Aquaponic Gardening

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My 1st Aquaponics aka The School of Hard Knocks

Here it is February in Northern Ontario. Cabin fever has set in and as I stare out my dining room window I see my 1st Aquaponics growbed covered under 2 feet of snow and ice, I get excited thinking about Aquaponics 2.0

I learned a lot in my first attempt at building an Aquaponics system. Like most people I started out with an IBC tote tank, 250 gallon/1000 litre, cut to where I thought it should be and commenced to assembling it. Understand I did this before finding The Aquaponics Source and joining this group of knowledgeable folks. I was running on an idea I had of how I thought it should work.

The system went together fairly easy. I placed the fish tank inside my storage shed (Sugar Shack in the spring) and the grow bed outside on a set of sawhorses which were braced together for stability. I set my system up to make the best use of gravity and to keep my costs down. After-all, this was an experiment before I invested to much of myself into the project.

The fish tank was filled with water from a nearby lake, I figured it would already be balanced as fish and plants live there. The media for the grows beds came from a friends crush stone quarry. For the amount I wanted, he told me to help myself. It took quite a few hours to wash all the stone to get the silt and grindings off before putting it in the grow bed.

In the beginning I used a submersible pump, which used a line splitter to fill my grow bed and recirculate the water back into the tank to help oxygenate the water as well as the siphon drain coming back from the grow bed. The pump only lasted a few weeks and drove the fish nuts, so I replaced it with a sump pump where the motor is out of the water, fish were much happier.

The fish I collected from the lake as well. I added 6 sunfish and 6 catfish plus 6 crayfish. I thought the crayfish may help control any algae buildup. Note to self.. do not use leeches to control algae because catfish love them.

The grow bed was planted with a bunch of crappy looking plants from the local hardware store that didn't have much life in them. I planted some of the plants in the grow beds and the healthier ones in my regular garden. It took 6 minutes roughly to fill the bed before it siphoned off through the bell siphon. So I would get 2 cycles every time the pump kicked on. I played around with different bell siphon designs and ended up using two plastic pop bottles which worked better than anything else.

I was happy to have spent a couple of days building the system and getting it up an running. As I stood there admiring my "not-so" handyman work I noticed that My bed had no sunlight hitting it. As a matter-of-fact it was only getting 3 hours of direct sunlight a day whereas my regular garden around the front of my house has full sun until late afternoon. Well it was too late to tear it apart and rebuild so I thought what the heck, it's just an experiment right!?

I fed the fish around a tablespoon of fishpond feed every day and had my pump on a timer so it would cycle on for 15 minutes and off for a half hour.

It took a few days for the plants to perk up but they did and looked quite happy in their new home. I added a dozen or so dew worms to the grow beds to help with the cleaning.

No chemicals were ever added and the water from any rain we received through the summer seemed to keep up with any evaporation.

The plants kept growing long after my regular garden had ended its growth cycle and had been frozen by 3 frosts. The frost didn't effect the grow bed as much as my garden, not sure why. It was still in the growth cycle when the snow started to fly in November.

Below I share some side-by-side pics of my experiment. Overall, I thought the experiment was a true success showing yields far greater than a typical garden in our northern climates. The veggies tasted awesome, were esthetically more perfect and grew my larger than their brothers and sisters in the regular garden. My little system became the talk of the town. Every day people stopped by to check it and we even had a visit from the horticultural society to see this new-fangled way of growing 'stuff'.

This year I have started to build my aquaponics 2.0 system which will be comprised of 3 tanks, 3 growbeds and 9 grow towers. The whole system is being built on heavy duty casters so I can roll it into my heated garage for the winter. So far it is proving to challenge my brain to make sure everything is going to work the way I want it to. It will be a modified CHOP setup and the grow towers will be a redesign of the towerponics models I have seen on the internet. My garage uses a rocket stove to store heat in a water thermal battery which can be used to heat my fish tanks. This year I will be raising Talapia for the first time so I am sure it too will be an enjoyable learning experience. Wish me luck folks!

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