About two years ago, while browsing a fish keeping forum, I discovered Aquaponics. There was a brief post on growing plants in an aquarium and I was immediately intrigued. I began researching and soon developed a small system for my 10 gallon aquarium, which later became the first prototype for the Blue Green Box. It was a regular 10 gallon tank with 2 common goldfish which soon housed several mung bean sprouts that I found in the kitchen. The more I researched and experimented with this small scale aquaponics, the more I fell in love with watching my plants and fish grow together.
Initially my first couple prototypes were very crude. They weren't systems for mass production, rather they were hobbled-together planters for my personal enjoyment. After sharing my new-found hobby with friends and family, and getting a great response, I realized I want to share my creation with the world. As someone who truly believes that aquaponics is a more efficient system of food production (on a larger scale tilapia can be used alongside crops). I want to bring as much attention as I can to the process of growing plants with fish. I wanted to develop a way to bring aquaponics into the home as a fool-proof and enjoyable product that would leave a lasting impression on everyone who saw it.
I began the prototyping phase with my tablesaw, a tube of aquarium grade silicone and some pvc sheets. I experimented with several systems of flooding the grow box, with a variety of different pumps, tubing/plumbing/irrigation solutions and grow containers. I shifted between waterfall systems and internal drainage, bell-siphon versus overflow pipes, grow cups against gravel beds and everything in-between. I exhausted the internet of ways to flood plant roots with aquarium gravel and created the Blue Green Box.
The system I have developed is very simple. When balancing a biological/symbiotic relationship, there are already millions of variables to experiment with, so simplicity is paramount in the design. The box holds 4 grow beds which are plastic planters filled with gravel. Water floods the four grow-beds on timed intervals via a programmable timer and small pump (if the roots were constantly flooded they would drown). As this happens, the plants extract the nutrients from the fish waste and the gravel or other inert substrate that the roots are in, get flooded so the roots will not dry out. Rather than using one large grow-bed, I switched to cups to allow for easy access to the interior of the Blue Green Box. The cups also make it much easier to swap out plants. The flooding of the roots is controlled by my overflow system and submersible pump. The pump floods from the bottom when the timer turns on, and becomes a drain when shut off. While in the on position, the excess water flows out of the overflow gate in the front. The gate guides the water into the aquarium silently, and is oversized to ensure no risk of clogging or flooding.
Setup requires a stocked 10 gallon aquarium, source of sunlight, extra gravel an outlet, and plants. Starting your plants from seeds is much safer than transplanting from soil. Fertilizer and bacteria may poison and kill your fish. Extensive washing of the roots is necessary, so it is recommended to germinate the seeds. Luckily you just need to drop the seeds one inch deep into the grow cups, and they will quickly sprout.
After extensive time testing this product, I am at the stage where I am confident in going public with the idea, and spreading the fun. I worked closely with my father, Joseph de Melo, who ran an industrial design company for several years, to develop a streamlined production plan. Everything will be CNC based and hand assembled In house. We have tested our methods of constructing the box and are very confident in our ability to deliver in late August/ early September.
The main structure is extruded PVC which is machined on top, front and bottom via CNC for the grow cups, overflow and pump. The pump intake is then tapped for ½ in NPT threads where it will be ready for gluing. the overflow gate and end caps are then CNC machined from PVC sheet and glued with cyanoacrylate and sealed with silicone. It will then be tested for leaks. The box is created, It will be inspected for quality and packaged with the necessary components such as the custom cut rigid plumbing and instructions. This method has been tested several times, and I am 100% confident in my ability to deliver. I know exactly what distributors I will be purchasing from, and have sampled their products, I just need to meet my goal in order to begin production!
For the Future
The limits placed on my rewards are to ensure the satisfaction of everyone who contributes to this project. This project is run by myself and my father on our own machines, so our ability to produce has its maximum. Only after testing our production line several times did we decide on our limits. They may reduce the monetary success of this project, but provide insurance for the high level of quality and quick turn-around that I find imperative. If this project garners a positive reaction from the Kickstarter community, I will absolutely follow up with Blue Green Box Design LLC. and invest in injection or rotational molding for a much higher production rate. However getting off the ground is my main goal with this project.
As an aspiring entrepreneur, It pains me that some have failed to deliver and have gotten tangled up in lawsuits through the Kickstarter crowd-sourcing methods. I have researched nearly all reported cases of this and have learned how to be wary of their mistakes. If I am not able to deliver this product, I will immediately send my apologies with a full refund. However, I am 100% ready to produce and deliver. I just need your help to buy the raw materials with a bulk discount that will make this project possible! If you do pledge to this project, you have my sincerest, most heartfelt gratitude, if you end up with a Blue Green Box, I promise you will not be disappointed!
Andrew de Melo
Please send me any and all questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note the Blue Green Box does not replace an aquarium filter, It is not recommended to eat anything produced by this system (more below), and transplanting plants is dangerous and unadvised (more below).
Risks and challenges
Being an individual in charge of this entire project has its positives and negatives. On the upside, I am 100% committed to quality and am not dependent on a lofty production contract or troublesome business partners. On the down side, this project has to be kept fairly small in order for me to be able to fully control the quality of my product. I am very fortunate to have this project closely supervised by my father, a professional in the industrial design industry. As an endless source of knowledge for plastics engineering, I have been able to set my self up for success with this Kickstarter. At this stage in the game, I have done all the thinking, all the planning and considerably more testing. Its really all about buying the materials and putting my nose to the grind stone. If perhaps I am unable to purchase a particular material, I have the flexibility and programming knowledge to adapt my CNC production line to alternatives. Of course as a supporter you will be notified of every such detail!
The biggest risk is having users eat the fruits and vegetables they have grown in their Blue Green Box. This is because professional aquaponics farms do not use regular aquarium chemicals for their water treatments. It is entirely unknown if chemicals from regular water treatments will find their way into the fruits and vegetables. Also aquariums with frogs, turtles, snails and other more disease-prone animals should not be eaten from. There are simply too many unknowns, and nobody wants a case of salmonella poisoning! It is not recommended to eat anything you produce through the Blue Green Box.
Another risk is telling users that they can transplant existing plants from soil to one of these systems. Its highly un-advised because the possibility of bacteria infecting your aquarium fish is too great. Traditional fertilizers as well pose an extreme risk. However, I suspect that many users will try to do this anyways, so its better to at least tell them how. Each plant to be transplanted, MUST be Organic and less than a foot tall. The roots must be washed in tap water until they are absolutely free of soil and should be soaked for at least 30 minutes afterwards with constant water changes. Only then can they be added to the Blue Green Box and introduced to the aquarium. Of course the safety of my customers fish and plants are my biggest concern, so it is recommended to start from seeds.
Other areas of concern are overheating of aquariums that are placed in direct sunlight, algae growth in the tank, and dealing with the decrease in water level when the Blue Green Box is being flooded. These are all avoidable with mindful setup. Warnings will be shipped with every unit.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
I certainly was beat to the punch in launching a micro-aquaponics Kickstarter, however my product is better because of its scale, which means a lot in this field. First of all, keeping your fish in a bowl the size of the previous KS projects, is considered by many to be animal cruelty. It limits you to about 1 betta fish (because they don't have gills) other fish would be quickly poisoned because of temperature instability or via their own waste. 10 gallon aquariums are the most common aquariums and the most often advised to beginners because of their ability to actually house fish. Secondly, with a larger grow bed you can have much larger plants. My earliest prototype had 7ft tomato plants in it, while their products limit you to herbs and marigolds. Plant capacity is pretty minor, but as an aquarist, I am very much opposed to keeping fish in less than 5 gallon containers!
Clean water! Basically my main concern is your health and the health of your fishes! I do not know what you might have put in your tank, or what chemicals you may use ( think medications for fish and water treatments ) . I also do not know if those chemicals will find their way into the plants, so It is totally safe to eat the produce you grow via any aquaponics system, but you have to be very cautious about what you put into the tank. I recommend only using water conditioner, and if a fish happens to get sick, put them in a quarantine tank for treatment.
I am very excited to experiment with new plants, always, however there are so many would be impossible to say which ones work best. Plants that are delicate or with special needs, such as orchids and cacti will require different settings and possibly substrates. I would recommend basic household plants for the first time. I've had incredible success with sunflowers, tomatoes, thai peppers and bean sprouts. If you happen to be someone who sprouts their food, throw some sprouts in a Blue Green Box and you will see how much faster they grow! This answer may be unsatisfying, but at the heart of this Kickstarter is the drive to experiment with new plants in a new growing system, I really want to hear back from people who have tried new plants hopefully I can get my hands on some bonsai for transplanting soon!
I don't have a 10 gallon and I don't want to buy the $300 custom Blue Green Box, can I make a stand?
Of course! The Blue Green Box is 21 inches long and sits on the edges of a 10 gallon tank, so two strips of plastic or wood that bridge the top edges of the tank will suffice to hold it up. However with any makeshift stands, please test their strength before placing them in the aquarium, also be sure to use aquarium safe materials only (think pvc, abs, untreated planks).
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