Quick ‘N’ Dirty Vermiponics

I must say that it can be a LOT of fun when inspiration suddenly hits me out of the blue. That’s exactly what happened last night during an email exchange with my good friend, Jim Joyner (see “Vermiponics“). Jim recently started up a forum for those with a serious interest in the topic of vermiponics and we’ve been in discussion about him possibly providing a bit of an update here to let everyone know what he’s been up to this season. Nevertheless, I had already made what I thought was a “firm decision” not to set up my own vermiponics system this year. I am absolutely fascinated with the concept, but the fact is, I just have so much gardening/composting stuff on the go (not to mention a serious lack of space for any new systems) that I figured it would be more trouble than it was worth.

Well, I guess the stars and the moon were aligned last night (haha), since everything just kinda fell into place – and I KNEW exactly what I was going to do this morning. I had remembered that there were two buckets filled with used hydroton gravel (from last season’s system) sitting out in the yard. One of them already happened to have a small tomato (volunteer) plant growing up in it, and I figured the other one could be used to try growing one of the Crookneck Squash plants from my vermicompost growth experiment.

So yeah…about the vermicompost growth experiments

I basically gave up on the radishes and marigolds. The oppressive heat and lack of rain has just made it silly for me to try and keep these poor plants alive. The results from the squash experiment have been quite interesting (see the photo below – taken just before I put the smallest squash plant in the vermiponics pot) – as expected, the soil-only treatment showed the poorest growth, and the best growth was in the two 33% vermicompost treatments. The 100% vermicompost treatment plant wasn’t as small as the soil-only plant, but clearly growing plants in just vermicompost isn’t necessarily the best approach. All of these results are very much in line with academic research findings, BUT… In hindsight, it would have been better if I had put a little fertilizer stick in each pot, since the amount of starter fertilizer in the Pro-Mix probably isn’t enough to really support the growth of the squash plants as they get bigger. In other words, we can’t say for sure that the increased growth in the 33% vermicompost treatments isn’t simply due to the nutrients available in the vermicompost (and in fact, I’m sure that’s a BIG part of it).

Anyway, it was still a fun experiment – and perhaps I can come up something similar (but with more reps – and additional fertilizer being added) before the end of the season.

Ok – getting back to vermiponics!

The first thing I did with my buckets of gravel was drill a bunch of holes down near the bottom. The idea here is that this will allow for oxygenation of the root zone and flow of nutrient-laden water as well. The set up is pretty basic – the buckets are simply sitting in a larger container of water, with a pump circulating it through piping and back into the reservoir continually.

I propped the buckets up on blocks in the reservoir so as to allow for some bottom flow as well (have some holes on the bottom of the buckets, and plan to add more soon) – plus it pushes the water level up, meaning I don’t need as much in the reservoir.

The reservoir container I’m using (same one from last year’s outdoor vermiponics set-up) has a series of openings all around the rim – these worked very nicely for holding the hose in place. All I did for the last little length of hose was clamp it to the side of the tank so there’s no chance of it popping out and pouring water onto the lawn.

I’d be very surprised if there weren’t at least SOME Red Worms in these buckets already, but I will likely add some more as well. This time around I will be trying a combination of worm-feeding (haven’t decided on the food just yet) and vermicompost tea creation in the reservoir. This morning I filled two small small bags with vermicompost and submerged them in the water.

I’ve been having great success with this screened vermicompost in my garden this year – it seems to be providing my plants with all (or at least most) of the “fertilizer” they need, since I haven’t really been adding anything else (waste materials for the worms to break down etc etc) in most cases. This was a big part of why I wanted to see what I could do with a “tea” made from this material.

If I can actually grow a tomato and squash plant that produce a crop in this system I will be impressed. I’ll likely add a bit of the micronized rock dust periodically just to make sure I’ve covered the bases in the micronutrient department – but I don’t think I’m going to add any molasses etc. I want to make sure my solution stays well-oxygenated, and that might be pushing my luck given the relatively modest flow of water back into the reservoir my pump seems to be producing for me.

So, that’s basically it! I’ll be really interested to see how quickly my squash plant catches up with the others still sitting in their small pots (will aim to get these planted somewhere in the yard before too long, though), and just generally, how quickly these plants grow in comparison to the rest of my garden plants. If any system was ideal for hot, dry weather – this would be it!!

I’ll keep everyone posted!

By the way, if you are fairly new to the site, and this is a topic of interest, you may want to check out the “Vermiponics” section on the HOT TOPICS page for a listing of past blog posts on this topic (among numerous other topics).

Also, if you are interested in joining Jim’s vermiponics forum please drop me a line (make sure to include “vermiponics forum” in the subject) and I will help you get connected with him so he can create an account for you.

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    • Ted
    • July 26, 2011

    Nice set up B
    I see the end of the tubing, where it would pump the water back in, is the pump behind the squash plant? Sizes of containers would matter, but how much water is being used in your system and what size pump would one want? Is this running 24/7?

    A South facing Bay Window, in a cold climate area, would make a perfect spot for smaller system of this sort for herbs and stater plants.

    I will be trying a deep cycle, 12volt battery operated system this winter. I purchased a solar panel 5 years ago, for my trolling motor while I was on the water. This will give me solar recharging during the daylight hours. I hope there will be enough energy in the battery to take it through the night. That’s why I wanted to know if this needs to be running, 24/7

    • Bentley
    • July 26, 2011

    Hi Ted,
    The pump is behind the squash plant. I can’t even remember the pumping capacity, but it’s basically like a souped up decorative fountain pump (ie not a whole lot of pumping power). The water volume is pretty modest as well. Maybe 10-15 gal.
    I keep this system running most of the time (only time it’s unplugged is when someone needs the outdoor extension cord for something), but you could likely get away with having it off for periods of time. Especially if your system involves pumping water up into a bed that then drains down into the reservoir (ie. doesn’t actually sit right in the water). My system last year was off fairly regularly. With the flood and drain system you could save some power by putting it on a timer so it automatically turns on at certain times during the day/night.
    Just my 2 cents

    • Ted
    • July 27, 2011

    A timer sounds like the best bet if the solar panel can’t keep the battery going. I can always recharge with my battery charger. I’m just trying to keep the system as low in cost as possible.

    Thanks, and good harvesting to ya.

  1. Bentley,
    Am I to understand the pots sit in the reservoir and the water is just circulated in the reservoir?

  2. Yep, that’s right Patrick – but I will be occasionally letting the hose pour into each of the pots and/or scooping water from the reservoir into the pots, just to make sure the plant are getting a good dose of the nutrient solution.
    I am also planning to add some other organisms to the reservoir (snails, water fleas, and maybe aquatic isopods) and keeping it open (not blocking sunlight) – may turn into more of a “living machine” system than a strictly vermiponics system.

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