I would like to share a but about my little experiments on growing things, the word farming may be a bit too brave just yet. 2 or 3 years back I had a dream about aquaponics – growing system that utilizes both fish tank and hydroponic growing system. Fish eat and provide fertilizer into water, this is then pumped to the plants which then purify the water by taking the nutrients and as a result they grow. Great idea. However in climate of central europe or now Finland it is not as easy… And to make things better my work took a lot of time and on top of it the moving. Last summer went by quickly as there were so many changes at work and in my personal life. And this spring the wish came back, maybe it is some inner need to connect with nature on level different from being an observer. I started few seeds to see if i can sprout few plants, fortunately this is not a skill to forget but all the credit is due to the nature. And I started to look around if there is something to be done better for my plants. And I came back full circle to my idea of aquaponics, yet it seems to be more reasonable to think of hydroponics due to climate and space constraints, after all appartment where I live is not biggest and Finnish summer is … well, Finnish summer.
Few ideas need to be kept as goals. Most of conventional farming uses huge amounts of water, is bound to soil and weather. Lot of it is offset by use od fertilizers. I wish to limit water used in my growing attempts, be wise about space used. Those are the common concers that are listed all around and actually make sense. But this is not my main area to talk about… Let’s look into the stuff that I was trying to build.
Test build 1
This was kind of the initial idea – repurposing of the empty yogurt boxes. They have some reasonable volume, sturdy shape and afterall they are not so difficult to obtain and 1 or maybe 2 plants could fit in. And obtaining reasonable containers for growing is rather hard here, unless you need to burn some cash. Let’s put together the idea for first build:
You get an empty yogurt box (usually you buy full one and eat it…). Wash it well and take construction knife and cut a hole in the lid that would fit the little mesh pot. Inside of it is a bit of foam that holds the plant in place and serves also water retention purpose for the plant. And if there is too much, gravity will help. Small aquarium pump is in a bucket that collects the extra water (it simply exits through hole in the bottom). I got a little hose, few drippers and L joints. Important part of this is simple mechanical timer that allows for creation of regime. Inside the bucket i have put a bit of perlite to help the flowers. Let’s look a few fotos of this ghetto setup first and then I can write few sentences about the operation.
- Perlite in the boxes is handy to provide extra water to plans, but is very light and if water doesn’t flush quickly, it may start overflowing.
- Binding the watering pipes became a question as the pipes have certain lenght and they remember their shlightly bent shape… Few holes and one of those plastic ties that every USB cable comes with = solution.
- Moving plants, checking how they are developing or anything was a bit of hassle.
- It took me some time to get at least the 2 boxes, but more would mean more yogurt to eat… I tried using milkcartons in similar way, but once you cut them in half, you need to secure the plant directly in perlite. And when water doesn’t drain well, the plant changes location and/or angle.
Despite looking ugly this was a good first attempt that I had running for few days and the excitement about this build was immense. Some discussions with friends (erhm… a bit of discussion and lot of questions if they have spare empty yogurt boxes). Online are people using big buckets or barrels and they can be bought here as well, but paying couple euros for each one seemed too much. After posting on Facebook in some groups if people have spare boxes (and getting some weird answers as well as few kind offers) it was obvious that more sustainable solution is needed. And then idea was born – Finland is rather mindful about the waste and when going for lunch, some places offer for free the empty 5 liter buckets in which they had previously mayonaise, ketchup or other things. They are washed and often come with a lid. This called for a test!
Test build 2
On first possible chance I have collected 11 buckets and lids for them, carried them home with pride, especially when people were curiously looking on the metro. But the days between build 1 and 2 were spent thinking about how to make the draining system work well and yet cheap, even wrote few upset sentences about it. With the idea of buckets I needed something really simple and cheap. Just a pipe connected to the bucket. If something could hold the pipe in place, that would be amazing. Maybe glue? Hot glue! So with the buckets in my arms, I ran in store, got a hot glue gun and headed home. My joy allowed for such energy for creation after arriving home, that I sat down and started to work on it. Took the lid and experimented how many pots can actually fit there. Then how to water them? The parts are not cheap, hose cost something as well so big sheet of paper to copy the shapes and brainstorming. 7 seemed alright and after some time the first lid with 7 pots was ready, despite none of the holes being round or good looking. Let’s gaze at the „magic“.
- Plants need a day or two to adjust to the new location and regime.
- Hot summer days can bring algae so good location is needed
- And also if possible to hide away water tank (where pump is) and hide the pipes to prevent unnecessary heating of the water
- My worries about noise did not materialize, system is very quiet
- Water consumption is very low. Despite having issue with algae that resulted in taking apart the system and cleaning and getting new water, the plants dont really need too much water. The 5L bucket can be in use for week and hopefully longer – calm vacation or careless workdays
- Currently the system is very simple, almost stupid simple, but also there is not really much that can break
I have done one more build and in process of making number 4, but that is for next post!