Notes from Windward: #67

Barrel-ponics Update

Becca gets the micro-system going


     This project is in "research mode" which means that instead of even attempting to build an optimal system, we're starting out by working with different size systems and various configurations in order to gather data about what works for us in this location, and each design is focused on building our skill level and understanding of some particular aspect of the concept. The doctrine that guides our work is kaizen, a Japanese word which describes a process in which you start small and work towards perfection through an on-going series of incremental improvements.

     Our smallest system, which features about 30 square feet of grow bed, is called a "barrel-ponics system" since its main components are made from two 55 gallon plastic barrels. The focus of our work with this system involves the hydraulic issues involved in aquaponics.

Becca writes:

     The barrel-ponics system is finally up and running! We’re growing okra, beans, radishes, lettuce, beets, habanero peppers, tomatoes, stevia and wheatgrass in it and are keeping track of what works well. Our initial results look good, when the wheatgrass was planted it was yellow and now it’s green, and the lettuce plants have doubled in size since we planted them a few days ago.


     To provide nutrients for the plants we’re using diluted urine to mimic the fish waste that we’ll use on the larger two aquaponics systems. A mix of different types of bacteria live in the growbeds and convert the ammonia in the urine to nitrate, and then to nitrite. We were a little worried at first that the innoculation bacteria would still be inactive since we'd had it longer than the two month self-life suggested on the label, but after we tested the nitrite level in the water it had greatly increased from the prior testing, which we took to indicate that the bacteria was working.


     Since the aquaponics and hydroponics systems are both self watering and very low maintenance, they are a convenient way for busy people to grow their own food organically. Additionally, because the system doesn’t take up much space and could be put indoors, it could work in a colder climate or in a place of limited space such as a city setting. Alison and I are excited about coming up with our own hydroponics system made out of materials readily accessible to college students and using it to grow food indoors in Minneapolis this fall and winter.

"Research is what you do when you don't know what you're doing."
--- Wernher von Braun

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 67