Thursday, August 21, 2014

Windowsill Aquafarm

hydroponics at homeGrowing a Simple Garden Year Round with Aqua Farming Techniques

Each year, the first crops to sprout from my garden are my lettuces. Red leaf, Romaine, Boston, and Butter Crunch begin to fill out and bring a sense of life to the patches of soil that laid fallow during the Winter. My girls sow their seeds, and we begin the tender warm-up to the full on production in the moths ahead. Yet once the warmer weather arrives, the lettuces tend to wilt back and bolt, and our attentions turn to the beans and emerging tomatoes. As we are unable to preserve our leafy veggies, we began looking for ways to keep our lettuce harvest viable throughout the season. This year, we found the solution with a windowsill aquafarm setup.


Basics of a Windowsill Aquafarm

 
Hydroponics and aquafarming are not a new concepts, but in the past these systems have relied on space-swallowing equipment that wouldn't properly fit into our home. However, a few years ago my sister was constructing miniature biospheres for her Beta fish, using water plants to both feed and clean up the organic waste. Nitrogen from fish waste is drawn up through the plant's roots, and the roots in turn produce food for the fish. We began talking, and after a time, discovered it would be just as viable to use garden vegetables and herbs as the plant material. The fish remains healthy without the addition of commercially produced fish food, and the plants can continue indoors without the harshness of a Summer heat. For a household use, we determined a three-gallon tank would be the perfect size.

Composition of the Aquafarm
 
We started with a three gallon tank with a plastic slip-on lid. I drilled a series of holes in the top of the lid to fit our recycled plastic planters, each of them quart-sized. In the middle of the arrangement, I placed a small water pump that drained right back into the tank after filtering through the growing medium. For this, we use coffee grounds - renewable, easily changed, and completely absent of chemicals. Each pot was a dedicated planting area, and for our first time out, my girls chose red leaf and butter crunch lettuces. Their smaller sizes, coupled with steady growth rate made them the perfect choice. In the tank itself, we adopted a single Beta fish, and added a few underwater features to provide structure and hiding places for when it felt stressed.

Aquafarm Harvesting
 
Lettuces should be trimmed from the outside in, meaning the leaves are taken from the exterior of the plant. It is possible to cut free the whole head and realize new growth, but this will stress the lettuce and eventually prompt it to stop producing. A few leaves at a time is much more manageable, and the plant will keep growing as long as you let it. Herbs act the same way, and a little trim here and there actually promotes growth. As a note, be wary of the amount of sunlight entering the tank, as an excess will promote algae growth. If this begins to happen, simply move your miniature farm tank until it stabilizes once more. Enjoy your December salad!