Aquaponic Gardening

A Community and Forum For Aquaponic Gardeners

After actively researching for over 6 months and reading and watching everything I could about Aquaponics, and coming from a long background in horticulture, I was amazed to learn that it just isn't that hard to build and run a system. I've built 2 so far. One is a small patio system for personal use in southwest Florida, the other is larger, designed to service a farmers' market, and housed in a 1,000 sf greenhouse in central Missouri.

I've observed other people's systems first-hand. One thing is for sure, every system is as unique as the owner. I will admit that I was timid about the fish, I'm a plant person- I have experienced very little in aquaculture. I'm amazed at how hardy and resilient these little tilapia are! Much more so than I was lead to believe.

It seems to be that the more Lauren, my daughter, and I work on our large system and plant and watch the fish- the simpler it gets. One tends to get caught up with too much over-thinking, over-designing, obsessing on numbers and readings (pH & NH3 etc.), obsessing on fish and plants and bugs. We've been documenting everything and we'll be sharing our results soon. There were many times, throughout the trials and errors, she and I would look at each other with questioning glances- Is it supposed to be this easy? We thought it would be way more complicated- AND we simplified the process even further. Our plan is to develop and design a system and a business plan that is replicable and expand our farm.

For anyone who is building an aquaponics system or thinking about it, my advice: don't worry, relax and enjoy the experience. You can make big mistakes if you don't read and heed the basics (like don't use metal tanks, don't overfeed your fish, using a de-chlorinator chemical)- but we haven't killed a plant or a fish yet. (not counting the Easter fish suicide- one jumped out of the tank). Everyone and everything is happy and growing and going with the rhythm of temperatures and weather and work progress. We've had a real roller coaster ride too: in 4 weeks of Spring- since March 23rd- the temps have gone from 91 to 34 degrees, blustery thunderstorms, bright hot sunny days, every tree and flower bursting overnight and rushing into early summer only to be frosted twice.

We ditched the 4 week fishless cycling idea, ball valves, expensive timers, tanks and liners and multiple pumps. We jump started our system in 2 days with clean, local pondwater and rainwater mix. We re-purposed many used materials to keep our cost down and designed a system that will work for us at a high-end farmers' market in St. Louis. We use one 2600 gph pump in our fish tank (at the lowest end of the system) for the whole system, letting gravity take over for most of the work. Thanks to Archimedes (the simple machine guru), the marvelous bell siphon and some adjustable pvc elbows, we're draining from the gravel beds to the rafts without a sump (for now) and linking our new NFT trays to the rafts as well.

We don't heat our greenhouse yet- it's all passive solar at this point. The fish water has fluctuated from 7.0 to 8.5 pH ( holding at 8.0- normal for Missouri ground water), 53 to 75 degrees in 2 weeks: fish (combination of Blue nile, Hawaiian gold and Mozambique tilapia) have been active and happy the whole time. We feed them once every 2-3 days and they're growing anyway. What's all the fuss about fish not thriving outside a narrow zone?! The fish are way easier than I thought they would be. My observation is that the oxygen in the water and stocking density are the keys. Keep the 02 high with an aerator nozzle off the pump and the stocking density low- and most other things,aside from freezing, are a non-factor. We tested and logged the results to prove it. I can only hope that our POV helps you.

So, if you're new to aquaponics, remember to have fun with it, learn from it and start your own food revolution with self-sustainability. I'll be posting video on our farm site soon: freshveggie.co. You can watch our progress and email us there, too.

Good Luck to everyone!

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Replies to This Discussion

sounds good. did i miss the pics of the greenhouse?

Great, I will be looking for your results.

Thanks, I am one the new bees that was needing this motivation and advice! Your post is spot-one and very inspirational, especially the part about involving your daughter into the project--that in itself, if very AWESOME!!! Okay, so I am noticing lots of Missouri information, yet you live in FLA? If you are nearby, then would it be possible to see your systems.. I am a retired Marine, live here in Waynesville MO right outside of Fort Leonard Wood's Army installation... I have met several locals who want to learn more about AP. I have added you as a contact, if this is cool with you? Thanks in Advance, Max

Thanks for the comments. @Max- I commute between MO and FL, I have friends and family in both places- testing 2 different systems and getting interest in developing a larger urban, commercial site with partners. The family farm is near Stanton, MO. If you want to visit and see the setup- you're welcome to come. We have had a few visitors already. We're super busy on Fridays and Saturdays, these are our market prep and market days- we won't be available then. But any other day would be good.

I should have some video ready to view in the next few days. Stay tuned.

Great post Connie!  Nice to see someone new to aquaponics & in the Midwest doing so well.  I've just started looking into it about 3-4 weeks ago.  Thinking about building my tanks and grow beds.  I live near Springfield, IL.  Would love to come visit your farm during the week sometime if possible.  Any thoughts/suggestions on designs or places I should look for more info?  Thank you!!!

-Matt

Hi Matt,

Thanks for the kind feedback- we really appreciate hearing from you.

And you're more than welcome to come and visit us, any day but Fridays and Saturdays (these are market days). We're close to Stanton, MO- the Meramec Caverns exit off I-44. Yeah, that's way in the country!

Being a very visual person, I like watching YouTube videos and visiting other aquaponics folks. This is an excerpt of one of my favorite DVD's with Murray Hallam: http://youtu.be/HYR9s6chrI0. I highly recommend his Secrets of Aquaponics video- it's more in depth and goes beyond the basic start-up, I learned a lot from this one regarding design and engineering.

As far as our system goes, we decided to use the KISS rule (Keep It Simple Stupid)- and we're pushing ourselves to simplify everything we can and to re-purpose as many materials as we can.

So, my advice is #1: start small -100-250 gallons is good- if you start with any smaller volumes, there can be issues with big 'mood swings'- a larger volume of water is much more forgiving and gives you room to expand your growing beds later.

And #2: be frugal with your money, there's lots of ways to spend lots of money- the real challenge is to work out your design and then look at your budget and keep your money in line. For instance, we started out with a different design using lots of lumber and liner- wow, that was WAY over our modest budget. So, we started over and pushed ourselves to think and be more innovative. Now, I think we have a great system that works for us- it's expandable and affordable and was a lot of fun to build.

Look for my videos coming out soon. I'll post them and share them in a bunch of places.

Cheers, Connie

Matthew Link said:

Great post Connie!  Nice to see someone new to aquaponics & in the Midwest doing so well.  I've just started looking into it about 3-4 weeks ago.  Thinking about building my tanks and grow beds.  I live near Springfield, IL.  Would love to come visit your farm during the week sometime if possible.  Any thoughts/suggestions on designs or places I should look for more info?  Thank you!!!

-Matt

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