This is the story of how we became Aquaponic-ers.
First, I stumbled across the Garden Pool while wasting time browsing Pinterest. Which is the story of a family in Arizona that turned their unused swimming pool into an farm that could feed their family indefinitely. I love the symbiosis of it. The fish waste serves as fertilizer, the plants thrive, the water is cleaned, and the whole thing wastes far less water than a traditional garden. Plus, it’s a way to grow food organically without having to face the creepy crawlies that live in compost piles!
It had me hooked. I’ve been reading books and websites as fast as I can find them. Anything and everything about this fascinating system of gardening.
So I began planning my own system. Nothing like the 250 gallon tanks I’ve read about. Something small that I can manage and afford.
First step: Find a barrel
My Brother saved the day on this one. He found and bought this wonderful food grade 55 gallon barrel for me.
And.. he cut it too! We sliced off a 12 inch section to make the grow bed. It’s a pretty small area to grow a garden but once the tank is set up (a few months) I plan to add more grow beds. Starting with a 1:1 ratio with and expanding 3:1 down the road, depending on how things go.
After the barrel was sorted out, we took a trip to a hydroponic store where I found a pump and 2 bags of clay media for the grow bed. Since I’m on a tight budget I bought the smallest pump 66GPH which, in theory, should be enough for my ~40 gallon tank. This was a mistake, the pump doesn’t have enough lift to get the water out of the tank and into the grow bed. I’m hoping if I let it dry and pack it back up really nice they might let me exchange it for a more powerful model. Fingers crossed! I also doubt I have enough clay, but it was $8 a bag so I’ll make due for now, and add more later (hopefully). Ara liked the giant bag of pearlite because it made her feel strong!
Next, was a fun yet confusing introduction to all things PVC. I have more connectors and reducers and whatsits and wherefores to build the world a strange pipe system! The staff at ACE was very helpful and even excited about this strange new project I’m doing. I liked them, even if I did spend more than I wanted. I might return the PVC hot glue they sold me, if my pipes don’t leak without it. I won’t have much pressure in my system so I’m hoping to keep it simple, plus cleaning will be easier if they come apart.
I made a little test syphon in a cut plastic jug. There are so many videos and blog posts on how to make a bell syphon that I was worried I had missed some complicated step. Nope. It works fine, which was more exciting than you can know! I feel like the world of AP is dominated by men who know stuff and just toss out phrases like “3mm adapter” and expect everyone will know what that means! I have been scouring the internet for a blog post by a dork like me know knew NOTHING going into this. Maybe I’ll be the first? Anyway, just write down those foreign phrases and show them to the people at ACE, they will help you break the code! Also, don’t even bother with Home Depot, they are no help at all.
After the syphon test my PVC puzzle kept getting more complicated! But, it was time to commit, and make a hole in my barrel. Scary!
Out came my trusty drill (a present from Alex long ago) and drill bit set my Dad gave me. My first step was to scrape the skin off my pinky with these suckers, they’re sharp! Next, I put the biggest one on the drill and started making holes…
And more holes…
And still all I had was a mess that no pipe was going to go neatly through. At this point, I got out a box cutter and started scraping and poking. My Mom stopped by and watched my struggle for a bit, then she ran home and borrowed a legit tool from her boyfriend and BAM I had a real circle.
Three cheers for using the right tool!
Next, I put my pipe puzzle together and filled the grow bed with water (after I realized the baby pump wouldn’t do it for me).
Bad news, the barrel leaks through one of the pour spouts. No worries, I have silicone!
Good news, the bell syphon works with the real sized pipes! I still need a screen around this to keep the clay out of the way.
Woo hoo, the water flushes down to the fish tank!
So, the part I thought would be hard, was easy. All the other stuff.. I’m still working on it.
I’m waiting for everything to dry so I can waterproof my growbed. After I sort out the pump issue, I’ll rinse the clay and get it into the GB. Once it’s all set and not leaking, I’ll let it run for a week then the exciting part… adding fish! We’ll be using goldfish since I can’t see myself clubbing my fresh Tilapia and frying it up for dinner.
Can’t you just see the growbed filled with strawberry plants? I can!