Aquaponic Gardening

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How can I learn more about bacteria and microbiology in the system?

Hi all!

I am very interested in understanding the microbiology of AP systems. I would greatly appreciate if you shed some light or point me in the directions of info sources for this.

In my understanding, AP systems work ONLY because of the presence of nitrifying bacteria and other microorganisms. These create the bridge between the fish and the plants, which could not symbiotically coexist otherwise in a closed system.

This makes me think of AP as a biotechnology based process or system.

One can draw lessons from other biotech processes, like ethanol (drinking alcohol) production. In ethanol production yeast consumes sugar, producing ethanol and CO2; this is the fermentation phase. Water and alcohol are then separated; this is the distillation phase.

I will highlight two types of systems:

1) home beer brewing and wine production kits. If you follow the instructions you might end up with drinkable stuff. Overall fermentation & distillation (F&D) efficiencies could be between 30% to 50%. But, hey, who cares if you have some friends over and the stuff even tastes good?

2) industrial grade ethanol production facilities. These are complex large-scale industrial plants attached to sugar mills (corn, beet or sugar cane based). Overall E&D efficiencies are between 80 and 90%.

Industrial scale ethanol plants would not be economically feasible operating at home scale E&D efficiencies.

My question then is: are current AP systems operating at "home scale" or "industrial scale" efficiencies, or both?

I read and interesting post from Vlad stating that you could have efficient ("kick-ass") systems from inception. Also that the operator had it's part in it.

This is obviously irrelevant for home AP systems. You can even match them up with home wine making kits and have a great tilapia, salad and wine dinner!

But I think the question might be of interest for commercial AP systems, leading to some other questions:

Can the rate at which bacteria produce nitrites/nitrates be improved?

Would this improve the AP's fruits and veggies production capacity? Or otherwise, could fish density be improved?

What other kind of microorganisms are present in AP systems? Do these improve or reduce bacteria performance?

Are there different types of nitrifying bacteria? Which one is best for a given combinations of fish and plants?

George mentioned in the "Why does my system take so long" thread that it would be interesting if several systems could be setup to try different combinations out. IMO we have all what it takes to do this. Forum members have systems (probably in the thousands) operating in various different conditions: latitudes, water conditions, fish/plant combinations. We also have aquapons from all origins: researchers, commercial, hobbyists, etc.

I would love to hear about experiences on this front and am ready to collaborate on a larger scale research project.

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I'm gonna say something in this thread so I can follow it later ;)

One thing that has been becoming more attractive to me with gardening in general is the idea of more or less slathering your garden with a broad range of microbes, not specifically selected, but just in general through the use of compost teas. Finding out about specific strains that are particularly helpful would be useful in learning how to format different composts that attract them.

I'm not sure if this is helpful, but like Alex, I want to follow the thread later. I've added red wigglers to my system and they're doing great. I think they add another dimension of nitrifying bacteria, but couldn't be certain. Whenever I lift up a plant, there they are hanging out in the roots. Also, I have leopard frogs and they like to hang under there as well, probably hunting down the red wigglers.

I'm interested in people's use of tea in AP. I brew AACT (Actively Aerate Compost Tea) tea for my regular garden, one heavy on bacteria, the other heavier on fungal content and also a more balanced blend. Have people used these to jump start a system or improve a system in some way?.   A good book concerning soil biology and AACT is Teaming with Microbes by Lownfels and Lewis. 

Also, has anyone tried using indigenous micro-organisms a la Gil Carandang at the unconventional farmer? Here is a link to an interesting paper about his techniques and uses. http://olalafarms.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/indigenousmicrogro...  

On page five of that link he talks about using lacto fermented serum in aquaculture to help convert ammonia, improving water quality and overall fish health. I find the whole paper interesting and like his style of garden created indigenous micro-organism brews. 

Also has anyone here tried lacto fermenting any of the food they feed their fish?

Teaming with Microbes is an amazing book. One of my fav's :)

I'm just starting to experiment with compost tea in aquaponics (as in, I finished putting together my tea brewer last night). People I know of that rely heavily on compost tea in their systems are Vlad Jovanovic and Jon Parr. And it's really hard to argue with their results.

Like I said before, really the idea is a slathering of beneficial bacteria. In aquaponics, there tends to be a large focus on the nitrogen cycle and nitrifying bacteria. Obviously an important part of an aquaponics system because that's how your plants are gonna deal with the fish waste. But there is a whole realm of other beneficial microbes that tend to get ignored when it comes to aquaponics. Worm teas are used as top off water (depending on the size of your system) and are just added straight into the system. The tea is also good to be applied foliarly. By applying compost tea to your plant leaves, it introduces microbes that populate your leaf surface and choke out other potential threats (like powdery mildew, for instance).

J B said:

I'm interested in people's use of tea in AP. I brew AACT (Actively Aerate Compost Tea) tea for my regular garden, one heavy on bacteria, the other heavier on fungal content and also a more balanced blend. Have people used these to jump start a system or improve a system in some way?.   A good book concerning soil biology and AACT is Teaming with Microbes by Lownfels and Lewis. 

Also, has anyone tried using indigenous micro-organisms a la Gil Carandang at the unconventional farmer? Here is a link to an interesting paper about his techniques and uses. http://olalafarms.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/indigenousmicrogro...  

On page five of that link he talks about using lacto fermented serum in aquaculture to help convert ammonia, improving water quality and overall fish health. I find the whole paper interesting and like his style of garden created indigenous micro-organism brews. 

Also has anyone here tried lacto fermenting any of the food they feed their fish?

That's good to know, I had a hard time believing it wouldn't be beneficial. I've had good success with controlling powdery mildew with a highly fungal AACT. The stuff works wonders.

This is all VERY helpful!

Here comes the ignorant me, though...

By brewing teas, do you actually meean heating water with some stuff in it, then separate solids and use liquids?

I read in FAO's popular hydroponics manual that you can do this with garlic or onion to create a natural bug shield, when applied to the leafs. I always thought it was a matter of smell, not of actual bacteria working...

CARLOS A.

No, the garlic thing is a bug treatment, not a compost tea.

I would do some research into AACT (Actively Aerated Compost Tea). Basically it involves taking good, well degraded compost (from a worm or regular compost) and soaking it in water, while heavily aerating it with lot's of tiny air bubbles. The air bubbles essentially knock the microbes present in your compost off into the water, creating a microbe slew, which you can then take and apply to your plants either by watering or spraying foliarly. Molasses or other forms of sugar are often added to the tea as it's brewing to provide food for the microbes in the water.

Carlos A. Gorricho said:

This is all VERY helpful!

Here comes the ignorant me, though...

By brewing teas, do you actually meean heating water with some stuff in it, then separate solids and use liquids?

I read in FAO's popular hydroponics manual that you can do this with garlic or onion to create a natural bug shield, when applied to the leafs. I always thought it was a matter of smell, not of actual bacteria working...

CARLOS A.

J B, I'd be interested to get some of your compost tea recipes...What do you like to format your various composts with and what is your brewing process? If that's not too top secret.... ;)

J B said:

That's good to know, I had a hard time believing it wouldn't be beneficial. I've had good success with controlling powdery mildew with a highly fungal AACT. The stuff works wonders.

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