Nook Garden - Self Watering System (+ April Update)





Introduction: Nook Garden - Self Watering System (+ April Update)

About: i'm a geologist

Due to the encouraging results last year, both as a crop and as a system's autonomy, but also as an appreciation of the readers of instructables
(, i decided to equip new planters also on the first floor of the building close to the original set-up.
Having collected enough 18l water bottles (thanks Ricky), i started to draw a model with sketchup to get an estimate of the materials and tools needed for the project.

Aim of this project:

-autonomy and low maintenance after the initial set up, the system should be automatic (the place is away from home and I can not check every day and also i'm often out of my country for work)

-Green design: wood, jute and felt are recyclable and biodegradable materials and parts, rubber and plastic are also recyclable. The bottles are already recycled.

-Green-power: the system is supported by a wind generator and a solar panel with its battery.

-Organic gardening is the main purpose, therefore they are not used chemical fertilizers.
Fertilization will be done through the introduction of fish and aquatic organisms in the water tank as in aquaponics systems where organic matter produced by the fish is processed by bacteria that make it assimilable by plants in a closed loop.

Step 1: FRAME

The planters were made as in the last year's set and are composed of 18 l plastic water bottles, cut and flipped on wooden shelves suitably perforated to allow the bottleneck to fit stably. The original cap is used together with a piece of water hose to create a small reservoir of water into the bottle. This configuration allows each planter to have a small water reservoir that let the plants to survive 1-2 days in case of failure of the system of watering.
(see my other instructables for details)

Each planter is then filled to 1/4 of the volume of expanded clay on which is laid a sack of felt filled with soil. The use of these bags allows drainage and aeration of the soil and does not permit the soil to mix the with clay.
The bottle is externally coated with jute to protect plastic and roots from the sun's rays.

Step 2: Water Circulation

The circulation system consists of dripping pipes supplied by four 12vdc submersible pumps, and some colIecting pipe for sending water back to the fish in tank.
I drilled 4mm holes in the drip pipes to permit pass throught water and bigger holes in the   collecting pipe  accommodate the bottlenecks. Some connections between pipes are made with water hoses.
three pumps take water from the filter that is connected to the fish tank,  the other from rain barrels placed on the east side of the building. In this way, i try to compensate for the water lost to evapo-transpiration, soil absorption and any  little losses of the circulation , without having to refill it manually.
In the south side, after crossing the planters, the excess water is collected and conveyed to the drip pipe below and from there through the planters arrive in the fish tank. In the  west side, after passing through 2 rows of stacked planters, water flows through "the  green window" of  sedum plants and then passes into the main collecting pipe and in the fish tank. After passing into the bio filter, the water begins a new cycle.

Step 3: Fish Tank and Filter

As a fish tank i used to cut ibc container in order to obtain a reservoir of approximately 600-650l to which I then connected a 200l plastic barrel as filter.
The barrel filter is made ​​with several layers of coconut fiber and felt and a layer of expanded clay.
After a few weeks, in the bio filter will establish a community of bacteria capable of transforming the ammmonia produced by the fish into compounds assimilable by plants. 
The varieties of fish that I have chosen are carp and catfish for the fish tank and Gambusia to the rain barrel.
The gambusia is a small fish of about 5cm which has the distinction of being particularly voracious of mosquito larvae and thus useful in my project (I live in an area where in the summer there are lots of mosquitoes). 
To oxygenate the water I put the air stones in the fish tank and the biofilter and I connected to a small cheap compressor 12vdc and i added a circulating pump.

Step 4: Power

The power system consists of a wind turbine ( see the other instruct able for details) with a 20 watt solar panel that recharges a car battery 60ah lead-acid through charge regulator.
Two different circuits are powered by the battery:
The first consists of 4 water pumps regulated by timer 12vdc (at this moment 3 minutes at 6 am an 3 at 6 pm ), the second is composed by a 12vdc tire air compressor and an another pump to recirculate the water in the fish tank , both regulated by a different timer ( at this moment 4 minutes every hour).

I started to test with different timing to understand how many power can use the system , in case I'll decide to switch to real aquaponics That need more watering cycle and more power .

At last a power inverter is connected to the battery that allows me to recharge my laptop and use tools.

Step 5: Start Growing

During the construction of the garden I started to sow the first plants. I planted several types of beans and peas, salad and radishes.
If I have time next week I'll get the fish. will post some updates soon.

Step 6: April Update 1

After a few months the garden is starting to grow and I have already begun to reap the first fruits .
Were added as anticipated some fish to complete the setup  five little  goldfish and six Gambusia affinis (aka mosquito fish) .
For more differentiated ecosystem I added Lemna minor (common duckweed ) , a floating plant , taken at a nearby irrigation canal and some water snails (Lymnaea stagnalis)
The fish are set well and duckweed began to grow rapidly.

Step 7: April Update 2

Some things have not worked well in the meantime , the compressor is burned and damaged the timer nr2 so I had to replace them both.
The pumps for car tires will not last long with daily use for the air stones therefore I decided to use another system, perhaps less powerful but quieter and less energy consuming especially .
Now I have two pumps connected in series to the air 6VDC bought from ebay , I added a fuse and non-return valves . It is now about a month that works perfectly.

Step 8: April Update 3

Meanwhile, I planted tomatoes chilli beans and peas in the highest  and exposed planters and I put the net for climbing plants. Carrots, rapanelli and others in middle rows and strawberries on the bottom rows.
The salad at the moment has already been collected divese , cutting above the root to allow regrowth.

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    28 Discussions

    Great project I love how you use the best of both worlds of traditional organic gardening enhanced with tech which makes sense. I want to build something similar for the house of my mother because she loves to have fresh vegetables but hates the normal work of gardening. Maeby this will get her to do some gardening again. I will definitely try your design of the herb garden.

    1 reply

    thank you! i'm very glad that you appreciate.

    I plan on making this...

    Is it possible to provide detailed plans for this instructable? Meaning parts listing etc. - especially for the aquaponics system (fish tank and bio filter tank), and power supply? A private message can be sent in needed.

    That would be much appreciated!

    How many pumps did you need for your setup?

    hi! in this configuration I use 4 pumps.3 connected in the bio filter and one in the blue barrels reservoir..ciao

    thank you for your innovation -- I don't live in Italy so I am not sure what size of bottles are you using - is it 1litre, 2 litre or something else?

    2 replies

    Can you estimate the GPM on these pumps, I'm trying to figure out the ratio between your garden's size to the pumps GPM. understand you only run one minute in the morning and one at night. With a variety of pumps I'd like to have a better chance of ordering the right one on the first try. thanks

    I realized i posted this question on your original instructable, figure you may see this one first since its newer. Thanks again

    don't the felt sacks wick the moisture away? I suppose if it's all rainwater there's no fear of being wasteful.

    Instead of using a compressor might I suggest creating a small venturi instead of air stones. It is free and you can get rid of the compressor

    1 reply

    many thanks, next year i will try venturi effect with a dedicated pump inside fish tank , I think is an elegant and more simple solution..



    4 years ago

    a word of warning about these systems: contamination and infection can easily spread as the nutrient solution makes its way through the system if not carefully managed

    2 replies

    Thanks for the advice.

    However I think that this system is less sensitive to suffer infections compared for example to hydroponic systems, where the roots are supported by a growing medium where the water is circulated continuously.

    Please specify better the contamination of which you speak.



    Because your water is trickling from one plant to the other, there is the potential of transferring various root infections from plant to plant if it ever takes hold, even though you are using a soil growing medium. This is also especially of concern because the top row is exposed and vulnerable to run-of from your roof...especially bird feces from birds perching on the edge of the roof and pooping on it. Though bird excrement can be used as a good fertilizer after it has composted, fresh excrement can carry disease.

    I'm really impressed with the quality of work, last year the project had just taken shape, but the improvements of this year and the addition of the bio filter, brought the project to the next level. I vote your project with the curiosity to see the following improvements. Have you ever considered a greenhouse. Bravo Tiero

    1 reply

    This is impressive and inspiring. I will undertake a similar project in our province in Philippines and i will post progress. More power and we pray for your success.

    1 reply