Tag Archives: herbs

DIY Aquaponics Review: Two Years Later

So, I almost hate to show this because it is such a hot mess, but I finally decided to make a quick walk-through of this DIY Aquaponics system we purchased a couple of years ago.

When I was first learning about hydroponics and aquaponics, I remembered seeing these type of systems on You Tube and considered building them. A few years into my growing, my husband found this read-to-go DIY system. All we had to do was break it down and move it home.

When we first put it in, it did pretty well. We got two small Koi and they seemed to produce enough waste to feed the plants we placed in there (mainly herbs). I did purchase two aloe vera plants and they surprisingly thrived in the system even when the pH was way off. These are hardy plants let me tell ya!

About a year ago, the pH just became too difficult to manage. You could see mineralization built up on the hydroton and the PVC housing. I just kept putting it off and putting it off because I knew cleaning it would be a BIG UGLY TIME-SUCKING job.

I’m an inch-away from just ditching the entire system, but we are giving it one more chance. As we work in the yard pruning and planting, we chip away at boiling hydroton for about 4 hours and then straining off into a clean bucket which we will place back into the cleaned system.

There’s a light that hangs above this system which cost a pretty penny. For the amount I bought this used plus the cost of the light, I could have purchased a Tower Garden. (Sigh) But at the time we made the decision to get this system we were learning about various hydroponic and aquaponic systems and well, we homeschool, so everything becomes a learning opportunity. 😉

The light that typically hangs over this system I’m currently using the light over my seedlings and that’s working fantastic, so I am planning to move this system outdoors. It will go in the shade to help keep the fish cool and I’m going to stick with growing herbs in it because that seems to work right now.

However, we’re going to make a few adjustments before firing it up again:

  • First off, we need to put a guard around the siphons so help keep the hydroton back and out of the way.
  • Second, we are going to see what can be done to balance each side so that it siphons properly and continuously. Right now, it siphons for awhile and then putters out. The siphon drain helps to disperse the water and it aerates the water for the fish. It is supposed to draw the fish water up from the bottom and then fill the tanks and then when the water reaches a certain point, the siphon kicks in and drains the entire tub which aerates the plant root system. (Roots need to breathe!)
  • Third, we will probably relocate these Koi to a larger pond my boys are planning to build and we will put smaller Koi into this system as replacements. Koi are great because they can tolerate warm and cold temperatures compared to other types of fish.

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I wouldn’t say this is a terrible design. It’s definitely great to grow herbs in and you can see that my aloe vera plants did just fine.  But be forewarned that this system takes some serious work to clean. It’s probably best to just relocate the hydroton into another use and buy brand spankin’ new hydroton. Cleaning the hydroton is time-consuming and tedious work. We’ve been working on cleaning it for over a week and we are only half-way.

Learn How to Grow Food the Easy Way

And know that the pH can be difficult to manage. If you add pH adjustment, the hydroton absorbs the efforts you make bit by bit. Plan on cleaning out this system yearly if you go this route. And use the system outdoors if possible because a light to go over something of this size isn’t cheap. And if outside, you have to think about the seasons in your region and how the temperatures will affect your Koi, so placement matters.

Hope that helps for those who like to do DIY. My take-away is a lesson learned that just because it seems cheaper at the time, when you add everything up it isn’t always cheaper. And all systems have pros and cons. For me, cleaning needs to be manageable to make a system worthwhile and this one is just a BEAST to clean, so I won’t be building any more of these.

Happy Growing!

—Erin

Grow What You Know: Planning your upcoming Tower Garden

New to growing your own food in a Tower Garden? First off, kudos on your decision to take control of your own health and it all starts at the foundational level of the food we put into our body.  It actually can go even deeper than that… it all starts with the parent plant that made the seed that we collect and then grow and then harvest to put into our body.  But I digress…

When considering what to put into your Tower Garden, there are certain vegetables and herbs that grow well together. I have grouped these plants based on shared PPM (parts per million) values. You will need a PPM meter to measure what your water’s PPM is with the nutrient solution added.

When determining our list below, we look for areas where PPM levels share common ground (see blue vertical bars to highlight overlapping plant PPMs)… Note: this PPM reference chart is available in full for all our Tower Garden and hydroponic clients, but here’s a little snippet:

PPM Chart for Hydroponics Tower Garden

Note that some plants can tolerate higher levels of nutrients than mentioned here as these are ideal ranges for growth. You’ll know when a plant is getting too high a level when the edges of the leaves get a brown tint (called tip burn). Otherwise, know that these plant groupings are going to grow together fairly well at certain PPMs and that you can push some of the plants that are below the PPM level to the next level up in some cases…

  • based on the PPM of 775 and a pH of around 6.0, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B:
    Arugula, Artichoke, Basil, Calendula (petals of flower are edible), Cilantro/Coriander, Dandelion (leaves edible & root used in tea), Fennel, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Menarda (Bee Balm), Mustard Greens, Nasturtiums (leaves & flower are edible + plant deters some insects)Oregano, Pansies (flower petals are edible), Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Violas (petals of flower are edible)Watercress.
  • based on the PPM of 1000 and a pH of around 6.0, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B
    Artichoke, Basil, Chives, Fennel, Kale, Leek, Lemon Balm, Menarda (Bee Balm), Mustard Greens, Oregano, Parsley, Peas, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Watercress
    (Lettuce/Romaine may grow in this range as well, just watch for tip burn on the leaves — some varieties may tolerate the PPM level)
  • based on the PPM of 1265 and a pH of 6.0, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B:
    Artichoke, Beetroot, Bok Choy, Broad Bean (Fava Bean), Carnation (2′ tall, but petals of flower are edible), Cauliflower, Celery, Chives, Cucumber, Kale, Leek, Marjoram, Menarda (Bee Balm), Mustard Greens, Parsley, Peas, Purslane, Pumpkin, Spinach, Summer Squash, Strawberries and Swiss Chard, Turnip Greens, Water Cress, Watermelon, ZucchiniTower Garden Beginner Plants
  • based on the PPM of 1490 and a pH of around 6.5, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B:
    Beans, Beetroot, Bok Choy, Broad Bean (Fava Bean), Celery, Eggplant, Endive/Chicory, Chives, Cucumber, Kale, Melon, Mint, Okra, Hot Peppers or Sweet Bell Peppers (Note: Planting both near each other may result in cross-pollination if outdoors and open-pollinated by bees and your sweet peppers can get a bit of heat in the flavor department. If growing indoors and hand pollinating blooms, you should be fine.), Purslane, Pumpkin, Spinach, Summer Squash, Strawberries, Swiss Chard, Tomatillo, Tomato, Turnip Greens, Watermelon, Zucchini

    Remember to put larger plants like kale and those that vine like peas, cucumber, and nasturtiums towards the bottom and you’ll need a support next to the Tower Garden where the vines can continue to grow out and fruit. Taller plants go towards the top (like Celery and Rainbow Swiss Chard).Salad Tower Garden Tower Planting SchematicPlanting Schematic for Chef Tower Garden
  • based on the PPM of 1990 and a pH of around 6.5, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B:
    Beans, Beetroot, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Dill, Hot Peppers, Sweet Bell Peppers, Tomatillo, TomatoKeep in mind that your squashes, watermelons, tomatillos, and tomatoes are going to be heavy “feeders” meaning they will drink up water and nutrients during the hotter summer days.

Kid Friendly Plants to Put in Tower Garden

Okay, so now you have an idea of what plants have similar growing PPM characteristics. Select one PPM group based on vegetables and herbs you like to use every day!

Assorted Green SaladKeep in mind that for most of us, lettuce has to travel quite a ways if you’re purchasing it from a big box store especially. 70%+ of all romaine is grown in Salinas, California. That means that romaine has to travel roughly 3,000 miles to get to my plate here in Atlanta, Georgia. They say on average it takes 10 days for a harvested romaine to get from the farm to our dinner plate! This is unacceptable! Especially since we know from industry studies that due to respiration rates of plants, nutrient availability decreases within the first 24-48 hours! That translates into you losing out nutritionally on the very purpose of eating that salad! So, with that in mind, simply starting by growing greens is a great place to start. I also like greens because of they mature in 4-6 weeks meaning you get to see your success (and enjoy the fruit of your efforts) earlier rather than later.

The other thing to consider regarding a salad is the number of varieties you have probably never tried because the grocery store only carries 3-4 options. I have found that some of my best salads incorporate a variety of greens and textures. Have fun exploring greens you’ve never tried before — you might find you really like them fresh off of your Tower Garden. I had always shy’d away from Bok Choy in the grocery store because it looked limp and lifeless, but when I grew it in the Tower Garden it was super tasty and I learned that I could keep harvesting for 2 months until the plant flowered. Now it’s something I always plan on growing because it can be added to soups, quinoa, and salads.

If doing a greens selection to grow on your Tower Garden, I like to recommend my clients include a nasturtium on the lower part of their Tower Garden because a) you can eat both the leaves and the flower, b) most people have never tasted a nasturtium because they are not found readily in the grocery store and most often found on the fine diner’s plate, c) they are so pretty to look at on your tower and d) they are companion plants meaning they are good to grow next to other plants to help deter certain pests… When planted alongside cucumbers. eggplant, tomatoes, or squash plants, nasturtiums may repel cucumber beetles, whiteflies, aphids and squash bugs. There are other edible flowers in this range that would be fun to explore if you’re willing to be adventurous.

If you decide to do a vining crop with a higher PPM, keep in mind space (tip: put a trellis next to where the plant’s port is and it can grow off to the side. These vining plants are often water hogs and love the sun, so plan accordingly for anything planted above them — those plants will also need to be heat tolerant. I always recommend including a flowering plant as it will attract pollinators and pollinators (aka: bees) will plump up your fruit and leave your flowering plants in a better state than how they found it.

CC03128C-B0D7-4148-BC1E-A8C7B454653DTomatoes are the most popular thing to grow. Ideally, you’ll want to look for varieties that have compact traits, but if you do have room next to your outdoor Tower Garden, make sure you can handle the growth habit on a trellis. My favorite tomato is an heirloom variety, Cherokee Purple, and it’s vining can reach up to 10′ or more if it’s given the nutrients it loves. (And BOY do they taste AMAZING!!!!) Cherry Tomato varieties are going to be prolific, so plan a space to support their growing needs to you have airflow and are able to easily keep pests from moving in on your crop.

Tip: If you are putting large vining plants in the lower ports of your Tower Garden. Plant to the left, right and on the back side leaving the front port open. (You may want to cover that port with a rubber disc like this.) The reason for leaving the front port unplanted is you need access to your water reservoir opening and some vines take over and make it difficult to reach it.

Bowl of Jalapeño Peppers Hydroponically Grown

And my last thing to highlight is the pepper — remember that if you are growing outdoors and have hot peppers and sweet peppers both growing in your Tower Garden, you may get some cross-pollination through open-pollination and your sweet peppers might be hotter than their parent plants. It’s a good idea to just pick either hot peppers or sweet peppers if growing outdoors. Now if you’re growing indoors under lights, you can plant both hot and sweet in the same system in ports on opposite side of the Tower Garden because you will have to self-pollinate your flower buds anyway (turn a fan on to give your tower a light breeze or hand-pollinate with a toothbrush or paintbrush).

This should get your started. If you’re looking for Seed Providers, you can check out our article here.

Happy Planning!

— Erin

PS: If you want a printable version of the information above to print off and to use as a reference in your garden journal, simply click here: Growing by Common PPMs.

If you have found this information to be helpful, we appreciate any donation large or small to continue our research and to keep GrowYourHealthGardening.com available as a continued resource. Thank you!

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Seed Inventory | Seeds to Order Now to Start Soon

The key to tasty salads is incorporating a mix of lettuce varieties. The vertical hydroponic Tower Garden is perfect for packing in 28 plants within a 2.5′ square footprint. This article focuses on spring planting, but you could grow any of these plants year-round if you have purchased the light attachment for your Tower Garden keeping the indoor environment around 70ºF.

There are certain greens that do really well in colder weather and can grow in early spring after the danger of frost has passed. Here is zone 7b, we will be starting greens the first week of March to be ready to go outside the last week of March. (Will use a Weather Protection Blanket each night until Frost Date of April 12.) It’s better to not have to store seeds for longer than a year or two, so we tend to purchase from this seed provider (Seeds Now), because of the smaller quantities and lower prices. The lower cost of seeds also enables us to try more varieties to see what we like the best.

Salad Tower Garden Tower Planting Schematic

Here is a list of greens to inspire…  consider starting from seed soon!

  • Arugula – Classic Roquette Arugula by Seeds Now
    Arugula can usually be harvested as early as one month after planting. Arugula is an easy-to-grow green using any hydroponic setup you have.  The leaves of the Arugula plant add a tangy/peppery flavor to any meal. We recommend picking the outer leaves when plant is still young (leaves about 3″ long) and it will continue to grow throughout the season.
    Approx. 150 seeds for $1.99
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  • Chives – GarlicGarlic Chives by Seed Now
    Also known as Garlic Chives.  A perennial plant that grows narrow, grass-like leaves that have a mild onion-like flavor. Chives are rich in vitamins A and C, contain trace amounts of sulfur, and are rich in calcium and iron. Used for many culinary creations. The plant will grow to about 12″ tall and is best suited for the top row of the Tower Garden. Once established, you can trim the entire bunch to about 3″ and the chives will regrow (cut and come again).
    Approx. 115 seeds for $1.99
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  • Endive – Green CurledEndive by Seeds Now
    Endive is a healthy and delicious leafy green and produces dark green curly leaves with large tender crisp ribs. Excellent on salads and sandwiches. Rich in many vitamins and minerals, especially in folate and vitamins A and K, and is high in fiber. Extremely easy to grow using any hydroponic setup you have. Plant this variety all-year-round using hydroponics and grow lights.
    Approx. 100 seeds for $0.99
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  • Kale – LacinatoKale-Lacinato-SN
    Old Italian heirloom, rather primitive open kale with blue-green strap leaves that are 3″ wide by 10-18″ long. Perfect for making Kale Chips! Extremely easy to grow using any hydroponic setup you have. The leaves of this extremely winter-hardy variety become sweeter after a hard frost or harvest leaves when young and tender. Delicious and tender when stir-fried or steamed.
    Approx. 55 seeds for $1.99
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  • Kale – Red Russian Kale-Red-Russian-SN
    Stems are purple with deep gray-green leaves.   The plants mature medium-tall and leaves are tender compared to other kale varieties. Ideal for salads and light cooking.  Extremely easy to grow using any hydroponic setup you have.
    Approx. 50 seeds for $0.99
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  • Lettuce – All Year Round All Year Round Variety of Lettuce
    As its name suggests, this is a lettuce that can be gown throughout the year. In even some of the the coldest areas across the country, this variety can be grown with some protection with a cloche or cold frame in the cooler months.
    Approx. 200 seeds for $1.99
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  • Lettuce – Gourmet/Mesclun MixGourmet Mesclun Mix Lettuce
    A mixture of favorite lettuce seed varieties from across the spectrum of lettuce types.  Plant heavy and start harvest early for young for baby greens then allow some to grow on for plenty of variety for salads.  A great way to get a lot out of little space.  Perfect for container gardening.
    Approx. 200 seeds for $1.99
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  • Lettuce – Romaine, ClassicLettuce-Romaine-Classic-SN
    Large, upright, full-bodied heads with dark-green, slightly savoyed leaves that are mild and sweet. Plant reaches about 10 inches tall. Midribs are crunchy and juicy.  Because of their higher chlorophyll content, romaine lettuces are among the most nutritious of all lettuces.
    Approx. 135 seeds for $1.99
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  • Lettuce – Salad Bowl, GreenLettuce-Salad-Bowl-Green-SN
    The Green Salad Bowl Mix is a really easy-to-grow lettuce variety. Extremely flavorful green leafs. Continues to grow as picked. As outer leaves are picked, inner leaves keep growing. Excellent addition for salads and garnishes. A great variety for many gourmet chefs around the world.
    Approx. 150 seeds for $1.99
    | order seeds |


  • Lettuce – Salad Bowl, RedLettuce-Salad-Bowl-Red-SN
    The Red Salad Bowl Mix is a really easy-to-grow lettuce variety. Extremely flavorful red leafs. Continues to grow as picked. As outer leaves are picked, inner leaves keep growing. Excellent addition for salads and garnishes. A great variety for many gourmet chefs around the world.
    Approx. 150 seeds for $1.99
    | order seeds |


  • Lettuce – Little Gem Lettuce-Little-Gem-SN
    Crisp & refreshing lettuce variety.  Sweet and crunchy. The leaves of this particular lettuce makes it idea for use in wraps and hors d’oeuvres. Easy to grow in compact spaces and smaller containers. A great variety for many gourmet chefs around the world.
    Approx. 200 seeds for $0.99
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  • Corn Salad (Mache), DutchCorn Salad Mache Dutch
    Corn Salad has a delicate flavor, similar to a butterhead lettuce. It is quite hardy and requires very little care while remaining practically free of pests & disease. Corn salad is also known for growing vigorously in almost any soil!  We think Corn Salad tastes best right out of the garden with a light drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon. Once you try this cold-hardy green, you’ll be sure to make it a staple in your fall/winter gardens every year.
    Approx. 200 seeds for $0.99
    order seeds |


  • Swiss Chard – Hot Pink Swiss-Chard-Hot-Pink-seed-SN
    The Pink Swiss Chard produces excellent yields of dark green shiny leaves with magenta/hot pink stalks and veins. Excellent for salads, juicing, and/or steamed with others greens. Extremely healthy and easy to grow.
    Approx. 25 seeds for $0.99
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  • Swiss Chard – Gourmet RainbowSwiss-Chard-Rainbow-Mix-SN
    A heirloom variety from Australia. The Rainbow Swiss Chard is a popular plant that  produces some of the most amazing looking swiss chard leaves in shades of red, orange, purple, yellow, and white. Perfect for salads or steamed greens. One of this years most popular varieties to grow. Extremely healthy.
    Approx. 25 seeds for $1.99
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  • Purslane, Green (herb)Purslane Herb for Salads
    Used in salads and can be cooked like spinach, purslane has a lemony-twang. Remove leaves from stalk and toss into your salad. Purslane contains more omega 3 fatty acids than any other plant source in the solar system, and an extraordinary amount for a plant, some 8.5 mg for every gram of weight.  It has vitamin A, B, C and E. In fact, it has six times more E than spinach! It also has seven times of beta carotene than carrots as well as contains magnesium, calcium, potassium, folate, lithium, iron and is 2.5% protein. You should grow this plant and toss it into your salads! Some even sauté it with onion and chili (green) and scrambled eggs.
    Approx. 100 seeds for $1.99
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  • Radicchio, Red ClassicRadicchio Red Endive
    Used in salads radicchio grows from orange to grapefruit size and easy to peel, the smooth, crisp leaves to offer a bitter flavor with a hint of spice. 

    Approx. 100 seeds for $1.99
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  • Don’t forget to have plant markers/labels on hand as well!
    Pack of 10 for $0.99
    Pack of 100 for $8.99
    Use drop down option on ordering page to select quantity desired.
    | order labels/markers |

 

Happy planning and be sure to show us your yummy salad creations in 4-6 weeks when you’re enjoying them by tagging us at #GYHG!

— Erin

 

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