Aquaponic Tomato Plants

I took a break from my aquaponics project as I was getting discouraged by seeing the previous batch of seedlings dying a slow death on top of my aquaponics plant tank. It seemed like I had missed some important point in the process of growing aquaponic plants, so I actually drained the whole plant tank, cleaned it, and installed a traditional filter in the fish tank / aquarium to keep the pet fish happy. That’s how fed up I was with my aquaponics problems.

… But I soon got too annoyed with the empty plant tank and my unreached goal of bringing this beast into production mode, so I went outside an started cutting side branches off my large tomato plants that I’m growing in self-watering containers beneath the south facing wall of the house. I learned from the ebook “How to Grow Juicy Tasty Tomatoes” that cuttings from a mature plant will easily grow into new plants if you stick the cuttings into the soil. Fortunately it works with aquaponic coconut fibers too:

The cuttings grew into tall plants, actually a bit taller than I have room for beneath the ceiling. The maximum grow height available in this system is small since the fish tank must be placed beneath the plant tank, and the fish tank in this case is an ordinary aquarium which you what to place on an aquarium table to be able to enjoy the fish without having to lay down on the floor πŸ˜‰

A quick look at the new tomato plants gives you the impression that they are healthy, and the stems and leaves have a healthy color:

But if you take a closer look at some of the largest tomato plants you’ll find that some of the leaves have wilted:

(WARNING: Oldest aquaponic joke coming up: “I’m sure I gave them enough water…” Ha. Ha.)

I have to find out what’s causing this, and even the small developing tomato flower stems are affected by this too. The leaves turn dry and crispy and turn into dust if you squeeze them.

I wouldn’t say that the submerged roots look particularly healthy:

Rasmus noticed the same brown stuff on the roots of my previous batch of aquaponic plants and recommended adding air bubbles directly to the plant tank. I think it helped back then but I forgot to reinstall the air pump after I cleaned up the plant tank.

Lots of challenges still with this relatively new aquaponics home system in the corner of my living room. And I’m still having wet dreams about adding automatic electronic measurement of pH and conductivity.

Aquaponics Tanks

When I think of an aquaponics tank I normally think of a rectangular container, which is like the aquaponics plant tank I built for myself, but take a look at these plant ‘tanks’, which are made from PVC tubes instead:

Photo by Kanu Hawaii.
These plant tanks, or plant grow beds, take up very little space and evaporation losses are very small. The nutrient rich fish water flows through the tubes providing the plants with what they need.

A whole wall has been covered with these plant tubes and connected to large aquaponics fish tanks:

Photo by Kanu Hawaii.
The fish in my system are also pet fish and live in an ordinary aquarium, so that you can see the fish, but I don’t think the fish actually care whether or not they’re able to look back at the people watching them. And if that’s true you might as well dump the fish in a big black plastic container as shown in the picture above. Just remember that black surfaces absorb energy from the sun andΒ  heat up.

An aquaponic system can be installed anywhere, like for instance right next to a restaurant or hotel to secure an extremely fresh supply of herbs and vegetables:

Photo by Kanu Hawaii.
The system I built is based on an ebook called Aquaponics 4 You that originated from Hawaii (formerly known as Ultimate Aquaponics Home System) and the University of Waimanalo in Hawaii is experimenting with aquaponics too. Take a look at one of their neat plant tanks, with floats and net pots installed, standing on top of a few layers of cinder blocks:

Photo by Kanu Hawaii.

The area is packed with aquaponics tanks, and a solar panel would be a very convenient way of driving your water pump in an outdoor aquaponic system:

Photo by Kanu Hawaii.
Some kind of marquee placed above your tanks would be a good way to protect your crop against the weather if it’s necessary:

Photo by Kanu Hawaii.
When you’re building a system and looking for aquaponic supplies you can benefit from all the hydroponic containers on the market already. The large white tank below is from but all the pipes and fittings you could ever dream of is probably also available from the existing hydroponic retailers:

Photo by Kanu Hawaii.
I grow my aquaponic plants in coconut fiber but many people use LECA balls instead (Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate) – then you won’t need floats and net pots:

Photo by Kanu Hawaii.
Here’s another system installed under a large polytunnel cover, with an artificial fish pond beneath the plant pond:

Photo by Justin Leonard.
The next system has three layers – two layers of watercress beds and a 120 cm deep fish pond (4 feet) at the bottom. The beds are 120 cm wide (4 feet):

Photo by Justin Leonard.
The water circulates slowly through PVC pipes and the watercress filters the water for the fish:

Photo by Justin Leonard.
You can throw as much money as you have at an aquaponics system to keep improving it, but with very little money and reused materials you can get a cheap system up and running. The most expensive part is probably the pump but in small systems it shouldn’t take long to find someone who has a spare that you can have for free.

Photo by hurricanemaine.

Raised Bed Designs

It’s time for another collection of raised bed designs from around the world. The kitchen gardeners out there are really creative when it comes to shapes and materials used. Although many types of raised bed kits for gardens are available in shops you might get inspired to construct your very own based on the gallery below. Making a raised vegetable bed is a good investment of your energy if you want a high yield in a small space – actually 4 times as much compared to a normal bed, according to John Seymour.

Photo by Linda N.
Linda got this raised bed kit from I find it interesting because if you look carefully at the lower corner you’ll find a pin sticking out of the wood and I assume that these pins are holding all the planks together in each of the raised bed corners. It’s probably metal pins of some sort. I also find it interesting because you would be able to make one by yourself because of the neat way the planks are joined in the corners. A cut has been made in the end of each plank and you could easily drill the holes yourself. Furthermore it would be easy to replace one of the planks if it deteriorated. It looks like the planks in the sides are joined in the same way. The raised bed is stabilized at the middle with two metal rods from one side to the other.

Photo by mazaletel.
These raised beds are deeper than normal and excellent for root vegetables. The trellis for plants looks nice and matches the raised bed. It would work great as a trellis for peas for example.

Photo by Linda N.
I still dream about building my own raised beds from cinder blocks instead of wood since the blocks will last for a lifetime with no maintenance. The disadvantages are that the cinder block pricing is higher than the wood pricing, and the weight of cinder block is bigger. Usually you plant something in the holes inside the cinder blocks too but in this case the top has been covered with smaller concrete edging blocks, and it looks nice. The trellis to the left is for cucumbers or beans.

(If you’re looking for trellis design plans you should check out my ebook called Bean Trellis Tips, that I’ll send you for free if you sign up for my newsletter in the sidebar to the right. There’s a bunch of DIY trellis pictures in it, to get ideas from.)

Photo by boboroshi.
This is a seriously deep raised bed with nice details on top of each pole. My guess is that the owner has problems with rodents hence the chicken wire along the edges, which ought to keep them from building nests in the bed and eating the root vegetables.

Photo by cogdogblog.
Here’s a combination of natural sandstone and cinder blocks to form a raised garden bed. The holes in the cinder blocks will be used for flowers to attract pollinators. The bed has been fenced off with chicken wire, probably to keep rabbits and other animals out.

Photo by Simply Vicki.
I like these beds because they’re simple to make. Big, raw planks – beautiful.

Photo by jeffmason.
You can also use smaller raw planks and just use two instead of one plank.

Photo by Baugher Webmaster Services.
Square Foot Garden (SFG) in a simple raised bed, with peas, radishes, yellow squash and Geisha Girl flowers.

Photo by JoePhoto.
Many people put down a layer of wet cardboard under their new raised bed. I believe it’s some kind of weed stopper to get your raised bed off to a quick start on top of the lawn. Or on top of whatever plants or weeds were there in the first place.

Photo by nickton.
I just had to add this one because it’s a beauty. I’m not sure if the wood has changed color because it got wet or if this is the natural color. After all, it is covered in hail, in March. Notice the planks on top of the edges which means that you can do the weeding while you’re sitting down on top of the raised bed.

Photo by treesftf.
These people really mean it when they say raised bed – what a comfortable working position! Your back will be grateful. This particular bed is for seedlings only so the bed sides are only half the height of a normal growing bed.

Photo by treesftf.
Who told you that you needed to go buy materials for a raised bed? Pft… Just go old school, with some sticks and large leaves and what have you. Although it has a perfect working height the bed was actually raised to protect the vegetables from leaf cutter ants.

Photo by treesftf.
This is how it all started: When you loosen the soil it will expand in volume and the vegetables will grow faster, bigger and longer. Unless you walk on the soil again, like the kid in the middle of the picture… whoops πŸ˜‰

A wooden frame around the bed is just to keep the loose soil contained.

(The students are from Rafaela Herrera.)

Photo by JAGwired.
Yeah, why not? πŸ˜€ Wonder what the kids would say if they found out? πŸ˜‰ And they probably will, since this is a driveway salsa garden, with tomato and pepper plants.

Photo by styro.
Flowers out – vegetables in! Way to go πŸ˜‰ Watch out for tomato thieves though. You have to admire the courage these people have to put vegetables right in front of the neighbors. “That’s not how we normally do things around here.” … and who told you normal is good, you stubborn…

Photo by mazaletel.
A few PVC pipes arched over your raised bed, covered with 4 mm plastic – and you have yourself a high yielding poly-tunnel. (shown to the right, in the back.)

Photo by Baugher Webmaster Services.
When you grow peas you don’t want the birds to eat them before you do, but a floating row cover will prevent just that.

Photo by espring4224.
What a cool way to keep the birds out πŸ˜€ Indeed cool, since the wind will blow right through the cover. Remember to let the bees in and out though to take care of pollination. Not optimized for a post peak oil world but a creative solution nonetheless.

Photo by USFS Region 5.
No special raised bed designs in this photo, but it just got to me. Handing over the kitchen gardening knowledge first hand to the next generation, helping the kids grow strong and prepared for the new world. Using raised beds for vegetable gardens might be an old trick, but it’s worth knowing about and hopefully we can keep improving the method to provide us with even more of that wonderful high quality food we deserve as human beings.

Potato Containers and a Simple Potato Salad

Last autumn I moved to a new house but unfortunately there was no garden plot near the house, only a big lawn, and the landlord refused to rent out a part of it to be converted to a kitchen garden plot. It took a while for me to get used to the fact that I had lost my 100 square meter garden plot (1,100 square feet), but eventually I began seeing the event as a challenge instead and I started thinking about container gardening. I also realized that most people probably haven’t got access to a garden plot but have limited space. (Mike, you lucky bastard πŸ˜‰ )

I decided to grow my beloved potatoes anyway and incidentally I found these Maris Peer seed potatoes at the local nursery:

I don’t think people normally grow this potato variety around here but I recognized the name from forums so I decided to try them out.

Normally I’m chitting potatoes for a couple of weeks. When you do potato chitting make sure the shoots don’t grow too long or they’re likely to break off during planting:

I bought three cheap plastic pots for this purpose – notice the 16 drainage holes in the bottom:

These holes will let the water pass through the soil and prevent rot in tubers and roots caused by water standing still. This will of course mean that you’ll have to water more often. Especially if you use pre-fertilized peat moss like I did, which in hindsight probably wasn’t the best choice:

My new small container garden two months ago – this is a trade-off between space to play on for the kids versus growing space for kitchen gardening:

From the left there are three ceramic containers with new small blueberry bushes, in the middle are my three potato containers / pots, and the two large tubs in the back to the right are for herbs and spices. In the front to the right are three fruit bushes which we donated to the kindergarten.

The potatoes grew big but some of the foliage turned yellow so I decided it was time to harvest the tubers. I would have liked to see flowers develop before harvesting but for some reason they didn’t. Maybe the plants needed some kind of nutrient which would also explain the yellow leaves:

Fortunately the potato tubers were in there, looking healthy!:

I was very happy to find 1.2 kilos of potatoes (2.6 pounds) in those three plastic pots:

The last couple of years we have made the same simple potato salad from our new potatoes.

600 g boiled new potatoes, marinated in these ingredients:

  • 1 tsp. garlic, chopped
  • 3 Tbls. olive oil
  • 1 Tbls. sesame oil
  • 3 Tbls. lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • (2-3 spring onions, sliced) (didn’t use it this time though)
  • 2 Tbls. sesame seeds as garnish

Yum! πŸ˜€

What’s your favorite potato variety? And feel free to add more simple potato recipes you might have, that you want to recommend to others.

Aquaponics Plant Germination and Algae Eating Fish

This is a box I have set up for plant germination of my aquaponic plants:

The red plastic plate under the lid is just for ventilation to provide oxygen for the seed germination process. I’m using 2 and 3 inch black plastic net pots (5 cm and 7.5 cm) for the aquaponics system, and I’m sowing directly into the net pots:

There are very few nutrients in the coconut fiber material so when the seedlings develop their first true leaves I move them into the aquaponic plant tank where the water is filled with nutrients. This is a good thing about an aquaponics system; you don’t have to replant your seedlings with risk of damaging the roots.

In the beginning I kept a journal of everything I sowed with a serial number on every pot, but it takes a long time to update and since I haven’t got that many different plants in the system I can usually see right away what type of plant I’m dealing with when the seedlings appear, so I won’t be updating the journal anymore. I’ll just focus my energy on getting a truckload of plants through the system instead πŸ˜‰

The fish in the aquarium connected to the plant tank are thriving. The interior of the tank is beginning to look like a natural environment, although we’re experiencing some really nasty looking algae, with a green synthetic like color. (If you know something about algae classification, please leave a comment below this blog post).

Fish tank and algae pictures:

But the fish seem to be okay with their artificial environment and fortunately they’re algae eating fish.

They’re pumping out fry, actually the third litter in one month. These are some of the blue acara fry, out of a litter of about 200(!):

The plants in the plant tank are doing well too. This is flat leaved parsley stretching for the grow light:

This strawberry plant did provide us with a few strawberries, and sent out a runner which I replanted in a new pot, but then it started to wilt:

I don’t know what happened – I’m sure I gave it enough water. (Get it?… enough water – in the aquaponics system?… Oh I crack myself up sometimes).

But then there’s the chives:

These are the workhorses in the system at the moment, with really long roots, and lots of them.

Note that both the strawberry plants and the chives are from the nursery where they were started in soil, which makes it hard to transfer to an aquaponics system, but we had to get some plants into the plant tank to clean the water for the fish as they where going into the aquarium no matter what. Or, at least Charlotte had a very good opportunity to buy tropical fish of the type she wanted at that particular time.

Both runner and bush beans are growing fast when they are plugged into the aquaponics system:

This is a bush bean type – runner beans are not practical in this particular system as the growing height above the plant tank is limited to 50 cm (20”) because the plant tank is placed just below the ceiling. I’m expecting a good yield from the bush beans and I’m looking forward to seeing the results. It seems like they are growing really well and we haven’t even done any adjustments of the pH value yet.

I can’t help dreaming about a nice big backyard aquaponics system, but after all it’s probably wise to get the basics right before scaling up the system.

Bamboo Sticks for Tomato Plants

Bamboo sticks can be used for many different things when you have a kitchen garden. I’m using one bamboo stick for each of my tomato plants to hold up the metal cage tomato trellis:

The bamboo sticks run all the way to the bottom of the soil tube inside the self-watering container and stabilizes the whole tomato trellis. These kind of bamboo sticks don’t easily rot which is nice since they can be used for several seasons.

The small tomato plants are tied to the bamboo sticks inside the metal cage to keep them steady in the wind:

I’m living in a rented house at the moment so instead of using screws I bent a couple of cable metal holders to fit over the edge of the rain gutter and attached strings down to the bamboo sticks to keep the tomato trellises steady in the wind:

Normally I use bamboo sticks for bean trellises too but why not use the natural environment for bean trellises if you can. I’ve placed two climbing bean seedlings in pots beneath a couple of wild tree shoots hoping the beans will find their way up these two 2 m tall sticks (6 feet):

There’s a giant corkscrew willow growing near the terrace that I plan to use as bean trellis too. A couple of plastic pots with climbing bean seedlings have been placed on the table below the tree:

I’m just looking forward to some sun, heat and rain now πŸ˜‰

Aquaponics Home System – Part 23: Eheim 1260 noise reduction

Phew! The system has finally been set up and the last parts added. Now it’s time to tweak, like for instance reducing noise. Our system is sitting in the corner of our living room so we want it to be as quiet as possible. If it was placed in a garage or greenhouse noise wouldn’t be such a big problem.

The Eheim 1260 water pump was initially mounted on a custom shelf which began vibrating when the pump was turned on, and then the whole plant tank table began vibrating too, causing an unacceptable noise coming from the system. I tried fitting some scrap EVA foam in between the pump and the shelf, but the annoying sound was still present:

A quick and cheap solution was to suspend the pump above the shelf using bungee cords:

The vibrations in the pump simply cannot transfer to the plant tank table structure and the system is now very quiet. (I’m just wondering how the PC performance guys get away with mounting this beast inside a PC without having a lot of mechanical noise coming form the PC. This particular water pump is used for water-cooled PC’s, but that’s another story πŸ˜‰ ). But don’t get me wrong, I really like this pump – it’s sturdy, powerful and stable.

Another small thing left to do before the system was complete was to install another suction hose filter, as this pretty one clogged up in a matter of days:

Fortunately we consume a lot of coriander spice so I found an empty glass where the lid would fit perfectly over the suction hose, and drilled a few holes for the water to run through:

A few holes were drilled into the side of the suction hose to minimize the flow into each hole:

This is to prevent the fish getting hurt if they get too close to the suction hose. The more holes, the better, as the flow per hole will be less, and the fish will be able to swim by without getting stuck.

The water flow is strong enough to keep the lid on the hose:

We have these fish in the aquarium at the moment:

  • 2 Firemouth cichlids (Thorichthys meeki)
  • 2 Blue Acara (Aequidens pulcher)
  • 3 Keyhole cichlids (Cleithracara maronii)
  • 4 Bleeding Heart tetras (Hyphessobrycon erythrostigma)
  • 2 ‘Talking’ catfish (Platydoras armatulus)

They seem to be happy with their new home (see if you can spot the catfish πŸ˜‰ ):

A box has been built around the plant tank to help the plants in the plant tank receive even more light, by trapping the light in the box until it hits the plants instead of lighting up the entire living room:

It’s actually only half a box with the two walls covered with aluminum foil to reflect the light:

The chives seems to be thriving and growing all over the place.

I was sowing runner beans for 2011 and just for fun I sowed a few into net pots filled with coconut fibers for the aquaponics system, just to see what would happen:

The runner beans grew fast, and of course it’s silly to grow runner beans in a system like this, where you only have 50 cm of growing height (20”), so they soon had to be removed again as they were starting to grab onto the grow light:

The roots looked amazing, and developed very quickly:

I just dumped the net pot with roots into a larger pot, and the small runner bean plant is ready to move outside:

The aquaponics system is completed and it’s time for tweaking.