Introduction: Vermiponic Garden

Picture of Vermiponic Garden

If you read this your probably thinking WTF is a Vermiponic Garden.  Basicly  is a cross between a traditional soil garden and Hydroponics. I'm not a fan of Hydroponics as some food tastes "not right" . Buying chemical nutrient and having to disinfect the system does not appeal to me. Also some crops may not able to be grown Hydroponicly (root vegetables) 
I had a look at an Aquaponics and though I quite liked the system there where some things I didn't like about  it such as the energy consumption of the pumps and that amount of fish in a small amount of water can cause problems with all the fish dyeing.
edit  26/7/12 Just a note on growing root vegetables. A number of readers have pointed out that some people have successfully grown root crops in both a hydroponic and aquaponic systems. I have also spoken to "experts" who have told me no way, there are problems with crops going rotten. give a short description on how to grow potatoes in a hydroponic system.
I'm not able to grow a traditional  garden, as  we have extremely poor soil, water restrictions, low rain fall, and extreme weather events such as week long heat waves of 45C or 113F which will kill any veggie within hours.
  I started this project about a year ago and at the time it was an experiment to try an address the above issues, I had never heard of vermiponics, and there is still not a great deal of info about it. It wasn't until a few weeks ago I found that it had a name and there are some similar systems out there. Stupidly I didn't take a lot of photos and it is now July and the middle of winter so the garden doesn't look that good at the moment. I will up date photos every month for the next year or so.

Step 1: How It Works

Picture of How It Works

At first glance you might think its just a garden in a box, but there is a little more to it than that. The IBC containers have had the liner removed from the cage and cut in half. The bottom half is put back in and the top half is put on top but upside down. Small holes are drilled for drainage and the bottom have become water storage.
The bottom tanks are joined together with poly pipe and a solar pump, pumps water to the top storage tank. The top storage tank has a siphon inside it and that trips off around every half hour in full sun, which waters the plants. The plants are grown in soil and taste fantastic (no sad watery acid hydroponic tomatoes here)
The soil in this area is very poor and aqua-phobic ( will not absorb water) so  I use a mixture of soil, animal manure, lawn clippings, leaves, food scraps,wood ash and a box of worms to get it started. The worms have gone mad and turned the soil in to rich dark loam and the plants have thrived.
Below the soil is several layers of shade cloth to keep the soil out of the layer of gravel which is at the bottom of the top tank and to provide drainage and a home for microbes. The water then drains into the bottom tank and the process starts again.
I had a problem with mosquitoes in the bottom tanks when first set up, a couple of gold fish in each tank soon fixed that.
Another problem when first set up before the worms became established was the soils poor nutrient level as the plants were not growing very well, some organic liquid fertilizer helped in those first few months
As the worms started working the water became so full of nutrients that it became possible to grow leafy greens in a gravel bed.
Here is my first crop of lettuces grown in gravel.

Step 2: Stuff You Will Need

Picture of Stuff You Will Need
  • IBC containers can be purchased cheaply and some places give them away, just check the condition, (holes or UV damage)  and contents as they may have been used to transport some nasty chemicals or herbicides which wouldn't be good for you health.
  • Poly pipe and fittings are cheap as chips, and can be purchased almost anywhere
  •  Irrigation grommets are a little harder to find, try a big irrigation suppler
  • Solar panel and pump ebay is great for this sort of stuff but make sure that it has a good head height at least 2 meters
  • 60 to 100 litter plastic drum
  • Tech screws
  • Gravel
  • Compost, soil, manure, worms
  • Shade cloth or similar material to keep dirt out of the gravel, but allows water to pass through
  • Tools cordless drill, jig saw, hole saw etc

Step 3: IBC Modifcation

Picture of IBC Modifcation

The IBC are around 1000 litres and about 1 meter high without the forklift pallet on the bottom. I  found them too high with the pallet  attached so I removed it and sat it flat on the ground. First thing to do is to drain any of the product out of the tank and wash it out. Most  IBC have 2 bars on the top holding the liner in so just remove the bars and drop out the liner. Mark out and cut in half and tech screw the bottom liner in place to stop the top of the liner collapsing.
Next  tech screw the 2 bars you removed from the top and fit half way up the cage, and drop in the top, upside down. Tech screw this into place and drill some drainage holes in bottom. Repeat to as many IBC you think you will need.
Connect the tanks together with the grommet fittings and poly pipe (you will need the right size hole saw for this)

Step 4: Making the Worms Welcome

Picture of Making the Worms Welcome

Once you have your growing bed in position and is reasonably level, throw in a layer of gravel, then shade cloth or similar material  to stop the soil getting into the gravel. Then layers of straw, soil, wood ash, grass clipping, tip mulch, leaves, food scraps, animal manure, sawdust, even paper and cardboard worms will eat most things. Perhaps surprisingly I found that worms favourite food is wood ash, just a thin layer of each, seems to work best. top of with a layer of mulch and throw in some worms

Step 5: Setting Up the Irrigation

Picture of Setting Up the  Irrigation
The solar pump and panel are easy enough to set up, just put the panel on a stick and throw the pump in the tank with a hose on it. (make sure its a submersible pump!) if you use a non submersible pump make sure you put a filter on it as the gold fish like to swim up the pipe and get stuck in the pump (don't ask how i know this) stop laughing!
The hard part is setting up the syphon system. These little pumps don't have the flow to run all the sprinklers at once, and that would not be a good thing as the plants would drown.  A siphon gives the plant a drink about every half hour for 2 or 3 minutes in full sun, less on cloudy days and nothing at  night or rainy days. I was hoping to find a few good GIFs to explain, sadly that's the best I could find. The siphon is commonly used in aquapnoic systems and there is loads of info on youtube and other websites. The GIF is a bell siphon and is basicly the same principal for all siphons, I have used the 2 loop siphons shown in the diagram, the internal siphon inside the top tank, and the normal loop on the gravel grow bed. They can be tricky to set up but once working they require no maintenance and are very reliable. Here are some pointers.
  • Use tube that keeps its shape (does not crush) as even a small amount of flatness in the tube upsets the siphon.
  • Use clear tube so you can see the water flow and how it works.
  • The path of the tube needs to be circular as shown
  • It s important for the siphon to get a big gulp of air at the end of its cycle as this stops the flow of water
  • Attach the end of the siphon to the side of the grow bed not the bottom as shown in the diagram as it works better on the side.
  • The siphon requires a high flow of water to get started and to stop, so if you plan on having sprinklers attached  you will have to have a bleed off  to keep the flow rate up. This can also regulate the amount of water the garden beds get. It also helps to get the tank as high as possible.
  • It will take a few tries to get it right
  • On the internal loop siphon that  I made is circular ( like the loop siphon)  and tied some elastic to the top of the loop to  give the tube a bit of "spring" this makes the siphon stop more reliably as it jumps up a little when it gulps some air.

Step 6: More on Irrigation

Picture of More on Irrigation

Just a couple more things on the irrigation. I fitted a ball valve to a  bottom tank which keeps the water from over flowing when filling up. As the system uses very little water it can be several weeks before the level goes down. The water turns a light tea colour and the fish seem happy enough they have certainly increased dramatically in size
Here is a couple of photos of the siphons, the one inside the top tank is hard to photograph but the elastic is shown at the top of the tube. The "sprinklers" are just 2.5mm holes drilled in the tube which are easy to keep clean and very cheap.
To link the tanks together I used these rubber grommets that I got from an irrigation supplier, the work well and don't, leak just drill a hole and push in the grommet and then the fitting. 
And finally some quick cad drawings of the siphon system with the bleed valve.
I found that it certainly was worth the effort and we have had a huge amount of food from this small garden. We were able to grow capsicum  (bell peppers), basil, egg plant, tomatoes, zucchini lettuces, melons, beetroot, spring onions, cucumbers, in amounts that we gave much of the veggies away.
The last photo is of the cover that was put on to stop the frosts, (thanks piks) in spring and summer it had no cover and the small amount of rain helped kept the tanks topped up. The cover has small holes in it, again so when it rains  it helps fill up the tanks.

Step 7: July (Winter)

Picture of July (Winter)

July is the middle of winter here and we have had record frosts and rain fall, so the garden is not doing much, the worms and fish are working well and I have been putting lots of food scraps and mulch down for the worms which  they are consuming very quickly. Some self sown potatoes have popped up, the tomato and capsicum plants are looking a bit second hand as the frosts got them. The celery has gone mad as has the lettuces. Broccoli  plants have just started to grow and the parsley and spring onions are doing well.
I will pull out some of the older plants and get some new crops in the ground when the weather settles down.

Step 8: August (winter)

Picture of August (winter)

It has been a long, cold and wet winter so the plants have been a bit slow. Some lettuces and tomatoes have been planted and so far have survived the frosts. I've made a new grow bed and filled it up with worm food and worms. The self seeded potatoes are growing very well

Step 9: September (spring Kind Of)

Picture of September (spring Kind Of)

The weather is starting to warm up but still getting frosts, and cold days. The big changes is I made an ebb and flow gravel bed, just like the aquaponics systems have. The pump runs from a solar panel and a  battery, and I've just planted some lettuces, basil, and beetroot. The tanks are all connected together so the gravel bed will be getting its nutrients  from worm juice, and a little bit of fish poo, as there is only 12 gold fish in the tanks.

Step 10: October (spring)

Picture of October (spring)

October has been very cool for this time of year, and the garden has not had any water since I put in the new grow beds. It has also been very windy which blew the plastic sheet  off the green house so I pulled the remaining plastic off. The gravel grow bed has worked well, and we have had 2 or 3 salads a week for some time now. The leafy greens thrive in the gravel but the cucumbers and tomatoes  don't seem to like the  gravel grow bed and look quite yellow and stunted.
I have also thrown some seeds in the gravel bed which have all germinate and has the bonus of the birds not wanting to dig up the new plants, I guess they don't like gravel.
The Fish are becoming more active as the weather warms up and are keeping the insects down.
The plants that are in the soil grow beds are doing well, but I have always had problems growing broccoli  as they attract all manner of pests and this year is no exception, they were attacked by pest unknown, I suspect rat, bat, possum  or a starving hobo.

Step 11: November (spring)

Picture of November (spring)

The weather here is still very cool for this time of the year. We have had 3 or 4 hot days follow by some very cool weather which has made the lettuces bolt. Almost every day we have been able to pick something out of the garden and have had 3 or 4 salads a week.
in the last 3 week or so the zucchini s have really started producing and we are having them ever second night or so and already started giving excess  away. I had some success with potatoes but some of the plants were attacked by slaters which was a disappointment,  I need to be a bit more careful with the mulch introducing pests

Step 12: December January Summer

Picture of December January  Summer

We have had some very hot and some unseasonable cool weather in December and this has made some of the plants bolt, If you look at the tomatoes you can see they have been sun burnt, and are now looking a bit sick.
In January we had a heat wave with several days above 40 degrees C and high winds so some plants didn't survive.  I should really put some shade cloth over the garden. Egg plants and zucchinis are doing well but most other plants are struggling with the heat even the water melon are not happy.
The fish are thriving and have increase dramaticly  in size, some have even become tame and you can now hand feed them. The warm weather has also increased their appetite they seem to be always hungry. 


lonejack (author)2017-07-18

Thank you for Your well-done Instructions. This gives me a step, by step picture of how the process is to be completed.
My sister and i have discussing setting up a vermiponic system here in Western Washington State. We don't have contend with Your weather extremes, yet. (Word has it that we are entering a 200 year solar minimum, so we will see what weather we get for the next 10 years.) Systems such as these might be the only way we can grow food.
I am interested in high food value plants, such as, Watercress, (which will grow very well in a moist gravel bed,) Bok Choi, Chard, Spinach and Beet root greens.
All of these happen to be cool weather plants, so we should be able to grow these, even if the weather does change.
Again Thank You!!

liquidhandwash (author)lonejack2017-07-18

Thanks for your comments, We have moved house so the garden was pulled apart. I took the soil with me and put it into a garden bed at my new place. The soil is very rich and dark, and we had a huge crop. We had so many water melons from one plant it was ridiculous.

kelms1 (author)2017-03-05

Nice job

HeatherR88 (author)2017-01-01

This! This is beautiful. And far more practical for someone thinking about hydro/aquaponics but is intimidated by the complexity and commitment. Also a better fit for someone who already has a tiny, working worm farm. Thanks so much for sharing this. Any updates will be hungrily devoured.

Thanks Heather,

We are in the process of moving house so I had to remove the garden, My new house doesnt have the same problems of poor soil, and water restrictions, so I have given the system away to a friend, He hasnt done anything with it yet, but he has plans to get it running again.

xok (author)2016-06-05

Congratulations. Your setting is inspiring me more than others vermiponics system I saw.
Can you update a bit, share more experience after this time?
Thank you.

liquidhandwash (author)xok2016-06-05

Its winter here at the moment, And I haven't done much with it the last few months due to illness and a plague of fruit bats. some of the IBC containers are cracking due to UV exposer so I would recommend painting them.

xok (author)liquidhandwash2016-06-05

thank you for your reply. I try to find the way on instructables to send you a tip but didn't find it. it should be a feature of this app.
have a good recovery.

Growerer (author)2015-09-22

Awesome set up liquidhandwash! I saw this a few months ago and it really inspired me... I finally got round to making a vermiponic wicking bed myself a few weeks ago ( It's not tech at all but it seems to be working so far... Have you had any issues with nutrient deficiencies at all?

liquidhandwash (author)Growerer2015-09-22

The last year or so I haven't done much with it, as ive had a problem with fruit bats... I got a bit over having entire crops go missing in the middle of the night. I try to rotate crops and keep the worms fed, a little liquid fertilizer now and then. The main reason i made them is Australia has a very harsh climate and we often have water restrictions. I think another gravel bed would be good and a few more fish.

I was also thinking about pee... its very good fertilizer and i flush lots of it down the toilet ...don't know what the neighbors will think of it.

FelipeS25 (author)2015-09-20

What kind of dedication would you say this system takes? Are you able to go a week or two away?

liquidhandwash (author)FelipeS252015-09-20

You could go away for a month if you want, The biggest problem i have is fruit bats attack the veggies at night

FelipeS25 (author)liquidhandwash2015-09-20

Awesome, liquidhandwash! Just what I need to convince the wife :D


rniehaus (author)2015-06-26

What size holes did you drill for draining?

liquidhandwash (author)rniehaus2015-06-26

8mm. it doesn't matter just smaller than the rocks.

rniehaus (author)liquidhandwash2015-06-26

Thanks! great instructable!

VermiponicsO (author)2015-06-01

Awesome instructable - if these Aussie flower growers are getting awesome results from worm juice then it has to work for other plants too!

curtis58a made it! (author)2015-04-21

i start with 1 tank and working on getting more. thank you for the information.

mkemper1 (author)2014-12-08

excellent instructable! we will be soon using all these great 'ables to get our own setup. fish, worms, gardens, and hopefully a couple small pasture animals. only time will tell but thatnk you for the outline, we have learned alot from this xD

liquidhandwash (author)mkemper12014-12-08

thanks mkemper1

Sikpuppy65 (author)2014-07-10

Very nicely done. I'm learning all I can about vermiculture, aquaponics, space saving gardens ect. For now I really can't do anything myself as I drive truck over the road with my wife.

So I enjoy hearing what others are doing seeing their mistakes and triumphs. All quite ingenius what people come up with. Wish I could be doing it along with you guys.

I like the combination of different types you have brought together. Check out youtube and a guy named Larry Hall he does some pretty good videos of stuff and loves worms. You might even try another type of worm for better composting.

Thanks sikpuppy, its winter here so ive only got celery, spinach, and lettus growing at the moment

calendar (author)2014-06-21

Many KUDOS on this one. I think you made a great instructable here. I found your information and journal quite informative. Thank You so much for showing people what is possible with a lil bit of time and patience. I am having issues with pics though. I am not sure if its on instructables end or the post. I would like to see those pics. thanks again.

liquidhandwash (author)calendar2014-06-21

thank you, I not sure which pics you mean everything is working from my end. try clearing you cache in your web browser, or using a different browser.

calendar (author)2014-06-21

Many KUDOS on this one. I think you made a great instructable here. I found your information and journal quite informative. Thank You so much for showing people what is possible with a lil bit of time and patience. I am having issues with pics though. I am not sure if its on instructables end or the post. I would like to see those pics. thanks again.

calendar (author)2014-06-21

Many KUDOS on this one. I think you made a great instructable here. I found your information and journal quite informative. Thank You so much for showing people what is possible with a lil bit of time and patience. I am having issues with pics though. I am not sure if its on instructables end or the post. I would like to see those pics. thanks again.

calendar (author)2014-06-21

Many KUDOS on this one. I think you made a great instructable here. I found your information and journal quite informative. Thank You so much for showing people what is possible with a lil bit of time and patience. I am having issues with pics though. I am not sure if its on instructables end or the post. I would like to see those pics. thanks again.

calendar (author)2014-06-21

Many KUDOS on this one. I think you made a great instructable here. I found your information and journal quite informative. Thank You so much for showing people what is possible with a lil bit of time and patience. I am having issues with pics though. I am not sure if its on instructables end or the post. I would like to see those pics. thanks again.

leroym (author)2013-05-03

In step 9 (September) you mention the ebb and flow gravel bed that you added.
Do you have any updates about that and how that worked out for you? I'm sure your followers would like to know what kind of results you got. A comparison maybe between the 2 different systems?
Starting from scratch all over again, with all you've learned what would you do different?
Your instructable has kept me excited. I've got the 2 IBC's, 1 electric pump, 2- 12 volt pumps, Solar panel, worms etc. I still have to rework the end of the greenhouse so I can get the IBC's inside.
Thanks again,

liquidhandwash (author)leroym2013-05-03

The ebb and flow system works really well, although it did take a while for the bacteria in the gravel to start doing there job ,about 3 months, so I had to use a little liquid fertilizer in that time. Ive mostly grown leafy greens in the gravel and the best part is the birds don't dig the plants out, and the lettuce stay clean.
Sorry that Ive haven't updated lately I got sick at the end of the year for a couple of months so didn't really get in the garden as often as i should have.
Ive just pull out most of the plants as we are now going into winter, but the lettuce, celery, spring onions, capsicum (bell peppers) are still growing well.

leroym (author)2013-04-24

Harbor freight ( in the US has a 15 watt - 12 volt solar panel with good reviews for $59.99 USD. I have never had anything to do with solar but it seems like these 2 might be made for each other? What do you think?

liquidhandwash (author)leroym2013-04-24

i think you could do better on the price, but it should do the job nicely
have you looked at ebay? Ive seen 20 watt panels for $30

gzechner (author)2013-04-19

thanks! ... but one more Question... because I think it is also an important fact...
how many liter does your pump pump per hour?
thanks in advance!

liquidhandwash (author)gzechner2013-04-19

I got the pump from ebay and it says 550 l per hour, but as it is run from a solar panel it would depend on cloud cover,time of day, size of the solar panel and how high your pumping to.
at $15 you could buy several if you needed to.

gzechner (author)2013-04-18

just one question:
how thick is the hose?

liquidhandwash (author)gzechner2013-04-18

the syphone hose has to be thick wall so it holds its shape, and 3/4" diameter

leroym (author)2013-04-13

I meant to say "battery" but in my rush to post I didn't proof read it till I had it posted. I had to leave and tried to find a way to edit it quick and could not.

In your step 9 (September) it says, " The pump runs from a solar panel and a battery,". But if I don't have to use a battery that's great and simplifies things even more.

I don't have readily available 120 volt where my greenhouse is located and that's my reason for searching for the 12 volt pump and solar panel. We generally have a lot of sunshine in this part of the state.
I'll try eBay and see what I can come up with.

I appreciate your time spent answering my questions. Thank you.

liquidhandwash (author)leroym2013-04-13

sorry I forgot that I played around with a battery for a while, It was only on the gravel bed anyway. i found that you dont really need a battery the plants seem to be happy with the amount of water they get during the day.

leroym (author)2013-04-12

I would only be able to run this for maybe 5 months out of the year in the greenhouse
without supplemental heat. Then I would have to drain the water out for the winter as it would become a solid block of ice.
Initially I was going to do the aquaponics thing indoors as I have a building with south facing windows 12 foot high.but when I seen your system for growing food in the dirt and using worms that sounded like the way to go.
I might be able to do both so I could continue to grow thru the winter.
I have ordered an Eco-Plus 396 submersible pump and it was shipped a week ago and should be delivered today. Does that sound like it would be an adequate pump for your system? Lift for this pump is just over 6 feet.
And one more question which I'm sure your other readers would like to know is what to look for in that solar unit? I have no idea from just looking at the picture.
And is a car or light truck adequate for running this system?

liquidhandwash (author)leroym2013-04-12

This system is part aquaponics, if you look at the gravel bed and fish, the soil and worms part just make everything a little easier, as I dont have to worry about nutrient levels, ph. levels etc. Just feed the worms food scraps and it all seems to work.
Putting it in a building sounds like a good Idea, and the water will help stabilize the temperature somewhat, as it has a lot of thermal mass.
"And is a car or light truck adequate for running this system? " do you mean battery?
I dont use any batteries the system stops at night, which seems to work just fine for around here but it would depend on the cloud cover you get in your area.
The pumps I use are 12 volt and can be connected directly to a solar panel. I looked at the pump you have and it looks like its 120 volts which is fine just put it on a timer, and plug it in.

leroym (author)2013-04-12

Wow, that is an excellent instructable! Sure got me to thinking.
I just got a free IBC container and got the top 9 1/2 inches cut off and all cleaned out. That was before I found your instructable. Do you think that the 9 1/2" top is deep enough for your grow bed?
I believe I can get another free IBC if you don't think this is deep enough.
I'm in Montana, USA and we can get down to 40 below zero in winter. How cold does it get where you have this set up?
I have a greenhouse, unheated 12 X 24 foot in size. It appears very similar to yours. What would happen to the worms in winter when things freeze up. Do they go dormant or die? If they die then I assume you would start over with a new batch of worms? I fished with worms for many years but never thought about what they did in

liquidhandwash (author)leroym2013-04-12

My gravel bed is about 14" deep and is great for growing lettuces and the like, im pretty sure it would work at 91/2" . why not grab the other IBC and have your worms in and soil in one, and gravel in the other.
As for the temperature I cant help you with that, it rarely gets below freezing here, I would think you would have to watch the ice doesn't damage your pump, or break the bottom IBC I really don't know enough about worms to help you with what would happen to them at that temperature.
Best part of this project... No crawling around on my hands and knees.

Infinnion (author)2013-02-11

wahaha love the opening sentence x]

Infinnion (author)Infinnion2013-02-11

Also very useful instruct able :]

liquidhandwash (author)Infinnion2013-02-11


lkurtz2 (author)2012-09-06

Have you been using red wiggler composting worms? (They tend to operate in top of "soil" (5 to 7") and have a high demand for waste while earthworms will dive and take nutrients deeper into soil.

liquidhandwash (author)lkurtz22012-09-06

Hi lkurtz2
I have a mixure of worms some are just earth worms, others I bought in a box, called night crawlers, there are a few different colors including red ones. I have heard of the the red worms but not seen them for sale around here.
I just added an ebb and flow gravel bed I will post the photos in the next couple of days.

liquidhandwash (author)2012-08-19

Hi every one thanks for the feed back, Ives updated the instuctable put in an extra step (4), and a heap more photos on step 3.

FreyaFL (author)2012-08-16

I just spent a great deal of time reworking my plans for a vermicompost bin into a vermiponics system because of you! I love the idea of actively growing food in the composting bin rather than have it sitting in a corner or under a counter. But now I have a question about watering. How often do you run the sprinkler and how much water is put into the growbed each time? I'm going to be doing something MUCH smaller, probably along the lines of a 30ish gallon grow bed, as an experiment, with a tank that is probably the same size. (If it works nicely, I may set up two growbeds for the one tank.) This is such a new idea to me that I can see all sorts of interesting possibilities.

liquidhandwash (author)FreyaFL2012-08-16

Hi Freya
With the watering, the pump is always on, the more sun the more the pump works, you can regulate the amount of water on the grow beds by adjusting the bleed off back into the tank, and the amount of holes that you drill in the sprinkler tube. Ive also found as the soil quality improves, I don't get wet spots or dry spots anymore, the soil absorbs water like a sponge, and also drains very well. I haven't measured how much goes on the grow beds each time but, I would guess that the top tank is 60 liters when full, and about 40 liters would be returning to the tank, and about 20liters on the grow-beds every 20mins mid day in full sun. if cloudy or morning and afternoon it may be every hour or so.

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