This page is a work in progress . . .

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May 2010

I can work well or I can work fast, I cannot do both.  So here it is, 6 months or so since I've started this project, but hey!  Seeds are available now!    Oh well, like I said, I'm in no big hurry to finish this (though I can't wait to start using it!)  I just want to make sure it goes together right the first time, because it'll be a monumental pain in the ass to take it all apart to fix after everything is assembled and plants are growing in it.

This is the stand pipe.  This, believe it or not, was the hardest thing to build - because I couldn't find the parts!  What you are looking at is a 2'' to 1'' male threaded reducer fitting (at the top) screwed into a 1'' female threaded fitting, that is a 1'' pressure fitting on the other side.  (This is why my project went over by $3.00, because those two extra parts cost me $1.50 ea.)  That's what I finally had to come up with because I cannot find 2'' to 1'' pressure fittings anywhere (which means next week all hardware stores will have buckets of them on sale.)

This top part is fitted onto a 1'' PVC pipe, which in turn is fitted into the bulkhead, which I made out of 1'' threaded to pressure fittings.  (If you're unfamiliar with the terminology I'm using, a pressure fitting simple means it slides together snugly and is held together by pressure, a threaded fitting screws together, a bulkhead is a just a set of fittings to run through the side of any given water tight container - a plastic box or a ship - so that you can move fluid from one side to the other, and male and female are just how they sound - male goes inside the female - you should've seen my poor, suddenly uncomfortable dad shifting about and ''hmming'' at me when I asked him what that meant when I was 12 or so, but that's exactly what he told me - with a little help from finger gestures )

The ''gaskets'' that I used are pieces of those water noodles kids play with at the pool (or adults work out with in water aerobics!)  I sliced them to size and they work quite well, though I need a better long-term solution for this.  That type of foam isn't very durable and breaks down after a year or two in water, but it will do for now.  Maybe I'll use silicon.

Underside close up shot of the stand pipe.

First test, filling the grow bed with water.  I have not made the ''Bell Valve'' cover for this yet, but for testing purposes I used a plastic lemonade container.  At this point, I'd watched countless videos over and over and looked at diagrams until my brain hurt, but still didn't have the feel for how this was going to work (I'm a hands-on sort of person.)  So I dry-fitted all my PVC parts together put my old lemonade container on it, and turned on the hose . . .

. . . and started filling . . .

. . . and filling.  At this point my lemonade container was trying to float away because it's really too light for this purpose, so I had to intervene a bit and hold it down till the air was pushed out of the container and down the stand pipe.

Almost filled.  Beren was helping me this whole time, he was waiting with rapt attention - he likes playing with the hose . . .

Beren's payoff, water at last!  He jumped right in there and started playing in the water.  But this was just overflow, we were yet to see if this would suck the water out of the grow bed.

So far, so good.  Water is flowing out of the grow bed, and all the air has been sucked out of the lemonade container, but will it continue?  This was the part I was having trouble imagining with all my video watching and diagram studying!

The overflow stopped, the air was sucked out of the lemonade container, and EUREKA!  The water started shooting out of that grow bed!

At this point, the water was slightly below the top of the stand pipe, and it was sucking strong!  Bear in mind, this is all physics at work, this was not hooked up to a pump, it was sucking water all by itself (which is exactly what I need it to do.)

Half empty!  I cannot believe how well this is working!  But once I saw it, and got my hands on it, the proverbial light bulb went off in my head and I went ''ooooooh, duh!  NOW I get it!''  This is just like sucking water with a hose, but with an extra ''hose'' to go through if you will - like a hose inside a hose.

Almost to the bottom of the lemonade container.  It will stop sucking at that point, when air gets back in and breaks the vacuum caused by the water flowing down the stand pipe.

Wow, first try and everything worked like I knew what I was doing or something lol!  At this point, the water in the bottom of the grow bed is about an 1'' - 1½'' deep.  When I've made the proper bell cover for it, it will suck most of the water right out.

End of the show (much to Beren's disappointment, he wasn't done playing in the water.)  Air got in, broke the vacuum and water stopped flowing.  Next, the bell cover.

May 2010 continued . . .

Well I guess my hair must've been on fire or something, because believe it or not, I finished making the whole system!

This is the body of the 'Bell Valve' cover (rather than my old plastic lenonade container.)  It's really quite simple to make.  It incudes two parts, the straight piece you see here (with a scalloped bottom to allow water flow) and a PVC end cap.  I expect the reason why this is called a Bell Valve is because the end caps are usually rounded, so it's sort of bell-shaped.  I could be completely mistaken about that however

This is just a shot looking down at the stand pipe before I finished the assembly of the bell valve cover, so you can see how it fits together..

I decided to put another coat of paint on my grow bed frames, so now they are lovely clean white.  No doubt they'll be a different color before too long, such as algae green.  Beren of course ''helped'' me paint them - he looked like a Chocolate Dalmation when we were through.  He didn't like having his nose scrubbed too much I'm afraid to say!

Originally I had intended for the grow beds to be slightly sloped, but that wasn't working out so well, I needed more height between the bottom of the bed and the bench they were sitting on, so I put some cross pieces in the frames.  The sides of the frames still prevent the grow beds from bulging, even though they are not exactly level 

This picture also shows the water delivery system I built, and the completed bell valve covers there on the window sill.  The water delivery is done by siphon, I have hooked no pumps to it.  Water is siphoned out of the fish stock tank into the grow beds.  About ½ to ¾ of the fish tank is below the height of the grow bed (water) outlet - so in case of power outages, the fish tank will not drain completely; a lesson I learned the hard way years ago when I started my first salt water aquarium . . . you do not ever forget mopping up 50 gallons of salt water off your floor!

Everything dry-fitted together.  I did a test run to make sure everything was working as it should before I started gluing all the PVC pieces together.  The second you glue them, they are stuck for all time and you'll never get them apart.

A close up of the T-split.  The red handles are quarter turn shut off valves.  They are essential if you split a single siphon point the way I have.  You need to have the ability to restrict water flow on the side where the water is naturally inclined to come out, so that the water will flow evenly down both sides.  And alternatively, if I wish to shut one bed off for some reason (such as maintenance) then I can.

A close up of the water outlet.  How exciting!    When I finished dry-fitting everything and glued it together, I did not glue these.  I did this deliberately, so that I could swivel them up or down when I need to.

As I've mentioned earlier, I've all sorts of aquariums and what-not lying around.  This is an aquarium I've had since I was a teenager and it's around 20-30 gallons or so.  I kept the undergravel filter and the lift tube (that yellowish pipe) for a number of reasons.  One, I want to suck the water off the bottom of the aquarium, this is where the dirtiest water is going to be, which is what I most want on the plants in the grow beds.  To avoid tragic piscine accidents, I want the end of the siphon tube to be away from where the fish can get at it.  Fish are remarkably curious, and tend to stick their noses where they ought not, and even the large ones have an irritating habit of getting themselves sucked up tubes - I don't want to be prying fish bodies out of the tubes, or picking them up out of my grow beds.  So that's why I went with the undergravel filter.  The gravel itself is nessesary to a) hold down the undergravel filter, and b) keep the fish happy.  It also gives bacteria a massive amount of space to grow on, and bacteria are vital for breaking down organic material (fish poo in this case) into it's constituent componenets so that plants can use it.

I've decided to go with goldfish.  They are hardy, prefer colder water so I won't need to heat it, they thrive on a vegetative diet - so I can grow their food - and they are one of they dirtiest fishes I know of, dirt = poop = good in this case!  Goldfish are consummate gravel cleaners, they enjoy spending their day picking up mouthfuls of gravel and spitting them out.  Gives them something to do I guess. 

Well, I'm back to plastic food containers!  I needed about 18'' of 4½/5'' PVC to make the gravel guard to go around my Bell Valve, trouble is I don't have any, and I am loath to go buy a 10' length of the stuff when 2' would more than do me.  So this is what I ended up with - a couple of old 1 gallon sized food containers that I cut the ends off of, drilled some holes around the bottom to let water in.  I put four slits in the sides there at the bottom, and ran a couple pieces of thin plastic strips through so that when I fill the beds with gravel, the gravel will cover the strips and hold the containers in place.  I removed the strips after I filled the beds with gravel, those gravel guards aren't going anywhere!

Now I've gotten sloppy, but hey, it works!  I thought about spending more money to buy the proper PVC fittings to make the drains, then I thought of the hours I'd waste trying to find the fittings at my sorry hardware stores, so I took a piece of no-kink flexible tubing I had left over from my pond.  I reckoned I'd just shove a piece of 1'' PVC in the end of it then the other would fit the stand pipe - think again!  The no-kink spirals in that tubing is very rigid and cannot be stretched.  So I just shoved the tubing inside the stand pipe and taped the hell out if it instead.  It's only over-flow water, it will never be under any pressure, so this is good enough.  Doesn't leak, so I'm not going to worry about it.

Voilà, the sump!  This is where the water drains to after if leaves the grow beds.  I've placed a pump in the bottom, to pump the water back to the aquarium, this is the only part of the entire system that requires electricity.  The sump itself is an 18 gallon Rubbermaid container, in uh, dark green.  Beren chewed one of the handles when he was younger.  I used to keep camping supplies in it.  I've now exhausted everything there is to be said about it.

Another picture of the sump but this time with the pump and the over flow water in it.  The pump I used here is way overkill.  It's a Pondmaster Mag-Drive with a capacity as I recall of about 650 gph.  The reason why I'm using it is because I have it.  Makes no sense whatsoever to go buy a brand new lower capacity pump when I've got this.  Though come to that, I've got low capacity pumps too, but this one is a whole lot less hassle and maintenance . . . and doesn't tend to fall apart like some of the others I have - it's darn near bullit proof! 

And here we are!  All the misc. pieces assembled and glued (or taped!) together, grow beds filled with gravel, water added, pump turned on - all that's missing is the plants and the fish!

Close up of the filled grow beds, and of course, the missing plants!  (Inside the black and clear container sitting on top the grow bed there.)  Or soon-to-be, right now they are seeds I'm waiting on to germinate and get a little growth on before I plant them in the grow beds.  I don't want to plant the seeds direcetly in the grow beds - they would just get flushed away down the drain.

I'll also wait for a few days before I get the fish - let the system settle down a bit first.  You don't want to find out something is going to fail horribly after you add the fish, because you'll just end up having to buy new fish 

And what, pray tell, have I sown to plant in the grow beds?  Tomatos, lettuce, oregano, cilantro and basil!

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Thursday, January 01, 2015 7:36:19 AM
by A.E. Wieden a.k.a. Lúthien
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