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Help me brainstorm what to do with my grow bed?

 
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I built my aquaponic setup by cutting the top off an IBC tote, turning it upside-down, rotating it 90 degrees and setting it on top. I filled the grow bed with sand. This worked for several years, but now the plastic of the grow bed has warped and slumped under the weight. Now when the water pumps up to it, it mostly runs over onto the ground before it can run to the drain.









I'd love to push or pull it back into shape and support it with a wooden frame. I can't believe that I could do that without emptying it and uprooting my apple trees and sunroots. Can anyone think of a way I could do it?

Another option I'm considering:
Build a platform and put a kiddy pool on it, plumbed as a grow bed. Fill it with water, build a lumber frame it just fits into, fill the empty space between with soil. Drain the water and transfer the sand into the kiddy pool. Add more sand if needed. Take the now empty IBC top and give it the same treatment. If I'm going to try all this, I'd like opinions re: whether soil would provide enough support to keep the plastic in shape, and how to know what these beds would weigh and how heavily the platforms need to be built.

The current grow bed is about 40" X 48" X 10". The bottom of it isn't flat, and the corners are rounded, so these measurements are approximate.
 
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I'm not that familiar with IBC's - are they galvanized metal?  Is it possible for you to get more of the same or similar metal and put 1-2 extra verticals between the existing ones? You'd probably be best to use some sort of fastener at the top, but you could potentially push it ( tap it?) in until it catches and is held at the bottom just by friction and the tank, then screw or bolt it to the top tube. You may find that you can just remove some of the sand near the edge where the plastic has bulged, rather than having to empty the whole bed. In a perfect world, an extra horizontal support at the level of the top of the plastic would be ideal, but much more difficult to do without disturbing the plants. Personally, I'd hesitate to use wood in such a wet environment, but you may feel that the outside stays dry enough that the wood against the plastic won't hold water and rot. However, you've got limited space to work with between the existing supports and the plastic liner, so do you feel you can use thick enough wood to have the strength you'd need?

Maybe that will spark some other ideas at least!
 
T Melville
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Jay Angler wrote:I'm not that familiar with IBC's - are they galvanized metal?





There are all kinds. Mine's plastic inside a steel cage for support. It was 275 gallons, before I cut it.

See the solid surface the bottom sits on? I think I need one for the top, but it probably needs to be contoured. (See the top in the picture. Mine's similar.)

wikipedia article         image  source
 
Jay Angler
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To me, what you're saying is that you think the reason the plastic has warped is because of the "slump" and you use "slump" to refer to changes in the shape of the bottom of the bed due to lack of contoured support. That implies that simply providing better support for the top edge won't be enough to cure your problem.
T Melville wrote:

If I'm going to try all this, I'd like opinions re: whether soil would provide enough support to keep the plastic in shape, and how to know what these beds would weigh and how heavily the platforms need to be built.

If you were to buy a kiddie pool, you could fill it up to a marked level with water, then take full buckets of water out being careful to count the number. Then you could take the weight of the bucket of your typical fill material (wet sand?) considering how much water would be there during the "full of water" portion of the cycle, and do the math to calculate the final weight. It's amazing how heavy wet dirt is! Since I'm normally accused by Hubby of under-engineering projects I build, I think I'll encourage other permies to speak up.

I have to admit looking at your pictures that it appears that the top section of the IBC is not particularly well supported. It totally respect your reticence not to disturb all the plants, but the plastic may not easily cooperate about returning to its original shape if it's been left for a long time deformed. I would use the heat of the sun to help when pushing it back and look carefully for cracking. It would be a shame to go to a lot of work fixing it and then have it spring a leak, although if it's final position is over top of the lower tank portion, a bit of a drip may not be a deal-breaker.

My husband likes to collect used pallets, and occasionally we've seen plastic ones being given away. That might give you a starting base. If you can't find a plastic one, a quality wooden one could also be a start.

Do you have access to a tractor? One with forks? Would it be strong enough to lift the bed off the tank and set it on a skid?
 
T Melville
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Jay Angler wrote:To me, what you're saying is that you think the reason the plastic has warped is because of the "slump" and you use "slump" to refer to changes in the shape of the bottom of the bed due to lack of contoured support. That implies that simply providing better support for the top edge won't be enough to cure your problem.



Right. I'd like to hope I could carriage bolt wood to the rim, inside and out, jack that up, and secure it to some kind of frame. I have a hard time believing that would last. I suspect supporting the bottom is at least part of the right answer.

Jay Angler wrote:I have to admit looking at your pictures that it appears that the top section of the IBC is not particularly well supported. It totally respect your reticence not to disturb all the plants, but the plastic may not easily cooperate about returning to its original shape if it's been left for a long time deformed. I would use the heat of the sun to help when pushing it back and look carefully for cracking. It would be a shame to go to a lot of work fixing it and then have it spring a leak, although if it's final position is over top of the lower tank portion, a bit of a drip may not be a deal-breaker.



It's supported with enough strength, but it only touches the support in a few places, so it sags. A lot. It does leak, both where I cut for the drain and through the cap that was at the top. That hasn't been a big deal, but I'd like to move it and expose more of the water's surface, so stopping the leaks is a factor I'll need to consider.

Jay Angler wrote:My husband likes to collect used pallets, and occasionally we've seen plastic ones being given away. That might give you a starting base. If you can't find a plastic one, a quality wooden one could also be a start.

Do you have access to a tractor? One with forks? Would it be strong enough to lift the bed off the tank and set it on a skid?



I hadn't thought about plastic pallets. There are metal ones, too. I'll be on the lookout. I jumped straight to wood because I have wooden pallets and some lumber available, but waterproof would be better.

I don't have a tractor, but might be able to borrow one. Not with forks, though, nobody does that here. I don't think anyone in the neighborhood has a boom pole anymore either. Dad had the only one I've ever seen. Sold it when he sold the tractor.
 
T Melville
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T Melville wrote:See the solid surface the bottom sits on? I think I need one for the top, but it probably needs to be contoured. (See the top in the picture. Mine's similar.)



Duh! That comment made me think. "Why can't the top be like the bottom? Hmmm.... Why does it have to be a top? Wouldn't a bottom cut off shallow do the trick just fine? It'd be on a steel pallet and have a solid bottom. There's a place outside of town that sells IBC totes for $50. I'll just go get one and cut off the top and the bottom. I'll transfer all my stuff into the bottom, and I'm back in business. Then if I can take my time and design good support for the tops, I can triple my grow bed space!"

Then I decided to check craigslist. I searched "IBC". About an hour away, a guy had four with the tops cut off. He flipped the tops and put them on the ground. They don't sag, and he gardens in them. The DOMYS (Department of Making You Sad) said he had to get rid of the bottoms. They're strapped to my pickup right now. No charge. They aren't completely assembled, I'm still looking for some of the valves, but at least two will hold water.

My biggest challenge now will be building a platform (or platforms) that will hold the weight, and plumbing them so they'll drain, but the pipes won't get full of sand.

We just got home from buying a new hacksaw & a new Sawzall. I'm gonna go see if I can get one or two cut before dark. I'll try to post pictures and maybe a drawing of my plumbing idea later.
 
Jay Angler
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T Melville wrote:

There's a place outside of town that sells IBC totes for $50.

I'm seriously jealous. Here they're more like $150 *if* you can even find one! Good score, and it will be interesting seeing what all you do with everything you now have to work with.
 
T Melville
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Took longer to find the Sawzall blades than it did to lose the light. So nothing got cut. But we did find 'em, so I can start tomorrow.

Here's a few visuals:

Come and listen to my story 'bout a man named Jed...



I'd like to plumb the grow beds by using tees and elbows to conect all the drain valves to a horizontal pipe. I'd like to supply water into the horizontal pipe by hooking my pump hose to a tee at the lowest point. I'd like to insert one more tee that sends a vertical up to my desired water depth, then install one elbow on it to go horizontal, then one more to go back down. Hook a vertical pipe into there, then run it back into the tank. That way, water would pump up, flood all the grow beds at the same time, and rise to the desired depth. After reaching that depth, any water that continued to pump would just return to the tank. When the timer shuts off, all water too shallow to run over would run back down the pump hose, draining the system. This is really not my design, it's largely adapted from what Jack Spirko is doing right now with his "kratkyish" system and his aeroponic bucket system.

 
Jay Angler
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... and in case any Newbees are checking out this thread, I will put on my safety hat and compliment you on using ratchet straps to secure *all* the parts of your load! Safety first - always!!!

All I can say about your water management ideas, is a lesson I learned when messing with my duck stock tank - make sure there are fittings that are easy to take apart to make it easy to clean so if shit happens, it's easy to fix. Hubby bought me an awesome screw together fitting for the Noisy Duck tank and a valve between it and the tank. I open the valve to dump the water which goes through a long pipe to the bamboo patch. But there's still muddy water left in the tank, so I close the valve, unscrew the fitting and now I can just tip up the tank and spray it out with the hose, put it back down, reconnect the fitting and refill - every 3 days. The ducks would like it fresh *every* day, but the bamboo can only absorb so much water. I would like some version of a staged living filter, but I'm not there yet.

I hope today makes lots of progress!
 
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