Aquaponic Vertical Garden: Useful DIY Farm in 9 Steps

An aquaponic vertical garden is a farming system that holds a lot of potential. It helps save space and, surprisingly, water when compared to conventional farming methods.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about an aquaponic vertical garden.

What Is An Aquaponic Vertical Garden?

Vertical aquaponics grows vegetables in columns using a fish tank, without the use of soil. This system is a space-saving and water efficient system to raise fishes and grow a garden. Vertical aquaponics allows you to grow twice as many vegetables as you would have been able to grow through a hydroponics system using a same-sized area. A single five-foot vertical aquaponic tower, for example, can grow more than 200 lettuce heads throughout the year. 

Moreover, an aquaponic vertical garden system uses a small fraction of the water required to grow plants using the conventional method. 

Generally, vertical aquaponics uses the NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) method of aquaponic gardening. This method uses a narrow and long channel for growing plants. NFT is actually a hydroponics method, but, due to its simplistic yet effective mechanism, has been adapted for aquaponics. The only difference is that the traditional NFT method sets up the channels horizontally, while NFT in vertical aquaponics sets up the channels in vertical arrangements. 

Is An Aquaponic Vertical Garden Possible?

The concept behind an aquaponic vertical garden is to create many small pockets in the PVC pipes system. To maximize simplicity of the system, the garden is constructed above the tank. 

The health of the fishes must be ensured, and the pH levels, nitrates, ammonia, and water temperature must be ideal and monitored. A water pump will be used to carry the water from the tank towards the top of the vertical towers. The droplets will drop down through the roots, accumulating oxygen on their way back to the fish tank. 

Since the water does not enter the tubes, the air will flow around them. This will help the plants’ roots and leaves obtain the required oxygen. 

Generally, a filter is used to get rid of any solid waste materials present in the water. This filter must be placed before the water droplets reach the plants, so as to prevent the solid waste from sticking to the roots. 

Why Is Vertical Aquaponics So Successful?

There are a number of unique advantages offered by an aquaponic vertical garden, some of which are:

  • It can be set up in confined or limited spaces
  • Vertical rows allows you to stack up more plants
  • If you use a greenhouse, you can produce plants throughout the year, since vertical aquaponics is not weather-reliant
  • Since water is recycled, this method minimizes the use of water
  • Since there are no pests that could harm the plants, vertical aquaponics does not require the use of pesticides. This means that plants grown using this method are completely organic
  • You can easily set up and move the vertical tubes
  • Inexpensive; construction does not require large quantities of materials 
  • Can be customized as per your layout and preferred style
  • Very effective for urban farming
  • Versatile; can be operated outdoors, indoors (as long as lights are used), and even in greenhouses

How to Build Your Own Aquaponic Vertical Garden System

Building an aquaponic vertical garden is actually quite easy. You will need the following pieces of equipment:

  • Diameter pipes (4-inch), of around 20 feet
  • Diameter elbows (4-inch), 4 to 6 elbows
  • 4 to 6 T-connectors (4-inch each)
  • Container (100-gallon)
  • Around 20 feet of aquarium tubing
  • 4-way splitter
  • Cloth scraps
  • Plastic cups
  • Filter
  • Aquarium pump (400 GPH)

Step 1:

The number of 4-inch pipes you use will determine the number of vertical towers that you create, or how large the tower is. 

A good rule of thumb is to make eight pieces, each being one foot long. In six of them, you can create a pair of holes using a hole-saw. Both the holes should be evenly spaced. 

Next, drill a foot-long hole in one of the pieces that do not already have the circular holes. This hole will allow the water to go back to the fish tank. 

Step 2:

The next step is to lay the pieces out in the below order:

  •  90-degree piece
  • One-foot piece
  • T-junction
  • One-foot piece
  • One-foot piece
  •  90-degree bit

Repeat this order and you will be left with two ft and extra pieces. You can then use these pieces to join the whole thing together in a rectangular shape.

The pieces can be attached together using a tape (electrical tape is ideal, but any other similar type will work as well). Ensure that all the t-junctions are facing upwards. The pipe holes should also face upwards, with the exception of the drainage hole which should be facing the rectangular structure. 

Step 3:

At this point, you will maximize the room and space for your vertical aquaponics system. 

Cut the four-inch pipe into four pieces, with each piece being around 2-3 feet long. The exact length of the pieces will depend upon the height of the surface where you will place the aquaponics system. 

The pieces will slot inside the t-junctions. 

However, before doing this, you must remember to create holes in the aquaponics setup. Use the hole-saw to add 5 holes on the side part of your pipe, and ensure that each hole is evenly spaced. Next, turn your pipe 90-degrees, and add four more holes. Continue to turn the pipe and repeat this process (five holes followed by four holes), until the whole pipe has been covered with alternating holes. 

Do the same with the remaining three aquaponics pipes. Each pipe will have around 15 to 25 holes – these holes will serve as the primary growing holes. Every hole will represent the plant; in other words, you can grow around 100 plants using the four tubes. 

Step 4:

The fourth step is deciding if your aquaponics system will sit or not. If an IBC tote has been used, the system will already contain a frame.  Some people go with a pair of fifty-gallon drums, or opt for an alternative 100-gallon container.

Regardless, make sure that your chosen container is food-grade and has been thoroughly washed. 

Place the containers in your preferred location for the aquaponic vertical garden. Ensure that they are adequately supported, and accessible to you. 

You also need to either paint the fish tank or cover it with some dark material. This way, the sunlight will not enter the water, thereby preventing algae growth which can affect the balance of your aquaponic garden

Step 5:

The vertical PVC aquaponics towers need to be placed above your fish tank. The weight of the pipes needs to be evenly distributed throughout the tank; if weight is concentrated in one or a few spots, it could cause problems once the plants start growing. 

If you are installing your system outdoors, you also need to factor in the wind – since the pipes are quite light, heavy winds can end up blowing them about, which is something that you do not want. If this is a possibility, you need to come up with a way to keep the pipes intact. 

At this point, you should also cut out a tiny section of the aquarium pipe, and slot it into the drain hole created earlier.

Note that creating your PVC towers at a slight angle helps ensure that the water enters the drainage hole and returns to the tank. 

Step 6:

You do not need to add cups to the vertical holes. However, horizontal holes will require cups in order to keep the roots from blocking up the pipes and prevent the plants from being washed out of the way. 

To avoid this, you should add around six holes at the bottom of each cup and place them inside the horizontal holes. 

Step 7:

Your plants will need something to grow in, and they will need a way to absorb the essential nutrients. For this, you will need to get some pond-filter foam or Rockwool, and insert it into the holes present in the vertical tubes. You can either push the seeds inside this foam, or carve out a hole to put the seeds in. 

Before inserting them inside the pipes, we recommend hanging burlap sacks strips inside the vertical tubes. Doing so will absorb the water, thereby slowing the flow down towards the pipe and into the tank. 

The lower speed of the water means that the foam will be better able to absorb the water, and the plants and seeds will get the nutrients they require. 

The burlap can also be used by the roots to fasten themselves to; thereby securing each plant and preventing the roots from creating pipe blockages. 

Step 8:

A high-quality pump is essential. It is worth paying a premium for a good pump, as it is the lifeblood of your entire system. If the pump stops working, both the plants and fishes can die. 

As mentioned earlier, the water pump must be capable of pumping 400 GPH (Gallon per Hour) of water into the tank. This capacity will ensure that the water stays aerated and is cycled.  

A few of the aquarium tubing pieces will need to be attached to the pump, and the adaptor should be provided alongside the water pump. 

Next, the adaptors will have to be used to split the pipes, so that the water travels into every column. A four-way splitter is ideal to ensure that water flow is equal. 

If you cannot do that, you can split the pipe into two, and split each side into two more pieces. 

At this time, you should add some water to the tank and try it out. This will ensure that the join is right and the water is not spraying off to the sides. 

People who have opted for a pair of 50-gallon containers will need to make sure that one container contains the pump while the other has the return drain. You will also need to use the pipes to connect the two containers so that the water flows around the entire system. 

Step 9:

At this point, you are all set to add water to your tank. Allow the water to settle in before adding plants and fishes. This step takes the most time, since you need to wait for the water to be chlorinated (which can take around a week). 

Also check the nitrates, ammonia, pH level, and even the water temperature before introducing the fishes. 

What Plants Are Ideal for An Aquaponic Vertical Garden?

Many different types of plants can be grown in an aquaponics system. However, the plants that work best for a vertical aquaponics system are lighter feeding, such as herbs or leafy greens. Bigger, larger-feeding plants (tomatoes, for example) are not suitable for vertical aquaponics. This is because, in a vertical aquaponics system, the PVC pipes serve as the growth channels – these pipes might not be sufficiently strong to facilitate larger plants. 

Below is a list of plant groups that are ideal for a vertical aquaponics system:

  • Leafy greens for salads (such as spinach and lettuce)
  • Cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli and cabbage)
  • Herbs (such as basil and parsley)
  • Perennial plants (such as strawberries and blueberries)

What Fish Are Best for An Aquaponic Vertical Garden?

Image showing goldfish in an aquaponic farm.

Just like plants, an aquaponics system is suitable for a wide variety of fishes. However, for an aquaponic vertical garden, you need fish that are easier to grow and manage. Below are a few examples of such fishes:

  • Koi
  • Tilapia
  • Goldfish

These fish are inexpensive to grow. In addition, they are strong and resistant, and can thrive in many different kinds of climates. 

DIY Aquaponic Vertical Garden

If you are on a tight budget, you can utilize recyclable materials and create your own vertical aquaponics system in less than $100. PVC tubing can serve as the growing channels, with a few wooden frames for support. The materials required to establish a vertical aquaponics system can easily be purchased from online stores, local pet stores, and local hardware shops. It is also possible to repurpose or rework your old buckets or pipes to create the tank or growing channels. However, before you start constructing the system, do not forget to conduct thorough research and create a clear and elaborate plan. 

Final Thoughts on Aquaponic Vertical Garden

To sum up, this guide attempted to cover all essential information regarding aquaponic vertical gardens, including what they are, the reasons behind their popularity, the kind of plants and fishes that are ideal for such a system, and how you can set one up yourself. 

To learn more about aquaponic farming, please feel free to check out some of the other blogs on our website. 

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