Farming no-waste organic fish, fruits and vegetables for consumption sounded wonderful but the thought of the high expenses and the use of space kept me from trying. Since the thoughts never left my mind, I thought......well.., I already had a small pond in a wall pot I had dug up a while back and lined with a pond liner with fish and plants in it. All I needed was affordable supplies and knowing myself, it had to be as simple and as easy to maintain as it could be!
I looked in the house for supplies I could use and went to a hardware store to complete the list. When it was all set up, my husband came up with the name "ghettoponics" and I liked it.
So here is the minimalist ghettoponics that works! It's totally pesticide and fertilizer-free, not even additional "nutrients" are added! It's great to know where our food come from.
For us living on a small island, it is good to have food available for us should any disaster happen and this system reserves fish, fruits, vegetables and water.
Could it survive a power-outage?
Yes! Water the plants manually at least twice a day but the more often you do it, the happier the plants and fish are.
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Step 1: Planning the Project
Sketch what would work best for you, whether you would use a bucket, a tank or a pond to hold the fish and plan on where you would put the gutter and how long you would need.
After you decide on what to use, all you need are:
A pond you already have or a container to hold the fish in.
A submersible water pump matching the size of your fish container. A small, economical one would work for this purpose, even if it pumps just drips of water.
Tubing that fits your pump. I used an extra hose that came with the washer.
Fish and fish food. Bulk koi food from the feed store is inexpensive and works nicely.
Black cinder, about $ 4.00 a bag.
A gutter, about $ 5.00, end cap and an "L" connector.
Assemble as shown on the diagram.
How it works:
The fish waste containing amonia is broken down into nutrients needed by the plants and the clean water is circulated back into the pond for the happy fish.
Step 2: Planting the Seedlings
Plant the fruits or vegetable seeds in soil in any clean container you have or buy starters from a nursery or hardware store.
Step 3: Getting the Fish
Catch or buy freshwater fish.
Tilapia is popular but others will do. It even felt good "rescuing" some feeder Comets from the pet store for 10 cents each. Don't worry, I won't eat the Comets, I just love the colors.
Step 4: Transplanting and Arranging the Plants
Rinse the small debris from the black cinder until the water is clear. Pour it right into the gutter about 3/4 high, leaving about 5-10" from the gutter output unfilled. Black cinder is heavy and should not wash away with the low water flow.
When the seedlings grow the secondary leaves (at least 4 leaves) or older, rinse the soil off the roots with water then transplant the them individually right into the black cinder*.
Run the water slowly through the gutter. Start slow, most plants actually do not need too much water.
Arrange the taller ones closer to the water input and shorter ones closer to the output which has less water hence, prevents the shorter seedlings from drowning.
Later on, taller containers could be used to keep taller plants from tipping over. Used plant pots with drainage holes works, too.
Though unusual, I keep my pond plants in the pond, too. This way, the ghettoponic plants blend in well with the pondscape and I can continue enjoying my waterlillies and other water plants.
Remember to feed the fish.
*There are other media available such as clay pebbles which I have experimented with as you might see in some of the pictures. Either one works but my plants seem to like the black cinder better and much more economical. Clay pebles floats and would need to keep them from washing away.
Net pots or ghettopots could be used if you prefer rather than putting the black cinder directly into the gutter.
Ghettopots could be used pots you get from buying plants, any plastic containers from groceries such as yogurt, sour cream, butter, and etc. Just remember to cut enough holes on the bottom and rinse well. The kitchen is a good place to find potential ghettopots.
Step 5: Harvest Time!
Enjoy the fruit of your relaxing and therapeutic work.
When the leaves look good enough to eat, harvest some leaves from each plants and let the main part of the of the plants keep growing and make more leaves until they can't produce anymore. Start new seedlings to make sure you will have continuous supplyof fresh veggies and fruits.
Strawberry plants multiply. Separate baby plants and plant them right in!
Don't forget, you could eat your fish, too.
Step 6: Cleaning
Kitchen brush and scrubber are all you need. Simple!
If you choose to, adding a scrubbing pad at the water input to filter out the water from the pump would keep the water in the gutter clean longer.
To clean the scrubbing pads, spray with water.
This is all you need to do but if you need to see more options or need to make a bigger system, please feel free to continue on.
Step 7: Have More Space and Ready for a Bigger Project?
Multiply it! Gutters are so slim I could fit 4 gutters right onto our cinder-block pond wall.
Split the water source by using more tubings and PVC "T"s, conectors, valves, clamps and teflon plumbing tape. A 3-Way elbow fitting is really good for the water input into the gutters. It prevents unwanted drips into the gaps between the side-by-side gutters since the water is directed at an angle. Threaded ones are easier to connect and more secure. I did not permanently connect the PVCs using glue since I would like to have the option to move them around from time to time as needed.
Splitting carries some advantages. Separate the water-lovers such as the lettuces from the low water-lovers such as collard greens, strawberries, kales, spinaches and baby plants. By using a valve to control the water, we could eliminate the need for a siphon, which could be pricey and complicated to make.
Scrubbing pads could be used as a ghettofilter to catch the debris from the black cinder and plant material. I got a free plant tray from a nursery to hold them. I used imitation sinew to hang the tray underneath the gutter output but any strong string would work.
An air pump is not needed when the surface area of the pond is big enough and the pond is not overcrowded. Make sure there is enough clearance between the gutter output and the pond water. This will allow for the water to diffuse air into the pond. If the fish are gasping for air, it means you probably need an air pump, which is inexpensive, too.
Step 8: A Totally Optional Way to Keep the Pond Cleaner
Since the ghettoponics do not require much water, most of the water could be split and directed into a bigger filter. This will increase the water clarity and provide more oxygen.
Commercially available filters could be very expensive.
Make a bigger ghettofilter:
Line a holey basket or net pot with overlapping scrubbing pads.
Use zip ties and sinew to hold the tubing still and to hang the basket over the pond.
Scrubbing pads are inexpensive at the wholesale stores.