Aquaponic Gardening

A Community and Forum For Aquaponic Gardeners

Greetings. A couple of times  @Bob has requested more information on how our system works. Good and fair questions. However, I wanted to take a moment to delve into the why of our aquaponics rather than the how. We will get to the how but a little later. I’ve been in the science/art/business of aquaculture now since 1980 and my partner Jim and I working on it since 1998. The Holy Grail has always been to find a method to move it (aquaculture) cost effectively into urban areas. Aquaponics clearly is a Sustainable way to do this. The primary focus of this current project was to increase the general public’s access to aquaponcs and to determine if backyard aquaponics could actually help to feed a family of 4 and by how much? So to answer these two questions, here are a few of the things we set out to accomplish:
1.            Keep the costs down as far as possible.
2.            Use 100% off the shelf materials (if it takes longer than 2 days to get it or if MUST order it you don’t need or want it (does not include fish and shrimp but that would be good too))
3.            Make it big enough to potentially feed a family of four and to make 1 to 1 comparisons to a “square foot garden” to create an honest judge of how effective the technique is.
4.             Keep design, construction, operation and maintenance as simple, fast and easy as possible (KISS) (1 to 2 days construction time)
5.            Use as little energy as possible and to replace needed energy with solar applications if possible.
6.            Make the system as resilient as possible (power, failures, mechanical failure, disease, temperature fluctuations, nutrient deficiencies, pH fluctuations etc).
7.            Capture as many operational synergies as possible. (find those situations where 1 + 1 = 4 and maximize them.)
8.            Determine new planting schedules
9.            Develop techniques to grow foods people actually eat or sell within their communities. 
10.            Maximize safety
March 2013 will mark our 24th month of work and we have actually accomplished much of what we set out to do. To do so though we have broken a number of the aquaponics rules as suggested by this internet site, but have and will have learned a lot. We will be hosting more classes soon as well as watch out for some upcoming news releases. However, so the public can have access to the results of our work beyond reports at scientific conferences like Aquaculture 2013 (If they accepted the abstract, Aquaponics and STEM education in Phoenix Arizona), or blog postings, we are working on a book about our experiences.
More later.

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Replies to This Discussion

Dr. George, I found another good place to repost it under a cycling thread, thanks for the suggestion.

Bob. I am very interested in what you are doing out there in California. In that I visit your state frequently, I would like to pay you a visit in the near future. Could you please post your website again?

Thank you for sharing what you felt comfortable with.

Human innovation has escalated exponentially since the internet became available world wide.  This is due to people freely sharing their knowledge and expertise.

While it's not a requirement that we share our knowledge I believe most of the members of this community share my commitment to open source information.  After all the progress and innovation seen in these discussions was not developed by any one person.   We have all benefited from the collective knowledge, and innovation of many that have gone before us.

I admire those who have used this information to develop commercial farms, and received personal gain from the sale of their knowledge, through books and classes.  Most of these people continue to freely share all that they know.  By giving they receive back much more in return.  I see this as a universal truth, and it's directly related to chi or the intention of creating abundance.   Creating abundance does not always come back to us directly, but our lives are often improved many times over through the gifts we give.

My Blog ChicoAquaponic is a mishmash of experiments,  collections of knowledge, links to useful information, inventions and a history of my path.   I am currently building a new blog which will consolidate the verified factual, and helpful information I have gathered.  I'm currently creating a hierarchy of topics which will allow people to browse the site efficiently. 

  ChicoAquaponic is dedicated the the spirit of Open Source Information.    My collections of sources,  and my innovations are shared freely, and there are no advertisements on any of my videos or the blog other than one link to a site where donations to can be made to the WikiMedia Foundation.   "Our shared knowledge our shared treasure"

I'd like to meet you when you are up this way. 

Dr. George B. Brooks, Jr. said:

Bob. I am very interested in what you are doing out there in California. In that I visit your state frequently, I would like to pay you a visit in the near future. Could you please post your website again?

Great post Bob....'our shared knowledge' is indeed 'our shared treasure'!!  I know I appreciate your dedication to sharing information and sharing your innovative ideas, inventions, trials and experiments.  I think we all share that appreciation here on the site.

Dr. Brooks is an amazing man, I'm certain that if you still lived here in the state that you two would have met long ago.  I am happy that your paths might cross in the near future and the two of you meet face to face.  Dr. Brooks has been in the aquaculture game a long time.  Though it's an area of expertise for him it is only a smidgen of what he's all about.  Dr. Brooks is very detail oriented as you would expect a scientist to be, yet he is always mindful of the 'big' picture, humanity and our fellow man, the environment, fellowship, community, sustainability, the world's future, the list goes on and on.  I guess it's clear that I'm one of his many admirers.  Here in the desert Southwest we have a lot of problems facing us as we hurl into the future, warmer temperatures, weird weather, water shortages, aquaponics might be a way for families to meet at least one of their most basic needs, providing themselves with a consistent affordable food source.

The majority of us here are a mix of hobbyists, entrepreneurs, tinkers....and frankly we're not waking up every morning looking to save the world.  We also are a very admirable group of lab rats, through our successes and failures we all learn. 

I personally think it's important for us all to remember that even if we have the is in the best interest of the community, country and the world for us to design and run our systems in the most energy efficient ways, with the smallest possible carbon footprint, applying care with any wastes we produce and avoiding use of harmful substances that have a negative impact on our environment.  I think it's important to constantly ask ourselves 'why' every time we find ourselves complicating a very straightforward system that uses less water than conventional dirt gardening, produces great food for our own use and hopefully a bonus surplus for our community, be that surplus food or education.  AP is something anyone can do, it doesn't have to be complicated, and it can be very rewarding to all.  I know it's tempting to want that fancier pump or tricked out 'whatever' and we tell ourselves we can afford it, so why not?  We can spend the money, pay the shipping, just on an experiment....but should we?  I have great respect for those like Dennis McClung with Garden Pool who only uses a 150w pump for his entire system (and it's big), because that's the amount of energy his solar panel setup generates.  

I thank Dr. Brooks....because when those 'bigger, fancier' thoughts beacon me, his broad view to helping community and beyond reminds me to keep grounded and maintain a more healthy perspective.  We don't live in a little bubble of our own, we are sharing all of this with our fellow man, this aquaponics adventure is a good thing for the planet.  I think it would be great for every family to have their own system, or groups of families to share a little bit larger system, and schools/community groups with systems too!  

We should all keep in mind that aquaponics is more than just what meets the eye, it's a learning 'experience' that involves science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and those fun challenges are what draws us in, call it our brand of continuious learning.  It is an adventure that, in the right model, all of our fellow humans can accomplish, share in the bounty, and share the knowledge which all contributes to the greater good.  

looking forward to the book!

very interested in how the solar water heater works out for you. I've been thinking if you had an insulated sump tank you could make it work

Chris George said:

Good post Dr. Brooks.....!  Scaleable (that's where I come in).  I'm also thinking about trying a littler system in a collapsible side kiddie pool using 20 gallon containers down the road (would be 'very' affordable).  Now that the weather has cooled a bit, I'm finally going to get busy with the final logistical 'site' problems for my 12' system.  I semi-designed a solar water heating set up but it needs more thought.  I'd like to get a stable temperature of 75 or so throughout the winter (wish me luck, right??).  Looking forward to more classes, any idea when the next one might be??

@Sean-Michael....I'm thinking 55 gallon drums painted black for storage...but I can't figure out how to retain enough heat to get through an entire 12+ hour period of no solar help. 

I'm thinking tubing coils laying on a teepee-like structure to get the most sun exposure, or I might go up on top of my patio roof and coil tubes there....still kicking ideas around in my head....

I'm currently building a solar heater too.  I have 100' of 5/8 black poly in a 2x4 frame with a 1/2" plywood back and a glass shower door on top.  In the winter the box gets up to 119F.  With uninsulated pipe the water returned at 90F.  Sorry this is where it gets unscientific.  I don't know the flow rate.  the distance was about 25' to my collection barrel which was also uninsulated.

So that's not a lot of help but it shows that the box temperature can get the water quite hot.  From here we need to calculate BTU's solar gain and BTU's lost over night and allow for cloudy days.

Water is the best storage solution hands down.  Don't waste time thinking about weird stuff.  The BTU losses are probably not as much as you might imagine for an insulated tank.   I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the optimum flow rates to exchange the heat, but failed to find a formula I felt comfortable with.  I'm just going to build it and see what happens.  If it needs to be bigger then I'll consider it.

BUT if you guys figure a formula out I'm all ears.  I asked a friend who does energy audits to help me and he never returned my call so I'm guessing it can get pretty complicated.  I'll ask again and see what he says.

Chris George said:

@Sean-Michael....I'm thinking 55 gallon drums painted black for storage...but I can't figure out how to retain enough heat to get through an entire 12+ hour period of no solar help. 

I'm thinking tubing coils laying on a teepee-like structure to get the most sun exposure, or I might go up on top of my patio roof and coil tubes there....still kicking ideas around in my head....

Sorry old age.  I forgot where I was going with all that.  So the storage barrel would get up to 90F and then over night in the green house with freezing temperatures it would drop to about 70.  I was trying to keep the uninsulated greenhouse warm over night but failed miserably.  That's why I have this abandoned solar collector on my roof.

If you look at the barrel as the fish tank I think similar results would be found. Keep in mind my collection barrel was not insulated because I wanted it to loose heat to the greenhouse.   The temperatures in the greenhouse still hit freezing.  But the temperature of the storage barrel stayed at 70F!  That's what would work for us.  

For me greenhouse comes first or all the heat will be lost through evaporation (like in your swamp cooler) or through night sky radiation faster than I can put it in.

P.S. First tilapia sample, 200g (a little less than 1/2 pound). Started at 5g so not bad for 2.5 months but way to small to eat. Needs another month. Hope the water temperatures hold up.

@Dr. Brooks, 5g to 200g in 2.5 months seems to me equals Success, so congratulations....and hopefully you will get to east some in a month or so!

Correction, 88 days. Stocked 7/1/12


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