Monday, October 1, 2012

My first Aquaponics System - part 2

Our first spinach came in on it's 4th day in the tank!!!
Seems like it's too soon to do an update on our AP system since it's still technically within a week of starting it, but since we had to spread out when we bought various parts and we only work on it when it's cool out, it's taken us about a week to build it. This is Phoenix, AZ it still reaches triple digits some days in October. It's also really exciting right now, because our plants are sprouting up as you can see to the left here with our first tiny spinach sprouting up.

So part 2 is mostly about us finishing the building process of a simple and somewhat theoretical AP System I had in mind, which is to use the floating raft technique but with an IBC container type system. I don't know how well this system will hold up and to how many fish, but we will see. I planned to cycle the system for about a week with just plants before putting fish in it, so we do not yet have our catfish, but that's OK because it is giving me time to call around town and see who has the best price on catfish, or decide if I should buy them online and pay for shipping.

6 inch air stone disk under the large raft
So what did we do to since my last post? Bought and added water conditioner, sea weed, a working thermometer, 1 six inch and 1 5 inch flat disk shaped air rock for under the rafts, 25 feet of black air hose and a 2 outlet air pump meant for a smaller tank which will eventually be moved indoors to our 60 gallon tank, 2 gadgets to prevent water flowing backward into the air pump since it's slightly lower than water height, some fish pond water conditioner, and some sea weed to start cycling the system. Carlie found another extension cord and a lamp/appliance timer we had laying around the house.

I also bought a book called The Wonder of Aquaponics on my Nook for just over $4 Whereas the book I mentioned in my previous post was more expensive than I could afford at this time, around $20, but after I get my next check I'll probably pick that up too later. Or maybe I'll stop in at the local library and check it out... I just feel that having it on my Nook is better because then I have it whenever I need to look something up. The $4 is a good introductory book and the other one is more in depth.

We moved a table over near the tank and plugged the air pump into the new extension cord which reached over there easily. Some day I still plan to make the whole system run off solar, but for now we're running it off the power in our house. The Air pumps we have running 24/7. You can see the larger air stone in this photo. I would have liked to buy 2 this size, but the store only had one so the other is a bit smaller. They are aerating the water right under the plants, and the bubbles are moving air right up to the plants which I was advised is important for raft systems like mine.

moved the hose up out of the water to prevent backflow
We'd like to put the water pump on a timer so that it's not running constantly all day long in order to use a bit less electricity. But the hose was previously down under the water because I wasn't sure how strong the pressure would be and I didn't want it just sparying everywhere. What I didn't realize, is that when the pump is off, the water follows gravity and flows back down the house. Yes, that makes sense of course, just hadn't thought about it.

So yesterday I unplugged the pump which is pumping water from the lower tank and moved the hose so that it is no longer under the water, but is pumping the water out into the air which then lands in the tank creating a small amount of aeration, and making it so that no water will flow backwards into the lower tank when the pump is off, allowing me to (theoretically) turn that pump off periodically and save some electricity. I waited to see how well this worked out, and even with the slight drip we have coming from the middle of the top tank, the water in the top tank was only an inch or two lower which means that it's just sitting there for a time, and not circulating, but the air bubbles up there are still moving the water around, so it's not likely to go stagnant just briefly.

Air Pump is working!
We waited to see how long it would stay that way and the answer apparently was indefinitely because the drip from the middle of the top tank slowed and eventually stopped when the water level in the top went down almost 2 inches. So I set the timer to run for 30 minutes every hour and a half, plugged the timer into the extension cord and it instantly turned off. It happened to be during a time that the timer was set to be off, so I thought nothing of it, but this morning when I went out to check on things the air pump was going strong but the water pump was still off. I checked and it was during a time that the timer said the pump should be working, but I had a sneaking suspicion it was human failure, not gadget failure. And yes indeed, I had forgotten to set the timer to timer, it was still on the off position. So to test it I turned it to the on position, the pump started, and turned it to off and the pump stopped. Reset it to timer now, so hopefully it will start being  a bit more automated, and over time we'll see if it's cycling the water well enough.

Rainbow Chardling (just one tiny leaf)
Finally, I tore up some seaweed and put it in the top tank to dissolve. Yes, we have no fish yet, it's not meant to be fish food, it is meant to start cycling the fish tank so beneficial bacteria will grow and allow the plants to clean the ammonia and such the fish put off out of the water so that when the water pump I spent time tinkering with will pump the ammonia tainted water from the fish tank up into the plant bed and then the water will get cleaned by the plants and gravity will eventually take the water back out the drain holes and over into the fish tank further aerating the water for the fish below. If I do end up keeping feeder fish up in the top tank, I can feed them sea weed up there and whatever bits they don't eat will dissolve and become extra nourishment for the plants. Speaking of plants, Carlie noticed that we had another new plant yesterday, Check it out, our first rainbow chard is sprouting! This morning I went back out there and the sea weed was starting to dissolve so I broke it up a bit more with my fingers, and I discovered that we already had a second Rainbow Chard Sprout just 1 day later.

Realized the water in the lower tank was about 76 degrees at 9:30 AM today. I'm going to keep an eye on the temperatures at different times of day and night compared to the outside temperature, and decide if I'm going to need to build a small green house and/or add a heating element this winter. Hopefully not since catfish are said to be hardy through a more varying temperature, but if all else fails I could always bring the bulk of the fish indoors for the winter since winter in Phoenix is so short. This reminds me, I think I'll get a book for logging temperature, and various things that change with the system so I can look back over time and see what happens. It's like a home science kit, and I'm having fun tinkering with it.

At this point I plan for some blue channel catfish to live in the lower tank because they tend to do fine with temperature changes to the water, and eventually we plan to add some Tilapia down there too once our brief winter is over and the temperatures are stable at a warm enough temp for Tilapia to be healthy. I'm also going to put some prawns in there to help keep the tank clean. I've considered raising feeder fish for the Catfish up in the top tank, but haven't put this into motion yet obviously. I am going to buy some goldfish today or tomorrow and get them set up there to try it out and continue cycling the system, then when the catfish are big enough some of the goldfish who live through the initial trials could be put in the lower tank as feeder fish.

Once it's all built and regulated I suspect I'll spend a lot less time on it. If the book I'm reading is right the only things I'll need to do at that point is spend a couple minutes a day feeding fish, possibly dealing with bugs now and then, and occasionally checking the water's PH. Some people I know who do Aquaponics farming on a small backyard scale, do not check PH, they go by the way the water looks and the fish act. I'm still debating between methods. If I find a cheap water testing kit maybe I'll go that route, but the ones I've seen are pretty expensive, and I'm trying to keep the cost down. Speaking of costs, I think that getting an above ground pool off craigslist is probably the best bet for an easy, off the shelf, low cost system and allows more space for raising fish AND growing plants. I just didn't have a space in my backyard that was big enough which we were willing to give up to a whole pool for Aquaponics. But I see them on craigslist periodically and all people want is someone willing to move the thing out of their yard. Free pool plus the cost of gas is a GOOD price to start an aquaponics system. Maybe some day I'll go that route if we decide we want to expand. For now, we're happy tinkering with our IBC unit.

Found out there will be a big Halloween shindig at the and talked to Carlie about it. We'll be signing up for that. The cost is 5 cans of food each which will go to those who need it more than us, and in exchange we'll get to learn about Black Soldier Fly colonies (for fish that feed off the top) and raising duckweed plus have the opportunity to pick up a black soldier fly colony starter kit and some starter duckweed which I'm hoping will grow on the top of the lower tank providing some cover/shade/hiding spots for the catfish, as well as food for the tilapia. Also from what I've heard the Tilapia will teach the catfish to move up to the top and eat so they may end up eating the duckweed as well since they're a fish that eats both creatures and plants.

Next steps for us:
Get some goldfish to test the system and eventually to be feeder fish for the catfish
Get red wiggler worms (to eat excess produce, use their poop in our traditional gardening, and feed some to the catfsih now and then)
Set up a worm tower to replace or supplement our current composter
Set up indoor Aquaponics system and start fishless cycling
Visit the local feed store and see if they have fish food that would be appropriate for the catfish
Get catfish fry
Get tilapia fry
Get Duckweed started

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