Aquaponic Gardening

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Chris, we have definately seen the cost of that system! We like the UVI model and want to use most of what we have learned from it, but really want to expand on it, as Friendly has done. Money is definately an issue, we really need to be economical about this. we also want to keep as much IN the system as possible, clarifiers, net tanks, solid seperation tanks and such will just take up space. However, we want to focus on fish production as well. So having all that technology in place from the beginning will be best. We will raise from fingerlings or fry, for fish. As for eleveated beds, we want them raised to keep them from the cold ground in the winters here in Indiana.

For crops, we have been asked about everything from lettuce to tomato. We have even been asked about bananas and strawberries, so we really want to grow whatever the local co-op grocery is wanting. Starting off we want to concentrate on the leafy vegetables and herbs as well as tomoatos, peppers, cucumbers, okra, broccoli, cauliflower as well as Perch, Tilapia and Prawn, possible Trout.


Does that help?

Chris Smith said:

David, Nelson & Pade sell beautiful systems that are scaled down versions of the UVI system. These systems are VERY EXPENSIVE!!! There are much more economical ways of constructing raft systems. There is no need to elevate raft beds(unless you like to spend extra money) when it is easy to lift rafts up to working height. The Friendly Aquaponics system is an economical evolution of the UVI model.

I have been integrating media beds and towers with the Friendly system. By doing this I have been able to eliminate net tanks and clarifiers. My goal is to keep 100% of nutrients in the system and reduce the fish load needed to grow a maximum of plants. Reducing fish load saves money on feed and aeration.

One important thing to consider is what crops are you wanting to grow. I believe that it is best to design a system around the crops that you intend to grow and the available space. Raft method works best for crops such as leafy greens that the entire plant is harvested. Media systems are better for larger and longer term crops. I have celery and chard in media and I harvest off these plants for 2-3 months. I think it is best to decide what it is that you want to grow and go from there.

This is a very interesting conversation, Chris and David.  Chris is a master so you are in excellent hands with commercial AP advice.  I would like to comment about your concern about the cold ground in Indiana.  I just went to a class a few weeks ago on Sustainable Greenhouse design, and the couple that led it grow year round in the ground at 8200 ft in Colorado without any supplemental electricity!  They do it, in part, by insulating below the frost line all around the greenhouse to keep the frost from seeping in through the ground.  You might want to consider that with your design.  They are big fans of the book The Food And Heat Producing Solar Greenhouse by Bill Yanda.  Might be worth getting before you design your greenhouse (assuming you are going to build one)

Hi David, Here is 2 links, you might also find of intrest...

Subterranean Heating and Cooling System (for solar heated greenhouses)


video clip...


Can you tell me the size of the holes spacing in the screen?



Chris Smith said:

Aloha, I currently have three raft systems operating. On two of then I use a simple clarifier/net tank system. These are commercial systems that have a high density of fish. In large tanks of well fed fish that are growing, it is very hard to estimate the pounds of fish. With the higher density of fish I found it is better to remove the solids before they get to the first plant roots. I flush my clarifier once a day on my morning fish feeding and feed the waste to my bananas, papayas, and coffee trees. They love it! The small particles that are caught in the net tank are consumed by a water flees called gammarus, midge fly larvae and I even have some composting worms in it. There is no cleaning of the net tank required.

My small system does not use any filtration at all because I am careful to keep the density of fish low. With a small tank I can monitor the pounds of fish much more easily than in the big tanks. Low density is considered .3 pounds/square foot of raft space. On my micro system of 64 sqft I have 20 lbs of fish. The bacteria is able to consume all the fish waste. I do use a much smaller screen mesh on the piping leaving the tank and a blubber directly below it. The small mesh screen only allows small particles through. The bubbles below the screen keeps bigger particles from accumulating rapidly and helps break big chunks down to smaller ones.
Hey guys just thought  I would toss in some other options for a smaller system that I am constructing. My green house is 1800 sq ft and cost about 6000.00. It has recycled windows on the side and 2 layers of 6 mil on the roof. My 1000 gal system cost 1800.00 to build. I will build a second raft system 8 foot by 40 foot with 1500 gal of fish for about 3000.00. My hatchery is around 900.00 So this is a smaller footprint to get you started. I will post some pics this weekend. I built this in one year by myself so It has been a journey haha.
Hi David, looking forward to the pics. I'm intrigued by the low estimate.

I'm just seeing this now. I have 3" pipe that flows from one IBC tote (fish tank) to the next with a1/2" plastic screen as well..but that is what got clogged up a bit..the roots were huge on the plants that I put in the tanks and for some reason they didn't eat all and some broke off and clogged it up a bit..maybe they weren't hungry enough. the pipe coming out of last FT is 2". I still like the idea of it and would try again.

Michelle Silva said:

Chris,I don't have net tanks. The system is set up returning from the last fish tank back to the raft tanks as gravity feed. The problem is the way it's designed now, the water level would be higher  if I incorporate the gravel beds at the beginning of the raft tanks or (to place just out of the fish tanks would be tricky too, the last IBC tote is buried a little into the ground)and would no longer gravity's a bit hard to explain.

I would design it different if I did it again,would build the raft tanks out of wood and raise them  i/o two  cinderblock high on ground and probably put the fish tanks in the ground. That would also allow the vertical return to drain directly into the last fish tank i/o the small pump that is at the end of the long vertical tower trough.. It's crazy, I  have three pumps already! There were solenoid issues (not having enough presssure to open one and close the other) to be able to send water over to the vertical stacks using one pump,,was easier to just add a second pump. However, just this week I spoke to a plumbing supply house here and learned about a no pressure switch (think that's what it's called) that will work,but it would cost another $100 or so to get that set up and I already have the other pump.I am seeing some oil and was thinking it might be from the second pump that was just bough locally at Home Depot. It's concerning me, so was looking at more options.

Could you explain more how you have it run out the gravel beds? I was originally wanting it to be flood and drain so the worms could be in there. Is there a constant level in yours?
Chris Smith said:

Michelle, I was able to integrate my gravel beds into my systems easily as gravity is doing the work. It was as simple as replacing net tanks with beds at the proper height. If you cannot add them into your system in this fashion you can always use a separate pump to feed the beds. I will soon being adding new beds that will be fed by a pump in one of my troughs. Worms are great for media, just be sure to use worms that have not been fed any manure in recent months.

I have never had a problem with roots clogging anything when feeding roots to the fish. I use 2" and 3" pipe for drains and 1/2" plastic mesh to keep fish in their tank.

I now use black cinder as my medium. I have had problems with bad blocks of coir. The cinder has many advantages over coir. I will be posting about my new method very soon.

Just thought I'd throw this out there:

We've started live sales at our local natural foods store and have now started supplying restaurants and individuals as well using out restaurant stands.  Our live sales are done through this display (see attachment) at market, no pics yet our our restaurant display.  So far we've found that folks are willing to pay roughly 50% more than organic pricing to cut their own herbs and greens.  Since our wholesale prices have a 50% markup at the retailer, we're able to get monster wholesale prices for our produce.  Same with restaurants.  The beauty is that it eliminates all of the labor/packaging costs associated with our harvest and packaging, which is huge for us.  I think that anyone interested in commercial aquaponics should look at live sales and live restaurant sales to increase your margins, both from cost eliminations and higher prices at market.

Just curious Nate,
How are you guys transporting the towers? Do you have a truck with racks for hanging them or is it still more make-shift than that like a tarp in a van or something?

Wow Nate! That's awsome!  We have been considering doing something very similiar, but haven't quite finalized the design details and logistics.  What are you doing for lighting and nutrients?  I assume you have a resevoir in the bottom and are circulating system water, but are there fish back there too?!  Our challenge has been that several of our health food store clients don't have the best refrigeration units and not a whole lot of traffic which means if it doesn't sell quickly, its going bad in open coolers without mist systems.  We bring a live product to the farmers markets and people LOVE it, so we are wanting to get out our live products to the stores and restaurants too.  Thanks for sharing!

I'll jump in here for a moment since I don't know if Nate is getting e-mail notices of posts.  I asked him about circulating.  Yes there is a tank under there and circulation through the towers but I don't believe there are any fish involved at this point, just enough water to keep the plants fresh.


He did mention that the plants would only do in there for so long as the lighting isn't enough for growing.


But it does sound like a terrific solution for your situation.  Probably just need to figure out how to suspend your plants/net pots in something sorta vertical and make sure that enough flow gets to all the roots.  This is where the towers are really handy (less handling, then again, Nates towers don't really make it easy to replace one plant at a time as they get harvested) but I'm sure you ladies can figure out something that would work.  I know you have the carpentry skills to make it look pretty.

Thanks TC!  We figured it would have to be easy to swap out full grown plants, as lighting would be limited.  Most stores have storefront windows that at least some light gets to; not enough for growth, but should be adequate for sustaining a mature plant.  We were thinking along the same lines as you; a design that would allow for an exchange of new plants for harvested ones without having to swap out the whole tower and of course aesthetically pleasing as well as functional!   Thanks for the vote of confidence too! :)

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