Aquaponic Gardening

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I have retrofitted my aquariums in the house to work as an aquaponics system.  I am doing this to run as a pilot to watch my nutrient levels.  I have three tanks currently set up for aquaponics, all of which are set up for Fill & Drain with a bell siphon using pea gravel.  After washing 3 cubic feet of this, I have no idea how anyone washes a whole ton?

I have my 55 gallon aquarium with a 10 gallon tote above.  I use a simple aquarium pump to transfer water from the tank above to the growbed. 



I have used discount house plants sold at the local big box.  It was hard to turn down 67 cent plants!  There are a variety of plants to compare growth rates, light needs and fertilizer needs.
 



This 55 gallon aquarium has a wide variety of fish from the Wabash River.  The stocking density is fairly high for the tank, but I it was cycled before.  I'm hoping to reduce/eliminate (for the most part) water changes.  I want to put the nitrates to use, instead of dumping the water on the garden in the winter.



I also have two 10 gallon tanks to test.  Each has a 15L tote above with pea gravel and a bell siphon.I have again used discount house plants to grow. 


These tanks are stocked at a lower density to complete the cycles.  I'll add more fish soon.  They each also have a crayfish, which are always fun to observe.  Here is a pic of my favorite crayfish.  I named her Martha Stewart, because she loves to decorate her tank.  I constantly wake up to a new configuration of the stones in her tank! 



**A note about crayfish:  most are very territorial and aggressive between species and amongst their own species.  This of course depends on species.  As a rule of thumb, I only use 1 per 10 gallon tank or about 2 square feet per crayfish. 

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UPDATE:

 

I just thought I'd update my efforts with water quality readings.  It seems that I've either overstocked my tanks with fish or understocked with plants.  I have never had Nitrate accumulation like this with the same number of fish, so I'm fairly certain the house plants I have been using to test the system are just not taking in Nitrogen rapidly enough.

 

My 55 Gallon tank had:     <0.25ppm Ammonia(um)       0.0ppm Nitrite     60ppm Nitrate !

(A) 10 Gallon tank had:       0.25ppm Ammonia(um)   <0.25ppm Nitrite    100ppm Nitrate !!!!

(B) 10 Gallon tank had:     <0.25ppm Ammonia(um)       0.0ppm Nitrite    100ppm Nitrate !!!!

 

I have 4 baitfish and 1 crayfish in each 10 gallon tank.  I have 10-15 fish of various sorts in the 55 gallon.  (I believe the aquatic plants in my 55 gallon may be another factor & are likely the reason the Nitrates are 40ppm lower in that tank).

 

I will be planting greens (mainly shallow rooting lettuce) after the Holidays.  Hopefully they will remove Nitrates at a much better rate than these house plants. :)

You probably should change out some of the water.  May want to check the pH too....

Good point.  I failed to mention that I had been regularly changing 10-15% of the water in each tank while the bacteria colonized the GBs.  These numbers were right before my last water change 2 days ago.  I now change the water anywhere from 5-8 days in between, depending on the test results.

 

I did also check pH as a regular part of my aquarium testing. I use the WaterWorks test strips kit, which is 0.5 unit increments from 6.5-8.5.  I forgot to include those values.

Those values were:

 

55 Gal          7.5

(A) 10 Gal     7.0

(B) 10 Gal     7.5

 

***  I should also note that our city water has been HEAVILY chlorinated lately, so I've had to treat with de-chlorinator and bubble it for 24 hrs.

I'll also be testing our city water today to see the existing Nitrate levels, to see if I'm introducing it from there.

 

Rob Torcellini said:

You probably should change out some of the water.  May want to check the pH too....

My next guess is you don't have enough plants (or growbeds).  Some types of houseplants don't require a lot of nutrients (it's why people like them because they take little to keep them alive!).  When I'm starting my beds, I usually plant greenbeens since they grow fast and require a lot of nitrates.  If they start to get pale, I now there isn't enough to keep them going so I usually pull a few out and replace with lettuce (or whatever).

I did water changes over the last few months, but I did notice that my fish density was MUCH too high for the grow space I had available.  It seems that a 10 gallon tank with only 1 mature crayfish was enough for the grow space.  It wasn't difficult to find a use for the minnows (ice fishing for perch and walleye). 

 

I have put some green beans in my germination tray.  I'll give it a shot here soon. 


Rob Torcellini said:

My next guess is you don't have enough plants (or growbeds).  Some types of houseplants don't require a lot of nutrients (it's why people like them because they take little to keep them alive!).  When I'm starting my beds, I usually plant greenbeens since they grow fast and require a lot of nitrates.  If they start to get pale, I now there isn't enough to keep them going so I usually pull a few out and replace with lettuce (or whatever).

UPDATE:

 

Well, the ice is no longer safe to fish, so I'm gearing up for the growing season.  I have taken out the houseplants and replaced them with garden crops.  I direct seeded some herbs, greens and veggies. 

 

After a week I have already noticed the basil sprouting! 

 

Update - These greens are growing MUCH better than I expected.  I definitely have too small a GB for the 10 gallon FT.

 

This is the bluegill in that tank (there's also a crayfish, but it is nocturnal).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other 10 gallon.  Slower growth, but still progressing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the blue cap is from an old tube of fish food.  it keeps the algae growth off the bell siphon.

 

The 55 gallon tank's GB.  The tomatoes really took off and have seriously reduced the Nitrogen issue I was having.  I lost my 'cheat sheet' with the readings from test kits,but the nitrates are down by half.

 

This GB is just boiling over now.  I've begun harvesting a few leaves here and there.  

 

The green onions have not grown very quickly at all, but I've had some trouble with the siphon on this GB.  The peppers seem to be just fine and the beans seem to be struggling.

 

This is the 55 gallon aquarium's GB after I thinned out tomatoes to place in my patio system.  See HERE for the patio system.  The tomatoes have done VERY well in this GB, even though it doesn't fill/drain the best.  It seems the fish are happier too.  I've gotta get some more reagents for my chemistry test kits to get a before and after water quality summary.  

Ido not recommend the typical 100 W CFL bulbs for use in Aquaponics.  I have read in other forums that the highest light output is directly from the end of these bulbs.   Therefore, I have used that configuration in my small 10 gallon aquarium systems.  The problem I have encountered is the severely limited angle of useful light emanating from the bulbs.  I don't get much coverage and I didn't need much to begin with.  You can see below they I've got plants training towards the light and they distance isn't far (horizontally) from the stem to bulb. 

 

The tomato is reaching in the bottom picture and the Sweet Basil in the top picture has been growing in whatever direction (around the Swiss Chard) that it can to get the direct light output from the CFL.

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