Aquaponic Gardening

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Well, I think I hit the wall with energy costs here.   Just adding a post let people know who are thinking about indoor setup. 

Over 2 years, I have grown my basement system to 175 gallons of water and three 2' x 3' x 9" deep grow beds. 

I recently upgraded my grow lights and that put me on the list of people the power company calls out and shames with nastygrams. 

I currently have:

1000w grow light on a light mover ( accepts halide and hps bulbs )

400w grow light stationary over the tomatoes

Not running my two, 250w HPS lights. 

2 x 400watt aquarium heaters in main FT ( 125 gallon aquarium ) 

2 x 100watt aquarium heaters in fingerling tank ( 30 gallon aquarium ) 

Plus pump, airstones, and a few powerheads. 

25 white nile tilapia.  ( 2 months old and about 6" already! ) 

Well, I'm using 3100 kWh of electricity which I was just told is 221% more than anyone the neighborhood. Granted I have 5 computers and kid with game systems plus an old house with inefficient insulation.   But I'm feeling kinda sick over this. 

I love my garden.  With my current setup, we have full time lettuce. basil, and tomatoes.  My sweet peppers are looking very good too.      I was planning on adding a grow-out FT perhaps an IBC and a couple more grow beds as I am putting out more nitrogen than I am taking in.  

But the cost seems to finally be a significant hurdle.  Sure it is a freezing winter and my energy costs will be up but I am not sure I can justify 220% of my neighborhood average.   

Sad

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We've gotten those same letters from the power company. Comparisons to the average person in your neighborhood is a really flighty plumb line for how much energy you're using. The people in my neighborhood are almost never home to use their electricity :)  I wouldn't pay too much attention to what your power company says.

However, a 1,000w grow light and a 400w grow light seems like a stretch for your system. A 400w growlight covers a 4'x4' growspace hung at 2 to 4 ft away from your growbed. A 1,000w growlight covers a 7'x7' area.

Thanks Alex.  I agree that this seems like overkill. .   My 3 GB's are lined along a wall and there just didn't seem to be enough light with the 400w light on a light rail/mover which is why I added the 2 x 250's at one end and reduced the distance that the light mover traveled with the 400w.

Then, a month ago, I  moved the 400w to the stationary position and have the 1000w on the mover.     Perhaps it will be best to configure my GB's into a 6'x'6 square instead of a line and the hang the single 1000w over it.  I can still use the rail to just get some extra light on the edges and, well, it is cool. 

I am torn on the power situation but am not ready to shut down.   Someday I'll build a greenhouse out back but for now they can just keep sending me the letters.  My power bill was $250 this month.  ouch.  But fresh tomatoes when it is -10F  outside are pretty freakin awesome!!

I know what you mean. People always ask me about the cost effectiveness of aquaponics. Now, I feel like I should have that information on hand, but for the most part I don't really care. It's really too much fun to give up. It's a hobby, and just like any other hobby, you're gonna spend money on it. People aren't too concerned whether pc gaming, stamp collecting, or going to the gym costs money....same for me and aquaponics :)

Btw, while we're on the subject of power and energy, I really like growing with LED grow lights. The fixtures cost a small fortune, but they give REALLY good results and cost next to nothing to run. And I think the bulbs last 5+ years too.

John, what is your rate per kWh? I just had given to me some HPS 1000w lamps, ballasts. reflectors. The fella had the police looking at his property and decided that perhaps his particular horticultural bent was best discontinued. Right now I am running 400w of T5's 16hrs/day, a mag drive 350gph pump, air pump and a couple of fans. Granted, I don't have aquarium heaters because I don't raise tilapia, just goldfish and creek dace (minnows). Thing is my total house usage runs approx 860 +/- 5 kWh every 2 months, @ 6.9cents/kWh. By your bill I would suspect you are being charged about 21cents/kWh. Is that negotiable with your power supplier? As Alex said, its a hobby, until you decide to turn it into a business. If I may respectfully make a suggestion, get a watt meter and check every appliance in your house. You'd be surprised at the amount of phantom draw while appliances are supposedly turned off.  That way you might be able to unplug enough to help drop that power bill. Hope this may have given you a little light in the tunnel.

You may have police checking out your property as well if you start running those grow lights. Elements of indoor gardening (large increase in power consumption or maybe purple hues from LED bulbs) all make policemen kinda suspicious....There's an isolated internet story of police raiding a guys house 'cause he bought grow lights and supplies from hydroponics store:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5aNU9bW-DU

(somebody spelled "yielding" wrong on that police report ;)


Ian Cameron said:

John, what is your rate per kWh? I just had given to me some HPS 1000w lamps, ballasts. reflectors. The fella had the police looking at his property and decided that perhaps his particular horticultural bent was best discontinued. Right now I am running 400w of T5's 16hrs/day, a mag drive 350gph pump, air pump and a couple of fans. Granted, I don't have aquarium heaters because I don't raise tilapia, just goldfish and creek dace (minnows). Thing is my total house usage runs approx 860 +/- 5 kWh every 2 months, @ 6.9cents/kWh. By your bill I would suspect you are being charged about 21cents/kWh. Is that negotiable with your power supplier? As Alex said, its a hobby, until you decide to turn it into a business. If I may respectfully make a suggestion, get a watt meter and check every appliance in your house. You'd be surprised at the amount of phantom draw while appliances are supposedly turned off.  That way you might be able to unplug enough to help drop that power bill. Hope this may have given you a little light in the tunnel.

Thanks for the replies.   Ian, I'll get back to you on cost per kw/h.  I couldn't come up w/ my bill in a short look.   Total bill this month was 300 bucks which is about $100 more than this time last year.     Granted, this winter is brutal and we added a new computer but still.    I have been wanting to get a watt meter.  Thanks for the idea.  I will do that.  We prob have lots of wasted energy in this old house.   I haven't reconfigured my grow beds yet but I do believe I can cut out the 400w halide and run the 1000w on my light rail over total of 6'x4' set of GB's.     I'm not giving up.   The salads we have are just too good.     Along with the fresh eggs from the chickens outside, we are really providing ourselves with lots of top quality food.  So, so good.     But this post was about the stress of the electricity of it all.     Going to see about fitting in the small greenhouse sooner than later so get around it.  

Anyway: Yeah, I'm not naive.  I am aware of America's number one cash crop and the war against it.   However, I live in draconian Indiana and I do *not* participate in that activity.      If the man comes a-knockin here,  they might go away with some fresh tomatoes and basil.   

Alex, I live on an Indian Reserve, and police suspicions tend toward the paranoia at times,so I went out of my way when I started my project to inform the local RCMP of my intentions and invited them to have a look at it. They did, and went away satisfied.  I wound up selling chard and lettuce to a constable on an ongoing basis. I will be going to their office on Monday and let them know there will be some bigger lights going in. Best to cut the buggers off at the pass. Speaking of LED's, watt for watt do you think they are more efficient energy wise? A watt used is a watt used, and to my way of thinking its how efficient is the conversion from power to plant usable light. Any thoughts on this?

John. hang in there...spring is around the corner, and for sure check your energy usage. Meter readers do screw up sometimes.

The more that a utility charges per kw/h, the faster that LED lighting pays for itself. The components for making your own are becoming more available along with easily followed instruction. We can't yet be assured of breaking even in one or two years but the technology IS gaining and prices are lowering. The use of LED lighting will immediately be reflected on a reduced (less suspicious) power bill. But at this time, the price of off the shelf fixtures and lamps are very pricy and trending down.

Sylvia recently posted a wonderful series of video's that deal with the differences in lighting types and spectrums.

 http://community.theaquaponicsource.com/video/video/listForContribu...

Yeah, people kept telling me that I could save a lot of money building my own LED growlights...I had a friend of mine who's good with electronics look into it and he said that the lights people are referring to aren't actually growlight quality, which is why they can be diy'd for so cheap. Building a quality LED light fixture yourself doesn't actually cost much less than just buying a fixture online. But as you said, hopefully as the tech becomes more mainstream, prices will go down.

Yeah, Buyer beware. ALWAYS.

A lot of it has to do with misunderstanding that wattage and lux or lumens is two different ways of thinking. Just as the differences between flood and spot lighting. 

The best way to build junk is to use junk components. Look instead to the quality electronic component manufacturers, engineers, and wholesalers.

I'm not an experienced grower yet but you might want to put some reflective sheeting around your GB to increase the lighting. Also you can insulate your FT to help hold the heat. As for moving into a greenhouse, Your cost will probably soar when you start heating it. I built my GH last fall (8x10  2x4 studs and 6 mil plastic inside and out) and it cost me a fortune to keep it warm in Dec. So I put a wood burner in and it does a great job heating it when I can get a fire lit and when I can find some wood. Wood burners for primary heat are labor intensive.

I think LED's are still years away from being practical for growing "low value per square foot" crops (non-smokable)... but this is still an interesting set-up:  http://www.ledsupply.com/

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