Our Greenhouse's History:
Our California Greenhouse went through many changes since we first built it in late 2008. The above photo is what it looked like in the Spring of 2015 before we tore everything down and moved to Arizona in June of 2016. But the first Systems it housed were early versions of our FGS-20 Deep Media STEM & Family Growing System as seen below. From 2009 until February of 2014, we had five of these Deep Media Grow Beds with three 120 gallon Fish Tanks (not shown, but the automatic fish feeders are visable) underneath the Grow Beds.
Then in February of 2014, it all changed.
We tore out everything that you see in the photo above, including the fish tanks and installed our first Vertical NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) System. We called this system the Duffy Duct™ System after our System Designer, Oliver Duffy.
This first Duffy Duct™ System used vinyl fence posts as growing ducts as seen below. We designed this system as a prototype to promote our large-scale, commercial Vertical Food Forever™ Farms; and the first crop was four 60 degree Vertical Walls full of Romaine Lettuce.
But we soon discovered that the Vinyl Fence Posts were too expensive to use even after spending hours establishing wholesale relationships with several suppliers. Commercial Farmers just weren't going to be able to pay the exhorbitant price to build one of these Systems on a large scale. We went back to the drawing board and came up with a much less expensive component for our NFT Growing Ducts. By now it was around July of 2014 and we once again tore out everything except the wooden support walls and installed the new Duffy Duct System you see below using Downspouts, which were a much less expensive version of the Vinyl Fence Posts. These Downspouts are growing a Wall of Red Oak Lettuce.
At the same time, we started doing R&D on an 80º Vertical (below, right) System using our Sump Tank as the water catch.
Once we established that the 80º Vertical System would work, we once again tore everything out of the Greenhouse including the wooden support walls and the two Sump Tanks and started over by installing a Trough that looked a lot like a Raft Trough without the polystyrene. The Trough catches the water flowing through the 80º Vertical NFT Downspouts. Reflected in the Trough water are the Tomato Plants that are growing in one of the two Deep Media Bed that are in the back of the Greenhouse. Grace is trimming those Tomato Plants in the accompanying photo with the Downspouts in their 80º Vertical positioning over the Trough.
There were three indeterminant Tomato Plants in the Deep Media Grow Bed you can see in this picture. Behind that Bed, you can barely see the second Deep Media Grow Bed in the back, which has Taro planted in it as a test for one of our customers who wanted to grow Taro and Peppers in Deep Media Beds.
The three Tomato Plants were planted in the Spring of 2014 so they were about one year old when the above picture was taken. They put out the most delicious, nutritious tomatoes we had ever tasted right through fall and winter of 2014 and 2015.
The Test Taro Plants struggled in the back Deep Media Bed, not because Taro doesn't like to be grown in an Aquaponics System, but because the three Tomato Plants actually grew over to the other Deep Media Bed where they took space away from the Taro.
You have to be careful with Tomatoes because they will take over a small system not only taking over the space but, also, taking up all of the Nutrients in the system because it takes a lot of Nitrates to grow Tomatoes.
Tomato Plants have to be trimmed on a regular basis. This one was in need of a good trimming when this photo was taken. A well manicured Tomato Plant looks practically naked in terms of leaves as you have to get rid of all of the sucker leaves that will not produce fruit and will only take nutrients away from the fruit producing branches.
We also had a Growroom in California, which was approximately the same size as our Greenhouse and is where we grew leafy greens without sunshine by using a variety of Grow Lights; as we'd been doing R&D using Grow Lights for several years. We built the Growroom to demonstrate to our Aquaponics USA customers how to grow food indoors without land or sun. The photo below was taken after we installed the first system in the Growroom, which was an oroginal FGS-40 STEM & Family System with four Deep Media Grow Beds and a 320 gallon Fish Tank.
In the photo below, Grace is planting sprouted seedlings into the Deep Media Grow Beds. You will see by comparing this photo with the next one that we didn't have nearly enough light over these beds. We discovered that early on when these plants got real leggy, meaning the lettuce had these long stalks indicating they were reaching for more light.
Here you see the other end of the Growroom where the 320 gallon Fish Tank sat. This picture shows the addition of another row of Fluorescent Grow Lights, which made all the difference in our ability to grow healthy plants.
In the foreground is our Automatic Fish Feeder. We often say that raising Tilapia is quite easy as long as you have one of these handy devices.
The fish pretty much take care of themselves, eating, mating, swimming, fertilizing your plants and repeating that process.
Our water quality improved considerably after this photo was taken because we added some extra components to our system. You can read all about that in our Aquaponics 101 Tutorial.
We grew basil in the first Deep Media Bed. Basil loves Aquaponics Systems and will grow beautifully in Deep Media Beds as well as Raft Systems and NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) Systems, which are all water with no Growing Media.
We also provided an overhead light for the fish in our indoor systems because Tilapia like some light.
The Growroom went through some big changes after February of 2014 when we also tore everything we had in it out and put in a Horizontal Vinyl Fence Post System, which worked like a combination NFT and Deep Water Culture System. Below are the same two views from one end and then the other of our rennovated Growroom. This room had two doors, one on each end. This is the view from the door that was at the North end of the room.
The brown rectangle you see at the top of this picture is the bottom of an Induction Grow Light, which we were selling on this website. We decided they were too expensive and have discontinued them.
There's one more room that we need to share here because it completed our new 80º Vertical System and the new Growroom System shown above. That room was our Fishroom. If you scroll back to the 80º Vertical System, you'll see that our Greenhouse has no fish tanks in it; and as you can see here, neither does our Growroom. We didn't need to put fish tanks in either of these rooms because we built a Fishroom.
This new Fishroom worked great because the fish were in an indoor controlled environment where we easily could keep an eye on them, watch how the breeding and brooding process was coming along and hand feed them for fun when we gave tours.
Above is a photo of the Fishroom being built.
We extended the roof off of the existing one we put on the Growroom. The finished wall is the Growroom's outside wall. After completing the Fishroom, we placed 6,000 Watts of Solar Panels on the new Fishroom roof.
Here is the completed Fishroom. It had five 120 gallon Fish Tanks. These are the same Fish Tanks that we use in our FGS-20 STEM & Family System.
Notice the tall black Tower in the back corner of this room. That's one of the added components which allowed our water to be so clear you can actually see the fish in their tanks.
You can learn more about this WET (Water Enhancement Technology) System in our Aquaponics 101 Tutorial.
The addition of this WET System is not necessary if you're running one of our STEM & Family Growing Systems because they are all Deep Media Systems that can easily grow lots of different kinds of veggies and fruits in those Deep Media Beds.
But once you start growing leafy greens in NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) near Vertical Troughs, you need to have ultra clean water or the roots get clogged up with solid fish waste.
That's why we added the WET Tower and what we call our Solids Separation BioConversion System, which is purposefully not shown in this photo.
The water you see in these fish tanks ran through our Greenhouse and our Growroom as all of these parts became one single system requiring a single water chemistry measurement. Some of the water ran underground for about 100 ft. from this Fishroom to our Greenhouse and then back again. It also ran into the Growroom right next door and then back to the Fish Tanks.
Our Greenhouse, Growroom and Fishroom were self-contained Eco Systems–highly controlled environments where the temperature was kept around 75 degrees. The Greenhouse got hotter than that in the summer and colder than that during winter nights; but we were able to keep it in a range that continued to grow those tomatoes we spoke of earlier right through winter. We added reflective insulation along the North Wall of the Greenhouse, which helped keep the heat from escaping and reflect the low winter sun back into the greenhouse. It also helped us keep out some of the heat in the summer.
Because we were in the dry High Desert of Southern California above Palm Springs at 3,400 feet of altitude, we could cool our Green House and our Growroom with evaporative coolers that are much less expensive to operate than regular heat pump style air conditioners. The Greenhouse had two large ones and the Growroom had one small one.
In the winter, we needed to heat our Greenhouse at night and were using a natural gas Blue Flame Heater on a thermostat set to about 50 Fº to do that.
We hope you've enjoyed this multi-year history of Aquaponics USA's Greenhouses, Growroom and Fishroom. This page mostly describes what we were doing before we moved from California to Arizona. What we're doing in Arizona is a different story all together that involves dealing with snow and 6,030 ft. of altitude. That's a whole new story, which will be evolving as our Arizona Greenhouse has now officially started growing veggies. Keep coming back to this page often and Watch Our Veggies Grow!
We then planted three kinds of lettuce in our new 80º Vertical Wall and ended up with the Wall of Lettuce you see near the top of this page. The holes have an 8" x 8" separation, which we learned is too close. Below is one end of the 80º Vertical Wall next to the badly in need of trimming Tomato Plants.
Live Greenhouse Cams
Our California Greenhouse:
Below is a photo of the Greenhouse we had in California before we made our move to Arizona, where we have built our new Greenhouse you see above.
Our New Arizona Greenhouse, with a Live Pictures that Refresh regularly during the day.
The top camera is located on the South East corner of the Greenhouse pointed towards the stage one Horizontal grow out and the stage two Vertical grow out for our leafy greens, which are mainly lettuce. The bottom camera is located at the West end of the greenhouse above the sump/fish tank. The camera pictures are uploaded to the site and your browser is set to refresh them every 60 seconds.
You are being invited right into the most exciting thing that happens at Aquaponics USA, the Greenhouse. We are starting this feed right at the beginning of soaking our seed planting cubes in low pH water in the sink you see in the lower right corner of the top picture, to placing the planted seedling cubes into the seedling trays until the seeds sprout and are ready to transplant into the Grow Beds. You are quite literally Watching Our Veggies Grow.
In the top picture you see of our Proprietary Aquaponics Vertical System. It is expected to turn out about 36 heads of lettuce per week once it is fully operational. We have completed our trial growout and have made some adjustments to our nutients and to our lighting by adding shade cloth.
This Greenhouse is attached to our home and was created from what was originally a covered porch. It is about three times the size of the old greenhouse you see below. Welcome to our new Greenhouse!
Our Big Move
In June 2016 we moved from the California high desert to the Arizona White Mountains. We now live on a simi-rural 10 acres at 6030 feet altitude with a 400 foot deep well into the Coconino Aquifer, with some of the best water in the US. Our 100 foot long East-West house had a 75 by 15 foot open and covered porch along its South side. In additon there was an extra 12 foot of concrete slab on the West end, which allowed us to extend the porch out 6 feet with a sloped roof and room for a 6 foot diameter 310 gallon sump tank. It still left us with about 6 feet of outside slab to mount two large swamp coolers external to the West end of the greenhouse, which have been since swaped out for wall mounted Bonaire units.
For the West 45 feet of original porch, we pealed back about 12 of the 15 feet of roof and used clear bubble film from SolaWrap to cover the top, sloped West end and the vertical South side. The Eastern 15 by 30 feet of the original porch is covered by a connector roof between the house and Aquaponics Systems building workshop. That 450 ft² area, now walled in, will become the room containing our fish tanks, Bioponics digester and filtration system. The remaining 15 by 45 foot greenhouse is for growing, plus the additional 6 feet protruding out the West end for the sump tank, pictured below.
For now, we are using the 310 gallon sump tank on the West end of the greenhouse to hold the fish. The sump/fish tank is hydronically heated by using 100 feet of 3/4 inch PEX tubing coiled into the bottom of the 6 foot diameter tank, which can be seen in the photo below. Hot water from a gas fired heater in the work shop is circulated through the PEX tubing by a thermostatically controlled hot water pump.
The sump/fish tank has two 1110 GPH submersible pumps, each feeding 3 grow beds with a cross link between the pumps.
The control system uses a Mac Mini running Indigo software with a Phidget software interace plugin that controls a Phidget relay module via USB. These relays operate the hard wired valves (blue stainless steel valves shown in picture above) attached to the water inlet of each grow bed. The nice thing about Indigo software is that it can be accessed anywhere on the internet (as long as the router is port forwarded) from a remote Mac computer running the same software, and that is the way we monitor and modify the timing actions. It can also be accessed via a web browser, either on a computer or smart phone, to see what is happening and to manually control actions, but not make permenant changes.
We built six 4 x 8 x 1 foot deep media filled grow beds (180 Sq ft of inside planting area) in the Western 60% of the full height portion of the greenhouse and have computer controlled electric flood valves (visible in the picture below) and external loop siphon drains on each bed. The loop siphons allow for complete use of the grow bed for planting without the intrusion of a bell siphon. We needed to control the flood and drain in order to be able to keep the sump/fish tank water level stable, considering we have a lot more grow bed gallons (1,346) than sump/fish tank gallons (310). It takes about 8 minutes to fill a single grow bed before it starts siphoning, but we leave the valves on for 10 minutes to insure they are siphoning and then shut them off and imediately turn on the next grow bed valve in the series. We fill one left and one right grow bed at the same time and cycle through all three on each side in 30 minutes. The cycle is then repeated.
When the sun shines we have about a 40Fº to 50Fº temperature rise midday in the greenhouse as compared to the outside temperature. Because we have a common wall with the open kitchen, dining and living rooms, we plan on installing a speed controlled large fan in that wall to bring warm air from the greenhouse into the house during approprite times, again all under software control. By doing this we will reduce our Winter heating bill.
As explained in Aquaponics 101, the quantity of fish in the sump/fish tank is not enough to support the number of media filled grow beds we currently have installed. In addition, we have built a vertical system in the greenhouse for leafy greens that also requires nutrients. The vertical system pulls water from the drain-back of the media filled grow beds, as it is the cleanest water currently in the system.
In order to supply enough plant nutrients, we plan on building out our fish room, mentioned above, having two 310 gallon fish tanks and incorporating a Nitraponic system (a Bioponic system without fish) of our own design. This will insure we will have enough nutrients for the completed system.
Shown on the right is a screen capture of an Indigo summary window indicating outside temperature, inside house temperature, house swamp cooler fan speed and house swamp cooler water pump status, all shown in red. Below that in green is greenhouse exhuast vent air temperature, greenhouse swamp coolers' water pump status and respective fan speeds, grow bed valves status and greenhouse wall mounted fans status.
We also have USB connected Phidget temperature modules (with adjustable sensitivity) that measure temperatures in the greenhouse and the house. Indigo controls the two Bonaire 5900 CFM evaporative coolers at the West end of the greenhouse, via Insteon 1000W light dimmer modules (supported by the Indigo software). The software controls, via dimmer/speed controllers, the speed of the evaporative (swamp) cooler fans, located in the greenhouse as well as one on the North wall of the house, with different fan speeds set to correspond to different temperatures. The hotter it gets in the greenhouse, or the house, the more cool air the respective fans blow. Due to the very low humidity here most of the year, the evaporative coolers work very well, providing decrease of about a 30 Fº in air temperature from the dry outside air being brought in. If the outside air temperaure is below 73 Fº then the water pumps are turned off and only cool dry ouside air is brought in.
Watch Our Vegies Grow