Mini-aquaponics kitchen garden.

2014-03-04 07.48.43Ah, the fish-tank project!  I meant to get this out yesterday, but I wasn’t done with it!  Of all the things around the house that I’ve been working on, this one feels like it’s been the biggest challenge so far.

While it is challenging, it’s also a hell of a lot of fun and quite rewarding too, the process is an interesting one.  While I’m having a blast with this project, I’d say it’s far from finished, it’s one of those things that kind of grows and evolves over time.

I started out with the project I wrote about last weekend, the vertical kitchen garden.  The goal was to eventually evolve the kitchen garden in such a way that could function as a mini hydroponics system.   This adjusted system adds a fish-tank and air-pump which supplies water and nutrients to the plants and cleans the water for the fish.

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For this system, I used an aquarium kit that comes with a filter, air-stone, and air pump. You’re also going to need some aquarium gravel, 1/4 inch aquarium tubing, probably some extra t-joints and obviously fish.  I haven’t gotten that far yet, its super cold out and I’m not sure I wanna risk transporting fish in this weather.

2014-03-02 05.36.32While I’m waiting for the weather to warm up, I’m having a blast decorating my tank.  The air-stone that came with my kit gives me some sweet lighting effects, transitioning from color to color.

I’m literally in photo-taking heaven! It’s a fun thing to do, playing with light and reflections, I find it to be very relaxing.   I’ve got a bunch of neat photos of reflections, light color and water which I’ll be sharing soon.  Here is one of them.  🙂

I probably would have gotten this project done a lot sooner if it wasn’t for the fact that I was having so much fun playing around with my camera, that’s part of the journey though eh?

2014-03-04 03.31.55In addition, this project probably would have happened faster if I didn’t have a cat knocking my stuff over every day.  It’s hard to find a good spot that feels safe for your plants when nothing is sacred from the cats.

As much as I am drawn to the plants and the crystals and the lights, so too are the cats.

They see all this stuff and think it’s fair game.  I’ve noticed they don’t like it when I put things on their windowsill, this seems to annoy them and I get punished with a knocked over planter.    See that look Lyra is giving us?

On the bright side, their antics make for a pretty funny picture.  I would caption this one, “She knows what she did, she doesn’t care, she’ll do it again.”

Anyway, before I ramble too far off course, here’s a little information on how I made my aquaponics system.

Mini-Hydroponics System To the right is a diagram I made which gives you the basic setup for putting everything together.  It’s adapted from the diagram featured in this video

The main difference between my blueprint and the one in the video, is that my fish-tank doesn’t have a hole in the bottom.   Instead, I coax the water to flow up and over the tank using the filter and tube attachment that came with the aquarium I found.

I followed the same general flow of the design, though I did add a tube to the side of the lowest planter to flow the water back into the fishtank.  I edited the chart to show it on the bottom, I think that way would work better for providing proper drainage for plants.

If you decide to get an aquarium starter kit that comes with all the stuff you need, I’d recommend getting some extra tubing and a couple of t-joints.  (T-joints are what allow you to connect different tubes and devices to each other. See the diagram for reference.)   Having them on-hand might save you a little frustration later too.  I found that I had to do a little improvisation with the joint that came in the kit; it was more of an L shape that didn’t lend itself well to this design.

2014-03-04 05.46.53The T shape allows the air to pass through the tube by creating a vacuum that forces water up and out of the tank and into your planters.  This design also utilizes a U-bend in the tube that drains from the fish tank.  This bend prevents the back leak of air which is something that could mess up your water pressure and flow.   Experimenting with different heights and tube lengths will probably give you the best results.    Keep in mind that the water will flow better if the t-joint is positioned below the tank itself.

2014-03-04 07.50.05It’s best to use plants that like a lot of water for this kind of setup, like lettuce, plants that do well in the shade are a good option to keep in your house too.  The planters in the picture on the right are both growing lettuce sprouts right now.

You’ll also want to make sure that you aren’t inadvertently drowning your plants by not providing enough oxygen to the roots.  You can avoid this by making sure the roots have proper drainage and air circulation.

To help protect the fish, put some sort of filter on the planter so you aren’t dumping a bunch of dirt and crud back into the fish tank.  Save the gunk that accumulates and use it in your compost pile, it will make great dirt.

As far as water goes, I’ve read that you can use freshwater from a pond and that will help jump-start the bacteria that you need to convert the fish’s waste into nitrogen for the plants.  I’ve also read that you want a sun-proof tank to prevent the buildup of algae.  I’m hoping to bend this rule by incorporating some animals that will eat the algae and help keep it at a reasonable level.

Before I wrap this up there are a couple of safety precautions to consider.

1) Don’t position your tank above electrical outlets.  Always position your tank so it is below any nearby power outlets.

2) Try to keep the water tubes and electrical cords separate if possible.

3)When plugging in power cords for aquarium accessories, make sure the cord forms a u-shape below the outlet it is plugged into, so that it doesn’t drip water into the plug-in.

4)Avoid placing your tank on table edges or places where they could get knocked over easily.  On the counter by the sink is generally a good area to keep it because it’s a lot easier to drain the water out of the system if needed.

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That’s all for now!  I hope you enjoyed this article on creating your own mini-aquaponics system.  This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this subject. I highly recommend you check out the links below, there are some great resources I used for reference when designing this project:
Hydroponic Basics.

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