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.
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.
When the new media is crushed and ph tested, it drops the ph of the water to 6.0. The system water hovers between 7.2 and 7.4.
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 bean I got from JMH last year is blooming. I have two blossoms, this one and another in the middle of the tank.
I picked up Fairy Moss and water Hyacinths today. The upper tank’s looking pretty good.
This is what the upper two tanks look like right now. The penny royal is growing, the season triangular reed is coming up. The water hyacinth and fairy moss is spread in the middle tank.
This is beyond cool! A natural pool!
If I had kids at home, this would be a must have!
Lorr (our son) has discovered wholesale rot under the window and into the floor and floor supports where his 60 gallon aquarium housing Carlos the turtle, two gigantic plecos and a couple really fat goldfish. Moving the tank is a must so it looks like Carlos is coming to stay. The big concern is keeping Carlos comfortable. The goldies can join mine in my 100 gallon tank outside and the plecos can go to the aquarium store.
Wadly’s next day off is Tue. We’ll drag the big aquarium out of the loft, clean and set it up for all Wadly’s fish. We’ll leave the smaller aquarium set up to accommodate Carlos temporarily while we get is larger tank set up and up to temp.
To keep both tanks using the wall, I’m going to have to install a sump. I haven’t done that before. It should be a learning experience.
The two clinging vines are doing great, slowly spreading over the wall. Now that I’m inspecting the wall more closely I’m seeing more moss.
I updated the overflow drain on the larger bog filter tank. I’m still using electrical conduit elbow, but it’s 1½”, not 1″. The outlet pipe is also resized for an 1½” tee-less connector. I enlarged the hole in the piece of perforated drain which keeps the roots from plugging the conduit.
I’ve been finding more uses for inner tube. This plumbing change includes a piece of bicycle inner tube for connecting the two pieces of pipe together.
The only thing I wish I’d done before assembly was to paint the conduit black, but once the water hyacinth is added to the tank the leaves will hide the gray.
I couldn’t leave the corkscrew willows in the upper biofilter tank. The hydroton grow medium is not heavy enough to keep the willows upright and in the tank when the wind blew. I knew putting them there was a temporary solution. Yesterday I implemented a more permanent fix. The willows are only in the water for this summer.
The half-gallon pots have recycled window screen in the bottom to keep the gravel from migrating out the drain holes. The willow trunks are held in place against the side of the tank frame by truck inner tube pieces and staples. The pots are held up against the side of the tank by cord hangers over hex head screws. Everything can be easily removed when it comes time to plant the willows out after they go dormant this fall.
I had a lovely visit with my brother Dan and his wife Vala yesterday. They live far enough away that I don’t get to see them often. I was gifted with some corkscrew willow cuttings which I’ve stuck in the upper bog filter until I can get them rooted and ready to plant.
As well as the begonia that’s being so showy with it’s clusters of pink blossoms, the Cape Primrose is also stretching into spring.
Here’s a great thing to share with you, a video of Patrick Blanc giving a presentation on vertical gardens at the California Academy of Science. The video is an hour and a half long and is broken into parts. I didn’t have any trouble with buffering, so give it a try. He talks about all his walls, what was good, what was bad and includes maintenance, inspiration, plants he used, insect control, maintenance . . . it’s well worth watching at least once if not more.
I’m going to miss this plant when it goes into LouAnn’s wall. It’s so robust and beautiful.
This is my new setup, sans the second bucket. I am waiting on tee-less connectors to add the second bucket to the dump tank (existing bucket). I’ll use a short piece of 1½” plastic pipe near the bottom of the buckets to connect them. The two buckets, connected together, will give me the volume I need to fill both beds in a single dump.
Here’s the list of parts.
- 2 five gallon buckets – mine used to contain pickles and were obtained from a local deli.
- 1 pump
- black tubing running from the pump to the bucket (visible in the top picture as the black loop to the right of the bucket and in the bottom picture).
- 100 gallon Rubbermaid stock tank (buried to first step in the tank side).
- 2 mortar mixing trays (the 8″ deep ones).
- miscellaneous scrap lumber – none of this lumber was purchased new. I’ve got 4×4 for the four legs (mix of pressure treated and cedar – it’s what I had), 2×6 for the between post supports and 2×4 for the top plate on which the tray rims rest. The bucket rests on a notched 3×4 and a notched 2×4 held up by 2×8 scraps screwed to the tray frame.
- a handful of 3″ decking screws
- 1 toilet flush valve.
- 1 16 oz plastic coke bottle (flush valve counter-weight).
- black tubing to feed flush valve counter-weight bottle (visible in the second picture – connects to a piece of aluminum tubing which inserts through the bottom of the coke bottle.
- miscellaneous hardware including a collection of stainless nuts and washers to act as the flush valve weight (offsets the weight of the plastic bottle so the flush valve flap closes completely).
- Plumbing parts – some 2″, some 1½”.
- Tee-less connectors to gang the buckets together. I never order enough tee-less connectors. They are the first connector I reach for when I have to fasten pipe to pipe or insert pipe into something. I could have replaced the 2″ tee with a tee-less connector for less than a quarter of the price of purchasing a 2″ tee.
It took me an afternoon to take apart the old single-bed stand (I needed to reuse the legs and some of the shorter lumber) and another afternoon to construct the new two-bed stand. You cannot see it from the picture, but there is a 2×6 that supports the center of the beds underneath going from left to right.
It took another afternoon to get the new bucket and flush assembly put together and get the tray flood plumbing set up.
I still need another 100 liters of hydroton. It should only take another 50 liters (1 bag) of hydroton to fill the beds, but I want to increase the size of the gutter for my plant wall so want some extra to ensure I have enough. Until I get the additional hydroton, I’ll let the beds cycle and build the nitrite/nitrate eating bacteria colony.
Yesterday was a beautiful day, mild, sunny and quiet. Wadly was off visiting family and I had the peace to putter to my heart’s content.
I managed to get the dump bucket for my grow bed rebuilt. This time I added a genius gizmo for the flush counter-weight assembly. This crafty gizmo was the happy confluence of circumstance and available parts and it all started with the proximity of the flush valve to the edge of the bucket.
Because my 5 gallon buckets have a lot of ridges and raised lettering at the center I mounted the flush assembly against the side of the bucket. This gave me a smoother flatter surface for sealing the toilet flush valve to the bucket and, by mounting the toilet fill assembly next to the side of the bucket, I was able to reduce the distance between the rollers that lift the toilet flush flap and support the flush valve counter-weight. I saw the lock assembly for a sliding window sitting on the bench ready to be taken out to the aluminum pile to recycle. That started the mental wheels turning and I was able to scrounge the remaining parts to pull this gizmo together.
The new roller carrier is small, requiring one small notch in the bucket collar for installation and support.
The rollers are from the bottom of a sliding glass door.
The bolts holding the rollers are stainless. I have no idea where they came from. Whenever we disassemble something for recycling, we take any potentially interesting small hardware and stick it in one of our multiple cabinets with plastic drawers. We had this particular bolt type in two lengths. The shorter was twice the length I needed but they do a perfect job. The additional bolt sticking out is more of a design statement than a flaw.
The holes in the center of the rollers was just a bit smaller than the circumference of the bolt which allowed the bolt to be pressed into the roller assembly. A bit of judicious encouragement from my rubber mallet did the trick and the rollers are now pressed onto the bolts.
The holes in the aluminum slider window lock handle were just slightly smaller than the threads on the bolts. Because the piece to receive threads was aluminum and the bolts were stainless,I was able to force screw the bolts into the holes to create the necessary threads in the aluminum carrier. You see what I mean about a confluence of circumstance? The bolts were the right size to press into the rollers and the holes were the right size to accept threading from the bolts. Kismet.
Each bolt has a fiber or teflon washer and a stainless washer to ensure proper spacing for the roller.
The rollers aren’t stainless and aren’t designed to be out in the rain. Terry painted them for me to help keep the rust at bay. As to the bearings, an occasional squirt of WD-40 (water displacement 40th formula tested) keeps rust in check and the rollers turning smoothly. the arrangement allows the cord to be lifted off the rollers and the roller assembly to be taken away from the tank/growbed assembly for maintenance. At some point I’ll make a plastic cover for the roller assembly to keep the rollers drier.
If you’re wondering what I used to extend the overflow tube on the flush valve . . . it’s a vacuum cleaner hand wand extension pipe. We’ve got a shelf under one of the benches that gets all the plastic pipe chunks we might need for a later project. Wand extension pipe is just plastic pipe and the taper makes them perfect for fitting onto other pipe or into openings of not exactly the right size.
The new ferns seem to be doing okay. I have a couple that are more vigorous, but they are different varieties so the differences in growth are easily explained.
The gutter fern is a delicate thing when compared to the stems of the Hawaiian begonia (Ricinifolia Immense). The stems of that particular begonia grow to be bigger around than my thumb. The other two ferns aren’t as big as my original wood fern, but they’ve just gotten started.
It’s been almost four weeks since I changed the watering frequency for the wall. The difference is really starting to show.
The heliocereus is putting shoots out of its shoots. It’s acting like it’s spring!
The peperomia is finally producing new growth both at the base and at one of the nodes on one of the stalks.
And finally, the wood fern shows the most dramatic difference. The part of the frond that had grown prior to the water frequency change looks really stunted. The part that grew after the change looks very different.
Yesterday I rebuilt my aquaponic system to accommodate an additional grow bed. The single tray I used last year was just not enough. I have switched out the gravel I used last year for hydroton (expanded clay balls) so (theoretically) the beds will be light enough to move inside when the weather grows too cold to sustain growing. A single bed filled with gravel would require four muscle men, a pygmy goat and some special equipment. That so won’t work for portable beds. With hydroton I should be able to lift the bed onto a rolling cart for transport indoors.
Now that I’ve got two beds to flood, last year’s system won’t work as is. Two beds means at least twice the water volume. I will gang together two 5-gallon buckets to make up the required flush volume. By ganging buckets together using a short length of 1½ pipe and tee-less connectors, I can supply the volume for both beds using my existing fill and drain system bucket.
So far I’ve got one tray filled and water cycling through but I have more to do before I’m ready to consider planting. I need to cut new piping for the drain system. I want the system to flash-fill the beds so I don’t have to rely on an auto-siphon for drainage. That reduces the complexity of the system and reduces the parts needed to get additional beds attached to the system.
The tank’s water temperature is still below 55° [brrr] but if I’m going to get a head start on the season, I need to get my beds functioning mechanically now. To get the beds up to temperature a little more quickly, I’m thinking of installing a solar water heating system for the tank. We’ll see if I manage to get it done before the tank gets up to temp.
I’ve got a lot of blank space in the wall right now. I tore out all the waffle plants. I just didn’t like them. It takes a lot for me to dump a plant, so that gives you an idea how much I didn’t care for this particular variety.
I didn’t tear out the waffle plants until I had a plan for replacement. I have some rex begonias coming as soon as the weather gets just a bit better. It’s pointless to spend the money and then have them die in shipping because the weather sucks. I can be patient.
I’ve got a bunch of stuff in the gutter in preparation LouAnn’s wall. It’s been an excellent teaching moment. If you’ve been following the wall since its inception, you’ll know I had my timing set to water running through the wall at set intervals. From watching plants in the gutter, its become apparent the watering periods were too infrequent. As a result, I’ve changed the timing. The pump pushing water to the wall is now on for 15 minutes and off for 1½ hours. Terry has noticed we are now replenishing the aquarium with twice the volume of water. This may be too frequent. I don’t know how long I’ll have to watch the wall to determine if the timing is right.
The Christmas cactus is blooming again. Beautiful.
This is the left side of the plant wall. The Ricinifolia Immense is really happy, as is the dumb cane and rain forest cacti. Everything seems happy.
I’ve cleared out my garden window, giving away the two hoja and the desert cactus. I also gave away a 5 foot tall avocado tree in a 12″ pot, but I still have five pots to water. Two will be torn apart to go in LouAnn’s wall. Two are very large pots, one a yucca, the other a combo palm and ficus (visible to the left of the plant wall). I’m hoping I can back off to watering once a week, but probably not. I still have one small pot of crown of thorns that will require twice weekly watering to continue to bloom and do well. We’ll see how it does. The big ones I don’t worry about as much.
I have new buds on the Christmas cactus in the wall. I took a picture a couple days ago, but the exposure was off so far I couldn’t tell there were buds on the ends of the branches.
LouAnn has a vine in her yard I just love. I don’t know what it is, I just know it reseeds itself readily. It’s got a lovely leaf shape, a pretty flower and is a nice compliment to my wall. I stuck it in the hole left by the expired orchid. If you look at the Cape Primrose leaf in the background in the center of the image, you’ll see a mess of seeds dropped from one of the seed pods. At this rate I should have a mess of these in the gutter by this time next year.
This summer I had a couple of grapefruit that had sprouting seeds. I dropped them in the hydroton in the gutter. Of the three or four seeds I dropped there, two have produced plants. I don’t know what they’re going to do, but they’ll be fun to watch.
The Hawaiian begonia is happy in its new space. Both begonia transplants are growing vigorously.