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My aquaponics system

Welcome to my aquaponics page. The system I have built 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 greenhouse 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?" As I read about the aquaponics systems I decided to integrate aquaponics into what I call my "Backyard Food Production Complex" or BFPC. My aquaponics system is an intergal part of my system and is a valuable tool for growing and starting all sorts of fruit and vegetable plants. If you would like to see my amateur video featuring my aquaponics system and bucket drip irrigation system watch this short movie. (don't get dizzy...the fish in the tank are bluegill not goldfish) . More detail about my system can be found below my aquaponics diary.

Aquaponics Diary

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18 Jun 2010 - Pest report

I just recently noticed that I don't have a green stink bug problem in my greenhouse. Normally, here in North Carolina, we have a terrible problem with these pests...for the first time since I have been growing tomatoes here...they are perfect with no blemishes! Why aren't the stink bugs biting the tomatoes? I am not certain but this is a very interesting observation. I found a stinkbug in my greenhouse tomatoes and I was please to see that bluegills like to eat the stinky insects. M y greenhouse tomatoes have been attacked by tomato hornworms...but at eye level they are easy to see and the bluegills love to eat them!

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13 Jun 2010

My system sprang a leak. It was no big deal, I had moved some pots around and punched a hole in the plastic sheeting. I moved all of the plants off of the table. The simplicity of this system makes for easy repairs. I pulled off the plastic and replaced the plastic with another sheet. But this time I also put on an additional layer of plastic sheeting. After that I put my plants up on the table and restarted the water.

Right now I have about a dozen tomato plants growing, a ruby red dwarf fig tree rooting, and sweet potatoes making slips for planting in my gardens. This greenhouse aquaponics system is very useful and I encourage other gardeners to give greenhouse aquaponics a try.

Details about my aquaponics system

I hope that you are intrigued and excited about building your own aquaponics system. You can scale an aquponics system to fit on yoAquaponics as artur desk at work, build a system my size, with modifications, in a classroom or build one that is large enough to fill a large field, commercial greenhouse or warehouse. By the way, how exciting would it be for a high school class to build a simple system and raise fish and vegetables through the school year and then serve a feast to the parents at the end of the year made from the food grown using an aquaponics system? That sounds like a great science or agricultural related project to me! Or, how about an art class building an aquaponics Farm Fountain (link to a very informative movie) as an example of functional, practical yet beautiful art. Whatever your goal, there are many links to many different types of aquaponics related subjects on this web page. I hope that you find something that will help you decide on the type of aquaponics system you will build or if you are an aquaponics operator...something that will help you with your operation.

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. The system circulates water using an airlift A drawing of the system I am using.  Drawing is from The Urban Aquaculture Manualpump. 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. I like to sit out in my greenhouse in the evening with a glass of wine, listen to the birds, watch my chickens as the aquponics system provides just a bit of background noise...no whining pumps here!

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 from my neighbors pond later this summer.

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.

The Aquaponics Guidebook

Video: How to build a basic aquaponics system

The Barrelponics Manual

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Click here to link to the Urban Aquaculture Manual