Aquaponic Maintenance

After a full year of use, it was time to spruce up our aquaponic grow bed.
The aquaponics setup at Better Farm is working 24 hours a day to produce fresh salad greens and herbs while aerating and filtering the water our rescue minnows, koi, and goldfish depend on. But after a year of all this work, the grow bed was in dire need of a good scrubbing—and the plants needed to be thinned.

One of the most obvious signs the grow bed needed some TLC was the restricted water flow coming out of it and back into the fish tank. The cause? The grow bed's vents were clogged with fish poop and any other debris circling through the system:

The plants inside the grow bed were also getting pretty unruly, dill in particular:

To start, we had to separate out all the plants. This involved creating a large scoop with our hands and grabbing full plants from the bottom—roots and all. It's important to be sure you don't damage the roots! We left the roots hanging on to some of the pea gravel and set those plants aside:

Then it was time to take the grow bed off the fish tank so we could run water over the gravel and give the grow bed a good scrubbing.

I recommend not using any soap on the grow bed, as this can negatively affect your fish and plants (even biodegradable stuff). Instead, we just used a scrub brush and hot water.

For the pea gravel, I plugged the kitchen sink. Then I ran hot water over the gravel, sifted the gravel in a strainer, and then put the pea gravel back in the grow bed:

Once the water in the sink cooled off, we were able to put that in a spray bottle and use the solution as a fertilizer for all our house plants and baby seedlings in the greenhouse.

Then, it was just a matter of carefully putting the plants back into the grow bed. Now our greens have plenty of room to grow, and the water system is flowing more smoothly—good news for fish and plants alike.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.