Aquaponics Vertical Garden




Introduction: Aquaponics Vertical Garden

I've always been a fan of aquaponics gardening ever since I saw something on facebook about it. The almost closed loop (or at least the possibility of a closed loop system) is very interesting. Of course once I saw a vertical hydroponics system I immediately wanted one. Being the frugal DIY guy that I am I didn't want to pay the nearly $1000 for one plus I didn't like how it looked. So I made my own.


1 Wood Planter or what ever style you want to hold the water

1 5"x5"x8' White Vinyl fence post

1 Top cap for the fence post.

1 3/4" pvc elbow and pipe to attach pump hose.

Plastic sheet to line the inside of the Planter.

16 3" 45 degree PVC elbows

1 3" PVC pipe

Fountain pump - I used a 320GPH but depends on your needs

Grow lights - I have 2 Sun Blaster CFL's. one 4 foot, one 3 foot.

Timer's for both lights and pump.

Poles to attach the lights to. I'm using bamboo poles I found on a ski hill.

Some wire to hold poles in place

Wood to cover plastic on top of planter and act as a clamp for wire holding lights.

Rock for growing medium

Rockwool cubes for starting plants and to act as a filter.

Step 1: Preparing the Tower

Cut the 5x5 fence post to your desired length. I made mine about 6 feet as there were square holes at either end of the post for it to attach to other fencing parts. I chose the best side that would be in the water and allow the fish to swim through the post.

Measure how far apart you want your holes for the plant holders (3" 45 deg elbow) and then stagger them on each side. I used a 3" hole saw and started my first hole about 3" from the top of the planter box and the next hole 12" from the first.

For the plant holders I wanted to use rock as my medium so I needed a tray to connect the elbow's on each side. I measured in between the elbows when they are inserted into the fence post and cut the 3" pvc pipe accordingly. Then I cut a section out of those pieces, using a sawzall and a bench vice, to open them up and allow them to fit into the elbow's. Drilled 4 holes in the middle of each piece in a cross pattern to allow the water to drain at a steady rate. This took some testing to determine how many holes to drill to get the water to drain fast enough.

At the very top I drilled a 3/4" hole in the middle of the fence post and used a 3/4" pvc elbow and pipe to get the pump to send water into the top planter.

Step 2: Preparing the Box

There happened to be some poly sheet left over from another project so I used that to line the wood box. I did about 3 layers of it to make sure it wouldn't leak. I stapled the sheets to the top and cut off any excess. I cut 4 pieces of wood to cover the plastic and to use as a clamp for the wire holding the light poles. For wire I just cut up some coat hangers and bent them into a loop and to 90 degree angles.

As you can see in the pictures I used the bamboo poles to secure the tower in place and keep it from falling over. Just centered the tower, measured the space in between the tower and the inside of the box and cut the poles to fit.

Step 3: Putting It All Together

With everything prepared I put it all together, filled the box with water, the elbow's and pipe with rock and rockwool and attached the pump to the 3/4" hole up top. I cut the bamboo poles to length and attached the lights using twist ties.

After some testing and getting the water to cycle (waiting for the bacteria to convert ammonia to nitrites and then to nitrates) I then added my fish and planted some seeds. The aquaponics side of things is a whole instructable in itself.



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    29 Discussions

    This is awesome. Thanks for posting. As I'm just starting my research into this, I'm a little confused? What's the difference between hydroponic and aquaponics? I'm looking to do a symbiotic system of plants and fish. Is that hydro or aqua?

    I agree.... As beautiful as it is, i couldn't let the poor fish have no life outside of a dark room.... I'm weird though so it might just be me

    Not at all healthy. Besides, it would be cool to see them, if you're planning on using them as fertilizers

    I just want you to make one for me for a Christmas present. :)

    Sweet! This is probably the first system that has an aesthetic aspect to it (and one that goes beyond a sterile minimalist iPhone style, too). I've spent some time browsing for fenceposts and tops like yours now but no luck. Do you happen to have a link?

    I think there is too little room for optimal root growth due to the trays being small and preventing the roots to extend downwards. Most systems dont give the plants the proper root space and while I don't think it's a major flaw I do think it should be mentioned and adressed so maybe someone will find a better solution to for conenctors than shallow trays which will be shared by the root systems of two plants.

    1 reply

    Why not use cups and let the roots hang instead of the half pipe connector inside of the upright. just a thought if you think it would let more root growth happe.

    Wonderful ways to decorate home in best possible ways, though floors also needs to be taken care off.

    I made a vertical garden using your post and planted ivy geraniums. It is spectacular and I get so many comments. Thank you for your well written instructable.

    How do you know if the fence post is made from food-safe plastic? One class of endocrine disruptors called phthalates is present in plastic products containing PVC. Phthalates are loosely bound to plastic and easily absorbed into food, beverages and saliva, and like BPA, have been commonly detected in our bodies. Most concerning is the effect phthalates have on reproductive health in males. Exposure in fetuses has been linked to the malformation of the male reproductive system. See also:

    9 replies

    Beware the "experts" with the sector-friendly posts. Such is the internet these days. Stay off the industry-funded search engine results (especially certain a certain country's regulatory sites whose CEO's are usually former lawyers for the industries they're now paid to "watch").

    Pay no attention to anything else or anyone that doesn't state the peer-reviewed research and *full* sources then decide for yourself.

    I bristle at this sort of thought process. Scientists self police through peer review. We don't lie about our results because, if we do, our credibility is shot and we're ostracized from the community. Results are always based upon factual data.

    Data that doesn't agree with the business narrative simply isn't published (exxon scientists realized the global climate effect of fossil fuel use in the 70s, but it never came out because it hurts the brand).

    Published studies by real scientists, no matter their employer, are going to be inherently more accurate than some random person on the Internet telling you not too believe people who ACUTALLY HAVE DEGREES IN THE SUBJECT!

    It blows my mind that double blind studies are dismissed, but some random mother with no scientific degree on the Internet railing against science she doesn't understand gains millions of followers who believe everything she says as gospel. Ludicrous!

    I was curious about this and did a little searching. Lowe's* has a project guide for building a home "Fence Gutter Vegetable Garden" using "Genova vinyl gutters". Link at bottom.

    Two things: 1) I assume Lowe's has really good lawyers who advise them as to how not to get sued, so they probably did some checking; and 2) at the bottom of the project it DOES say "If you are growing edibles and have concerns about chemicals leaching
    from the vinyl gutters, line the gutters with #4 Low Density
    Polyethylene (LDPE), commonly found in disposable trash bags. Be sure to
    include drainage holes." Which I assume was also inspired by lawyers. And if they "had concerns", they wouldn't let Lowe's publish this at all - the trash bags idea is PR, not science.

    THAT SAID: "vinyl" is PVC. Google Mother Earth News for "Is Vinyl Safe? The PVC Debate" (!). Yes, there are some things called "vinyl" that aren't PVCs, but they're not used in structural elements like this (or siding, etc.).

    So: if you're using PVC piping, the fencepost is the same stuff.

    (Also, if you're using a sprinkler system to water your vegetable garden, you're using PVC too, unless you have a fairly old metal system.)

    One other point: the phthalate most commonly used as a plasticizer in PVC is DEHP, although much PVC does NOT use DEHP (it's used to make PVC flexible, i.e. for shower curtains -- irrigation pipe and fence posts don't need to flex much ;-). Phthalates are known to leach primarily into non-polar solvents, i.e. oils, fats, etc. - water is polar. (Oil and water don't mix, as they say - that's why. :-)

    So, back to timzebo's issue: it's highly unlikely that the fencepost is significantly different; if you're worried about it, you should worry about the piping too, and grow everything in dirt in the ground (no pressure-treated wood raised-beds! >;-). Personally - and I have a patent in hydrocarbon chemistry, and I do not work in any PVC or similar industry - I wouldn't worry about it. Your intake of phthalates (and other nasties!) from many other household and consumer products is almost certainly hugely higher than any potential here. (And honestly, how much basil can you eat?!? >;-)

    *for non-USA folks that's one of our 3 huge "big box" home centers w/ Home Depot and Menard's - in the UK and China I think B&Q is similar.

    Thanks! The issue is not PVC alone, but PVC + liquid chemical fertilizer used for nutrients. How do those chemicals interact with whatever's in the (non-food-grade) PVC? Very different from running plain old H2O through PVC piping that's specifically made for plumbing, right?

    Hey man ! excelent question! Instead of PVC you can use gutter pipes in aluminium or galvanize iron.

    Aluminum can be toxic and leach out if the water is acidic.

    Galvanized metal has a zinc coating to it that is especially toxic to fish: "...In fact, using galvanized steel tanks is one of the major reasons that beginning aquaponic growers lose so many fish when they’re starting their systems."

    As to the question of phthalates and endocrine disruption: First, a fence post designed for outdoor exposure is almost certainly rigid PVC - this means that it contains ZERO plasticizers (phthalates are plasticizers).

    Second, certain phthalates have shown a mild causal relationship in fetal development of male RATS. The pathway is biologically impossible to reproduce in humans because of the way the liver and kidneys function in rats. Endocrine disruption by phthalates is unlikely to occur in an aquaponics system. Other phthaltes are specifically used because they provide a benefit (dioctyl phthalate is used in blood bags because it improves longevity of red blood cells).

    It's not the plasticizers in PVC products that are harmful and prohibit a product from being food grade. It's the possible presence of pvc monomer and the stabilizers used. The amount of monomer present in food grade products is highly monitored, as it can lead to a specific kind of cancer. Stabilizers in outdoor plastics are possibly going to be lead-based, especially if they're manufactured outside of the US.

    hreid - excellent points. (Wish I'd read farther down before posting my long bit above responding to timzebo.)

    - Absolutely agree on alumin(i)um and galv'd steel. Aluminum has virtually no biological role despite being the 3rd most common element on Earth! After a few billion years for life to figure out something to do with Al, it's decided not to. It doesn't seem to be super-toxic to humans (otherwise we'd skip beer & soda cans - the protective formation of Al2O3 is helpful there), but you're right that it's quite reactive in acidic environments and it's probably not smart to eat a lot of whatever you get from that. (I will not get into the Alzh. debate.) And while Zn is biologically essential, a whole lot of it ain't good.

    - That said, your points on rigid PVC, the rat ≠ human biology issue (fully agree!), and the monomer issue are (ahem) dead on. (Bows.)

    Concur on the food safe aspect. If you're just doing basic flower gardening then 'no big deal' but if you plan to make delicious veggies in this thing, I'd be very hesitant unless it were built out of something that was known to be food safe. As Thomas points out below, metal may be a decent option but it would then be harder to cut and not look nearly as nice. I think the design and idea are great though and would love to find a food safe option. Most of what I grow indoors is eaten but a fence post full of blooming flowers would be really awesome looking, I bet!

    Maybe use extruded acrylic or acrylic sheeting