Sunday, 12 April 2015

Aquaponics/Hydroponics, it's a start!

My new Aquaponics system

So, it is time, I have decided to stop killing innocent plants in the ground and see if I can broaden my horizons by killing them in a aquaponic setup instead!

Like I have said of most of my other posts, I am NOT a builder, a mechanic, a water engineer, or anything of the sorts, I have no idea what I am doing. A lot of what I am trying is just guess work, and a lot of thinking time goes into it all. Some (most) of what I try fails, but then I learn why it fails, and we all get to move on :)

So, the new idea, using the main dam/pond where the ducks and geese (yabbies, turtles, whatever-else) like to play as the main water source, I will pump the water through tubes (PVC pipes) which will hold seedlings (and then plants), the plants will eat up all the goodness from the dam water, then it will go back into the dam. I think that it will do two really good things, 1- feed the new veggies with great water and allow them to constantly get water (should stop them from getting attacked by the sun), 2- keep the water moving the the dam which should help all the things inside there stay healthy, happy and alive.

So, the first thing that I need to do is create a frame. The frame is going to just hold a PVC pipe (which I have a whole stack of random sizes and lengths). Using all the spare wood I have around the place, I measure and cut the wood in half. I want this to be high enough that I will not keep bending down and hurt my back.

Once I have cut two bit of wood all about the same length, it is time to actually work out what I am going to try to hold. This is a 90 mm diameter PVC pipe, and it has been luckily selected as the first attempt at making a plant bed as part of the aquaponic system! I know, it is an honour (I will note here that the diameter of the pipe DOES matter, it has to be wider than the diameter of the pots you want to put in it, that will come into it all later on). I have stood the pipe up and using two of the bits of wood, braced the pipe (this is to ensure that the top of the X will be wide enough to hold the pipe), while there I nailed the wood together. I will note that I nailed the wood twice on this side, that is to stop it from collapsing, then I turned it over and nailed it once through the middle on the other side. Like I said, I have no idea what I am actually doing, but I try to think that if I was a piece of wood, what would I do to mess up the life of the person trying to use me!

So, doing that again on the other side, then I end up with two large X's that will hold the pipe. I need this to be on a slope, this is because I want to push water from one end and then make it run down the pipe and out the other end.  However I live on a slope, so not a GREAT concern :) I do have a different concern though, I think that the structure below could/would/WILL collapse, there is nothing holding the X upright, so, I will add two braces, one on either side going the length of the frame.

There is a problem with adding those supports, it means that it is no longer two big X's, it is now one larger monstrosity which will be harder to move around, but more importantly it will be a fixed length, so if I wanted to change the pipe for some reason to a longer or shorter one, the frame might not be good enough :( I don't know any other way of stopping it from falling over though, so this will do for now.

You can also see in the photo two of the three site supervisors I had there. Just so you all know that it was done by the books! :) So here it is, with the supporting bars to stop it from falling. I made them on an angel and opposite angels because I think that if they were flat or the same angel on both sides it would not stop the problem 100%. Time will tell :)

At this point I tested the pipe layout to see if my idea will actually work (no point in finishing a project that could never work), so I tested it out, I have uploaded the short movie to my YouTube account, in the movie you can see that water does go to the other side of the pipe, even though it also flows back through the side I poured it in on. That is ok, that is just because there is nothing stopping it, so I will do that now. I don't have end caps for this pipe, and I am not going to go out and buy them just yet (I will if it all works well), but I do have some other joins for pipes that will work.

Nothing too special, but I had a 90 degree end (left) and a 15 degree bend (right) for 90 mm diameter pipe, so they SHOULD work for now, for what I want to do. I would like to have the end caps, or at least two 90 degree bends, but I work with what I have.

With the first bend on, the 15 degree one, this is on the 'inlet' side. It matters. This should just stop the water from rolling back, the 90 degree one will stop the water that is flowing towards it (so it needs to be bigger), ultimately they should/will both have caps, caps that screw on and stop all the water flow.
So in this picture you can see that I drilled a hole in the top of the pipe, that is where the water will pour into. This is not a random hole, I found a 13 mm connector (the black irrigation piping stuff) laying around, and I am using that to connect it to the water barrel (that will come).

This is the connector that I have put in the hole. You can see that it just comes through the pipe, however it doesn't really matter how far, as long as it is in the PVC pipe. I think that it would be a smart idea to ensure that it is also above the water line (where ever you want the water in the pipe to fill to) so it splashes as it comes down, surely this will help keep the water from going stagnant?
The whole thing will be sealed, so light shouldn't get in there, so bacteria shouldn't grow.

This is the other end, it is a little different than the inlet end, this is because I need/want the water to drain at about 1/2 way. My theory is that the pipe will fill to about 1/2 way, then start to flow through the black outlet (which will be connected to another pipe slightly downhill again, etc..).
So, does it work? I uploaded this video as well to my YouTube account so you can see, but the short of it is, yes, it works :) It leaks from the 90 degree bend, but that is ok, it is just a test. If it was the finished product it would a cap that was glued or screwed on.

This is a better look at the connection to the water barrel, you can see the 13 mm connector in the pipe, connecting the small plastic tube up to the water tap. This is elevated on a old fridge to give it height (just so I don't need a pump or anything yet), and the pipe is sloping downhill to allow the water to run through the pipe and out the other end.

Now, time to add holes for plants! :) The whole point of doing this.

This is how we make the holes, using my trusty drill with a hole saw attachment. You can get these from any hardware store (common tool), and to the left of the drill is the pot that I am planning on using. It is taller than the pipe, but not as wide. I have made sure that the hole saw (they come in different sizes) just fits about 1/2 down the pot, which I measured against the pipe to make sure water will just sit on the bottom of it.

Line up about the middle of the pipe, starting at one and and make your hole. Be careful not to push the drill through the pipe and make a hole on the other side, that will cause it to leak, we don't want that.

You can see the results of the drill, it makes holes. I have decided to make the edge of the holes about 15 cm apart. I don't know if that is too big or small, but I was just thinking about the kinds of foods I will be growing, and you need to make sure that there is a enough room to stretch :) If it turns out that they are too cramped, this will just be for seedlings or things like leeks that grow straight up and not bushy :)

Keep drilling holes the whole way along (depending on how many pots you have, how much pipe, etc..). Then put the pots in the holes.

I have left one near the middle empty for now, I just want to watch the water flowing past (fault finding really). The pots are not glued in, just held there nice and tight due to the size of the holes I drilled.
I tested it again (so many tests) and I have uploaded it again on my YouTube channel, so did it work? No... :( Why not? well, as you can see in the video the last pot had the right amount of water, then working all the way back up it got less and less. Why? I should have see THAT coming, the pipe is on an angle, which means that the water will pool at the end (which is ok), but then drain out, not allowing water to pool throughout the pipe at that height. So, how do I fix it?

Change the angle that the pipe is on. This is my guess :) So I changed the level of the pipe by putting wood under the outlet side (to raise it up) until it was just not level. If you don't know how to read a level, the bubble in the middle part (green) should be sitting smack in the middle (between the lines), mine is not, the bubble is to the slight right of the middle, and that is where I want it (at the start the bubble was all the way over to the right, indicating that the slope was severe).

Now that I have flattened it out a bit more, does it work? I uploaded again (YouTube is going to hate me soon enough!) and it works a lot better!

This was a test to see if this idea will work, it looks like it will :) I will get the 'stuff' I need to put in the pots, clay pellets is what is recommended, and try to find a pump that will move the water. For now I am going to leave it just this size, if this works well, I will expand it.

What is going in here? The seeds that are on the way from Fair Dinkum Seeds! I can't wait!!

** Really important things to note so far;
  • Diameter of the pipe has to be bigger (wider) than the diameter of the pot you want to put in it.
  • When drilling the hole in the pipe, be careful not to puncture the other side of the pipe.
  • Ensure that the angle your pipes are on it not too severe or the water will flow out far to fast.