Instructables
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.  http://www.instructables.com/id/Hydroponic-Food-Factory/step17/Hydroponic-potatoes/ 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.
 
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Step 1: 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

  • 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

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

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

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

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)

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)

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)

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)

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

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. 
leroym11 months ago
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)  leroym11 months ago
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.
leroym11 months ago
Harbor freight (www.harborfreight.com) 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)  leroym11 months ago
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
gzechner12 months ago
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)  gzechner12 months ago
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.

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/5-12V-DC-Micro-Brushless-Magnetic-Pump-High-Solar-Hot-Submersible-Water-Pump-1-/320883441103?pt=AU_Decor_Furnishing&hash=item4ab624bdcf
gzechner1 year ago
just one question:
how thick is the hose?
liquidhandwash (author)  gzechner1 year ago
the syphone hose has to be thick wall so it holds its shape, and 3/4" diameter
leroym1 year ago
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)  leroym1 year ago
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.
leroym1 year ago
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)  leroym1 year ago
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.
leroym1 year ago
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
winter.
liquidhandwash (author)  leroym1 year ago
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.
Infinnion1 year ago
wahaha love the opening sentence x]
Also very useful instruct able :]
liquidhandwash (author)  Infinnion1 year ago
Thanks
lkurtz21 year ago
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)  lkurtz21 year ago
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) 1 year ago
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.
FreyaFL1 year ago
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)  FreyaFL1 year ago
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.
eyeguy61 year ago
In the first paragraph, you misstated something. You can grow root veggies hydroponically. The proof is in Dr. Struan Sutherland's book Hydroponics for Everyone. One of the best books on the subject.
liquidhandwash (author)  eyeguy61 year ago
Im sorry if it is incorrect, I will have a look at the book, is it common where you are to grow things like beetroot and potatoes hydroponically? around here ive been told it cant be done.
I haven't tried it myself, but I have heard of people successfully growing potatoes hydroponically with an ebb-and-flow system, and modified trash cans filled with expanded clay balls.

Here's one instructable I've found: http://www.instructables.com/id/Hydroponic-Food-Factory/step17/Hydroponic-potatoes/
liquidhandwash (author)  moonchylde1 year ago
Thanks Moonchylde I will change the wording on instuctable as a couple of people have said that its possible.
try aquaponics its very interesting
StCanna1 year ago
Also another suggestion for the economical production of water/fish containers is to use ferro-cement. Many charity organizations are already engaged in the building of ferro-cement tanks in "3rd-world" countries for water storage/rain catchment. I am in the planning stages of building my own aquaponics system using ferro-cement water/fish tanks and a foam-cement, cement/perlite or some other light weight cement mixture for grow containers. FYI you can grow just about anything with a properly designed aquaponics system. The most excellent source of aquaponics info i have found is Murray Hallam (he's an Aussie). He explains how once a properly designed system is "mature" it has the range of microbial life to support many of the fruits that most believe can't be grown in an aquaponic system. Oh and i've seen him pull some enviable root vegetables out of his systems.
Excellent work. You are very talented and I love your ideas. Keep up the great green work.
liquidhandwash (author)  wisedirection1 year ago
thankyou ;-)
rloomis1 year ago
This question comes from a place of complete gardening ignorance, but from someone who wants to make an attempt at growing some of my food (more and more over time). I live in the state of Oregon where water is very abundant (my place also has access to a couple wells) would a set up like this not make sense for my situation? Any thoughts or opinions on what is strategy for someone in my situation (abundant water, clay like soil, mild winters). Any thoughts are appreciated. Thank you in advance.
liquidhandwash (author)  rloomis1 year ago
Hi rioomis,
Im sure it will work we you are, just be aware that clay soils don"t drain well, which may cause problems. So use lots of organic materiel to get those worms working, and maybe some potting mix to help with drainage. I like that its self watering, and I don't have to bend over to pull weeds, or pick veggies. If you can get the IBC containers cheaply the rest is easy
good luck with.
oscarmissy1 year ago
Great work - This will be good in my small garden.
Very interesting! I'm wondering - you said you're getting much rain - but these are under a high tunnel. Did you ahve them out in the open at any point, and if so, does the rain affect the system negatively?

Do you keep track of the volume of 'feed' to know roughly how much is required per bed?

Have you been able to estimate how much water this uses, compared to a hydro or aqua system?

Please consider submitting to Farm Show Magazine. This is something a lot of their readers would go nuts over. Very cool!
hi Spiraling Homesteader
i have only just put the cover on, which has holes in it so the much of the rain comes though cover into the beds.
i just keep adding organic materiel to the bed and the worm keep eating it, I put about 2-4 inches on top every month or so, and mulch around the plants when growing.
It uses more in hot weather, but I have put any extra water in for 3 or 4 months. we have had some rain though.
I will look up farm show
thanks
Hey!
I was doing some research for a page I maintain, and found Window Farms. I tihnk it would work incredibly well with this adaptation of hydroponics. I have NO way of trying this myself, at least for a year and maybe more, but thought you might be interested in it. Would love to hear your thoughts!
Search for Window Farm Bottle, or go to WindowFarm dot org.
hi Spiraling Homesteader those window farms look great, I would like to make one but, I don't have an area thats suitable. I will keep it in mind.
JohnSeever1 year ago
A very nice idea. On the IBC's, you can also talk to any friends who work for airlines or at airports. The deicing fluid comes in those containers and sometimes you can get them for little or nothing. You can also try flee markets as well. My wife and I got one for $40 and we have it hooked up to our gutter. Right now, we have 350 gal of water in it, from the two rains we have had in Missouri.
piks1 year ago
Genius idea. Have you considered the possibility of third world applications for this. With a couple of modifications, a greenhouse type cover for the top to eliminate water loss through evaporation and possibly 'food' type fish for the bottom water tank, maybe Tilapia or Vietnamese River Cobbler (a type of Catfish). I'm sure you could probably get an NGO interested in this.
liquidhandwash (author)  piks1 year ago
Thanks piks, I have thought about 3rd world applications, but I have no idea to get it out there. could you tell me what a NGO is . as for food type fish there is that many worms, Im sure that much of the fishes diet could be worms. I have recently put a cover over the garden, but jut noticed i haven't posted a photo.
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