If you’re new to this blog series please be sure to check out my previous posts on this project and others on the blog. Moving right along from my last post let’s get into build of my 20 gallon system.
The first section was prepping the tote. I did this by measuring the location of the stand pipe would go so that it would fit between the rails on the top shelf of the rack. I used a paddle bit in my drill to make a hole and then trimmed it to accommodate the drain stand pipe. This process in my opinion was far preferable to the DIY method I used in my first build. After installing the drain pipe I moved on to constructing the bell for the bell siphon and media excluders, there are links to videos on this in a previous posting on the garden. One thing new here is the addition of a second excluder where the water flows into the grow bed. The idea is that this allows the bed to fill from the bottom up and allow more consistent flow as oppose to filling from the top down.
Once the drain and excluders where in place I used bungee cords to keep them in place while I added the grow media. I first added enough lava rock to come even with the top of the stand pipe and then added 2 inches of pea gravel on top of that. The pea gravel was another idea that I incorporated from other builds and is much easier to plant into than straight lava rock.
With the grow bed complete the rest was pretty straight forward or so I thought. The tank was already filled so I cut new hoses for the pump and drain and started cycling the system. After just two cycles there was a lot more sediment from the pea gravel than I had expected and it turned my tank from crystal clear to murky creek. While I believe the sediment would have been a great addition to any traditional planter or garden it doesn’t work well being kicked up every time the grow bed cycles. To clean the sediment up I constructed a DIY mechanical filter that I found on YouTube which I linked below. It took 5 or 6 filter changes over 2 days to remove enough sediment that I was satisfied.
While the filter was working I added the first round of plants for the system. At the time Lowes was running a 5 for $15 sale on starter plants so I picked up strawberries, oregano, basil, sweet mint and 2 lettuce mixes. I also transplanted the radish from the first system along with some green onions. While the strawberries bloomed beautifully I had forgotten that they need to be cross pollinated to produce any fruit so eventually they went out to the balcony and cooked in the Colorado sun, RIP strawberries. All of the other plants did pretty well.
One thing that greatly improved my results was incorporating an actually grow light. I picked up the bulb pictured below from Home Depot for around $12 and in the first week the difference from one side of the bed to the other was so dramatic I went and bought another to balance it out. If you are making a system these bulbs are the bare minimum that I would recommend.
Over all I’m very satisfied with the results of this build and being able to roll the things I’ve learned from the miniponincs system. I’m also pleased with the amount of room to work with and rotate what I will be growing. I hope that you’ve found this as interesting as I have and please come again to see what I’m growing with the 20 gallon system. I will make a short video of the finished progress soon to accompany this post.