Aquaponic Gardening

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First of all, hello to everybody out there, I've been lurking around for a few months now, playing with my backyard barrel and IBC systems.  I am in the process of getting out of the Navy and am hoping to step my game up into the commercial realm back in Michigan.  I was thinking that I would set my system up in a 3 tier setup.  The bottom would be the fish runs, the middle would be rafts and the top would be media beds.  In theory i would run continuous flow to the media bed which would drain via bell syphon into the raft beds which would drain back into the fish run via standpipes.  I have tried to put the idea to paper many times, but as it turns out I am terrible with google sketch-up.  I'll probably setup a small scale test version before I go into full scale production, but I was just wondering if anybody else is doing something similar?

 

Kyle

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Jon, that is EXACTLY what I was thinking!  Thank you for the picture.  If it's ok, I'd like to pick your brain more on this when I get home from work.  I am still debating whether to put the fish runs in the ground as I'd like to setup subterranean heating and cooling to help reduce energy costs, it's still possible with tanks in the ground, but would just take some more creative routing of the tubing under ground.

Actually just finishing putting big O 4 inch tubing in ground for solar thermo heating and cooling .. so could probably save you some time on your planning.

You my friend are the man.

Kyle, definitely do a small scale test before sinking big money into commercial scale anything.

Be sure to factor into your planning the costs of lighting and electricity for a low tier of plant growing.  Do a lot of research into lighting because just a simple Florescent tube running under the gravel bed is not going to cut it for anything but maybe watercress.  It takes a lot of light for successful commercial growing, skinny leggy lettuce won't sell well.

As to in the ground for heating/cooling.  In Michigan you are going to need to insulate around anything down in the ground, better yet, do deep insulation for the entire base and floor of the greenhouse so you can heat a thermal mass in the floor and use that to help keep stable temperatures in the whole greenhouse.

A note about tanks in the ground, it can be difficult to net fish and work in a tank that is down in the ground and covered by a raft bed that isn't very high above it.  Think carefully about the operation and labor involved in harvesting or handling the fish.  How will you go about it with a bunch of supports for the grow beds over the tanks and in your way.  I'm not saying not to do it this way, I'm just recommending that you figure out how you will do it before you build it.

Also look at how you will deal with rafts with supports to the upper beds around them.  Make sure it remains easy to lift the rafts out of the bed even when they are full of grown plants.

And finally, the upper media beds, consider the labor involved with needing to access the upper beds from ladders or step stools.  This might be ok for growing power with large numbers of volunteer labor but if you are trying to run a small commercial operation yourself, you will probably need to save as much time and effort as you can to avoid running yourself ragged.  Design things to be as easy and efficient as you can afford to.

TCLynx .. has some good advice .. mine at this point is only a multi purpose prototype.. a full commercial setup I would do different depending on what crops that would be growing .

TC, thank you for the advice..I've been wrapping my brain aruond the fish harvesting issue, think i might have a solution, but it'll take some R&D.  One of my original plans was to use 1000 gallon stock tank for fish, but it seems to be a bit of a waste of space.  My wife and I just closed on 10 acrrs of land and she had agreed to let me put up a 30x90 greenhouse.  

Heating and cooling of the space has been my biggest concern,can you explain the deep insulation a bit?  I had been planning to insulate the in ground ft before installing them, but thought that the subteranean heating and cooling would be insulation enough for the floors, and was hoping i could get away with very minimal furnace heating in the winter.

should insulate at least around perimeters so heated mass isn't leached out from external walls ... have some links for heating mass if interested. as far as height goes for beds  .. just need some tracks and a trolly to harvest the high stuff .

if you are running 4 foot rows would recommend keeping gravel beds at a 2 foot width ... plan to do peppers on the upper beds ... things that like the heat.

Nice to see you are going 30 wide ..

do you thnk 2 foot gravel beds will be enough to act as a bio filter?

depends on your plans ... 2x8 grow bed .. 16 sq feet = 16 ponds of fish based on rule of thumb  ... was only referring if you were going to build high .

Do lots of research into 4 season greenhouses for your region.  The ground is a big thermal mass and if you are trying to heat it up to keep your greenhouse warm, you want to make sure you are not loosing huge amounts of heat energy into the earth that would suck down a huge amount of energy for little return.  I don't know the details but I do know there are sites you can search to find it.  I'm in Florida now days and the ground here is actually just about perfect temp for warm water fish so no need for me to insulate from it.

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