Introduction: 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. https://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.
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
- 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 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)
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.
Second Prize in the
Green Tech Contest
Participated in the
Hurricane Lasers Contest
Tip 1 year ago
Fantastic and excellent presentation! Many thanks. This is inspiring.
To stop the siphon, probably it will work if you make some holes near the end of the tube that is sucking up the water. In that way you bring time to the air to enter the tube before the water cover them. Start with small holes, and then make them big enough to work. Or you can make some "V" (inverted) cuts that will work the same way.
Reply 1 year ago
thank Ignaciojo The siphon works pretty well how it is but it needs to go somewhere where its easy to clean and is dark. Because the tube is clear it quickly grows slim inside it which interferes with the water flow
2 years ago
Hi, I love your instructable here. We have most of the materials now and are putting it together. Question for you - do you have worms in all of the grow beds with soil or are the worms in a separate worm bin? I understand you have all of the bottom water tanks connected. Does the worm bin (if it's separate) get a sprinkler too along with the other grow beds or do you just add water to that occasionally (don't know much about how much water worms like or if they need or break)? Thanks for taking the time to share all of this!
Reply 2 years ago
All the bins with dirt in them get the same amount of water, the ebb and flow bins with gravel have a separte pump. Adding worms and food scraps to one or 2 of the bins makes plants grow better, and produces great compost.
The mistake I made is that once the bins are cut open they have no UV protection on the inside and detriated very quickly, so make sure you paint all the plastic before you start.
Reply 2 years ago
Ok thank you!
Question 2 years ago
I wrote up a nice, elegant paragraph containing all my questions, but it got deleted when I attempted to post it. I'll give the condensed version, though it won't express my admiration of your project nearly as well.
Excellent presentation...very intriguing...I just have a few questions. How were the water drainage tanks connected (a diagram of where the grommets and poly tubes were placed on the tanks would really help, and I can provide other forms of communications if instructables doesn't support images in comments), did you have to manually feed the fish, did the fish ever die in the nutrient rich water and how did you deal with it, and did you have an issue with microbial growth in the tanks if there was standing water for any length of time and did you deal with that as well. Thank you again for the great project, and thank you in advance if you do answer these questions on a rather dated article.
Answer 2 years ago
The grommets are available at any good irrigation shop https://www.theirrigationshop.com.au/shopping/prod...
I didn't really feed the fish they were there for mosquitoes control and the water was circulated so I didn't have a problem with microbes.
I've move house and don't have it set up any more, the one thing i would change is to paint the plastic as the UV degraded it quite quickly, I dont think the IBC have any UV protection on the inside
Question 2 years ago
I've been looking at getting into this and have read that vermiponics is like aquaponics but uses worms instead of fish. So is this still just vermiponics or is it a combination of both?
Answer 2 years ago
i put a few small fish in to stop mosquitos breading, no other reason
Reply 2 years ago
If I understand correctly the worms are in the same soil that the plants are in? Do you know if there are other vermiculture setups that are designed differently than yours, or are the worms always in the same soil as the plants?
Reply 2 years ago
One of the IBC is a worm farm, and is feed with food scraps, etc. The others also have worms, but are for growing plants.
Reply 2 years ago
I never thought of that. Great idea!
Question 4 years ago
Really appreciate the sharing of the practical experience! I wonder if the circulation of Vermiponic system can be more specific (with video) or schematic especially when shrimps or fishes are added as sub system to the main Vermiponic system? tks a lot
5 years ago
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!!
Reply 5 years ago
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.
6 years ago
6 years ago
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.
Reply 6 years ago
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.
6 years ago
Congratulations. Your setting is inspiring me more than others vermiponics system I saw.
Can you update a bit, share more experience after this time?
Reply 6 years ago
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.