Make Your Very Own Aquaponics Strawberry Tower
One of the fun plants to grow in Aquaponics is strawberries. We all know how great they taste especially if picked fresh and juicy from your own system. They grow very well in conventional gravel grow beds provided your system is reasonably free of salt because strawberries just don’t like the stuff especially if its in the water.
A new alternative to the shortage of grow bed space is to grow them in vertical towers. These towers have nutrient rich fish water pumped up to the top the tower and then trickle down through the gravel in the towers feeding each plant. Recently we spotted a number of them standing proudly in Murray Hallam’s new CHOP2 Aquaponics system.
We noticed Murray had bought a number of commercially produced towers from the US that he was testing them against his own DIY Strawberry tower that he had made himself.
Both tower systems work just fine.
As Murray says, taking advantage of vertical height allows you to grow a lot more than just strawberries in these towers. Basil and lettuce and a variety of herbs can also grow just fine if you follow a few basic principles and use a tap regulator and a pump able to push water up to the required height.
Commercial Strawberry Towers
Aimed more at the hydroponic grower, this array of five towers each has its own tap regulator. Getting the flow just right is the trick to growing strawberries successfully. Too much flow according to Murray causes the towers to flood and water will cascade down the side and be wasted as its evaporates in the height of summer. Too little and the plants will be starved for nutrients. These commercial towers are packed with foam mats that work well hydroponically but may need frequent cleaning in an aquaponics system because of the heavier amount of fish solids that will get deposited in the tops of the towers, with a possibility of clogging the flow.
DIY Strawberry Tower
An alternative is to make your own towers using 100mm PVC (4 inch PVC) pipe. Its a lot cheaper and a fun project to do.
Murray explains in the video clip from his new DIY Aquaponics DVD how simple and easy it is to make your own strawberry towers by first cutting a section of staggered slots in a length of the pipe and then using a paint stripper or hot air gun to soften the PVC plastic and pushing the sides in slightly with a screw driver or heavy metal object you will then make a series of depressions where the strawberry plant will be seated in the tower.
See the accompanying video clip for basic instruction.
What sort of media should you use in the tower?
Murray’s favourite media to use in your towers is 3/4 inch gravel or 20mm washed pebbles. An alternative to plumbing each tower with its own regulator and hose, which can be an expensive proposition, is to eliminate all the additional plumbing by building a simple spray bar pipe with a number of drippers that trickle the fish water into each tower. You can then just use one tap fitting or regulator to adjust the water pressure to each grow bed. Each tower stands buried in the 300mm deep gravel grow beds and takes minimal space away from your regular bed.
One thing you may need to upgrade is the size of your pump because of the height of the towers. A low capacity pump may not have enough grunt to lift the water.
Do test your max water head height first. You may need to upgrade your pump to a larger size if the pump is too small.
Using a quality hose is the key to successful aquaponics. Murray doesn’t scrimp on cheap fittings when he builds his systems insisting that cutting corners using cheap 19 mm un-reinforced plastic hose has a negative effect on your system because of its tendency to kink.
“You’ll have reduced pumping capacity,” says Murray, “and the other problem with clear pipe is that it will quickly build up with algae and biofilm further reducing performance.”
Murray prefers to use quality marine grade hose that is reinforced and non kink in all his systems.
Here at Ecofilms where we have one of Murray’s aquaponics kit systems already installed for almost a couple of years now and while we were editing the chapter on Strawberries for the DIY Aquaponics DVD the whole notion of strawberry towers has whetted our appetite to make one ourselves.
Fortunately we do have a hot air gun and 100mm PVC pipe is dirt cheap to buy so building a Strawberry Tower array will be the number one project activity on our list when the strawberry growing season arrives again.