Aquaponic Gardening

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I thought I'd open this discussion so we can describe our setups & find out what we're all doing.

Bob & I are in the Gilbert area, raising tilapia in a greenhouse in a 200 gal IBC setup w/about 45 larger fish. We built the system last Feb and added tilapia in April. We're hoping to start harvesting fish next Feb. In the meantime, we're getting a handle on the veggies.

We also have a 300gal tote in the ground with a bunch of smaller tilapia.We have a couple of tanks we're setting up, one will run a couple flats of duckweed, another will run some a vertical herb garden. We have our breeders indoors; one male, two females and a couple hundred fingerlings (for sale). :)

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I have a similar IBC set up with tilapia (sans extra in-ground tank) in Phoenix. I've had a system for about a year and a half but I just recently built a small (8' x10') greenhouse that it's now housed in. My biggest battle is the fish killing each other. I started with about 30 fish but lost more than half of them to aggression. I'm adding more hiding places this go around and I hope to someday have a breeder tank and I'd like to focus more on feeding the fish predominantly homegrown feed.

Hi, Rachel!

I'd like to get to a point where we provide homegrown food, too. Once we get all the systems going, maybe. Then we'll have duckweed to supplement.

We haven't had an aggression issue in our big tank. We did in our breeder tank and resolved it by adding more fish and crowding them. They mellowed out at that point. Now, though, we keep each breeder separate from the others to eliminate aggression and to control when they breed.

I'm located in North Phoenix and this is my design.  I've pretty much got the pieces cut and ready to assemble, but since it looks like we're moving house soon I've paused the installation.

What I've show here is the final goal.  The initial implementation won't have the swirl filter and only one grow bed.  It's designed to be as simple and compact as possible, so that it will fit easily into my backyard and there's hopefully not a lot to go wrong.   The fish tank is designed to be sunk into the ground by 12"-18".     Fish tank is 6'x4'x3'.  Grow beds are 6'x4'x1'.

Comments are welcome.

Cheers,

John

Looks like a great design, John! Our fully-functioning system is similar to yours, but we're using IBC. We have simple flow-through filters and one grow bed set up similarly to yours. We've recently added two 1/2 barrels to expand the growbed area. Here are a couple of picts of the system when we first put up the barrels. Now they're full of plants. :)

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Thanks Sheri,

I really like looking at photos of people who have a system up and running.

I notice that you are in a greenhouse.   Is this primarily for shade or do you find it necessary for the winter months too.

This is something that I don't know about yet for the Phoenix environment and would be a good question for the group as a whole.

 

What sort of greenhouse and/or shade are people using and is it an essential piece of setup?

 

Looking forward to the ensuing discussion.

John

 



Sheri Schmeckpeper said:

Looks like a great design, John! Our fully-functioning system is similar to yours, but we're using IBC. We have simple flow-through filters and one grow bed set up similarly to yours. We've recently added two 1/2 barrels to expand the growbed area. Here are a couple of picts of the system when we first put up the barrels. Now they're full of plants.

If you're using tilapia you need to have some sort of winter heat/greenhouse, even in Phoenix. Last winter I had mine outdoors with a small tank heater (rated for a 90 gallon tank but used in a 180 gallon tank in an IBC set up), I also had greenhouse plastic draped over it essentially creating a mini greenhouse. I didn't lose any fish.

In the summer I had no shade on my system. The water stayed around 94˚  and I lost a LOT of water to evaporation-- I had to add water about every other or every two days. This summer I will have shade over the roof of the greenhouse and will either remove the walls of the greenhouse or add an evap cooler. I'm curious as to the effect this might have on my water loss.

Yes, we started outdoors in Feb using goldfish to cycle, so temperature wasn't an issue. We built the greenhouse structure to control the environment year 'round, and got it built just in time for the heat. We have an evap , and we were able to keep the air temps below 100 degrees, which was our goal. The 330 gal tank in the ground stayed a consistent 85 during the summer, and the 200 gal higher tank varied between 85 and the low 90s. We wrapped the above ground tank with styrofoam for insulation, which probably helped, too.The fish did fine.


Now we're preparing for winter, and have two 200 watt heaters in the above-ground tank. one in the lower tank, and smaller heaters in the 30 & 50 gal tanks. We'll see how it goes. Our goal is to keep the temps above 60, preferably closer to 70. We have floating beds on the lower tank & one of the smaller tanks to prevent winter evaporation, and that's supposed to help keep temperatures up. When frosts hit, we're planning on running the evap fan and channeling that air across our traditional garden beds as well to keep the frost from setting. We'll see what happens!

As for evaporation, we had a lot in the summer, though I know the greenhouse helped a bit, and the evap helped a lot because it kept the air moist. It would be nice to be able to capture that evaporation and return it to the system, but that's a project for another day. Or another life!

 

John Malone said:

Thanks Sheri,

I really like looking at photos of people who have a system up and running.

I notice that you are in a greenhouse.   Is this primarily for shade or do you find it necessary for the winter months too.

This is something that I don't know about yet for the Phoenix environment and would be a good question for the group as a whole.

As for what kind of greenhouse...We built a frame with PVC and wrapped it with 6 mil UV greenhouse plastic. In the summer we used a shadescreen over the top, and added an old tarp on top of that for extra shade where the sun hit the hardest. We also used some styrofoam sheets around the sides to reduce direct sun.  Now the styrofoam will act as insulation from the cold.


We built the top before the floor because we were trying to beat the summer heat, so we ended up using some old stall mats for a floor. When we were able we replaced them with brick. The stall mats would get up to 140 degrees, so I had to cover them with light covered sheets. The bricks were better, but would still get to 120 degrees. I painted the bricks with white paint, which brought the temps down significantly.


John Malone said:

Thanks Sheri,

I really like looking at photos of people who have a system up and running.

I notice that you are in a greenhouse.   Is this primarily for shade or do you find it necessary for the winter months too.

This is something that I don't know about yet for the Phoenix environment and would be a good question for the group as a whole.

 

What sort of greenhouse and/or shade are people using and is it an essential piece of setup?

 

Looking forward to the ensuing discussion.

John

 

Ive got to get my system running, how much cash for one male and three females?

It's impossible to sex the ones we're selling because they're too small - between 1" & 2". We're selling for $1 each.

That's nice, Scott! Would love to come see it sometime. I like the labels on your plants. My hubby Bob & I tend to use the memory system, which is dangerous since our memories aren't that good anymore.

We'
re also re-thinking our system. I think we'll be selling off our above ground system and just using the 300 gal that's in-ground to feed our beds.That'll give us a lot more growbed space and help us keep our sanity. :b

Scott said:

Here is the new system and some pics of the older

 

http://s300.photobucket.com/albums/nn8/LNDSCAPR/PersonalPhotos/Gard...

 

Scott

Have you toured Rhiba Farms? They have a really great commercial process & you can learn a lot from them.

We haven't been fussing much with nitrate levels. Our plants are happy and we know we can add a lot more grow beds to our one tank. When we get more growing we'll measure periodically, but we'll know when we're over-planted by their health. The problem with nitrate calculations is that they are in constant flux because of the many variables. The amount of sun, the temperature, the humidity, and other envronmental factors affects the growth of the plants and how much they consume. The type, size and number of plants, along with the type, size and number of fish have an impact. There are too many factors to control, so we use plant & fish health as our guide. We do measure ammonia and nitrites, and we keep PH low. We're only producing for home use, though. If we wanted to produce enough to sell it would be more important, I'm sure.

There are general formulas that I've heard of. I even found a spreadsheet that will help you calculate it all out, but all that takes time & energy that I'm better off putting elsewhere. :)  You're right, it's a science!

$400 is great for what you've built! Our system includes the greenhouse and swamp cooler. I'm really happy we can do these things for so little, because it means we can teach people of all income levels to improve their lives with better food, and become more self-sufficient. It's not economically dependent.

The most expensive part of gardening for us has been the SF garden, because the initial soil mixture is expensive. We got a lot of good deals on things, but even so, filling 175sf of grow space was pricey. It's been well worth it for us, but aquaponics can be much more affordable, and is year-round with a greenhouse & swamp cooler. I love it!

Scott said:

I'm excited to find others here in AZ involved in this amazing gardening concept. I found aquaponics and can't help to not spread the word. It finally settles in when you eat your first veggies. We really enjoy the herbs. Last night we had cilantro and dill out of the system.

 

 

 

We are planning a small raft connected to the second system. We are also planning a larger lettuce/bok choi etc DWC system in the next few months. The farmers markets here are ripe(no pun intended) for good food sales, and I plan to be a part of it. Being self employed gives me the time to devote.

 

I don't have more than $400 combined in both systems. I'm not really about pretty, I'm about functionality am an very frugal. I wanted to see if you could cobble a decent system together. As I continue to learn, I make things realtively easy to change, hell I'm not sure what works lol.

What grows good for you guys? Also, your nitrates do they stay at 0ppm or do they rise and fall? I have been adding fish to the system in small quantites but alas always at 0ppm. Our veges suck it all up.

 

My hot topics? Plant sciences and fish count/plant count ratios..It's definitely science.

 

Growing is not easy, thats a dual edged sword, good that not everyone can do it contrary to popular beliefs and bad because its very difficult to make production quantitys.. It's not that difficult to go buy pre-grown plants and HD or Wally's stick them in the ground and voilia! veges. Planting a seed and nurturing it to full production on a marketable scale is daunting.

 

I am very interested to see how others are doing it here in person. Watching videos are one thing. Putting some eyes on it are another!

I'm in for the tour!

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