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Click the image below for a printable PDF of the Water Garden setup instructions.
GROW ONE, GIVE ONE
Did you notice our Grow One, Give One campaign on your Water Garden? At Back to the Roots, we're a small, passionate team on a mission to reconnect families back to where food comes from. As part of that mission, for every Indoor Gardening Kit product you post a photo with, we'll donate the same product & a custom curriculum to an elementary school classroom of your choice! Learn more and send us your photo at BacktotheRoots.com/GiveOne
What is the Water Garden?
- The Back To The Roots Water Garden condenses all of the amazing features of large-scale aquaponics into a 3-gallon tank for your kitchen or classroom! The fish fertilize the plants, and the plants filter the water for the fish. You can grow organic herbs and microgreens with this closed-loop ecosystem in any kitchen or classroom!
What is aquaponics?
- Aquaponics is an ancient, sustainable method of farming developed by the Aztecs. It uses 90% less water than traditional farming methods and combines aquaculture (fish cultivation) with hydroponics (plant cultivation without the use of soil) in a symbiotic environment. The water from the fish tank(s) is pumped to the plant grow bed, where beneficial nitrifying bacteria growing on and around the plant roots convert the ammonia-rich waste from your fish into nitrites and then nitrates. The plants then take up the nitrates as the nutrients they need to grow.
What about the Aqua Farm?
- The Aqua Farm was Back to the Root’s first aquaponics product and has been replaced by the new Water Garden 2.0! The major difference between the models is that the the Water Garden 2.0 has double the growing space! In addition, the design of the grow pods in the Water Garden 2.0 has been optimized for easier cleaning and to maximize plant growth. If you own an Aqua Farm and can't find the answer to your questions on this site, feel free to reach out to us via email (email@example.com) and we'll be glad to assist.
The Water Garden includes everything you need to get started right away! Just buy your fish, set up and decorate your tank, and watch your plants grow! The components that come with your tank are:
- The Water Garden Tank is a 3-gallon acrylic fish tank made right here in California. Specially-designed and manufactured for Back to the Roots, there's no other fish tank like it! The top of the tank is artfully crafted to hold your garden, so you can grow fresh greens in your kitchen right from your fish's beautiful home.
- Your gravel is a great first addition to your fish's new home - fish often find comfort in poking around through the rocks like they do in the wild. Make sure to give your gravel a rinse under warm water to remove any dust before adding it to your tank.
Water Pump, Pump Tube, and Tank Clip
- These three components make up the pump assembly - an essential part in your aquaponics ecosystem! The pump circulates water (and the nutrients dissolved in it) up to your plant roots, feeding your greens as they grow. Give each of these components a rinse before setting up your tank, and again about every month afterward to prevent buildup that can reduce water flow. For more details, check out our detailed pump cleaning video.
Grow Bed and Grow Pods
- Your Grow Bed and Grow Pods serve as the frame from which your garden will grow. The bed is contoured to fit precisely inside of the top of your tank, and your three pods fit together inside of the bed and hold your Growstones®. Your pump brings water up to the bed, where microgreen roots can soak up the water's nutrients before the water falls back down into your tank through the open slot in the bed.
Note - make sure to align the round feeding holes in the grow pod and grow bed for easy fish feeding.
- Your Growstones® are highly-porous recycled glass that serves as an excellent growing medium for your microgreens! Remember, your aquaponics system doesn't use soil to hold and provide nutrient to your plants - it relies on the transfer of nutrients from your tank's water directly to plant roots. So while you don't need soil to provide nutrients, we still need something for your plant roots to grab ahold of! That's where your Growstones® come into play - they provide an excellent place for your plants to take root and access the nutrient-rich water flowing through your ecosystem.
- Your water sponge fits in the grow bed's waterfall slot and helps prevent plant debris from falling into your fish tank. Check your sponge every month or so and clear it of any loose roots or seeds.
- Back to the Roots provides you with a small bottle of D-Klor™ Natural Dechlorinator. Made of vitamin C and aloe vera, this chemical free tank addition not only removes chlorine from the water but also enhances your fish's natural protective slime coating! Make sure to dissolve ~1/2 a capful of D-Klor™ into your tank water upon initial filling, and add it to any future water before you add it to your tank.
- Zym Bac™ Nitrifying Bacteria consists of beneficial organisms that establish the biological filtration in your tank. They kickstart nutrient cycling and help correct for ammonia and nitrite levels that might otherwise be harmful to your fish. In fact, they convert those compounds into nitrates - the nutrients that your plants need to grow!
Pour the entire bottle out across your three sets of Growstones® before you plant your seeds - your Growstones® are the perfect environment for these beneficial bacteria to do their job. Very important - after each harvest if you are cleaning your Growstones®, do not rinse more than 1 pod per day! Spacing out cleanings will allow the bacteria time to repopulate and keep doing their job.
Organic Radish Microgreen and Wheatgrass Seeds
- We provide you with two packs of seeds - organic radish microgreens and organic wheatgrass. Fast-growing and quite nutritious, these greens are the perfect starter crop to get your aquaponics system up and running.
- Your fish food contains a combination of ingredients that provide the necessary proteins, vitamins, and dietary supplements for your fish. These include krill meal, kelp, herring meal, spirulina, biotin, and vitamin B12 supplement. Add 4-5 food pellets each day through the feeding hole, making sure your fish sees and eats each pellet. Avoid overfeeding, as excess pellets can make your water dirty.
- While Back to the Roots can't provide you with a fish directly, we've partnered with Petco to make picking out your new finned friend as easy as can be! Attached to your instruction booklet is a coupon for $3 off a betta fish at your local Petco. Don't have a local Petco? That's okay! Pick out your fish at your closest pet store, and you can use the other coupon we've provided to get $5 off our other Indoor Gardening Kits.
Is your fish coupon expired? Not to worry! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll send you a new one.
Where should I place my Water Garden in my home?
- Your tank is designed to be an aesthetically pleasing addition to your home - and as a result you can really place it anywhere you'd like! Here a couple of tips, however - just to help you make your decision:
- Upon setup, make sure to fill your Water Garden at the spot you want it to take up, as moving the tank after filling can be cumbersome and get messy.
- The wheatgrass and radish seeds that come with your Water Garden can thrive in low light conditions, so it isn’t necessary to place the tank adjacent to a window. If you decide to grow sun-loving herbs once your Garden is up and running, definitely find a sunny spot for your tank or use a grow light.
- If the only available space for your Water Garden is adjacent to a window, we suggest you cover or block the side of the tank that is next to the light source to help reduce algal growth.
Do I really need to wash everything?
- Yes! It is absolutely essential to wash each component of your Water Garden. Washing will make sure that any residue, dust, or debris is removed from your system and doesn't adversely affect your fish or your plants. Note: Do not use soap when washing the gravel or Growstones®, as it can be toxic to fish. Hot water alone will do the trick!
- If you need to sanitize your tank for any reason, we recommend using a solution of pure white vinegar and warm water. Alternatively, you can check your local pet store for other non-toxic tank cleaning solutions.
How do I set up my pump?
- Your pump is an essential part of the Water Garden ecosystem. If you're having trouble assembling your pump, follow these simple steps:
- Rinse the pump body, tube, and clip with tap water. The pump cord is water proof and fully submersible, but avoid getting the electrical plug wet while washing and assembling. Do not plug your pump in until your tank is fully set up and the electrical plug is 100% dry!
- Attach the pump and clip to either end of the black tube. Align the components so that the pump body's suction cups face the opposite direction of the clip's spout. The clip will be a bit more difficult to secure to the tube, but this is necessary to create a tight seal.
- Place the clip in the cutout on the tank lip and suction cup the pump to inside tank wall. Don't plug the pump in until you've filled your tank with water.
How much water do I need to add to my tank?
- The Water Garden tank is 3 gallons in volume, but we follow a general rule of thumb for keeping the right amount of water in your tank: The water in your tank should be kept around 1" from the bottom of your grow bed when it's sitting inside your tank.
What kind of water should I use?
- Filtered water is best to use when setting up and maintaining your Water Garden. Tap water is generally okay, but because heavy metal levels and pH vary across the country we err on the side of caution and recommend filtering.
- Even when using filtered water, we recommend to still add a few drops of D-Klor™ because it contains slime enhancing aloe for your fish’s fins and acts as a source of vitamin C.
What is the reason for adding D-Klor™?
- D-Klor™ neutralizes any chlorine that might be in the water you add to your tank, which could pose a risk to your fish's health. It also enhances your fish's natually protective slime coating on its fins!
What else can I put in my fish's new home?
- We've provided you with gravel for the bottom of your tank, but we highly recommend you decorate your fish's new home so they have a few things to swim around! Check out your local pet store or search online for the decorations you prefer - we recommend silk plants or coral ornaments to start.
- In addition to decorations, a small tank heater can be a great add. Tropical fish are happiest in warmer water (75-82 °F, 24-28 °C), so if you live in a cooler climate please consider it!
How do I add my fish to my tank once it is set up?
- Your fish will need time to adapt from its temporary container to the temperature of your new tank water. We recommend placing your fish and its separate container into your filled tank so that it is floating on the surface and leaving it there while you set up your grow bed (about 15-20 minutes). By placing the whole container into the tank, you're letting the fish's current environment gradually change to match the environment of its new home.
Grow Bed Setup
What's the best way to wash my Growstones®?
- Your Grow Pods are not only a great environment for plants to grow, but they also double as excellent collanders to wash your Growstones®! Simply divide up your stones evenly amongst your 3 pods and rinse them under warm water for 15 seconds each.
It doesn't look like I have enough Growstones® ...
- If you've spread your stones out evenly amongst your 3 pods, each pod should be 1/2 to 3/4 full - pods do not need to be completely full. If you still think you're short on Growstones®, reach out to us at email@example.com and we'll help you out!
What happens if I didn't spread the Zym Bac™ evenly over my stones?
- Don't worry - your system is going to be completely fine! If you accidentally dumped it all onto 1 pod, within 3 days your population of beneficial nitrifying bacteria will have spread out amongst all of your stones.
Have I waited long enough to release my fish into the tank?
- There are a couple things to check here. First, has my fish had ~20 minutes to adapt to the tank's water temperature? Second, have you added D-Klor® to your tank water? Third, are all of your tank decorations in place? If you can say yes to all three of these, you're ready to introduce your fish to its new home!
How many seeds should I plant in each pod?
- We recommend planting 1 tbs of seed in each of your Grow Pods per growing cycle. This will allow you to get plenty of wheatgrass or radish microgreens per harvest, while also leaving you with plenty more seed to plant again and again. Your two packets of seed should be enough to grow greens for over 2 months!
Do I need to soak my seeds before planting them in my Water Garden?
- Soaking seeds for 6-12 hours before planting is a neat trick to help speed up seed sprouting, but isn't necessary for your garden to yield plenty of greens to eat. If you plant your seeds without soaking, they might take 1-2 days longer to sprout than if you soaked them.
Don't my seeds need to be covered by soil or something?
- They don't! Your aquaponics system doesn't need any soil at all - your seeds will take root in your Growstones® and feed on nutrients directly from your tank water.
What do I do when I've run out of seeds?
- Congratulations on several successful harvests! We offer a few different options to replenish your Water Garden seeds - check them out here.
What if I want to plant something other than radish microgreens or wheatgrass?
- We highly encourage Water Garden owners to experiment with different varieties of seed! In general, most varieties of microgreens will grow quickly and produce bountiful harvests within a couple of weeks of planting. Herbs will take a couple months to produce leaves for harvest and will require ample sunlight to grow (6-8 hours per day).
- If you're looking for a seed source, we highly recommend True Leaf Market - they have hundreds of seed varieties and will ship right to your door!
Harvesting & Replanting
How long will it take for my radish microgreens and wheatgrass to grow? When should I harvest?
- Your radish microgreens and wheatgrass should be fully grown and ready for harvest in 7-10 days. They should reach about 4"-6" tall and be a healthy green color before you harvest. Check out the timelapse video below showing 7 days of microgreen growth!
How do I harvest my microgreens?
- Harvesting your microgreens is a quite easy! Simply take a pair of scissors and cut the microgreen stems about 1/2" above your Growstones®. Give them a thorough rinse before adding to your meal! Fun fact - your wheatgrass will actually grow back once or twice more from the stems you've cut, but the resulting stems may be lower in nutritional content.
Use scissors to harvest your microgreens
What kind of meals can I create with these greens?
- Radish microgreens are an excellent addition to any fresh salad, and wheatgrass will give your berry smoothie a healthy boost! Check out all of our recipes at backtotheroots.com/recipes
Do I need to clean out my Growstones® and Grow Pods before replanting?
- Yes, we highly recommend cleaning out your Growstones® and Grow Pods before replanting new seeds for your next crop. Left-behind plant stems and roots can begin to mold amongst your Growstones® and ruin your subsequent harvests!
- Luckily, there's an easy fix! Before planting new seeds, remove one Grow Pod from the Grow Bed, strip the roots from underneath it, and soak Growstones® in warm water to remove the old plant material. Watch the instructional video below for guidance!
- IMPORTANT! Do not rinse more than 1 Grow Pod in a single day! Growstones® are home to your beneficial nitrifying bacteria that help clean your tank and feed your microgreens. Spacing out cleanings will allow the bacteria time to repopulate and do their job.
What temperature is best for my fish?
- Native to Southeast Asia, bettas are tropical fish and are happiest in water between 75-82 °F (24-28 °C), so just a little warmer than room temperature. Feel free to add a heater to your Water Garden to keep your betta healthy and lively!
What pH should my water be at?
- The ideal pH range for an aquaponics system is 6.0-7.0. Fish prefer a slightly alkaline environment above 6.0, and plants grow best in slightly acidic environments of 5.5-6.5. If your water’s pH is extremely high or low, use filtered water in your tank to start with. Avoid using solubles to adjust the pH.
What type of fish should I get for my Water Garden?
- Your Water Garden is a mighty ecosystem, but because it is uses only a 3 gallon tank there are just a few select fish that we recommend for this rather compact environment. Betta fish are far and away your best option! As a beautiful and resilient fish, your Betta will thrive in the Water Garden.
- If you decide you'd like a different type of fish, please follow the general guideline 1 inch of fish (length) per gallon of tank water. Fish in this category include Zebra Danios and Male Fancy Guppies - they're small enough you will be able to fit 2-3 in your tank!
Can I get two bettas for my tank?
- Bettas are known as territorial fighting fish, so please do not place two in your Water Garden together - they prefer to live alone!
How often should I feed my fish?
- We recommend feeding your fish 4-5 pellets of the included fish food per day. If you'll be away from your tank for a few days - say, over a weekend - simply feed your fish slightly more (6-7 pellets per day) for the 5 days leading up to your time away. This expanded diet will help your fish fast safely while you are away.
What are the essential things I need to do to maintain my tank?
- There are a few maintenance items that you'll need to perform to keep your Water Garden up and running as a safe home for your fish:
- Each Day: Feed your fish 4-5 pellets of the provided food through the feeding hole.
- Each Week: Your plants soak up some of your tank water (and some evaporates too!), so add water to your tank to keep the level within ~1" of the bottom of the grow bed. Always add 1/2 capful of D-Klor™ to that water before pouring it into the tank.
- Each Month: Your pump can get clogged with excess nutrients and plant residue, so unplug and rinse your pump body, tube, and clip under water to clean buildup and maintain water flow.
Along with these routine maintenance items, you may encounter other tank cleanliness issues during the life of your Water Garden. Please check out our Cleaning and Water Clarity section below for detailed troubleshooting guides.
When do I need to add Zym Bac™ and D-Klor™ to my tank?
- The bottle of Zym Bac™ provided with your Water Garden should be used in its entirety when initially setting up your Grow Bed - the beneficial bacteria in Zym Bac™ is only needed once to kickstart the nutrient cycling process in your tank! However, if you accidentally wash all your Growstones® at once and disrupt the bacteria population in your tank, we recommend adding more Zym Bac™ to your Grow Pods. A full Water Garden Replenishment Kit can be found here, or search your local pet store for Zym Bac™ or another Nitrifying Bacteria supplement.
- D-Klor, on the other hand, will be used gradually over the life of your tank. Add 1/2 capful to any water that you are planning on adding to your Water Garden.
How often do I need to replace my Growstones®?
- Your Growstones® are meant to be reused, but over the long life of your Water Garden you may need to replace or replenish the stones that came with your garden. For optimal growing results, we recommend doing this 3-4 times a year. Replacement stones can be found on our accessories page.
Why do I need to clean my pump?
- Your pump is in charge of circulating water between your tank and your Grow Bed, so it's possible that loose plant material and algae in your water will stick to the internal components of your pump. This can result in diminished water flow, and eventually, reduced plant growth due to lower nutrient levels in your Grow Bed. Fortunately, it's an easy fix - unplug and rinse your pump body, tube, and clip under water to clean buildup and maintain water flow.
I poured too much D-Klor into the water! Should I start over?
- Not to worry! Our D-Klor is made of an all-natural blend of vitamin C and aloe vera and poses little danger to your fish - even if added at larger quantities than necessary.
My Growstones are moldy - what happened?
- One common reason you might see mold in your Growstones® is if your stones were not rinsed of all loose plant material between growing cycles. Follow the instructions here to make sure your Growstones® are clean before planting.
- There's also a good chance what you're seeing isn't actually mold. If you're concerned, we're here to help! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with pictures, and we'll help diagnose the issue.
How do I sanitize my tank?
- If you need to sanitize your tank for any reason, we recommend using a mixture of pure white vinegar and warm water. You can also check your local pet store for other non-toxic solutions. Note - do not use soap on your Growstones® or gravel, as soap residue can be extremely harmful to your fish!
Do I need to take my fish out when adding D-Klor™ or Zym Bac™?
- No need! The water additives we provide you are perfectly safe for your fish. However, remember to add D-Klor™ to your tap water before adding that water to your fish tank.
I planted something other than microgreens or wheatgrass in my tank, and nothing's growing...
- The Water Garden includes easy-to-grow wheatgrass and sprouts because they grow quickly and require minimal light, making them ideal for kickstarting the natural cycling of your tank.
- Most other plants and herbs, however, will take much longer to grow than wheatgrass and sprouts. You’ll need to water them for the first few weeks while their roots are still developing. This helps give them a better chance of surviving while their roots are too short to hit the water in the grow bed.
- Also, most herbs are full-sun and will require a sunny, south-facing window to thrive. If you have a plant that is struggling and it's spring or summer, try putting it out in the sun for an extra boost. In the darker fall and winter months, you'll experience 1000x more growth by investing in a small grow light (sold on backtotheroots.com)
I am missing one of the components that was supposed to come with my Water Garden...
- We're sorry that something may be missing! Please reach out to us at email@example.com and we'll send the missing component to you as quickly as possible.
Cleaning and Water Clarity
How often do I need to clean my tank?
- Unlike typical fish tanks that need weekly water changes, the Water Garden has its own biological self-cleaning cycle so it only needs to be cleaned once every 6 to 8 weeks! Traditional fish tanks need weekly water changes because nitrates build up and become toxic to your fish. In this aquaponics system however, your plants growing on top use the nitrates as nutrients — filtering harmful toxins out of the water so you'll just need to spruce up your tank every now and then. Check out the video below for a step-by-step guide to cleaning!
- For more information on the biological process that helps your Water Garden clean itself, email us at backtotheroots.com.
Why is my water cloudy?
- Your Water Garden is expected to get cloudy for up to 2 weeks after initial setup or after cleaning. This is simply the beneficial bacteria (Zym-bac) blooming rapidly & keeping your Betta safe. Once your tank cycles, your plants will begin to absorb the nutrients created by the bacteria and your tank will clear up. The roots of your plants need to be developed/long enough to filter the water in the grow bed. Herbs and greens will take much longer to begin cycling the tank than wheatgrass and sprouts, which is why we recommend keeping 1-2 pots of wheatgrass/sprouts growing at all times.
- If your plants are growing and your tank is cycled, then you'll want to take other measures to clear up the water:
- You water is most likely cloudy due to something called bacteria bloom. This can occur in a tank with too much waste, typically from overfeeding.
- To help alleviate bacteria bloom, you'll need to clean your tank. Perform a 1/2 water change and use a strainer to rinse your gravel and an tank additions under warm water. If you need assistance with any of this, we're here for you! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll guide you through.
I am seeing a lot of green algae in my tank - how do I get rid of it?
- If your tank is murky with a green tint you've got an algae bloom. Algae is a natural occurrence in all fish tanks and is the result of: (a) too much carbon dioxide, (b) too much light, and/or (c) excess waste.
- A: Carbon dioxide needs to be balanced out with additional oxygen. We highly recommend adding an air stone in your tank to create more bubbles. The additional oxygen will help keep your tank cleaner and be beneficial to your plants. Alternatively, you can add live water plants inside of your tank to reduce the carbon dioxide and increase the oxygen. Both an air stone and water plants can be found at your local pet store in the aquarium section.
- B: If your tank is receiving too much light- maybe it's in a windowsill - we recommend adding an aquatic backing. You can purchase a backing from your pet store or make one yourself! You simply want to reduce the amount of light hitting the tank's water and turning nutrients into algae.
- C: If your tank builds up excess waste easily, it's most likely a result of overfeed your fish. A Betta's stomach is small (the size of its eye!) so it needs very little food. Because bettas have a tendency to overeat, we recommend feeding your Betta just 4-5 pellets daily.
What are some tips to prevent bacteria and algae blooms?
- Avoid overfeeding! It will lead to excess waste and solid food in the tank, which will eventually build-up and make your tank murky.
- Adding 1-2 nerite snails to the Water Garden will help keep the "windows" clean and reduce additional buildup in the tank.
- Live water plants are a great way to balance your ecosystem. The plants will use up nutrients that algae would otherwise feed off as well as help add a bit of oxygen to the water.
- Maintain your plant growth. Sprouts and wheatgrass have a short life cycle and need to be replanted monthly. If you've switched to growing herbs, light is key! During the darker fall and winter months you'll boost plant growth by 1000x by having a grow bulb.
We sell all the replacement supplies you might need right here on our website! Still can't find something you need? Reach out to our customer service team (email@example.com) and we'll be happy to help!
We think there's nothing more important than inspiring a new generation to reconnect with where their food comes from. And just like other required school subjects – arts, english, math, and science – we believe gardening, nutrition, and where your food comes from should be a part of every child's education. That's why we developed our Water Garden Curriculum Unit — a variety of fun, hands-on activities for kids that are perfect for learning in any kitchen or classroom.
Download The Water Garden Unit
Already using our Garden Toolkit and curriculum? We'd love to hear your feedback—please share any thoughts or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't forget to submit a photo of what you grew in your classroom—for every photo we receive, we'll donate a Ready to Grow product to a classroom of your choice!