Our Aquaponic Journey: Part Four – Choosing Media for Grow Beds and Other Product Selections

aquaponic media grow beds


The system I built is from the Endless Food Systems DIY plans. I used untreated pine for all my grow beds, and treated pine for the sump tanks that will sit on the ground, as well as the leg supports. To line the beds, I did a lot of research, and settled on DuraSkrim pond liner. It’s what aquaponics farmers use to get organic certification. I was overly concerned with using plastics and how the leaching could impact the quality of the plants. It’s really hard to get away from plastic, since galvanized metal is poisonous to fish. Unless you have the time to let algae coat all the surfaces, the zinc will be toxic. I emailed a friend of mine in the plastics industry, who happens to have a lot of the same concerns I do, and she recommended I go with the DuraSkrim. I ordered a roll online, but realized later that my local aquaponics store (Brite Ideas in Austin) carries it as well. I could have saved so much on shipping!


For the plumbing, I chose to use polyethelyne pipe (aka pe pipe) for the main units. PVC has a bad reputation for good reason. You can have leaching at high temperatures, and the chemicals used in their construction are still controversial. PE pipe has a much higher temperature threshold, and generally speaking has a better reputation. I like that the parts all snap together without having to use toxic glues, and are easy to cut and assemble. As someone with virtually no plumbing experience, I appreciated it! I tried to use 2″ PE pipe to connect my sump tanks, but I couldn’t find the fittings I needed nor figure out how to get the tools to connect them. So, we went ahead with PVC for the sumps. I’m not entirely thrilled about it, but it will do. I’m pleased to say I also did this myself! Hopefully I didn’t lose too many brain cells in the process ;)


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Choosing the media to fill my beds was an obstacle. At first, I planned to only have media in my main grow bed to act as a filter for two raft beds. But talking to a few pros and attending some classes led me to decide to go with media in all three beds. It seems rafts are best for leafy greens only, and if you want fruits or vegetables you need something a bit more sturdy for them. I talked to a lot of folks about different options, and it seemed that granite would be the most affordable and easily available option. At least, so I thought. My dad mentioned he had several cubic yards of decomposed granite on the property that I was free to use. And that was the key word, FREE! I was so thrilled. I set out sifting and rinsing all the dirt, piling it into a tub and filling up my first bed. It took me four hours and something like 200 shovels worth of granite. All to find out that it was too small. Oy. I posted a photo along with a question to the Facebook aquaponics group I’m in, and the consensus was that the rocks were too small to work well as a media bed. Ouch. So I set to work emptying the bed. The good news was it only took 30 minutes. The bad news was my entire body ached to high heaven.

granite aquaponics media


I was told to look for 3/4″ granite rocks, and to make sure to do the vinegar test to check for pH neutrality. Basically you drop a few stones into a jar of vinegar, and if it fizzes, you don’t use it. Luckily this passed. I searched for a couple of weeks to find a stone yard that carried the size granite I needed. Finally, I found it at New Braunfels Mulch. They had 3/4″ – 2″ granite for $55 a cubic yard, and offered delivery. I ordered two yards, and it turned out to be exactly enough for my three beds! Considering bags of the stuff at box stores run $6 per half cubic foot (meaning I needed about 100 bags) I consider it a great bargain.

The rough part was rinsing and moving, but I managed. I’m thinking I’ll start a new diet program: Body by Aquaponics! I drilled large holes in the bottom of a five gallon bucket, put in 5-6 shovels of rock, rinsed it then dumped it. Registration offices Several hundreds of buckets later, my beds were filled. Whew! Now I just need to finish up the leak checking, bribe my husband to finish wiring the electrical, and it’s time to fill up the beds! SO CLOSE NOW!

Homemade “Nomato” Marinara – Tomato Free Pasta Sauce!

tomato free marinara sauce

Let me begin this post with a disclaimer: I am NOT a food photographer. Obviously. I’m also not really a food blogger either. But as we travel along the road that is food intolerance, I find recipes that are hits and misses. I had been searching for a good replacement for marinara. Something I can use to replace canned tomatoes in recipes. I found several good options, and combined and tweaked and edited those recipes to come up with this super tasty version.

I have to say, my husband and I were pretty surprised at how easily this sauced fooled us. It tastes just like the real thing! It’s great to make a big batch for the refrigerator and reach for it any time a recipe calls for tomatoes. If you are struggling with acid reflux (from a rough pregnancy, perhaps) this is a great alternative for you. Plus it’s full of fabulously nutritious veggies and healthy chicken stock!

“Nomato” Marinara:
• 1 small butternut squash, cubed (or any pumpkin/winter squash)
• 1 1/2 cups sliced carrots
• 2 beets (8-10 oz, or less if you want a milder taste, beets are very earthy)
• 1 cup chopped mushrooms
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 5 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 1 quart chicken stock (or water)
• juice of two lemons
• 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
• 1/4 cup brown sugar or sweetener
• one splash apple cider vinegar (depending on how sour you like things)
• salt, pepper, basil, oregano, and marjoram to taste

Chop up all the veggies. Heat oil in a Dutch oven, then sauté onion and garlic until translucent. Add all veggies, lemon juice, and balsamic vinegar. Cover with chicken stock. Heat to a boil, then simmer 30 minutes until veggies are soft. Blend, add spices to taste, and enjoy! Tastes just like the real thing!

Nomato marinara recipe

You wouldn’t guess from the beginning that this soup like substance will turn into thick, tasty sauce.

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The color is so vibrant! It certainly fools the eye, as well as the stomach. If you’ve been looking for tomato-free recipes, I hope you’ll love this one!

DIY All Natural Tinted Lip Balm Recipe

Processed with Moldiv


Part of my zero waste initiative of 2015 has been to start making my own toiletries and beauty products. For the most part, I use recipes I find online, but sometimes I tweak and alter them until I have something that fits my tastes. This is one of those recipes. I’ve been trying out a few different combinations of ingredients to get a lipstick like texture. So far I haven’t found it, but this recipe makes a great tinted balm that leaves a good amount of color on your lips.



I started by searching for vintage lipstick tubes. I didn’t want to spend time and money making all-natural products just to store them in plastic. Especially when a big part of zero waste is eliminating plastic completely. I browsed several styles on Etsy, and decided on these vintage Revlon tubes from Frugal Resale. They appear to be brass, and since brass commonly had lead in their composition, I picked up a surface lead test from my local hardware store. They were negative, which means, hooray, lead free! I scraped out the remnants and boiled the containers for a few minutes to clean them. I did have one of the labels fall off, so I’ll be gluing it back on. I’m particularly fond of that “Touch of Genius” shade ;)


Many online recipes call for specialty ingredients you have to order online. Since my goal is to hopefully one day source all the ingredients locally, if not completely from my homestead, I tried to find some more basic supplies. Most of this can be found at your local grocery or health foods store. In fact, I ground up dried hibiscus leaves from my HEB bulk section (it was with the spices), and peeled, sliced, and dehydrated and then ground fresh beets into a powder.

grinding-hibiscus-flowers One tip that I found handy with my hibiscus powder was to strain it through a fine mesh sieve. In this case it was a tea strainer. This keeps the larger clumps and flower parts from getting into your coloring powder, keeping the shade a bit more even. Still, hibiscus is a bit more finicky than the beet root. In the stick, it’s hard to tell a difference.


Beet root is on the left, hibiscus on the right. I had a bit of clumping there since I waited just a touch too long to start mixing it up and pouring it into the tube. Here is the beet root balm (it appears a bit darker in real life):


And below is the hibiscus (also a bit darker and slightly more even):


You can see the graininess that the hibiscus can have. It’s less noticeable in person, and you can rub your lips together and work most of it in. I would also say that while the beet root gives the better color, I like the flavor and texture of the hibiscus more.

Now enough hemming and hawing, let’s get to the recipe!

DIY All Natural Tinted Lip Balm Recipe

• 1/4 t beeswax (grated or pellets)
• 1/2 t shea butter
• 1/4 t cocoa butter (I only had coconut butter, and that worked well)
• 1/2 t olive oil (or sunflower/almond/jojoba/whatever oil)
• 1 t coloring powder (beet root, hibiscus, paprika, cocoa, or a mix of several)
• 3-5 drops essential oil of choice (I chose grapefruit since it’s uplifting and makes me happy)

Melt the beeswax, shea, cocoa and olive oil in a double boiler over medium heat. Be sure not to fill it too high to keep water from splashing in. I used a 1 cup pyrex pouring measuring cup for this, stirring with a wooden skewer. This will take up to five minutes, as the beeswax takes a while to fully melt. Once melted, still in the pot, I add in my color powder and make sure it dissolves and blends well into the mixture. Remove from heat and cool. Once it’s cool to the touch, add in your essential oils. You don’t want to do it too soon while it’s hot or it will denature any of the good properties of the oil, leaving just a pretty scent. Allow it to continue cooling, as the oils and colors can separate. Every few minutes stir the mixture with your spoon/skewer, making sure they stay combined. Once it’s the texture of warm butter, begin to coax it into your tube or container. I like to scoop in a bit then tap it on the counter to make sure it’s compacted. I did this several times until it was full to the top. Allow it to cool and set overnight.

Apply as desired! It also makes for a nice cheek or eye stain as well. It’s a subtle color, that needs frequent application. Hopefully soon I’ll come up with the perfect lipstick recipe to share here as well!

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