Aquaponic Gardening

A Community and Forum For Aquaponic Gardeners

I am 22 and have been obsessed with my freshwater fish tank for the last 2 years. Its nothing to crazy just 20 gallons with some plants, glow fish, frogs and snails. I have recently discovered aquaponics and read Sylvia Bernstein's book. I am very interesting in chasing aquaculture and/or aquaponics as a career. I live in Pennsylvania on My dads 70 acre farm with a stream running through it that is currently feeding 2 man made ponds. He has given me the go ahead to build anything i want for aquaponics. How should i get started? Where should i learn more? i have an old 2500 gallon per hour swimming pool pump which is not being used. Since its nice and big i want to use it. Any ideas? i want to go as big as possible on about 10-20 thousands bucks. the more DIY the better.

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Most people start with a small system and work up.  

Is this a commercial system you're thinking about?  

George is right on track. Start with about a 300 gallon fish tank and run some media beds and a raft off it to make a complete small scale system. Do this immediately while you design a larger system. You will learn a lot setting up and operating this small system. 

It will likely take you about 6 months to a year to learn enough to make real career and economic decisions. Definitely start a small system now. You will have to make it indoors as the winter is coming or in a greenhouse if your dad has one. At some point you should also take a commercial course... there are many out there. The AES course was my favorite and they have a course in November. It will be taught by Dr. Rakocy who has developed AP systems for the past 30+ years.

I would like to make about $1000 a week and be able to pay my dad $2000 a year for letting me use his property. So the system has to be able to put out about $50,000 a year with just myself running it. Is this plausible?. when designing my first system with a 300 gallon tank should i design it to be expandable into the larger system. Or keep it a separate trial/error system and make a larger system that would be my bread and butter. I greatly appreciate the feedback.


George said:

Most people start with a small system and work up.  

Is this a commercial system you're thinking about?  

I would certainly agree that starting small and making mistakes (also known as learning haha) is the way to go.  I am 24 myself and have a similar mindset to you.  I would love to make this a career eventually and replace my "real job." I've started with a small 100 gallon system with a flood and drain media bed for a 1:1 ratio.  Soon I'll be expanding to a 2:1 by adding a raft bed.  Start small, get creative, and expand.  See what works, what doesn't work, what you like, etc.  Through all this, hope that some thigs go wrong from time to time so you can learn how to overcome problems.  You've got to walk before you can run.  As for bringing in $50k per year, I guess that depends how big you go.  If you grow enough food, and there's enough people willing to pay for it, I'm sure you could reach any number you wanted.  :)

Jeez, 70 acre farm? Some people get all the luck.....70 acres would cost a fortune in property taxes here in the lucky Land o' Lincoln :P

You and I started out similar Robert. Not to mention we're fairly close to the same age. I just turned 20 as of this last Sunday and have been screwing around with the concept aquaponics for the last 2-3 years. I would highly recommend starting off with a smaller system (300 gallon fish tank with corresponding growbeds is usually a good place to start) Feel free to wander over to my page and take a look at my indoor setup. I've had the most wonderful experience with my system for the last year. It seems like everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong. Which means I get to fix everything and get some decent experience.

So, invest in a proper aquaponics education before you decide to build a commercial sized setup. I don't mean just take classes. Experimenting on a smaller scale will help you learn a lot. Take some time and wander around the internet studying commercial farms. You could even travel around a little and tour some commercial setups. And taking some classes is a good thing to. The Green Acres Commercial course was pretty good. I'd recommend taking a look at that if you've got the time and money.

I been thinking about doing the same except I am a lot older.  I planned & did research for many months before I jumped in.  I decide to implement my system in 3 phases

1) 180 gallon tank with 3 grow beds in the basement

2) 3-4 200 gallon tanks with growbeds in a greenhouse in the back yard (sorry I don't have 70 acre farm)

3) Several greenhouses on a commercial lot.

I wrote a business plan as well to go over the numbers to see where my ROI (return on investment) is.  There are many of options on building a system. Many different equipment, design, fish, plants, temperature, chemicals, .etc  There is also a learning curve on starting and managing an aquaponics system.  As a fish owner for many years and a gardener in the past, I still have a learning curve.  It is not as easy as everyone makes it sound though my system is finally settling down and I am settling in to my choices on how to run and use the system.

As far as making money, you need to determine how many fish & vegetables and at what price you can sell them at. This will determine the eventual size of your systems.  You need to minus your costs including energy costs (unless your Dad is helping here).  For any system, a big cost is energy in heating tanks, lights, .etc.  

Like everyone has said, start with a small system and work it for about 6 months to a year before jumping into more.  

I may be able to help more, if you would like.  I am 3 months into my first system and I am enjoying every bit of it.  Well worth the investment!

What is your opinion on a walipini? I think that is how its spelled. It is an "underground" green house. I started talking to my dad who loves to dig big holes with his tractor. He said how big of a hole do you want? Basically a walipini is a greenhouse made from a hole in the ground. The advantage is during the winter it stays warmer than a regular greenhouse. The second advantage is holes in the ground are cool to play in so i want to start with one. But the problem is ventilation especially during the summer. And getting flooded if you don't think about that in the design. What are your thoughts?

Sorry, but I have to laugh. So much to learn, so many fish to kill.

If I were advising you I would say think IBCs for starters. At least one buried for a sump, one for a fish tank and one to make 2 flood and drain grow beds for a total of 3 IBCs at the very least. I started with 10 IBCs and consider that a start up system.

If you have a S facing slope that is where I would build your "underground" greenhouse as you need to be able to keep it dry and on a slope that is easy with drains. Too much dampness in a GH is a disaster. Put your FTs and sump in a separated shaded room on the N side. They need only enough light to work by. The GH side only needs the sunlight and heat. Place it where you can expand sideways as you grow. Do not start with more hole than you need as you can always dig further in either direction.

Wait till you have a handle on the flood and drain style before you go raft (about a year unless of course you bring in professional help). Hell it takes that long just to have a "stable" system not to mention your learning curve.

Study hard, get involved, visit other systems, and above all try to have patience. All too often I see folks dive in with both feet and a year later they are nowhere to be seen due to burn out.

Have fun and consider it a career. Wish this 66 yr old were your age again. This would be my career. Then again it is becoming my career after all. Hmmmh

Ck out my layout at my pics page along with any other layouts like TCLynx's. (The bold letters are links. Used to be blue, oh well)

Jim...Great photos. I took a stroll through your system. I especially like the wall that separates the greenhouse part from the fish area. Is there a lot of temperature difference between the 2 areas? Do you ever open a door to allow the 2 zones to merge to regulate the temperature in one area or the other?  Does your horse help harvest the lettuce? 

That's an easy yes to all Mark. Actually that is not my horse but the one I am assigned to when we go riding with friends. He likes to run me into things. He does love a camera.

The wall is still a tarp but will be foil sided insulation board when time allows. Right now we are starting the block wall at the S side. As perfect as this property we have is it does slope down to the N but you can't expect to win them all. Just plumbing under there though (about 30" high) so no loss of sunshine on the plants.

I gotta chime in here and say if I thought I could earn 50k with my AP system, I would quit work tomorrow and retire. And that is with pulling money from social security and my 401k's.

i am using a 20K swimming pool for a fish tank. I have 14 growbeds with room for more. One of the big problems I see right away is how are you going to market your produce? Even selling veggies is problematic but wen you add in selling a meat item like fish you really complicate matters.

From your original post, you indicated a VERY large bankroll. My suggestion is to use that money and get a college education... combining agriculture and business a least.

For myself I have a BS in agriculture (poultry science), worked towards a master;s but had to quit.I joined the Army. I later opened and kept a pet store for 10 years which taught me how to micro manage a small business. Then I went to nursing school...

After several years I went back to school and learned how to run the heart/lung machine for heart surgery... NOT something I would recommend to everyone but I have done ok.

I make a good salary, well north of 80k.. BUT I consider all my AP  and even regular gardening efforts to be no more than to put away food for myself.

Now, I gotta say, I DO NOT want to piss on your dreams, but you really need to be realistic and do what is practical for a future. Times are hard and are getting tougher..Use whatever money/resources you have to set yourself up for the long term, NOT just a whim.

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