was obtained, along with some rubber washers, to create a nice, tight seal on either side of the plastic wall of our grow beds.

In addition, we wanted a nice mesh screen to fit on the end to prevent detritus from clogging the path. As it happens, we found a threaded adapter and screen of just right size to fit the end of our shank extender (my inner 12-year-old is soooo giggling right now). Here’s how it all came together:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once we added the sprinkler system parts and the drain hose, the system was able to cycle happily along, unattended and without overflowing or emptying. Ah!

So the next step is going to be starting to cycle the system, and we plan to use one of the shorter methods for doing this. Supposedly, the ultimate shortcut is to use existing bacteria growths, but we’re not going to do that. We’re going to use seaweed and plants.

Speaking of plants, looks at how abso-freakin-lutely happy our seedlings are under the LED lights! They love it!

 

Ohhhh, this is exciting!!!!

 

OK, so stay tuned for the next installment, where we explain how we are going to go about cycling the system, and actually placing the first of the seedlings into the grow beds!

Also: more drainage issues, the first chemical tests, and the case of the exceptionally hardy snow pea and squash.

So much to update! Drainage system Part 1 – running budget total – lighting: $219 – everything else: $204

Welcome back, aquaponics fans!

We’ve got so much to update. It’s hard enough to find time to do aquaponics, much less document it. But both are so much fun, the stolen time is worth it.

So at this point, we have the grow beds in place and rudimentary drainage system which still needs some tweaks. I’m going to catch us up to the first phase of the drainage system, and when part 2 is running, I’ll catch us up to the rest.

Buckets

First of all, here are the plastic bins we decided to use:

 

 

 

 

 

Keep in mind we aren’t officially endorsing any products, stores or whatever (but if you know how we can get paid to do so, let us know!), just sharing our experience.

The 30 gallon tub will be the fish bucket, where we end up putting our first batch of goldfish. We don’t have them yet.

We obtained two of the translucent storage boxes for grow beds, which we’ll fill with Hydroton, Perlite and water – and of course, plants! The three together were about $30.

Grow Media

The primary grow media are called Hydroton, which are lightweight clay pebbles. They eventually absorb water, but their primary purpose is to provide lots of surface area for helpful bacteria to grow, and also a place into which the plant roots burrow.

In addition to the primary media, Joann was advised by one grow store owner that we should place Perlite atop the Hyrdoton layer, because it keeps relatively dry and it is a little more granular. The benefit of this is twofold: 1) it keeps bugs away because there is not a bunch of exposed, standing water; and 2) the more granular nature of the Perlite is friendlier to young roots. We concurred with this assessment and placed a layer on top of the Hydroton.

 

Drainage system

The literature on aquaponics talks about all kinds of drainage systems for grow beds. The ebb-and-flow systems that rely on siphoning seemed really complicated to us, but in retrospect, it actually seems a lot simpler. Word to the wise.

What we figured is that we could set our pump speed and a flow control value in such a way that the two would nicely balance each other out, and a constant fill rate would be maintained. Simple, right? Not so much. More on that later.

When we went to the local large box hardware store and asked the friendly employee what he might recommend for our drain system, he offered us the following parts:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The brass drain has a rubber gasket and a nut on the other side. So the idea is to drill a hole in the bottom of our grow beds, screw in the brass drain, cover it with a lint trap so the clay balls and things don’t run through or clog it, and attach some sprinker system hose adapters so we can control the outflow.

Installed in the grow bed buckets, it looks like this:

 

 

 

 

 

In addition, and on our own, we had identified the following:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The purpose of the ball-valve flow control is to regulate the speed of the outflow or shut it off. The hose is obvious, and the shower curtain is to prevent splash on the wall.

 

 

 

 

 

So putting all together…

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see, we decided to run the outflows together so we can control the outflow rate all at once, since we will also only be using one pump.

So how did it all work with water in it?

Ah…

Well…

It took a little tweaking…

 

 

 

 

 

…and a ton of extra silicon sealant. *sigh* Part of the problem is because the brass drain has helpful flat spots along the threaded part so it can be gripped with channel locks. Sadly, with a rather incomplete seal on the inside (neglected to put silicon sealant inside, and it was too much of a pain to remove the Perlite and Hydroton), it leaked. I ended up trying to fix it with a second rubber washer for the outside, but it still needed tons of sealant to keep it from leaking, which is just ugly. In retrospect, I would NOT use these parts again. What I would use (if we didn’t just do an ebb-and-flow system), I will demonstrate as part of our emergency overflow system.

Note that we did end up needing an emergency overflow system because the sweet spot between constantly rising water level and constantly falling water level is apparently only achievable by multiple generations of zen masters patiently adjusting pump speeds and ball valves in search of a mystical union of opposites. But not us.

More in the next post…