DIY Aquaponics: How to build a self-watering glass bottle garden (step-by-step)

I’m your average city-dwelling nomad. When I first learned about aquaponics — an automated, self-watering method of container gardening, I lived in a tiny apartment in the downtown high rise below. With plenty of perseverance and a tiny Southeast facing balcony, I set out to raise fish and veggies together in a recirculating aqua garden. I’ve since relocated to another side of town, but the plants in my glass bottle planters are still growing and growing! Here’s how you can make these vertical glass bottle planters at home (no power tools required)!

the vantange pointe
Downtown, San Diego 92101

Live & Learn

Without any easy way to hang vertical planters from the cement ceiling or walls, I repurposed a metal shelving unit that was collecting dusty things on the balcony into the frame of my hanging planter design. Our first “design” (below), using large net water planters from Home Depot, was an epic failure. All our transplants from the farmers’ market died from too much oxygen.

first stupid design
Initial Vertical Planter Prototype – early Spring. Fail.
evening bottles with growstones
Planted with 100% recycled Growstones

Eventually, we learned recycled glass bottles make for better insulated, less expensive, vintage-looking vertical planters.

At some point, I also realized it’s probably safer to wrap the metal chains with electrical tape and metal shelving with pond pathways to direct water into the tank to prevent any metal from rusting or leaching into the water. (I knew electrical tape would work, because it’s what I use to temporarily “repair” dinged surfboards when lazy!)

end of april
Second vertical planter prototype – late Spring. Success!

Final Materials List

TOTAL APPROX. COSTS: $160 

4 Easy Building Steps

1. Cut Glass Bottles in Half

dremel sky vodka
Score a line an inch or so from the bottom w/a Dremel rotary or other sharp tool

Many different ways to do this. I experimented with using a Dremel rotary tool (pictured right), which will do the job but is extremely loud and messy. Now I use a g2 bottle cutter ($20 on Amazon). The simple device makes a perfect cut and does the job better and faster and way less loud!

Score a single line across the diameter of the bottle, about an inch or so off each glass bottle with whatever you have. Then gently poor hot water over the lightly score line, followed by cool tap water, repeating until the glass pops apart.

2. Assemble Vertical Planter

Wrap the stainless steel metal chain with electrical tape, string chain through each bottle and secure in desired place by attaching the mouth of each bottle to a link on the chain with a 3 – 7 inch piece of flexible garden wire. Then hang the top chain link of each vertical planter on the metal shelving unit (or sturdy nail-hook) using stainless steel hooks (buy a 5 pack for under $1).

planting second harvest
Lavender and chard transplants

3. Connect the plumbing

Connect the 1/2” black pond tubing from your water pump in your fish tank to the top metal shelf using 1/2” connectors, then use adjustable flow and straight 1/4” micro tubing connectors to distribute water to the top of each vertical bottle planter. Set the water pump timer (set to 15 min on / 75 min off). Connect air stone to air pump, place air stone in tank, and plug in the pump to an outlet (no timer).

If you are setting up a new aquaponics system, be sure to cycle your water through the system for a few weeks before introducing too many fish and plants. It takes time for the good bacteria essential to the nutrient exchange in the system.

4. Plant and Grow!

Fill each bottle with a handful of Growstones, then transplant germinated seeds (using the paper towel method) or small seedlings or clones into the bottle, then lightly cover plants’ roots with another handful of Growstones.

I have had success direct seeding in the bottles with really big seeds like beans, but small seeds usually end up too low in the bottle to grow out nicely (if at all). You will enjoy a higher success rate with smaller seeds by starting your GMO-free organic seeds in a separate seedling propagator (I like this this 25 site aeroponics cloner) to ensure a well developed root system before transplanting into each bottle.

rose bush comes back alive
The dead looking rose bush transplant finally shows first sign of life!

Little Maintenance Required

Enjoy growing bountiful harvests and the company of cute fish pets all year — indoors or outside — with very little maintenance! Gravity will ensure the glass bottles under the top receive nutrient rich water, so that your fish tank stays clean! No bell syphon or other plumbing necessary.

Transports Easily

The bottle garden (with plants growing!) was easy to transport from one apartment to another.

23 floor view with garden
Downtown San Diego, 92101 (23rd floor)

hello pbbottles in september

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On our new 2nd floor balcony closer to the beach, we simply hung the vertical glass planters on the hooked screws that were already drilled into the ledge of our roof.

1st bloom on the Don Juan rose bush planted last Spring. So fragrant!
1st bloom on the Don Juan rose bush planted last Spring. So fragrant!
peas rose bush kale
Little Marvel peas, Don Juan rose bush, and Grandfather kale — all loving aquaponics

My plants are now thriving in all the additional sun on the new beachside patio!

Beautiful bright zinnia bloom
Beautiful bright zinnia bloom

Facing pest issues in your aquaponics garden? Try a few of these non-toxic methods of controlling pesky garden critters.

Need help getting your plants to bloom and thrive? Here’s a list of our favorite fish-friendly fertilizers for aquaponic and organic gardeners.

How can we improve this guide?

Please let me know if you have ANY questions, need clarification, or have suggestions for improving this design. Happy Farming! ~maria

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