Food -> Water

A Look at Our Aquaponic System: Combining Fish and Plants for a Thriving Ecosystem


If you’re looking for a more efficient and contained way of planting in your aquaponic system, this video is for you. Lindsey shows you how to use grow cups to plant your aquaponic system and how it can save you a lot of time and effort in cleaning up.


0:00 Overview of Aquaponic System
1:51 Using Grow Cups
3:24 Preparing Plants
6:12 Planting Plants
8:16 Watering
10:47 Growing Produce in Aquaponic System




Hi, this is Lindsey and I’m here at the Urban Farm. I am standing next to one of our aquaponic systems where we raise our crawdads and we just got our first harvest of crawdads. So it’s a super exciting evolution that this aquaponic system has gone through, but we still aren’t perfectly there.


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The crawdads are going great. We have this grow bed that water goes through, and right now it’s mostly pennywort, but in the summer we will have some water spinach growing out of here. This is our main water spinach growing area and this just has lava rock in it. There’s a lot of plants that I need to remove and clean out, kind of clear up space for the water spinach. But this is a great grow bed and it continuously goes throughout the winter. And then we also have these grow beds, which originally had duckweed in them and then just a mixture of plants, but they never really produced anything. And recently there was a leak in the liner, so I had to drain all the water and remove all the lava rock and then clean it up and isolate where the leak was coming from and replace the liner there and just replace some rotting wood underneath. So now that that is all fixed and patched up, I’m going to put some plants back in this system, but I’m gonna do it a little bit differently. So let me show you what I’m gonna do.


In the past, especially on this top grow bed, there was just lava rock across the whole thing. It was just a sheet of lava rock and then plants were put in. And I feel like even though this is a system that can work and you can get plants to root and grow like that, I feel like it’s messy. And especially for things like this, like cleaning up, I have this huge bin and this trash bin just full of lava rock that mostly came out of this top bed. So just in terms of like cleanup, when I had to go do maintenance, it was a lot more effort than if I just had a small grouping of lava rock to remove. And that’s what I’m gonna do going forward is instead of just covering the bottom with lava rock, I’m going to use these grow cups.

I’m gonna put lava rock in the, in these little pots and then put the plant in. And then this will just be sitting in there and I might put a little bit of lava rock around the cup just to stabilize it and hold it in. But otherwise that is all the lava rock I’m going to use. And the roots will eventually expand from the cup outside of the lava rock and they will just be floating in the water. And that will be a fine system. It’ll be way more contained and way easier to clean up. So I’m gonna show you how I plant these. Right now, the water isn’t going we’ll. Get the water started. Once we have our plants ready to go.


The first step is to pick your plants. So today I’m gonna be using some cucumbers and maybe a couple tomatoes too. And these are both plants that do well in aquaponic systems. We just have to make sure that they are prepared properly. So the roots are really well hydrated. I watered these yesterday really well, so I’m not gonna have to worry about them drying out while we’re doing this process. And the first step is I’m just gonna take it out and then I’m going to remove all this excess soil. So we want it to just be roots. We don’t want soil and perlite and all that going through our aquaponic system because eventually it’ll reach the water that our crawdads use. And that would be, that would be bad news. So I’m gonna rinse this off really well. So all we’re left with is the roots and you can just kind of tease the soil if you wanna be gentle.


And once you have it like this, it is ready to go. You can also grow your aquaponic starts in specially formatted media that’s specifically meant for transplants that are going into an aquaponic system. But at this point I, I just do it this way because then it can be used for anything. And I feel like in this way your plants get a little bit bigger. So I’m just gonna fill this up. And this lava rock has just been sitting here and you can kind of see all this dark media. So it does have duckweed on it, but the rest of this dark media is just waste from the system. So this is the byproduct of our crawdads, which is great fertilizer. But to get this started, I’m just gonna give these a little bit of a rinse too because we’ll have plenty. There’s still plenty of viable fertilizer and great nutrients running through the water. And then you’re going to plant it just like you would in soil. You wanna make sure that your roots are reaching down, cause remember the roots need to be touching water. So you’re just gonna kind of throw them in there, spread ’em out a little bit And then cover ’em up. And you wanna make sure your plant is supported enough so that you have enough lava rock that is just holding your plant nicely in place. And then that one will be ready to go. So I’m gonna do a few more and then we will introduce water into our system.


Now that we have our cucumbers, I’ll plant it up in their lava rock baskets. We are going to turn on the water to this system and I’m gonna talk a little bit about how I hope they progress in this top bed. This is the bed that gets the most sun. This was designed so that the beds underneath could grow Duckweed Duckweed likes a little bit more shade. So once water starts in the system, I’m gonna transfer some duckweed that we have in one of our other systems back into here. Also gonna pot up some tomatoes. But for right now we’re just gonna see how the cucumbers get settled. So I’m gonna space these out like I would normal plants. And eventually like anything with tomatoes and cucumbers, when you have a garden bed with normal soil and you have something, a plant growing in it, you don’t really want the water to be touching the leaves when you have cucumbers in the ground or tomatoes or peppers or whatever it is, you don’t want water from your sprinkler system or your drip system touching the leaves of the plant. And the same can be said with aquaponics. So we wanna make sure that the roots are the only thing touching the water. So we need to make sure our water level is consistent so it’s not flooding up and that we’re getting nice passage of consistent water that’s not too high. And also we want to make sure that when our cucumbers do get bigger, we have a way to drape them or trail them or protect them from sitting in the water. So what I use sometimes is just a piece of chicken wire or something like that, even a piece of wire or string that I would just drape over. And that gives the cucumber something to trail off onto and it keeps it out of the water. Cause when you have your leaves sitting inside the water, they can get disease and they’re a lot more susceptible to just not thriving. So let’s get the water started and here and see how it goes.


Right now, I have the pipe fitting turned on full, so water is coming out a lot faster than I normally have it set to. But this will be let it fill up a little bit faster. And I think I’m gonna experiment with this because before when we had lava rock really high piled in here, we could have this fitting that goes here, we could have it all the way up here so the water level would have to get to this point in order to flow down to the next level. But I’m thinking that if I keep the pressure on enough, I can completely remove this fitting and let the water flow faster down to the second level. And this will be, this will give the plants a shallower water pool and that will mean that I don’t have to prop up the grow cups with lava rock because if I kept this in or fitting that was even a little bit higher, I would have to use lava rock or something to prop the cucumbers up and that would just make, this just makes them the water way more accessible to them. And I think this will just work a little bit better than trying to get the water level up higher. So I think that’s something I’m gonna experiment with and just kind of see how it goes. But right now while I’m experimenting just watching it, it looks like this might be the way to go to keep that water level a little bit more where I want it. And same thing with this one. On this second level it has to be pretty high. So I might just take off this extra pipe fitting that we have. We had like a little bit additional on here, so I might just take that off so it’s a little bit shorter. But we do want the duckweed and azula floating a little bit higher just because we want it to have enough water that it’s easy to scoop out. That’s the main purpose for me to have this a little bit higher is just the ease of removing the duckweed when I go to scoop it out to feed it to the chickens and such. And another thing I might have to experiment with is just the water coming down at this pressure. These are still pretty shallow little lips here, the side walls. So sometimes if the water is coming down too fast, it’s gonna splash out and any splashed out water is just wasted water that doesn’t go back into our system. So just kind of experimenting with the water fluctuation and level and just kind of see how that goes.


But as of now, this is how I plant out our aquaponic systems and these cucumbers will continue to grow just as they would in a garden bed. This is just a different way of growing them and it does take a little bit more time than digging into the soil and just planting a cucumber. But I think it’s worth it. It gives us a different way to use the nutrient rich water that the crawdads in our other aquatic life produce as a byproduct. And overall it’s a really cool system and I’m glad that I was able to fix the leak problem we were having. And this will hopefully once I get the duck weed back in and the cucumbers get more established, the root systems will help do a lot of the filtering of the water. And then we’ll get some water spinach in the other grow bed soon. And this system will be all set to go for the new season. So I hope this helps you get an idea of how I grow things in the aquaponic towers. And just keep in mind that even if you have a system that works, it can always be improved. For me it’s using cups of lava rock instead of just spreading it out. This will make it a lot easier if I ever have to go back and do more maintenance or if I wanna replace the liner again. It’s just a lot more convenient that all that heavy lava rock that I now have to find a way to move <laugh>. So wish me luck and I hope you enjoyed this video and stay tuned to see how our cucumbers continue to grow in the Aquaponic system.

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