Aquaponic Gardening

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Our “I’m in over my head” CHOP2 system. (long version) Do over

A little back ground and the construction:

Being that Jenny (wife) and I are both Vegetarians we decided to start a garden a few years ago. Just before we got started with the project along came TJ (son) who is 2 years old now and what started out to be a simple few plants in the dirt turned into a 2 year project of research, saving money and building what we have today.

 

Since we don’t trust what we’re buying in the market, we decided to grow all our own food and planted a bunch of fruit trees, blueberries, blackberries and avocado trees around the property. Next on the list… the Aquaponics system from hell.

 

 The Greenhouse is 16x24 and took me months to build. Between work and the kid, this thing dragged on forever. As I was building and researching I fell across

theaquaponicstore.com and finally found the 8 grow beds I wanted. Not easy to find really nice ones in the USA!  Thank you to Sylvia and Alan for putting up with me until I finally placed my order. Of course if you’re going to do it… do it big… I ordered 4 more grow beds for a total of 12.

 

 That done (and not doing the proper research) I ordered a 700 gallon Fish Tank and a 300 gallon Sump for my CHOP2. The Tank is 6’ long, 5’ high and 40” wide. The size was due to the limited space I was trying to get it into. I cut a port hole into the side so TJ can see the fish and planned to bury the Tank ½ way into the ground. As it arrived I realized there was no way to get a 40” wide Tank through a 32” wide doorway! So tear out the front of the green house, stuff the tank in, rebuild, 2 more days gone. That seems SO FAR to be the only real issue we’ve had.

 

 Buried the sump and tank, built the stands, plumbed it all up and fired up the pump to marvel in what we built!

 

 Well….maybe not. I knew the (Bull Frog?) pump was oversized at 3000gph, but it only drew 130 watts and pretty much has a 99% non-failure rate running 24/7. Of course I got two just in case because I always get the 1% that fails. To make sure I was covered I ran 2, 2” drains back to the sump. Well that wasn’t enough. The water came over the top of the tank within minutes. Besides that, the Fish Tank is actually a HAZMAT containment tank so it couldn’t handle the weight of the water and the top bowed out 2 feet from where it started! So replaced all the 2” drains with 3”, built a bar to skirt around the tank and filled it all up again. Seemed to do the trick although its right there at the drain back capacity.

 

 So as of last night (05/26/11) the system up and running again. We are now letting the chlorine go away and this weekend we will start the fishless cycling with the starter kits we got from Sylvia. You can see by the pictures, we filled on the one side (7 beds) with Hydroton and the other side we will fill with ¾ River Rock as that is all our left over budget can handle. Going to run by the local nursery that has several huge Koi ponds and ask them for some rocks to put in our grow beds and see if that doesn’t speed up the process. Fish for now will be Red Comet Gold Fish when ready until we learn the system and we will replace them with Tilapia. Even though we wont eat them, I’m sure I’ll have no problem finding takers when they out grow the tank.

 

 Don’t think he’s on this Forum, but I do want to say a special thank you to Mike Shambarger for all his time answering my endless emails and putting up with my stupid questions. Seems like all the research in the world is nothing like doing it yourself and learning by doing. Like not needing an auto filler on a constant height Fish Tank. Shade cloth in So.California is a must after it hit 110 degrees (without the fans on) and it was only 90 outside. 

 

 Next comes the 5 strawberry/herb hanging towers (building the stand now) and about 4 wicking beds to grow potatoes, brown onions and such.

 

 Haven’t looked into it yet, but any thoughts on clams/mussels in the sump to help keep things clean? Alright, open minded for any criticism or help to make this a successful outcome for my family. Jeff

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Did you only dose the ammonia the once?  If the ammonia dropped from the dose you gave it, you probably still have bacteria going.  I would probably dose ammonia again and see if it goes down quickly and as long as your ammonia and nitrite levels are in the 0-.25 range you should be safe enough to add tilapia.  Just keep an eye on the pH and avoid letting it drop much below 6.5 and you should be good.  I've noticed my ammonia will pop up if I let my tower system drop below a pH of 6.

Just an update. Got our 80+ fish a week and a half ago. They were given to us by another Aquapon in San Diego about an hour and a half drive away. We used a big tub with a bubbler to keep them safe for the drive home and they were about 1 1/2 inches long. Over the next two days we lost 12 but that seemed to be the end of it. I'm amazed at how fast they grow already. They act like piranha at feeding time so we've been feeding them 3 times a day.

 On the down side, we got infested with spider mites. Being new at this I didn't understand what was going on as more and more plants started dying. Once I figured it out I think it was too late. Everything is covered and the greenhouse is dying. I hate using any sprays as my lady bugs did so well at cleaning up the afhids and whiteflys I ordered some fallacis(sp?) to fight the spider mites but the damage is done. I'm so disappointed I couldn't bring myself to taking a picture to post..... maybe in the next few days. We have been harvesting cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, peas, and beans. The melons, zucchini, lettuce, and broccoli all were wiped out and their fruit died. All the other veggys mentioned above are following suit. Seems the peppers and corn are the only thing that is going to come out of this!

 Speaking of corn.... need a taller greenhouse. They have hit the roof and are bending toward the high center of the greenhouse. Luckily I think they are at about full hight as they started putting out the flowers or whatever you call that at the top of a corn stock. 

 So that's the latest update other than my water. Ammonia is holding solid at .25, the nitrites are starting to climb and I show ZERO Nitrates? PH is 6.8, temp holding at 85.

Thanks for letting me vent! Jeff

Hi Jeff,

Sorry to hear about the mites, with the size of your GH may be you can look into some organic sprays, it is a natural remedy after all. You mentioned rising nitrites, please monitor this and regulate it with your feeding regime. The closer to zero readings you maintain, the stronger the fish, the less diseases they get.

I also had some small bugs get at my square foot sunflowers. Little black mothers. They were hiding on the bottom of the leaves. I think the sunflowers my still make it but I expect they could have done better. Anyway you live and learn right? That is why I started all of this in the first place. A seasoned farmer/ gardener would take one look at it and give you the answer. Soon we will both be seasoned.
Corn is normally wind pollinated; that's why, in a dirt garden, you plant a section to corn instead of a long row. In a greenhouse, you will have to hand pollinate it. Any way to reach the tassels up at the top? You need to transfer pollen from them to the silks coming out of the baby ears. Some other greenhouse plants needing pollination help are tomatoes and strawberries.

Thanks for the advice. I did take care of the tomatoes by shaking the vines and it worked, the strawberries seem to be fruiting right now but I will keep an eye on them. The corn I'll hit tonight!!!

Without bees, the strawberries will set fruit, but it will be deformed. Do a search for Nate's story about his greenhouse strawberries.
You are right, ours are deformed... I'll have to look that up. Thanks!
Jeff I battled the aphid and mites naturally and got tired of lossing the battle. In desert areas gardens are like a buffet and every bug withing a mile hits it. Botanigard really is cheap when you consider the loss factor. It will kill both aphids and mites. Try it and you will eat some of your garden hehe.

Jeff Hess said:

Just an update. Got our 80+ fish a week and a half ago. They were given to us by another Aquapon in San Diego about an hour and a half drive away. We used a big tub with a bubbler to keep them safe for the drive home and they were about 1 1/2 inches long. Over the next two days we lost 12 but that seemed to be the end of it. I'm amazed at how fast they grow already. They act like piranha at feeding time so we've been feeding them 3 times a day.

 On the down side, we got infested with spider mites. Being new at this I didn't understand what was going on as more and more plants started dying. Once I figured it out I think it was too late. Everything is covered and the greenhouse is dying. I hate using any sprays as my lady bugs did so well at cleaning up the afhids and whiteflys I ordered some fallacis(sp?) to fight the spider mites but the damage is done. I'm so disappointed I couldn't bring myself to taking a picture to post..... maybe in the next few days. We have been harvesting cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, peas, and beans. The melons, zucchini, lettuce, and broccoli all were wiped out and their fruit died. All the other veggys mentioned above are following suit. Seems the peppers and corn are the only thing that is going to come out of this!

 Speaking of corn.... need a taller greenhouse. They have hit the roof and are bending toward the high center of the greenhouse. Luckily I think they are at about full hight as they started putting out the flowers or whatever you call that at the top of a corn stock. 

 So that's the latest update other than my water. Ammonia is holding solid at .25, the nitrites are starting to climb and I show ZERO Nitrates? PH is 6.8, temp holding at 85.

Thanks for letting me vent! Jeff

Chris there are two types of aphid common among gardners. Black and Green in color. Botanigard will kill them both. Both make the leaf curl and leave a sticky residue on the leaves.

Chris McMahon said:
I also had some small bugs get at my square foot sunflowers. Little black mothers. They were hiding on the bottom of the leaves. I think the sunflowers my still make it but I expect they could have done better. Anyway you live and learn right? That is why I started all of this in the first place. A seasoned farmer/ gardener would take one look at it and give you the answer. Soon we will both be seasoned.
I did buy some Botanigard as recommended by you previously. I got it after my lady bugs so didn't use it. Guess I'll have to hose everything down with it and get some more lady bugs after the fog (and mites) are gone.
Jeff I havent bought lady bugs this year but I spot spray with botanigard and I always find ladybugs in my greenhouse. So It doesnt seem to kill unless direct contact as far as I can tell. My greenhouse is wide open due to the heat and I have  ladys and prays crawling about. Again I spot spray affected plants and not the whole shabang. Forgot I recommended it earlier so didnt mean to be a smart---. Gettin old hehe.

Jeff Hess said:
I did buy some Botanigard as recommended by you previously. I got it after my lady bugs so didn't use it. Guess I'll have to hose everything down and get some more lady bugs after the fog (and mites) are gone.

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