quick and easy ways to try your first hydroponic garden
This is an introduction to my new book Home Aquaponics a complete DIY guide. I wrote this book to let you know, step by step, everything you need to know to build your own aquaponic garden.
You will get a complete guide to how a system works, how to design and build your own garden, how many fish you need and much more.
The book also contains step by step instructions to build a aquaponic garden using no tools at all!
Enjoy this sample and if you find it helpful please go to Amazon for a copy of the book
Thank you for your support!
Table of Contents
- Table of Contents
- Intro to hydroponics and aquaponics
- Why is aquaponics so easy
- Deciding what size grow table you want
- Figuring out what size fish tank you need
- The table
- The plastic
- The tabletop
- The pump
- The filter
- The plants
An introduction to hydroponics and aquaponics
This is designed to be a complete guide to getting started growing vegetables with aquaponics. All with no complicated science, using everyday items.
Aquaponics is by far my favorite way to grow most anything. Aquaponics is a method of growing things using fish water as a natural water/ nutrient solution. Aquaponics is a subcategory of hydroponics.
If that sounds complicated…it’s not, so stay with me and you will be an expert in no time!
Let’s start with:
What exactly is hydroponic growing?
Hydroponics is simply growing plants in a water and nutrient solution.
Plants don’t need soil.
I realize that might be a weird concept. Of course, plants need soil. That’s what makes them grow, right?
Plants need a few things to grow :
Not soil. Soil is simply the most ubiquitous medium. However, soil is actually not a very effective medium.
The problem with growing in soil relates to the nutrients. With soil it can be difficult to determine what nutrients are available to your plant. It can be complicated to effectively add nutrients. And it can take important time during a limited growing season to adjust soil.
The roots need to grow through the soil to find the nutrients. If your soil is too dense or full of clay or rocks, it can take a lot of energy for the roots to search for nutrients.
Insects can also be a problem when growing plants in soil. Many garden pests actually live in or lay eggs in the soil. This can be a huge problem for plants and gardeners.
Hydroponics is an extremely efficient way to get nutrients to your plant’s roots.
Regardless of what kind of hydroponic or aquaponic system you choose, the science involves putting the roots directly into a water and nutrient solution. The roots have complete and ready access to water and nutrients.
Because the roots don’t have to fight through the soil to get the nutrients, all the plant’s energy can go to growing more of the fruit or vegetables. It is well documented that hydroponic methods will grow plants with between 10-30% more fruits and vegetables than soil planted.
As a bonus, many of the soil-borne pests and diseases that affect soil plants don’t affect hydroponic plants.
But how do you get started growing without being a scientist?
The easy way is with aquaponics.
Why is aquaponics the easiest kind of hydroponic growing?
I have found that the most difficult part of any hydroponic system is keeping the water nutrient solution in the right balance and at the right temperature.
I love aquaponics because it is so self-contained and self regulated. The system will run itself with very little needed from you.
When everything is right, all you have to do is feed the fish and your vegetables will grow better than in any other kind of garden. There is no struggling to keep the water nutrient solution correct, that’s the job of the fish.
I have read a lot of material about aquaponics and quite frankly I found it overwhelming. There is this notion that it has to be complicated to work. That is nonsense!
So let’s break it down.
The best thing about an aquaponic system is that you are using the same science to grow your plants as is found in nature.
Have you ever noticed that, in areas left natural, the plant life around lakes and streams grow bigger and more lush? That is because the wildlife, like fish and ducks, are continuing adding nutrients to the water by expelling waste. This waste is turned into rich nutrients for plant life. The plants absorb the high nutrient filled water. This helps to clean the water for the wildlife.
Fish naturally produce waste. In your fish tank this waste, ammonia, will pollute the water and if allowed to build up can kill your fish. The need to remove this waste is why you need a filter on your tank.
The filter, specifically a biological filter, will change the ammonia in the waste into nitrate. This happens through a chemical process where helpful bacteria change the ammonia first into nitrite then into nitrates. The fish in your tank can live with a small amount of nitrates in the water however, as the nitrates build up they can cause harm to your fish.
It is this build-up of nitrates that makes aquaponics work so great!
Plants need nitrates to grow and fish tanks need a way to reduce nitrates effectively. A perfect win/win!
There is one additional factor that makes these systems work nicely for your plants.
An aquarium setup always includes a water heater that will keep the water in the mid-70s for your fish. As it turns out, the perfect water temperature for growing most things in a hydroponic system is in the mid-70s. So your fish and your plants have matching needs.
It’s easy to keep growing in your aquaponic garden throughout the winter even if you keep the house temperature in the low 60s. Your plants rely much more on root warmth than air temperatures. So no matter how cold you keep your house, your aquaponic system will allow you to grow like it is 75 degrees.
Now that you have the basics of why aquaponic growing works, let’s get started building your garden.
I am going to assume that you want the following:
• To use a fish tank that is typically found in homes. A size that ranges in the 10 to 40 gallon range.
• To have fish in your tank that is typically found in home aquariums like Mollies and Goldfish
• To grow small to medium size vegetables or house plants such as greens, herbs, small squash, broccoli, etc. I do not recommend that you grow tomatoes, watermelon, pumpkins or similar in this system.
And that you have some basic tools like a drill, saw, and a level. Or you have a friend with them. I have added directions to build an almost no tool required system, too.
If this sounds like you then let’s get started..
NFT a.k.a nutrient film technique
This aquaponic table is designed as an NFT system.
But what is an NFT system?
Nutrient Film technique is a hydroponic system that relies on a shallow river of water/nutrient solution as a delivery technique to the roots.
NFT systems can be set up using a shallow table or a tube such as a PVC tube or a household gutter. You should choose the method that works best in your situation. And we will get into how to choose in the next chapter but for now, it is important to know:
The basics of any design whether you use a table, a tube, or gutter:
The water should be between a ½ to 3 inches deep. Anything less than ½ will become difficult for the roots to get enough nutrients and stay moist. Anything deeper than about 3 inches is unnecessary and could damage roots.
The flow rate of the water should remain steady. There is no exact rate of flow. Make sure that the roots are not being dragged hard downstream.
There needs to be an air pocket between the top of the water and the bottom of the net cup. Roots need air! If you submerge the roots completely in water, the plant will drown. Air will also help to stop any root rot.
We will go over these points in more detail later. However, for now, think of your NFT system as a shallow river that flows through any channel that you want it to.
Let’s figure out what will work for you…
Deciding what size table you need and where it should be
Before you build your system, there are some things you need to decide.
Where are you going to put your table?
These systems are what I would call semi-permanent, meaning you can change it or take it down in the future but not without some effort. Think about an aquarium….you can just move it to a different wall if you get in the mood to rearrange your room. However, moving it is a time-consuming task. This is an aquarium with a planter attached so it is even more of a project to move.
Don’t let that factor stop you. Use that fact as a reminder that you need to put some thought into placement.
A window, a hallway, a kitchen wall, along a table or countertop, or even as a room divider.
Some things that need to be considered when deciding where to put your system:
A bright sunny window can be a great place. Think about what kinds of plants you may want to grow. Will the plants grow so tall that they will block the window? Is the window one you use often? Will the plants be in the way? This system is in front of a non-opening large sunny window and I grow mostly low plants on that table so it works for me.
If you don’t have a sunny window that is appropriate, there are lots of other options. I have a system bordering my kitchen countertop. You can also build a living wall. As long as the pipes can allow the water to go to and from the fish tank it will work.
Anywhere you can fit a fish tank, a tube or a table and a light you can put a system. This can be a beautiful use of space.
The important thing to remember is that your plants need light. Make sure there is a source of either natural sunlight and grow light or a combination of the two.
How many plants can you grow?
Now think about how many plants you would like to grow in a system. Think of the space the same as you would if you were planting in a raised bed in your outdoor garden.
The only limitation in size and shape is what would fit best in your space.
An aquaponic NFT system does work best if long and narrow rather than square. Visualize how you can make something like it fit into your chosen space.
For example, my living room system is a total of 10’ long and 1’ wide. If you take out the filter and drain area, my growing space is 8’x1’. In that space, I easily grow 30 small/medium plants. You can put aquaponic plants a little closer than soil plants. Most of my plants are 3” apart. I have two rows within the 1’ width.
I have a 2” x2’ wall garden, picture above, made with 3” PVC pipes holding 9 plants. The pipes are all connected behind the wood forming one long stream of water.
My kitchen system is a bit short of 4’ of growing room with a width of 5”. I have 9 happy plants in that space.
Decide on the best spot based on your own specific needs and living space. Your system can be truly any size that you want. So use your imagination and find a perfect place and shape