2019 New Plants

2019 aquaponic bed

Every year I like to try a some new plants, in this post I’ll list a few of the ones I’m trying out this year. The ones shown here are just the garden vegetables, herbs and fruits not included.

First though, an update on the aquaponic system. The plants here have exploded in size and became extremely productive. It is actually more productive than the EarthBoxes (see the previous Aquaponics vs EarthBox results) however I stand by my recommendation for EarthBoxes for new gardeners. They are easier and cheaper to get going but I am absolutely going to expand the aquaponic system based on the latest results. Here is a few Roma tomatoes taken from the system this week. This is just one plant:

Roma tomato harvest

Over the last couple of years I’ve created a list of the regulars – things that will always be grown at Three Acre Paradise. Here’s a few of them:

Peppers

  • Bell – the good old standard for salads and cooking
  • Banana – nice addition to salads
  • Habanado – a Habernero without heat, also a good salad addition
  • Jalapeno – a little heat with a lot of uses
  • Datil – unique flavor I really like
  • Thai Hot – good old red pepper, many uses
  • Habernero – just for fun

Tomatoes

  • Everglades – tiny sweet tomatoes for salads
  • Tami-G – great snacking grape sized tomato
  • Roma – all purpose

Leafy Greens

  • Bok Choy (green) – great cooked or in salads
  • Kale – Siberian and Curly – healthy greens for cooking and salad
  • Malabar Spinach – salad addition, light taste and easy to grow vines
  • New Zealand Spinach – also great salad addition and ground cover
  • Swiss Chard – very productive for salads and cooking

Other

  • Asparagus (going on year 2)
  • Daikon radish (also for soil building) – large radish with tasty leaves
  • Garlic – still struggling with these but doing ok so far this year
  • Onions – Walking, White, Red, Yellow – growing all over
  • Sweet Potato – two varieties here, worthy of their own post
  • Turnips – Top White Globe (also for soil building)
  • Yard beans – these are easy to grow and are ok with the heat

There’s quite a few other things but these have shown to grow well here and are well established. Here’s a few of the new things I’m trying, I’m in no way trying to promote Baker Creek seeds it just so happens they have a lot of what I like:

Shishito pepper

The Shishito pepper looks like it should do well here and is a sweet pepper despite it’s looks. So far it has sprouted easily from seed and the seedlings look good. I’m constantly on the hunt for easy to grow peppers, for some reason I’ve had a lot of trouble getting Bell peppers to start from seed.

Bok choy purple lady

Although I’m already growing Bok Choy this variety will add a lot of color to the garden and eventually our salads. Since the green version does so well I thought this would too, so far it is doing good and I have harvested a few small leaves.

Chinese pink celery

The Chinese Pink celery is also being grown more for it’s color more than anything else, the other Chinese celery (green) I am growing has done well and been productive for over a year. So far so good, it has sprouted but is still very small.

Radish easter basket mix

Seeing a theme here yet? This mix was chosen just to get some radish variety in the garden. I’ve been growing Daikon radish for over a year and it’s done great but I don’t always need a radish the size of a bowling pin.

Black Vernissage tomato

I’ve actually grown this one before, I think it did very well and is an excellent tomato. The reason it’s on the new list is I can’t remember which one it was, I grew several similar varieties (such as Black Krim) so this time I’ll track it better to see if it goes on the permanent list.

All the items listed above I am pretty confident will do well but I haven’t found a good large tomato yet, there are several planted to see how they do. If everything goes to plan the garden will also be relocated this year and will be much larger. I’ll be mixing the aquaponic and EarthBox growing areas together plus will add some other growing  methods such as traditional raised beds and adding NFT (nutrient film technique) and wicking beds to the aquaponic system. For all this to happen I have to finish the yard fencing and get the rest of the infrastructure in place (pipes and underground electric).

Coming soon – a video walk through of the property. This may end up as two videos to keep the length down but as soon as the fence is completed I’ll get this done.

So, what’s new in your garden?

 

Aquaponics Filter Build

It’s raining here! Unfortunately it seems like we are either in a drought or flood, there hasn’t been any significant rain in a while and now it looks like a tropical depression has parked itself right over the state. Hurricane season is right around the corner. The good news for me, I finished the filter build and it has been tested prior to the beginning of this deluge.

Starting with this post I’ll be updating the format a little, I’m going to put a section at the bottom of each post with information and links to any items used within the article. I think this may be better than just having links throughout, if you want to help support this site please check out any Amazon links provided as I am on their referral program. I’ll link to other sites as well but I’m only affiliated with Amazon at this time.

On to the filter build, there’s a lot of plans on the internet for different types of filters but the basic idea is to capture and eventually remove large solids from the water flow. One of the most common is called a swirl filter, this is where the water is swirled to create a vortex to trap solids. My design started with this in mind but changed a little bit as that didn’t seem to trap enough, I wanted as close to 100% removal as possible with little maintenance.

The first step was to build a stand for the filter to sit on. While not very exciting of a build, it may help someone out so I’ll cover it here. I measured the height of the fish tank and filter tank to figure out the height of the stand so your requirements will probably be different, but basically the top of the filter is just below the top height of the tank (using gravity flow for the water). Next step, cut the legs and shelf supports using 2×4 lumber:

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For aesthetics and strength, I routed the legs so the shelves would be recessed into them. This also helps keep everything square.

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Nailed together shelf supports:

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Attached plywood to shelves:

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Screw shelves to legs:

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At this point I tested the height and made sure it was level in the location it was going to be installed. The pavers aren’t perfectly level so I figured how to orient the stand to be level and not wobble on the ground. Turns out I had to cut all the legs down by about an inch. You can see I also cut a hole in the middle, this is for the filter drain.

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The final step was to paint it so it has a fighting chance against the elements. I had plenty of leftover exterior green paint left so that became the color of choice.

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For the filter I had a 15 gallon tank that had previously been used as part of the water system for the house, a lot of designs use 5 gallon buckets but that just seemed too small. This tank had an opening on the top already but it was too small to work with so I cut around a ridge to make a larger opening but also tried to leave as much material as possible for strength.

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Here it is with the cut off part removed:

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Next I cut a hole in the bottom for the drain. I went off center to avoid a plastic seam.

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“MADE IN U.S.A” – awesome.  Bulkhead installed. I’ll put a link to the one I used at the end of this post.

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The drain is just a PVC quarter turn valve from Lowes:

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The aquaponic system doesn’t have any leaks and I want to keep it that way. Before going any further, a leak test:

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Next step is to cut holes for the inlet and outlet pipes. The inlet (from the fish tank) is slightly higher than the output (to the media beds) to allow for the gravity flow through the system.

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Uniseals installed. These are the most common types of seals used in home built aquaponic systems and for good reason, they work. Even if you have to go through a curved surface like this filter or a bucket they handle it with no problem.

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Don’t let anyone fool you, pushing the pipe through the Uniseal is not easy. I’ve found it helpful to bevel the pipe edge slightly and use some soap as the directions recommend. Once you get the pipes through they do a great job though and they are quick and easy to install.

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Here’s what the pipes look like inside the filter. The water coming in is to the left, it is directed near the bottom at an angle to start a swirl, then exits out the top.

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Here’s how it looks from the side:

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This design did work but the lighter particles still remained suspended and were getting through. One thing that I tried was to reduce the suction of the output flow by adding a pipe with holes. The idea was that this would break up the flow into more but smaller drains.

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This did help, but the lighter solids were still not settling into the tank, instead they would eventually find their way out. I tried adding some screening to this pipe but it would clog up in a few hours. I added some plastic fencing rolled up near the top of the filter to break up the circulation but that only helped slightly. The final solution? I filled the filter about 3/4 of the way with lava rock. Bingo! This works great.

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I know the swirl has been stopped but the results speak for themselves. The picture above is what the rock looked like after about a week of running, the debris at the top is actually algae growing but the water exiting is crystal clear. I left the additional filters in the media beds so I could see how much was getting through and with this setup it is very little.

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Now the very last problem to solve was that there was algae growing in the filter since I had left the top open. This was solved by cutting the bottom off of a large nursery pot of about the same diameter and holding it down with a bungy cored. Maybe in the future I’ll come up with something more elegant but for now this works.

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The filter has been in place for about three weeks so far and the water seems to be a lot cleaner. I have flushed the filter out weekly but it could probably go for a month or more between cleanings. One reason I’ve had to clean it more often is that raccoons have discovered the automatic fish feeder and have dumped the entire contents into the fish tank twice so far so that is something that will have to addressed right away.

Thank you for reading and if you want to help support this site please check out any of our Amazon links below or from the Product Links page. It doesn’t cost you anything 🙂


Links to products mentioned in this post

Lifegard Aquatics 3/4-Inch Double Threaded Bulkhead

Uniseal – best prices I have found are from  The UNISEAL Warehouse

 

Aquaponics vs EarthBox – 6 week (final) results

We are now six weeks into the Aquaponics vs EarthBox challenge and there’s no big surprises since the three week results. The EarthBox plants have grown huge, I’ve even harvested them a few times. The aquaponics plants have grown, not a whole lot in size but they have a lot more leaves but not nearly as much as the EarthBox plants. I had originally planned a three month checkpoint for this competition but have decided this will be the final update for this round. I’m going to do a few improvements to the aquaponics system then replant and see if I can get better results.

Here’s the EarthBox plants as of now. The first is the Chinese Cabbage, I’ve harvested these twice and they are still growing like crazy. For size reference the EarthBox is 29 inches wide. These two plants are dwarfing the box.

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Next, the Kale. This has been harvested once to make some Kale Chips and a few older leaves have been removed.

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Last, the Swiss Chard. I take a leaf here and there to mix in salads and cut off old growth when it starts to go brown. I’ve got Swiss Chard growing in several places around the property.

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Keep in mind these are all after six weeks of planting. The aquaponic system is working and growing but the EarthBox plants have just exploded. For the aquaponic results I’m just going to show each bed which has the same plants as the EarthBoxes (one of each per bed) plus a few other things. Media bed one:

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The Swiss Chard in the back left is not the one from the competition, that was planted earlier. For scale, these beds are 37 inches wide, eight inches wider than an EarthBox. Media bed two:

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The plant in the back center is celery that was a leftover core just stuck in the bed, it’s growing good and I’ll occasionally cut a stalk off for salads. Finally, the raft bed:

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Overall I prefer the media beds over the raft bed, the raft does have the advantage of being easier to clean.

Over the next month or so I’ll be adding a filter to the aquaponic system, covering the sides with something other than black plastic, increasing the fish load, automatic water level maintainer, and building a screen cover over the fish tank (I caught a raccoon fishing there one evening). I’m hoping to see better results and I’m sure there’s plenty of room for improvement. Surprisingly, I didn’t get too much hate mail from other aquaponic users but I did get a few that said the systems can’t really be compared.

Here’s my take on the results. For anyone starting out and just trying to get some vegetables to grow, go with the EarthBoxes (or GrowBox). They are fairly foolproof to set up and can get you some quick success. The cost to start up a single box is under $50 all in, including some seedlings. Annually, it runs around $1 to refresh the box (not including seedlings) and they should last 15-20 years. It really doesn’t pay to make your own, but I’ll still post a “how to” for that in the future.

Aquaponics systems have the advantage of a secondary output, the fish. You can eat the fish or raise decorative fish to sell at a profit. The downsides are a much higher entry cost, higher maintenance (you have to add trace minerals, keep it clean, and feed the fish), and a single problem can wipe out everything at once.

I hope some people find this useful, again I want to state I have not received any promotional materials or discounts from any manufacturer (or store). All of this is my own opinion, my goal is to just help others get the biggest bang for their gardening buck and I’ll continue to test and compare methods to show what has worked best for me.

If you like this post please like and follow our Facebook page to get the latest updates. The next comparison will be EarthBox vs Grow Bags for tomatoes and peppers, the planting has already been completed so I’ll post a three week update soon. Happy planting!

Aquaponics vs EarthBox – 3 week results

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Last week I wrote about an experiment to compare growing some leafy greens in 3 different types of systems and comparing results. These systems are aquaponics media beds, aquaponics raft, and EarthBoxes. I’ve used EarthBoxes for a few years but couldn’t wait to get into aquaponics as it seemed to have a lot of the same benefits, or maybe even more with the added bonus of fish production.

To keep track of the results, I measured the plants progress and counted leaves, it seemed like a nice simple approach although not very scientific. Some other comparisons I have seen will actually weigh the crop results but I don’t tend to harvest all at once, rather I take a little off of each plant as needed. If the results were too close to tell I’d give the edge to the EarthBoxes because of their lower cost and they are much easier to set up. Again, the aquaponics has the added bonus of fish production but that’s not what I am looking for, I’ve got a pond already in place for that.

I don’t want to make any haters out there by claiming one system is superior. I’ll be the first to admit my aquaponics system is probably far from optimized, it is fairly new although it was a previously established system. All water tests have come back good, I have not had any fish or plants die, and there are established plants in there that have been doing well. To appease the EarthBox crowd (or the similar GrowBoxes) I have mentioned many times that they are less expensive and a lot easier to set up and maintain. Mine have practically no maintenance required as I use a drip water system on a timer to top off the water reservoir every morning.

OK, with all that said, what were the results so far? Well, forget the leaf count and measure method as I won’t need that. The EarthBoxes absolutely crushed the aquaponic system. It wasn’t even close, or in the same field. See for yourself below. As for the aquaponic results, the media beds did better then the raft system.

This next sets of pictures show the results of the best plant from each system, From top to bottom the results are from the aquaponic media bed, aquaponic raft, and EarthBoxes. First, the Chinese Cabbage:

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Aquaponic Media Bed
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Aquaponic Raft
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EarthBox

What you probably can’t tell from the pictures is how much bigger the EarthBox result is. The larger aquaponic plant is around 8 inches across, the EarthBox one is about 24 inches.

Lets look at the Kale next:

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Aquaponic Media Bed
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Aquaponic Raft
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EarthBox

Similar results, the largest aquaponic plant is around 7 inches and the EarthBox is at least 18 inches across. Finally, the Swiss Chard:

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Aquaponic Media Bed
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Aquaponic Raft
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EarthBox

You may have noticed the leaves are darker green on the aquaponic raft results, this is actually just due to the camera. I think it was adjusting the white balance due to light reflecting off of the raft. They are actually the same shade of green as the other plants.

Here’s the largest aquaponic result along with the EarthBox result with a tape measure for scale. Chinese Cabbage:

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Aquaponic
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EarthBox

The EarthBox results would actually be wider if the leaves were held up. Kale results:

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Aquaponic
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EarthBox

And Swiss Chard:

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Aquaponic
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EarthBox

To see more of a progression of growth, here is the aquaponic media bed from day one to the end of the three weeks. I’ve circled the Chinese Cabbage in red, Kale in blue, and Swiss Chard in yellow. Note the previously planted Swiss Chard in the upper left corner is doing well, I made sure to keep it trimmed back from shading any of the new plants. As planted:

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End of week 1:

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End of week 2:

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End of week 3:

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Now, lets take a look at one of the EarthBoxes through the same period. This is the one with the Chinese Cabbage, as planted:

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End of week 1:

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End of week 2:

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End of week 3:

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Pretty impressive eh?

Here’s my thoughts on the results so far. I know my aquaponic system can be improved, I plan on adding a swirl filter over the next week or two. I’m not sure that will help growth but it will reduce maintenance. I also know my fish load is not very high, this will increase as they grow. I’ve also heard that it takes a few weeks for plants to get settled but I haven’t seen that yet as the case, established plants are growing good but the new EarthBox  plants are still outpacing the older aquaponic plants.

If you are a new gardener I would strongly suggest starting with an EarthBox or similar self watering container. They are inexpensive, even when compared to building your own (they last for many years, DIY systems may last a season or two in the sun). They are easy to set up and give you instant results. They don’t take up much space although they are pretty heavy once filled with water.

Aquaponics certainly has more wow factor, when friends come over that’s the one they want to see. It also gives you a fish output, but is far more complicated to set up and maintain. I got lucky by finding a deal on an established system but it still requires monitoring, cleaning, feeding, and adding nutrients. I’m going to continue to improve and possibly expand this system but more for my own curiosity rather than production.

Last ramblings, the EarthBox is producing so much at this point that I harvested some Kale and Chinese Cabbage for dinner tonight. I’ll post an update at the 6 week point to see if there is any major difference, maybe the aquaponic garden will start to boom by that time. Until then, keep on growing!

Aquaponics vs EarthBox, which is better?

If you are like me and are always looking for the easiest and fastest way to grow vegetables, you are probably familiar with aquaponics and self watering container gardening. There are many other ways to grow plants but these two constantly pop up as some of the easiest and most productive systems with the least amount of work. For new gardeners, it can be frustrating trying to get the first harvest due to poor soil conditions, weeds, pests, and poor watering practices. These two help solve a majority of those problems. Or do they?

Just to be clear, I use EarthBoxes but do not receive compensation from the manufacturer in any manner. A few years ago, I was on the fence about trying an EarthBox or GrowBox (their main competitor), while looking around at a local nursery I saw they had EarthBoxes in stock so I picked one up. I was leaning towards the EarthBox due to the watering tube difference but this just made the decision easier since it was right in front of me. I was talking with an old timer who worked at the nursery and he said he had been gardening for 40 years and switched to EarthBoxes 5 years prior and that’s all he uses now.

Since my last few posts went over the aquaponics system setup I thought I’d run through an EarthBox setup in this post. Next week will be the third week they have been planted and I’ll show results to date, and again at the six week and three month point.

For this competition I’ll use three brand new EarthBoxes, three different types of plants, and two of each type of plant in each system (EarthBox, aquaponics media bed, aquaponics raft) for a total of 18 plants. Here’s the EarthBoxes ready to be set up:

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First step is to put the aeration screen and watering tube in place. The water reservoir is right below this aeration screen.

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Next, pack the corners with moist potting mix. This is where the water will be drawn up or wicked up from. Potting mix is used instead of soil, it is sterile and does not contain any fungi or weed seeds to cause problems.

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Add more potting mix to just a few inches below the top edge. I put the bag in the picture so you can see the brand used for this competition. In a future competition I’ll try comparing a few different brands but I’ve had good success with this one.

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Add dolomite (lime). This helps counter the acidic nature of the potting mix.

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Mix in thoroughly then add more potting mix. When complete the box uses two cubic feet of mix. Next will be a strip of fertilizer, how that is laid out depends on how many plants will be in the box and what orientation they are. For my purposes it’s just 2 plants so I’ll put it down the middle.

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Add fertilizer, in my case I used 6-6-6.

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And top off with potting mix to form a mound.

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Next, place a cover over the box. They come with two elastic covers, once those are used up I just use black plastic sheeting. The cover keeps weeds away and moisture in.

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Here’s the three boxes covered and ready to go. It may seem like a lot of steps at first but once you do it a few times it is actually pretty fast and easy. Also, for replanting you don’t have to go through all these steps, just add dolomite, add fertilizer, top off with potting mix to replace any lost, then cover again.

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In trying to keep the competition fair I wanted to have all plants to have the same sun exposure. The backside of the aquaponics system faces south so I put the EarthBoxes on this side and low enough that they wouldn’t shade the aquaponics system.

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When putting plants in the EarthBoxes you cut a hole in the top covers, I use an empty soup can mounted on a bolt (I’ll post a picture next time). I heat the can up with a propane torch then burn a hole in the plastic. This makes a nice round hole that is less likely to rip.

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Here’s the EarthBoxes planted:

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Aquaponics media beds planted. There is also some other plants already there, I left them as a way to monitor the system (they are growing and healthy).

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Aquaponics raft bed planted:

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The plants selected were Swiss Chard (started by seed), Chinese Cabbage, and Lacinato Kale (both bought). All of these were selected since they are leafy greens and should do well in the aquaponics system, both the media beds and raft bed. All seedlings were about the same size and healthy.

The EarthBoxes are set up with automatic watering, I do this with all of them that I have set up and it is simply a drip water system on a timer that tops off the reservoir every morning. There’s no worry about over watering as any excess just overflows out. The aquaponics system has an automatic fish feeder set up to feed the tilapia twice daily. I also tested the aquaponics water to be sure all levels are good (pH, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates). I add nutrients to the aquaponics system on a regular basis to ensure the plants are getting required minerals.

That’s it for now, next week I’ll post the first round of results and my thoughts on the two types of systems. Until then, happy planting!

Aquaponics System Build – Final Steps

Now that the aquaponic system is all plumbed up and leak tested, it’s ready for the last few steps so I can start adding fish and plants. The first step is to get a baseline reading of the water – the critical measurements being pH, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. For a properly running system you want a pH to be around neutral (6.8-7 is a good range), ammonia and nitrites at 0, and nitrates around 20 ppm. If the nitrates are too high it is bad for the fish and too low won’t provide food for the plants. One of the most popular kits for water measurements for aquaponic systems is the API Fresh Water Master Test Kit. The readings were all good since the water was new, the pH a little high but as expected for a new fill up and nitrates were 0 since there hasn’t been any activity into the system yet.

Now that I had a water baseline, time to start adding media to the grow beds. I’m using expanded clay since I got it as part of the deal with the system, there are less expensive alternatives if you are starting from scratch. While adding them it was interesting to see that some sink right away and some float (bed to the right).

Filling aquaponics media beds

With the media added I was curious what the water readings would be after running for a day. The media had been used in a system previously so what effect did this have on the water? To my surprise and delight, the ammonia and nitrates were still zero but nitrates were at 30 ppm. This being the case, I went ahead and dropped some starter plants in to take advantage of it and get a jump start on balancing everything out. I also added some filter material into six inch net pot cups to act as mechanical filtration from the fish tank.

Aquaponic media beds ready

Next, I added an aerator to the system. It’s debatable whether additional aeration is needed with all the water splashing around already but it certainly won’t hurt. For this I selected the Aquascape 75000 Pond Air 2, primarily because it is the right size but also since I have had good luck with a larger Aquascape pump that has been running in my larger pond. For just a few extra dollars you can get the extended warranty through Amazon, in my opinion it was worth it. This aerator came with 2 separate air stones and plenty of tubing. The first stone was placed in the sump.

Aquaponics air stone

The second air stone was placed in the fish tank, and the aerator itself was put under the fish tank on the ground. A future project will be to make a weatherproof box to contain all the electrical items and a backup power supply.

Aquaponics Aquascape aerator

I also added a 250 watt heater to the fish tank. I’ll add a second one before winter next year but for now I think we are past any really cold days. I’ve chosen to stock the tank with Tilapia which can die out if the water goes below 50 degrees so it will be important to have some redundancy. Once the heater and aerator were set up the Tilapia were placed in the tank, around 35 total of various sizes so they can be harvested at different times.

Now there’s fish and some starter plants in the media beds, time to build a raft for the remaining grow bed. The board of choice is the DOW 2″ Blue XPS styrofoam board. If you can find it locally it will be a lot cheaper but unfortunately I couldn’t and couldn’t order it from any of the big box stores. The nice thing about the way i got it was that it was 2 smaller pieces so cutting to fit wasn’t very hard. I started by trying to use a foam cutting tool (looks like a soldering iron) but that turned out to be too slow and didn’t make a very nice cut. A battery powered circular saw was the better choice.

Sizing aquaponics raft bed

After the initial fitting the next step was to cut holes for the fill and drain. When drilling holes using a hole saw make sure to extend the center bit out so it pokes through the other side.

Drilling aquaponics raft bed

Most hole saws aren’t deep enough to go through all the way so you may have to flip the foam over and finish from the back side. Having the center bit poke through helps with alignment.

Test fit of aquaponics raft

Next, measuring and cutting holes for the net pots. I used 3 inch pots and from research it seems having 8 inches of spacing was the minimum suggested. Here’s a look of the layout I used, no actual measuring as I figured it didn’t have to be perfect.

Laying out aquaponics net pots

Once you have the layout, just use a mark the locations with a sharpie. To cut the holes I used a 2 7/8 hole saw that I got locally at Ace Hardware. The big box stores didn’t carry this size in stock. I tested using a 3 inch hole but the pots weren’t very tight.

Drilling holes for aquaponic net pots

This step is optional but I want the system to look good and hopefully extend the life of the foam . I painted the foam with a white latex exterior paint, one coat over most of it and 3 coats on top. I let this dry for several days before risking putting it in the system.

Painted aquaponic rafts

Last but not least for now, I wrapped the raft bed and fish tank with black plastic. This should cut down on algae growth. My original plan was to build wooden frames around the tanks but when pricing the cost of lumber that idea took a turn. The plastic will work for now and I’ll keep an eye on Craigslist for some free scrap fence panels or pallets that can be re-purposed for this.

Aquaponic beds ready

One final picture, a closer view of the raft once installed.

Aquaponics raft bed

Next I’ll be adding plants to the system. As time and materials allow, I’ll build nicer covers, a protective cover over the fish tank to keep birds and animals out, an automatic fish feeder, a backup power source, a box to house the electrics, and a shade cover over everything.

I’ll post monthly updates on how this system is doing, but for now I consider it a success. Happy planting!

Aquaponics System Build – Tanks and Plumbing

With the holiday season over it’s time to get back to building, and the rush is on to get things ready by spring. We experienced a setback in late December, a neighbors dogs got loose and killed all of our chickens. That being the case, I’ll document the process of raising them from chicks when we get new ones in February or March. I’ve also made a lot of other progress on the property, we are getting ready to start the first phase of fence and have started a couple of banana circles which I’ll show in a future post. For not, the focus is on the aquaponic system.

The system was originally going to be a three grow tank system with media beds, I’ve switched that to two media beds and one floating raft system. Last post showed setting up the pad for the system, now I’ll go through the assembly.

The Layout

First thing to be done is place the sump and tanks together. I’m starting with a simple setup, the fish tank will overflow into the grow beds, they will dump into the sump, then a pump in the sump will return the water to the fish tank. Here’s an amateurish drawing of the plumbing:

Sump based aquaponic system

The system does not have any additional filtration at this time, I’m hoping the sump and floating raft bed act as settling tanks and I’m also using some filter material in the media beds to grab any solids. There are some system designs that are probably better than this, one uses the pump return to feed the grow beds and fish tank so each subsystem can be isolated for cleaning or maintenance. For now, this will do and I can always change it later.

The Build

First step is to lay out the sump and grow beds to get their width so I can set up supports. I wanted the grow beds to be as low as possible to get good flow from the fish tank overflow, in the end I had to raise the fish tank anyways.

Blocks for aquaponic support

Once I had the width and depth figured out it was time to put support boards on. These are 12 foot long 2×10’s.

Aquaponic tank support

Next, put the grow beds on.

Aquaponic tank installation

Before getting too far, checking for leaks and testing the bell siphon.

Aquaponic leak testing

Here’s the underside of the center tank where it dumps into the sump. Yes, it’s a little dirty but I’ll clean it all up once assembled.

Aquaponic sump detail

The bell siphon test was successful, so I placed all the tanks and plumbed everything up.

Aquaponic tanks

A view of the fish tank.

Aquaponic fish tank IBC

Back side of the grow beds.

Aquaponic tanks plumbing

Here’s one of the spouts the feed the grow bed. I didn’t glue these connections so they can be adjusted or moved around as needed.

Aquaponic fill spout

Testing everything, success!

Aquaponic tank layout

And a final view of the raft bed.

Aquaponic being filled

So far everything seems to be working good. Next I’ll add the media to the grow beds, build the raft, and add aeration and a heater to the fish tank. If everything goes as planned I should be able to start planting early March. Time to start some seedlings!

Happy planting!

Aquaponics System Build – Base

I had planned on eventually building an aquaponics system but it wasn’t a priority – until there was a deal on eBay that was an absolute bargain. It’s a good size for starting out, has 3 grow beds and a fish tank made from IBC containers. Now I have this system sitting on the driveway waiting to be installed so the priority has gone to the top of the list.

The location needs to be near a power source and raised up to avoid any flood areas, I’ve got a good spot behind the workshop that is built up and fairly flat. I didn’t want to put it directly on the ground so I’m using a bunch of leftover materials to make a pad approximately 11′ x 13′ (canopy will be 10′ x 12′).

The first step was laying out the shape and leveling the edge boards in place. This will be a temporary setup (2-3 years?) so I didn’t want to concrete the pavers in place.

Aquaponics pad squared

Next, added paver base at about 2″ depth. Normally this would be deeper but again this isn’t a permanent setup and the ground underneath is very well packed down. This was just about a cubic yard of material.

Aquaponics pad with media base

Started tamping down the paver base by hand, eyeballing level to try to get it as close as possible to be 2″ below the top (height of a paver).

Aquaponics pad media base leveling

Finished tamping. A good workout.

Aquaponics pad media base levelled

Made a screed board, spaced a 2×4 under another using 1/2″ pieces of plywood.

Screed board design

Laying in the pavers a row at a time. I used a simple alternating direction pattern. Not fancy, but I didn’t want to cut any pavers so they can be reused again.

Aquaponics base paver installation

All pavers in place.

Aquaponics pad pavers complete

Brushing sand into the cracks. I had a bunch of sand left over from the last chicken coop clean out.

Sanding pavers on aquaponics pad

And the finished product. Now I just need to clean up the area around it. I’ll start the aquaponic system build in the next week or two.

Aquaponics pad completed

Until next time, keep on planting!