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Aquaponics is intriguing. I still remain curious about this especially The Farm Fountain Concept.

Farm Fountain
Here in North Carolina growing lettuce is not possible in the summer. My wife loves colorful art. She loves Christmas lights. I wonder if I could put something like this in the picture window with a southern exposure...have some fish, grow some lettuce all year round and create something beautiful. There it is...on the list!

The Farm Fountain or other aquaponics concepts presented to the left in 'News From Around the World' are worth exploration for almost anyone who wants to tap into their desire for growing things and experimenting with aquaculture.

Below are some notes from my experiment using aquaponics. My goal was to be successful being completely off grid. I was able to harvest some vegetables. However, greenhouse temperature was difficult especially in the Summer. Water temperatures became too hot for the fish. Additionally, running the airpump for the airlift pump 24/7 required more energy than my solar panel system could produce. I like the concept and will probably experiment more with off grid aquaponics in the future. In my temperate climate raising something like mosquito fish may be a better option (very hardy which can be sold as petfood or to stock ponds) My notes follow:

I built a simple system that was designed by Johnathan Woods, Author of the Urban Aquaculture Manual. You can read about the design in The Urban Aquaculture Manual chapter 3. My inspiration for starting an aquaponics system came from reading a 1970's Mother Earth New's article about raising catfish in a barrel and feeding them with worms. Taking the step to build the simple aquaponics system I am using seemed logical for a food production system where efficiency is a goal.

Additionally from the standpoint of wanting to capture solar energy for My aquaponics systemgreenhouse temperature modulation in the winter, I had to ask myself, "why just have barrels filled with water for heat storage when I can have at least some of them filled with fish and water?"

When I was deciding on what type of auaquponics system to build I used the following criteria: easy to build, off grid (I wanted to experiment with solar power) inexpensive, easy to operate and reliable. The Johnathan Woods design met those criteria.

A drawing of the system I am using.  Drawing is from The Urban Aquaculture Manual

The system circulates water using an airlift pump. An airlift pump is a simple device with no moving parts. Air is pumped to the bottom of a tank to an airstone which is housed in a piece of 3/4" PVC water pipe which is necked down at the output in to 1/2" PVC pipe. The bubbles from the airstone change the specific gravity of the water in the pipe in relation to the water outside the pipe and the water is pumped up the pipe and out into a biofilter pipe where it travels through gravel coated with nitrifying bacteria to the irrigation bar which which supplies nutrient rich water to the plants in the grow table.As the water circulates through the roots in the hydroponic troughs it is cleansed and returned to the fish tank.

I like the airlift pump because solids can be pumped and the energy requirement is small...3.5 watts for my current aquarium air pump. The ability to pump solids is important because I have read quite a few accounts of people having problems with mechanical pumps being clogged by algae or debris...not a problem with an airlift pump. The root mat in the aquaponics table plus a small water hyacinthI really have not seen a large problem with debris. The picture to the left shows the root mat in my system which effectively filters out any large particles that are pumped out of the biofilter or are dropped when I am tending to the grow bed (hydroponic troughs shown in the drawing). Another thing I like about my system is that it is very very quiet so that really all that is heard is the water splashing into the biofilter and trickling back into the fish tank.

The small energy requirement of my system is essential because I run this airlift pump 24/7 and have been doing so since mid March 2010. The aquarium air pump is powered by two 45 watt solar panels which keep three 12 volt deep cycle batteries charged. The batteries are connected in parallel. The DC power from the batteries is converted to AC by a 400 watt inverter. This is a system that is running off grid, hasRomano green beans low maintenance requirments and is reliable. I like my aquaponics system so much that I will be adding another modified system in my greenhouse sometime in the next month or two.

I selected bluegill as the fish for my aquponics system because they are edible, they are hardy and they were free from my neighbors pond. Bluegill are a great choice for systems like mine kept outside in an unheated greenhouse where temperatures are not suitable for fish like tilapia (tilapia need 70 F water). I feed my bluegills meat scraps, other kitchen scraps, worms from my worm bin and some commerical fishfood. In the future I may add some catfish to the barrel. If I do decide to add some catfish, I will make a catfish trap and catch some of the baby channel cat fish.

Tomatoes in MayAs for vegetables I have had the most success with tomatoes and green beans. Since my wife and I love tomatoes and greenbeans I am very excited to see how this system holds up supporting the fish and plants during the summer, fall and winter.

As always I hope you find this information useful. If you want some advice or need an information source just let me know. Send email to jim@redbayfarm.com


More Useful Aquaponics Related Links

Click the dropdown menu and then click the "Let's Go" button to visit some links related to building your own aquaponics system.

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updated 7 December 2014