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I am trying to keep books on my setup so that I can gauge how to expand without robbing a bank.

I hope to kickoff a discussion about relative cost and economies of scale. 

For my current setup, I have "free-sourced" just about everything but the fish and plants. But now I am running into some stuff I did not account for, which will cost me a little. For example, the testing kits.

I have water in 2 55 gallon barrels. So I guess I have about 100 gallons of water. I have 50 coppernose bluegills. The growbed is 1 55 gallon blue barrel split in half.

My startup cost were about $50. $25 for plants and $25 for fish. I also had a little plumbing couplings to buy.

If I had paid retail for all the stuff,

Barrels (?) I am seeing $30 each on a couple of websites = ($90).

Frame wood ($30)

PVC (10' 1", 10' 3/4") plus couplings, glue ($30)

Rocks (this one is hard) If you buy bags at Loews/HD (15 X $3 = ~$45), Or $1 per bucket at a local aggregate seller (~$15). 

Pump, ($45 at Loews/HD)

Around $200. Sound right?

So startup will cost between $0 (catch the fish from pond and get plants from other source) to $250

In a 3'X2' grow bed, I think I can get some strawberries, Okra and a couple of tomatoes. I might get $20 worth of produce.  If I manage to kill 0 fish, I will get 50 good sized bluegills which have a value of (what?) If I buy fish at walmart, it is $4-$5 for a package of 2. So for eazy math, I will say $2 per fish = $100.

So my output value is in a range of $0 (all die) to $150 if everything goes right.

My ongoing cost are food, electricity, water and testing.

Food so far is a bag of commercial feed, I got that for $15. I expect to use a lot more in the future, but right now, not so much. 

Electricity is ?. I have no way of measuring the actual usage. I'm not sure how to convert watts or amps to actual unit of energy I get charged for.

Water. I have a well, so my water use is basically electricity. Plus I am adding a little water every other day. This will be more in the summer. But again, I dont know how much this cost me.

Testing (~$15/kit). I am testing once week for 1 week so far. I'm not sure how long this kit last. I'm guessing 2 months.

So if a bag of food and a test kit cost me ~$20/month.

Am I missing anything? I am trying to make an Excel spreadsheet to cover my cost as I go.

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Thanks for sharing your plans Lance. I am currently planning to do almost the exact same thing next year after relocating to Vietnam and documenting the whole thing.  I have put a lot of thought into design keeping cost and materials in mind but it is something I cant make decisions on until I am actually there.

To your point regarding 6mil plastic liner. It will work but you will just have to be careful not to puncture it and keep it out of the sun.

The setup you are planning is very similar to what I initially thought as well. I too wanted to place the tank underneath the grow beds but considering the materials used, general maintenance and for ease of access I think its a regrettable design. Ultimately I believe we are looking for something similar in volume and design to an IBC based CHOP2 system. If you do a quick search you will find many systems built using 3 IBC totes (1 full tote tank, a half sized tote sump, and 3 beds). If totes are available or affordable the might be best to use but keeping the basic plumbing diagram the same, moving the components around and changing the materials used should be just fine if needed.

Once I move my thoughts into a google sketuchup I will post them. The idea for my scenario anyway would be to build a system in a 4'x20' footprint which should be also easy to cover, maintain, and will conserve space. Once everything is up and running well it should be relatively simple to expand in a modular fashion. Each module also should be straight forward couple together or isolate each other for controlled experimentation purposes.

My personal goal is not to run as a profit business but a hobby experiment(s) and maybe get to reduce the food bill which will be one of my largest living expenses.

 

Here is a report on the cost analysis on Aquaponics. Cost Analysis Paper

They say that at market prices you should make back your investment in 3 years.  Really, you should probably make a hobby/ Aquaponics budget that you can invest per year for maintenance and upgrades.

Another interesting stat from the report is that one kilo of fish and
seven kilos of vegetables and/or herbs can be grown for every 22 liters of water.

I know you are trying to go as inexpensive as possible, but I will still caution you about the 6 mil plastic.  Especially if you are doing media beds.

Anyway, you might be able to build really cheap using the 6 mil plastic but if you have to take it apart and replace the plastic a few times, I fear it might not be much of a savings.

In my non-aquaponics experience, 4mil is trivial to puncture so rocks and 6mil I am sure don't mix well. If I remember correctly, on the 3rd change of 6mil you are already spending more than a 20 year liner would cost so you are right, likely more expensive to maintain in the long term.

Thanks for the link. It was interesting anyway. I'll admit I have quite a bias opinion on the matter but I find it hard to take theoretical/academic papers like this too seriously. Planning like this makes sense if you project pessimistic returns in order to find out if it's even worth trying but then you just need to do it to really understand it. The paper lacks a very critical component and that is the local market for the product and the effort to deliver the product to the customers. It is best to initially plan like this but then start a small experiment and process the numbers again with real data, then plan to scale it and adjust your overhead calculations accordingly.

Sterling Peyton Jr said:

Here is a report on the cost analysis on Aquaponics. Cost Analysis Paper

They say that at market prices you should make back your investment in 3 years.  Really, you should probably make a hobby/ Aquaponics budget that you can invest per year for maintenance and upgrades.

When I saw this thread, this report quickly came to mind.  The report is specific to back yard Aquaponics and the Perth, Australia area.

I would agree that their data could be off for a different market and climate range to an extent. I think that in your area or mine our system could fall short because of pest we are combating or the hours of full sunlight, etc. I  don't think the writer just made up the data as they went along. The part that I find interesting is the fact that after you have your harvest, would you really be able to fully account for the difference.  How about a family who didn't have fish that often till they got a working AP system?  It really comes down to how much weight you put on the intangibles.

On a typical ROI cycle of 7 years Aquaponics should shine(I'm still on year one), but it seems people are trying to get the fruits without spending anything at all?  Take the cost of water, electricity, fish food (inputs) and stretch it out 7 years on your budget. It took me a while to understand the 55% water loss figure, but even the total replacement of 110% of the system water for the year is great once you really think about it and compare it to a soil garden and a friend who has goldfish.

I think we try AP on a little system to experiment to see how it works in our back yard, but you quickly find that to do real family harvesting you need to step up the total gallons.  I would suggest looking at the fish to gallons to reproductive time.

You sound like you want to go commercial with this as apposed to running a home/ back yard system just for yourself and family.  Those are two different things to me.  I agree that going commercial is not just a walk in the park. 


Chris said:

Thanks for the link. It was interesting anyway. I'll admit I have quite a bias opinion on the matter but I find it hard to take theoretical/academic papers like this too seriously. Planning like this makes sense if you project pessimistic returns in order to find out if it's even worth trying but then you just need to do it to really understand it. The paper lacks a very critical component and that is the local market for the product and the effort to deliver the product to the customers. It is best to initially plan like this but then start a small experiment and process the numbers again with real data, then plan to scale it and adjust your overhead calculations accordingly.

I am not saying the entire document is invalid at all, but it does read more like a marketing doc for a specific turn key aquaponics system vs labeling using something generic like gallons / growing sqfootage. I think as you point out 7 years is totally reasonable, especially if the system requires parts replacement in the mean time.

I would have the space available to produce far more than 10 people (the family) could eat, but that is a not my intentions to start out. I just know I am obsessive about my interests and like to experiment. If what comes of that is more food then I know what to do with, then of course I am going to sell it. For now I will continue to write software. It's boring, but it pays well :)

Sterling Peyton Jr said:

When I saw this thread, this report quickly came to mind.  The report is specific to back yard Aquaponics and the Perth, Australia area.

...

It's difficult to put a price on food quality.  I figured ROI at three years going into this, compared to organic food prices and I probably could have done that without the addition of solar power.  We eat a good bit of food harvested just outside the back door so there is something to be said for convenience too.  My wife said that our aquaponic strawberries are the best she has ever eaten and that alone is worth a lot to me.  Gardening is my primary hobby at present and it's far cheaper than some hobbies I've had in the past.  To me, there is no way to determine what this is worth, except to say it's worth it.

Yes George, I agree!  It's worth it.

I don't know what price tag to put on the mental health benefit of eating food you grow yourself, that kind of empowerment is not very wide spread in today's society.

During hard times, people who manage to garden a little on their "allotment" have better health due to better nutrition.  How you garden is up to you but the aquaponics is definitely the way to get more food for every drop of water while being rather fun for those to like to tinker.  It does of course cost a bit extra to set up compared to dirt (provided you have a place with good soil for a dirt garden.)  But there is a great benefit of the automatic watering and fertilization for those who are lazy gardeners like me (If I can't hook up automatic watering somehow, it isn't gonna survive.)

In the end, the "is it worth it" argument is a good one. It points out the different intangible reasons for doing AP. But I am more of a experimenter. I want to give it a try on a small (100 gallon) system. Obviously, it would be hard to feed me, much less my family, on this size system. But I hope to learn the ropes. Then use that hard earned experience to build a bigger system. The fun is in the journey!

What I would like to see are the numbers from different setups across multiple climates. If we could get enough of those types of numbers in the public forum, people could try to match their needs to systems with realistic expectations. 

How much did items cost? where are the trade offs? What type of system should I build? When/If a certain style lose/gain the economies of scale? Until I see real numbers, answers to these design questions are just wild guesses. Due to system variation, even with good numbers, the answers will be vague, but a least I will have something to base the design. My experience is that more numbers are better. I can throw out the ones that don't apply to me. Living in Texas, heating cost for the water will be much less than living in Michigan. But cooler the water, that's an issue for Texas. Unless I am building it in my basement, then I have to look at a different set of numbers. The more numbers I see, the better I can adjust.

In the end, if I spend $500 and can get something out of the system, it is a win. I will have learned a bunch and be ready to fix issues. The next system will be better. If I enjoy the process of building, then ANY output is gravy.

I am already getting strawberries. My fish are getting bigger. I'm having fun. So, for me it is worth it.

Do I want to go commercial?  Will it become work at that point? Why would I ruin a perfectly good hobby? On the other hand, I heard a quote by someone famous "If you enjoy your job, you will never work a day in your life."

Besides, if I didn't spend the money on this, I would spend it something else. Do I get strawberries from golf?  

Thanks for all the input on the 6 mil. I have been wrestling with that and put it in there to see if I could get advice. Thanks again.

a 200 gallon system with 100 fish pays itself back in just a few months.  I said it before, dont over think Aquaponics.  In time you will see the areas that you over spent on things you really did not have to buy.  Its just like any new venture - "live and learn"  (:
 
Lance Rose said:

In the end, the "is it worth it" argument is a good one. It points out the different intangible reasons for doing AP. But I am more of a experimenter. I want to give it a try on a small (100 gallon) system. Obviously, it would be hard to feed me, much less my family, on this size system. But I hope to learn the ropes. Then use that hard earned experience to build a bigger system. The fun is in the journey!

What I would like to see are the numbers from different setups across multiple climates. If we could get enough of those types of numbers in the public forum, people could try to match their needs to systems with realistic expectations. 

How much did items cost? where are the trade offs? What type of system should I build? When/If a certain style lose/gain the economies of scale? Until I see real numbers, answers to these design questions are just wild guesses. Due to system variation, even with good numbers, the answers will be vague, but a least I will have something to base the design. My experience is that more numbers are better. I can throw out the ones that don't apply to me. Living in Texas, heating cost for the water will be much less than living in Michigan. But cooler the water, that's an issue for Texas. Unless I am building it in my basement, then I have to look at a different set of numbers. The more numbers I see, the better I can adjust.

In the end, if I spend $500 and can get something out of the system, it is a win. I will have learned a bunch and be ready to fix issues. The next system will be better. If I enjoy the process of building, then ANY output is gravy.

I am already getting strawberries. My fish are getting bigger. I'm having fun. So, for me it is worth it.

Do I want to go commercial?  Will it become work at that point? Why would I ruin a perfectly good hobby? On the other hand, I heard a quote by someone famous "If you enjoy your job, you will never work a day in your life."

Besides, if I didn't spend the money on this, I would spend it something else. Do I get strawberries from golf?  

Thanks for all the input on the 6 mil. I have been wrestling with that and put it in there to see if I could get advice. Thanks again.

I have looked at the IBC solution and I like it. But my wife has declared it "ugly". She will let me get away with a lot, but not if she considers it ugly. Ugly, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. I am also looking at covering it with cedar. I had a cedar tree hit by lightning last year in the back of my pasture. 

Chris said:

Thanks for sharing your plans Lance. I am currently planning to do almost the exact same thing next year after relocating to Vietnam and documenting the whole thing.  I have put a lot of thought into design keeping cost and materials in mind but it is something I cant make decisions on until I am actually there.

To your point regarding 6mil plastic liner. It will work but you will just have to be careful not to puncture it and keep it out of the sun.

The setup you are planning is very similar to what I initially thought as well. I too wanted to place the tank underneath the grow beds but considering the materials used, general maintenance and for ease of access I think its a regrettable design. Ultimately I believe we are looking for something similar in volume and design to an IBC based CHOP2 system. If you do a quick search you will find many systems built using 3 IBC totes (1 full tote tank, a half sized tote sump, and 3 beds). If totes are available or affordable the might be best to use but keeping the basic plumbing diagram the same, moving the components around and changing the materials used should be just fine if needed.

Once I move my thoughts into a google sketuchup I will post them. The idea for my scenario anyway would be to build a system in a 4'x20' footprint which should be also easy to cover, maintain, and will conserve space. Once everything is up and running well it should be relatively simple to expand in a modular fashion. Each module also should be straight forward couple together or isolate each other for controlled experimentation purposes.

My personal goal is not to run as a profit business but a hobby experiment(s) and maybe get to reduce the food bill which will be one of my largest living expenses.

 

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