Plants are finally in the system

With air temperatures exceeding 80° F, we decided to put the seedlings in the grow bed.  It may still be too early for this move, but we can always move the rafts indoors if it gets too cold again.

Before placing the net pots in the rafts, we needed to drill 2″ and 3″ holes in the Styrofoam.  But before we could do this, we needed a template so the holes would be evenly spaced and in the correct pattern for each and every raft.

Kim stopped by Home Depot and bought a 2′ x 4′ peg board.  Initially we thought this would be the perfect template, as is, to mark the rafts before we drilled the holes for the net pots, but it didn’t work out as planned.  Although the peg holes are spaced one inch apart, they are not one inch from the side of the peg board.  This would not work for us unless we offset the template a half inch or so every time we used it.  Instead of doing that, we drew lines on the peg board that were 3″ apart, both horizontally and vertically, and then drilled 3/16″ holes at the intersecting lines where we wanted the net pots to be placed.

Now that the template was ready, we placed a 2′ x 4′ raft on top of sawhorses and the template on top of the raft.  Then we pushed a pencil into the 3/16″ holes as far as it would go (about a half inch or so).  This left a mark in the raft.  Finally, we used a hole saw to drill 2″ and 3″ holes in the rafts where the marks were made by the pencil.  To do this, we placed the bit on the mark that we just made and drilled down as far as the hole saw would go.  After flipping the raft over, we drilled down the rest of the way and pulled out the hole.

Here you can see a completed hole and the cutout portion of the raft.

The friend who did all the work for me today placed the very first plant (a Waltham 29 Broccoli seedling) into our very first aquaponic system.  What an honor 🙂

As you can see, the raft on the left has 53 two-inch holes and the one on the right has 53 three-inch holes.  While this is a very efficient use of space, we will probably use a different pattern for the next raft with 3″ holes, because, when this one was filled with pots, it bent and almost broke when we tried to move it.

Some of the plants are getting so tall that we will need to install a trellis for them to climb very soon.  But this has led to another challenge.  The ideal location for the trellis is on the northern side of the grow bed.  This would allow the beans and tomatoes to climb the trellis without blocking the sunlight from the shorter plants.  But since our grow bed is in an east-west orientation and our only access to the grow bed is from the north side, placing the trellis on the north side will create a wall that will be in our way when it’s time to harvest.  It seems that the ideal orientation for the grow bed is north-south.  For those of us in the norther hemisphere, the smaller plants would be on the southern-most side and the taller plants would be to the north (and vis-a-versa in the southern hemisphere).  Of course, this may not be critical if you have easy access from all sides.  Unfortunately, we have a small wood fence on the south side and, even if the fence was removed, I should stay on the concrete patio so my wheelchair doesn’t get stuck in the yard.  One solution to this dilemma is to expand the patio.  Hmmmm, that sounds expensive.  I have a feeling I should save that conversation with Kim for another time.

We have made a lot of progress today.  Two rafts are filled with net pots, and only six more to go.

You may be wondering, “What about the fish poop?  Don’t the plants need the poop?”  You’re right.  They do.  But since the water is still too cold for the Tilapia (around 65° F), we will not move the fish to the 300-gallon tank until our new 1000W heater arrives next week.  Until then, we will pour in 10-25 gallons of “fish water” from the 55-gallon aquarium every day.  If necessary, we can also add a little ammonia to the 300-gallon tank just to make sure the plants get plenty of nitrate.

It’s all still an experiment for us, so plans may change as needed.  I often come up with new ideas while I’m sleeping, so it’s important to remain flexible most of the time.  Otherwise, I get stressed and grumpy (Yes Kim, I admit it).

Well, that’s all for now.  Until next time…

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20 Responses to Plants are finally in the system

  1. Very interesting projects! You are a busy family.

  2. tamraf says:

    I did this one year and used tobacco seedling styrofoam flats. Floated them on the surface of the water and as the roots grew, lifted them a bit higher to allow for air roots. I filled the holes with peat, planted one seed per and when they sprouted, I pulled the weaker ones and planted them in soil. This left enough space for the vibrant ones to grow. Worked great for lettuces and basils.
    Love your posts. You guys are on a great path.

  3. Really fascinating project you have here!

  4. HydroGuy says:

    Great work on your aquaponic system. I really want to get into that. Tilapia is a good choice for fish. Do you plan to eat any of them too? haha

  5. prepping101 says:

    Absolutely love it. You are an inspiration. Looks like I will have to start doing some of this in the future.

  6. ElizOF says:

    Such an interesting project. Keep the photos coming. 😉

  7. croftgarden says:

    I am amazed by your progress and ingenuity.

  8. rhondacarrier says:

    Very interesting. I like your project. I would love to be able to try it with the students at school

    • Wonderful! We hope you do. Your students will have so much fun and learn about an incredibly interesting way to farm/garden. You can start very small by using an aquarium filled with goldfish and a small Rubbermade container for the plants. If there is anything we can do to help, please let us know.

  9. g says:

    This is fascinating! I watched an episode of “How It’s Made” and they showed how they did this with some kind of lettuce. I had never heard of it before, but sure enough, next time I went to the grocery store, I saw it. Living lettuce! Must buy it and try it someday. I will follow along! Thanks for liking my blog post, so I could discover yours! 🙂


    • Hi Gayle! Thanks for stopping by. I saw that episode too, long before I even thought of doing this. Maybe that’s what sparked my interest. I especially like how they put the seedlings in one end and heads of lettuce come out the other end. Amazing stuff!

  10. This whole system is fascinating – I have always wanted to do this, but it seems so overwhelming.

    • That’s exactly how I felt, and sometimes still do. So we are taking it very slow. Doing just a little at a time. At times I’m ashamed to say that it has taken us almost three months to get this far, if you count the learning and planning time. It’s been a fun journey.

  11. I just read the above comment and this was exactly what it made me think of – the rows and rows of lettuce from How It’s Made…

  12. kcwritermom says:

    Fascinating projects … keep up the great work!

  13. Norma says:

    I have been interested in this but didn’t know much about it. I am looking forward to watching your progress!

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