In a state where citizens are restricted to five plants I needed a system capable of quickly generating a perpetual grow without the benefit of a mother in the early stages. Hydroponics was the most direct approach to producing my own supply, but I wanted the flavors that nature seems best at producing. My personal solution to this problem was to design and build a hybrid aquaponics system and find a middle ground i would be satisfied with.
Frequently Dude refers to using a hybrid of natural organic and laboratory fertilizers and amendments with soil growing. However the same hybrid approach to hydroponics is usually restricted to the use of molasses and compost tea in conjunction with a traditional hydroponic nutrient cocktail. To go completely organic in a hydroponic setup requires transitioning into aquaponics and maintaining a population of live fish that live in conjunction with plants and nitrogen fixing bacteria. Maintaining water quality while plants go through different growth stages would demand very careful coordination of harvest and replanting cycles. That approach takes years of study and careful balancing of plant health with fish health which simply may mean you must sacrifice optimum plant conditions for the continued life of the system. In short, nobody got time for that.
However most people have kept decorative plants and goldfish, and the prospect of maintaining both is not intimidating to the average adult. While this setup is not going to be easy to build for someone with limited training or experience in a few trades, a youtube search for “IBC tote chop and flip” will show a design almost anyone can build. If you choose to go this route make sure your fish tank is ten times the volume of your weekly demand for water, as your 10% weekly water change is what will replenish your hydroponic setup. Keeping Koi or goldfish will allow for more frequent withdrawal of water. Maintaining decorative plants eliminates the work of crop rotation and keeps water quality more consistent for the benefit of your fish. This system will produce sixty-eight gallons per week which is in excess of the amount I anticipate i will need to water my outdoor vegetables in the peak of summer in this humid, surprisingly hot land of Southern Illinois.
This hybrid approach to hydroponics allows tap water to mature into a natural base to either partially or fully replace your bottled nutrients depending on your preference for organic buds. Those costs are reduced and partially transferred into very cheap bulk fish food and bottles of chelated iron that would last for decades in most cases. To increase the nutrient concentration feed the fish more and withdraw water more frequently. When rich solution is not needed feed the fish normally and let the decorative plants absorb the nitrogen in the mean time
The system shown is 685 gallons at maximum capacity. The cone tank contains fluidized bed media (plastic bits) to pulverize solids (fish shit and excess fish food) into a finer grit allowing for the nitrogen fixing bacteria to process the solids at a faster rate. The cone then drains that water into bottom watering fifty gallon beds which drain from two offset locations allowing the now plant filtered water to drain for 24 hours a day although the pump only runs for twelve. The varying water level created by the pump timer creates a six inch artificial tide that fills and drains the grow beds forty eight times per day aerating the roots. The result is a planter that can keep desert plants alive next to amazonian rain forest plants with almost no maintenance. The lights are an eight pack of amazon shop lights about $20 each. All the plants do fine under them.
Its a beer garden for the weed smoker in the end, all other uses aside. The sound of falling water and abundant air of impeccable quality makes the area around this system a prime area to stone up and organize your thoughts.
– “Burner Herzog”, Level 7 Plant Daddy