Aquaponic Gardening

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1st AP System - Ultimate goal to have a sustained system at 10,000 feet elevation

Hi everyone.

I hope that I will gain many new friends during my latest endeavor, to build a sustained aquaponics garden at 10,200 foot elevation.

We built our place in 1993 and from day one tried to figure out how to grow food up there. I studied a lot about hydroponics but I didn't like the power required to pump that much water as our mountain home is 100% off-grid and is restricted to the 6KWHr of power we generate each day. Also the expense of buying all those nutrients dissuaded me from further research into the subject.

We have a nice meadow, and it would be possible to grow potatoes, but the deer, elk and antelope, not counting all the ground squirrels, cotton tail rabbits and other furry critters, (not to mention free-roaming cattle) would eat any produce we might possibly grow. It wasn't until this year I noticed a greenhouse near Alma, CO and got struck by an epiphany that I could put a greenhouse over part of the meadow to protect the garden, and... extend the growing season. While researching greenhouses and hydroponics (again)  I ran across aquaponics and everything just clicked together. Low energy consumption, low water usage, and low cost nutrients (fish poop). Plus a source of protein that I don't have to fish for in the mountain streams or wait for hunting season to come around.

To kick off the project I have begun to build the above system, at our flatland home in Louisville, CO (5500 feet elevation) using a 275gal (1000L) Shutz IBC tote for the fish tank and a 55 gallon (200L) grow bed mounted on top of the tote. Look at the pictures in my album to look at significant steps I've made along the way. When I get the system working without killing plants and fish, I'll expand it in the cabin shown below.

The deck and the solar panels are facing due south. We plan on enclosing the bottom of the deck with corrugated plexiglass glazing to turn it into a greenhouse where the grow beds and drip system hydroponics will be set up. Its 32' long by 8' wide. The fish tanks (2 - 4 IBC totes) will be placed in the basement area which is partly below ground. This will be a good location for the fish tanks as the temperature swings are minimal and its dark enough to keep algae from blooming in the tanks.

I'll be adding a couple of DIY wind turbines that I have been experimenting with just prior to starting the AP project. These will be used initially to supplement battery charging and to pump water and air as needed. In the following picture you'll see a 2 meter diameter 3-blade wind turbine mounted on the back of my truck and a 1 meter diameter 6-blade version sitting in the garage.

The biggest struggle I am dealing with is what fish (Trout or Tilapia) to use for the interim period in my garage lab in Louisville, before setting up an expanded version in the mountains.  There will be quite a bit of construction  that needs to be done to the place to create the right environment. If I can keep the garage cool then I'll get hold of trout as that is what will be used at 10,000 feet. If it gets too warm here in town, then I'll have to destroy the trout and get Tilapia. Either way fish are going to have to die or find a new home as Tilapia can't live up in the mountains as the temperature swing will be 0 deg C to 20 deg C. I like the fact that Tilapia are herbivores and can eat lettuce and other vegetation that I'll be growing, as compared to the Trout who will require fish meal or bugs and worms. I still need to investigate a worm farm as part of the system.

The system needs to semi-automatic so I can leave for a couple of weeks at a time. I have 34 patents in the areas of disk drive and data robotic libraries, so I hope I can come up with a reliable system. I don't want to be trapped in a day-care system.

The biggest threat to success is whether this project can keep my interest. I have never been much on agriculture or water chemistry so there are loads of educational opportunities for me that I am looking forward to learn about. So... feel free to advise me!








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my personal take on chilling is usually when you need to chill the sun is out... solar with an absorption cooler is the way to go.


good luck I like the IBC treatment.


TCLynx said:

I've done some solar heating of water.  Trick is to move the water slowly through the solar collecting tubing if you want to see much heating.


But for chilling, I kinda doubt just putting a coil in front of a AC unit will see a big difference.  Some form of evaporative cooling might be more effective there but still might not be enough through the heat of summer to keep trout happy.

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