It’s been a while since I posted anything about my plant wall. Having the begonia bucket overflow onto the floor is a good time . . . definitely. Root incursions are a thing and today was the day.
All the plants are doing great. Other than the aforementioned need for a very infrequent root trimming to keep the drain system working, it’s completely trouble free. It runs, I ignore it, It grows, I ignore it. Leaves die off, I trim ’em. Not too arduous a job in my opinion.
The begonia bucket is a small plastic flat backed bucket picked up at the feed store for a few bucks. It’s plumbed with an overflow and seep. The overflow runs into the pipe garden below it. The pipe garden also has an overflow and seep which feeds back into the fish tank. The begonia’s finally gotten so leaf-heavy I’ve got it supported to keep the leaves out of the way. All the plants are adding leaves, runners, off-shoots, branching . . . no blossoms yet on this setup but now that the begonia has grown legs and has produced an off-shoot, I expect by next spring I’ll have blossoms.
I might move the whole setup farther up the wall and add another tube for some of the plants I had before but eschewed when I started this setup, like primrose, peperomia, hoya, strawberry begonia . . . I have the tube and the caps and the drain system . . . I just need Wadly to spray that sucker green.
My flood and drain bed for house plants which cleans the guppy tank has been working flawlessly for over six months. This is the system I will use this summer for tomato and zucchini plants in the sun porch this summer.
In a pint jar add 1/2 grated fresh zucchini, 2 large organic eggs (warmed in hot tap water before opening), 2 tablespoons melted butter, 2 medjool dates (pit removed). Spin on the blender attachment and run on lowest setting until everything is chopped and mixed.
Spin the top off and add 1 tbsp coconut flour, 1 tbsp cacao powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda. Spin the top back on and blend until the powdered ingredients are integrated.
I noticed some chemical burning on the tomato plant leaves and tested the water. 8.0 ph when I need 7.3. Ouch. Burn baby burn. While all three tomato plants have blossoms, only one is producing fruit and shows no sign of the chem burn.
I didn’t just test the PH, I tested nitrate, nitrite and ammonia. All were perfect for the system. For those readings, I couldn’t be happier.
Our well water is 6.0. For the house I “condition” it by running it through oyster shell to bring the PH up to 7.3 naturally. For a quick and very un-permanent fix to the problem I did a 2/3 water change in the fish tank and got what I expected, close to perfect PH. This, however, is a really poor solution. I flushed my nutrients (okay, I lied. I dumped the water in outside planters) and added kelp to compensate for the loss.
The whole point is to have a system I don’t have to think about or fuss
about or test or monitor or . . . you get my point. I cannot keep doing
water changes. I don’t want to have to add anything to the water to
keep the water at 7.3. Which means I’ve got to find a different media.
This media, as suspected, spikes the PH.
For a couple years my brother Dan was a maintenance engineer at a produce processing plant. He did a system retrofit and brought me some of the stuff being thrown away. This flood and drain planter is a piece of 6″ schedule 40 pvc pipe. The ends are survey caps purchased at a local plumbing supply warehouse.
The really sick looking plants are the result of neglect on my part . . . pulling one system apart and putting another together with too long a span between stressed the plants. They’re recovering. The tomato plants are purchased and are my test subjects. The tank holds two goldfish, not quite enough to supply this many plants with nutrient.
One of my concerns with media this light is its ability to hold the plants in place as they grow and produce fruit. I will have to run retaining lines between the support ropes.
In planning my next plant wall I’ve been testing hydroponic planting medium. In the past I’ve used hydroton but there are currently two issues with this media. Because it’s heavy in iron it eventually trashes the magnetic pump. I replace pumps about once a year. At about $50 a pop that’s not horribly expensive but it is inconvenient. Secondly, it’s no longer available. That makes the inherent equipment-related problems with the media moot.
I bought two bags of a product that was supposed to be a replacement for hydroton. It felt like sandpaper, very garnet/scratchy expanded glass feeling. The pieces were quite large for hydroponic media, didn’t break when whacked with a hammer and very light. Other than the roughness and overly large size, I thought it would work fine. Wrong. The stuff floats. Using it in a flood and drain system allows all the plantings to shift every watering cycle. When working with seeds, the media used to hold the seeds vanishes into the mix. Ugh. When planting cuttings they sink a bit into the mix every cycle eventually drowning. Double ugh.
I reported the failure to the excellent staff at our local hydroponic shop and got a sample of another product to try. It had a light silky clay feel, sank when dropped into water and could be crushed. The product is a little big, roughly 2-3 times the size of the hydroton beads.
PH is one of the most important items to monitor in a hydroponic system. I’m not a fan of chemicals and like to handle this as naturally as possible which makes the ph of the media very important. With that in mind I crushed a piece of the new media and tested the ph. It tested lower than I expected at 6.0 which means it’s not inert. Because our water has a very low ph which I moderate with oyster shell, I’m keeping an eye on my test system. Time will tell.
I’m the type of person who continually tweaks and adjusts. Some of the stuff I try is a bust and some is inspired. I have a rack hanging over the back of my kitchen sink with a drip tray under it where dishes are set to dry. It keeps my counter space clear and allows all the drips to fall into the sink. Brilliant. And I’ve done other things with far less stellar outcomes, they’ve inevitably led to ideas about other things so it’s all good.
There are a lot things I like about my current plant wall, and few things I don’t care for. Because the plant wall surface isn’t covered with plastic ala P. Blanc, the rate of evaporation is significant. Wadly adds roughly 6 gallons of water twice a week. I’d like to reduce the evaporation.
Dying foliage allows pathways for water to drip onto the floor. A change to prevent that in future is a must.
Slow growing smaller plants get crowded out by the bigger, faster growing plants. They just can’t compete. I’d like something that nutures both the big and bushy and the smaller, more delicate plants.
As this plant wall is a single piece, it’s heavy and difficult to move. Repositioning plants and editing is difficult. I’d like something a little more modular that takes up less vertical space for the same number of plants that allows the fish to be as much of a focal point. At this point I can’t tell you what’s in the tank, other than healthy reproducing guppies and at least one fresh water shrimp. I’m sure there are algae eaters and plecko in there as well but I haven’t seen them in . . . a really long time.
So, on to the new plan, something modular with less exposed surface area that will allow for planting a few seasonal edibles and allow us to see the fish.
The gunnera was obviously warm enough to get a head start on the season. Maybe a horse blanket, folded poly tarp, spare tire cover and bathroom rug was a layer or two too many. I removed the protective layers today. The hump of growing stalks was just a little too obvious.
We should have enough overcast weather to get the foliage acclimated so it doesn’t burn.
The tire holds my gunnera which, at our elevation, will only winter over if mulched and covered. It’s still a bit soon to uncover it . . . maybe in a couple weeks. I want to make sure it isn’t frost bitten. We had hail a couple days ago.
I got the bog filter trimmed up a bit and all last year’s triangular reed foliage trimmed away.
As of yesterday the pump has been cleaned and water is circulating. Having both bog filters full of hydroton takes much less water out of the main tank when the pump starts running.
I haven’t pulled out last year’s hyacinths as the roots are doing funny things and I want to see what happens.
I have no idea if the penny royal in the upper filter survived. I can’t see anything on the surface.
The water beans are growing and the stems are getting thicker each year. Go beans! I’m hoping to get some winter hardy water irises in the big filter this year.
On Facebook today Homestead had a post featuring a new Kickstart project, a self-contained aquaponic garden. This is really neat! I’ve supported other projects on Kickstart and this one is definitely worthy of support!
The wall has really grown this summer. I mean REALLY grown. It’s now a struggle to see the fish. Somebody remind me . . . wasn’t this project for the fish? That’s a 50 gallon aquarium hiding back there!
Here’s what the wall looks like today. The begonias are taking over . . . and still no new gutter.
There’s a philodendron crawling across the floor . . . and the palm at the top is doing okay. The spider plans are barely holding their own, the dieffenbachia is also doing well as are all the various dumb cane varieties.
The hoya is doing nothing . . . still. It does occasionally get sneaky and route water off the wall onto the floor so I’m keeping an eye on it.
The larger of the upper biofilter tanks is doing really well, though the water hyacinth has not bloomed this year and I’m holding no hope that it will. The triangular water reed has nearly tripled in size even after removing half the original plant last spring to give to Mindy. Jill? Can I restock you when I cut this back in the fall?
This year this larger filter tank is loaded with hydroton which provides shelter for the roots. The water bean, hyacinths and reeds are mega happy, sans blooming.
The smaller tank is also filled with hydroton and has last year’s penny royal which amazingly enough, wintered over due in part to the tank being made of closed cell foam (insulative), containing hydroton (insulative) and filled with standing water (insulative).
Because the maple tree and the triangular reed are sheltering the smaller biofilter tank from the sun the penny royal is growing much more slowly, which is a plus. Last year it was horribly root bound it grew so fast. I cut out most of it and thew it away, then took the remaining bit and cut it in half to give to Mindy.
I like the fairy moss as a fill-in between the larger plants. It helps keep the mosquito population down. Having marigolds growing in a pot on the back frame helps as well. I don’t worry about mosquitoes in the big tank – fish food!
The reed is blooming, though it hasn’t yet peaked to produce the mass of feathery tendrils that will be the end product.
My plant wall has two systems. The wall itself is a drip system. The nutrients drip down the roots. The gutter, however, is a flood and drain system.
This morning I was catching up on posts on WindowFarms and read a post by Ed where he has modified the bottle window farm into a flood and drain system. Brilliant! His post caused me to look at my wall and evaluate its health/growth in comparison to the plants in the gutter.
The begonia in the gutter is faster growing with more flower stalks and bigger leaves. That’s pretty definite as far as supporting evidence goes.
So the moral here is, if it’s food you’re interested in growing, flood and drain is going to be more efficient/effective.
The loaches have done a wonderful job of snail removal. It’s been over a week since I’ve seen a snail. Prior to that, I’ve only seen two and they’ve been at the top out of the water and where the loaches couldn’t reach them. <squish> Wadly doesn’t like the loaches but I think they’re darn fun to watch. He likes his slow and mild guppies.
One of the begonias in the wall has masses of blossoms. The light, the warm water temps and the consistent nutrition are really pumping out the flowers. Now the Ricinifolia Immense is joining the gang. It’s put out a blossom stalk for the first time in over a decade.
I took a picture of the plant wall last night. It’s really growing nicely. I’m still waiting on the gutter. It must be time to nag them again. I ordered the new aquarium light. It should be here next week. I can’t build the new aquarium cover until I’ve mounted the new gutter and got the new light, so it’s wait . . . wait . . . wait.
The yoyo loaches are keeping the snail population in check and they’re fun to watch, but I doubt I’ll have any new babies while they’re in the tank. They’re like short fat eels who will eat anything that will fit in their mouth. They dive into the foliage, wiggling their way through to find buried goodies which is just what’s needed to get the snails and their eggs. Fortunately it takes them a while to get up a head of steam in open water and the other fish have plenty of time to shift out of the way. It’s amusing to see our sole head and tail light getting harassed when he has always been the one harassing others. Payback, gotta love it.
I’ve pulled my grow bed apart and gotten it stored away in the loft. I’ve put the hydroton in barrels and buckets for the winter. I’ve still got to pull the grow bed frame and cover the tank. Next year I’ll try and find a nice clean 55 gallon drum (plastic) for storing the hydroton. That’ll let me put it all in a single container. The 30 gallon drum I’ve got just isn’t big enough on its own.
Every so often I do a search on plant walls and vertical gardening to see what’s new. This morning I ran into this. It’s pretty cool! But better than just the idea is the way this system works. It is built on the airlift model. Instead of using a pump and timer to handle delivering the nutrient rich water, the system uses an aquarium air pump. While you can buy the whole system, they provide full instruction for a number of different models that can be made from plastic water bottles.
This is very cool. If you’ve got a kid who needs a science project, the hanging plastic bottle farm would be a stellar undertaking. Add an aquarium and some fish and you’ve a great “watch it work” project!
I haven’t done anything about a gutter yet, and I need to . . . desperately. I’m making that a priority for tomorrow. I’ve got two sewing machines to run up to be repaired and will handle it on the way.
All the baby fish are doing great. I lay on the floor and watch them scoot around the tank. Some are big enough to come out and feed with the adult fish. I wish I could get a picture but they’re just too small to get into focus through the glass. I end up with tiny little blobs of lighter colored stuff in a fuzzy greeny background. Ugh.
One of the gutter begonias has blossom stalks topped with buds ready to bloom.
The big begonia is doing really well though the leaves aren’t quite to the size achieved last summer. They’re close, just not quite there. The wood fern is doing well. I have some stuff that is just limping along. My cape primrose isn’t happy. I’m hoping it will come around . . . it’s really slow to show happy or sad so I just have to be patient and see if the changes I’ve made help. By late spring I should know. I think the gloxinia is toast . . . I think it’s been totally overgrown by the surrounding foliage.
About 1/3 of the rex begonias I planted are still growing. I think they would have done much better if I’d gotten them in the wall when all the other plants were about the same size. Now I’ve got stuff that’s gotten huge and the rex begonias are pretty much lost in the undergrowth. Time will tell whether they make it out of the understory.
All the philodendron, ivy and dumb cane varieties are doing tremendously well. They really like the wall. The hoja is doing good. The rain forest cactus are doing fine. The Christmas cactus bloomed a couple weeks ago, just one pretty salmon colored blossom. It’s another plant that’s going to be lost in the undergrowth. It just grows too slowly to stand much of a chance. <wince> Ditto for the epiphytes I planted last summer. I have to stay philosophical about all this. That’s what planting a vertical garden is all about, learning what works and enjoying the result.
It looks like the babies I thought were guppies are actually neon tetras. They’ve finally gotten big enough to have color and shine. Cool! Where they were hanging out in the tank should have been a clue. Guppies stay right at the surface until they’re big enough to not be eaten. Tetras hang out in the middle darting in and out of the foliage and cat babies cruise the bottom.
We seem to have a steady supply of babies in our aquarium lately. Right now we’ve got 4 adolescent guppies, at least two baby guppies hiding in the foliage and at least one, maybe two, baby catfish. Not bad for a 50 gallon tank.
The only change I’ve made recently is in feeding. I’ve been tossing in a cube (frozen) of blood worms twice a week. These are gut loaded with nutritional stuff fish need and I think the addition to the diet is making a difference.
The plant wall looks great. The light is making the difference. I don’t have a new gutter yet. It’s still in the planning stage.