Friday, March 30, 2012

Chelated Iron


I think I have found a good source of chelated iron.

A product called Ironite also looks good.  CLICK HERE for the whole story about lead and arsenic levels found in that product

TCLynx wrote this comment about  Maxicrop

 " As Nate noted, fish emulsion can provide the ammonia source for initial cycling but one must be careful and it might not be the best choice for cycling for all situations. I would definitely not recommend using fish emulsion in any system with fish already in it unless you are an expert. It could spike the ammonia too high and kill off fish if one was not very careful how they went about it. For fishless pre-cycling it might be ok.

For those having issues with plants not flowering or setting fruit well, potassium deficiency can cause that and maxicrop original might be a good supplement to help improve things on that front.

As to people saying to dose with maxicrop to keep the plants going till the nitrates come online, well I'm not sure that is really an accurate comment as to what the maxicrop actually provides for the plants. However, in a new system, nitrate is not the only thing the plants are waiting for so giving a dose of seaweed extract can help your plants get a good start with trace nutrients and many of the complex substances that won't be available in a fresh gravel bed. (I also think some worm castings can provide much benefit for a new system too.)"

RupertofOz wrote this about letting the system mature 
Just feed your fish a quality aquaculture pellet feed... they contain all the essentially trace elements necessary for plant growth in an aquaponics system.. and the ammonia wastes from the fish... provide all the necessary "nitrates" required for abundant growth...

"It's that simple.... and safe...
Other additives are only utilized if deficiencies show... usually due to pH associated "lockouts"...
Cycling a system only requires a pure ammonia source.. and only takes a few weeks..."

Original Post:
I got the idea add iron chelate to prevent chlorosis from Murray Hallam's video.  The main symptom of iron deficiency is yellowing leaves, especially the youngest leaves. The veins of the leaf usually remain green.  So I went out to buy some today, and found it difficult to get straight iron chelate.

Then I came up with this half baked idea to use dried sea weed since it has no nitrates and lots of iron.   I fed a pinch to my fish and they gobbled it up; they really liked it! I thought I was on to something good.

Then I though better about it, and tested with a very small amount into a large tank of water.  I'm so glad I did not put more than that little pinch in the aquaponic system.  It turns the water dark as coffee

Here's what Murray uses

Update June 15 2012
The topic of nutrients is quite a demanding study.   I have written several posts pertaining to nutrient uptake.   Nutrient Deficiencies

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Aquaponic Electrical Design

One thing I would pass on to those who are designing a new system is that you should have a minimum of three circuits, and plan for more than you expect.
Given loads are:
  1. Pump
  2. Lights
  3. Fan
  4. Air Stone Bubbler
Some extras are:
  • Secondary grow lights for duck weed or Azolla
  • Secondary air stone for duck weed
  • Extra plug for a vacuum cleaner
  • Tank lights
  • Air vents or evaporation cooler.
  • Room heater
  • Radio
  • Blender
  • Refrigerator
  • Computer
  • Deep fry

And even after planning for all of this you will probably find yourself adding new circuits and changing the locations of circuits after you begin using the system and discover better layouts, and stuff you never dreamed of.

It's been several months since I started using the grow room and many more circuits have been added.  Contrary to safe building code, I have also removed the GFIs because they tend to trip at the worst possible times, like while I'm sleeping. 

I have also added lights to indicate when a circuit is on.   This makes it easy to see what's going on.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


The more I learn about this the less I feel I know.  This is a draft and will continue to be edited.

UPDATE: 4 August, 2012
I've taken some flak for using CFL's  with a recommendation from Jon Parr
to use Ceramic Metal Halide (CMH) bulbs.  If I continue to supplement light next Winter I will switch over to CMH.

This is what Jon had to say:

Jon Parr  (LINK) - ."CMH are not necessarily the best, but they are my favorite. MH emit blue light for veg, HPS emit red light for flowering, and CMH emit full white beautiful spectrum, including UV. Photosynthesis uses a fairly narrow spectrum of the blue and the red, and non at all in the green, in fact reflecting it, which is why plants are green. The jury is still out on how exactly UV is used, but side by side comparisons show healthier plants when a little UV is added, IDK. I do know that HPS are cheaper, about $20 and on the shelf at Home D for a 400W, as opposed to $50 for a CMH 400W. Bob, and Kevin, you will be amazed how cool HID lights are compared to flouros. The bulb itself is hot, yes, but the total heat generated per watt is less, and a vertical CMH bulb needs no cooling at all, not even a fan, as the natural convection draws a cooling air current upwards past the bulb. I pay $.45 per KWH, so efficiency is paramount, meaning no reflectors or glass to suck lumens. I hang a vertical bare bulb, and situate my plants around it in zip-grow style towers. Ideally, I don't want a single photon striking anything but plant. Is the UV dangerous from a CMH? Yes, probably, just as dangerous as it is from the sun. I have never noticed any discomfort, but I am in the sun working every day anyway. I've read that sensitive people advise wearing sunglasses, long sleeves, or even sunscreen if working around bare bulbs for extended periods of time. I have them lighting up my whole shop, but they are in closed fixtures with a glass panel, which blocks the UV.

I get my CMH here, and ballasts, and sockets are available for about $15 at your local head shop. For flat grows like Bob and Kevin have, you'll want to add a wing style reflector to bounce light back down to the plants. The linked site also show some pictures of failed bulbs, and how the arc tube remains contained. The Phillips brand they sell are rated for open fixtures, a big plus for bare bulbers like myself."

For an explanation of why CMH are the preferred grow bulb WATCH THIS.  Basically it is because they have a complete spectrum, and last longer
worked out a custom auction for me!
15 - 14W 5000K 800 Lumen CFLs
15 - 18W 6500K 1170 Lumen CFLs
for $65.00 including shipping charges!

But the auction he has listed now says
30 CFL Bulbs Total 15-2700K 15-6500K so you may have to ask for what you want.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
All along I have spent the time to find the best values when I had to purchase anything for this project.
With lights I feel that I may still be on the learning curve, but here is what I've found.
T5 and CFL seem to be the best bargain when heat, energy, and initial cost are all considered.

The luminous efficacy of a typical CFL is 50–70  lumens per watt (lm/W).
A typical T5 HO (High Output) bulb produces 92.6 lumens per watt.

T5 systems come ready made and have a professional look.

CFLs can be slightly less expensive if you are willing to invest the time to build a light bar.  Here is how I built mine.  It's 16 standard E27 bases connected in parallel on a 1 x 6 board.
As an example two light bars each with 8 - 5000K 800 Lumen and 8 - 6500K 1170 Lumen CFL bulbs should produce about  31,500 Lumen when new, but about 25% loss will occur during the lifetime of the bulbs.
Below are some pictures of how I made it.

I first laid out the pattern and drilled 1-3/8" holes

Then I cut out the opening for the electrical connections to the standard E27 light bases
This is the top where the wire get connected.

This is the result. 
The Kelvin scale measures the “color” of the light.  CFL bulbs come in at least 6 different color spectrums. 2700K, 3000K, 3500K, 4100K, 5000K and 6500K.

CLICK HERE for a full explanation of Color Temperature.

Expect to pay more for the higher K value. 
2700K tends toward the red end of the spectrum and is good for fruiting while 5000K and 6500K tend toward the blue end of the spectrum and are best for growth.  I plan to mix a few 2700K in for good measure, but I will use mostly 5000K and 6500K.  Alone you may think a 2700K looks bright and white, but next to a 6500K it will look dim.

The cost difference is significant.  I was able to find 2700K at Costco for less than $2.00.  If the package does not have information about the color spectrum or if it simply says "Full Spectrum" it is most likely a 2700K bulb.

The best price I found for 5000K and 6500K was $4.14 at Lowes.  I looked at eBay, but it appeared that the big box stores have the best deals until helped me out.

The cost of each white plastic E27 base was $1.34 at Lowes.
Total cost for a 16 light, 368 Watt, 25600 Lumen light bar was 21.50 for the bases, and $66.00 for the lights. Plus a 1x6 and some wire for a total cost of about $100.00.  It took about an hour to assemble.

I found R48 - T5 HO Fluorescent Grow Lights for $145.00 on eBay.
Considering the small difference in price the T5 light may be your best option.  

The value if you buy your bulbs at a Lowes is about 200 lumen per dollar for the CFL 6500K and about 160 Lumen per dollar for the T5, but I think the T5 looks better.  If money is an issue or you require a lot of lights then the cost may be the deciding factor.

For more information about lighting reference these links 

An excerpt from Marijuana growers handbook by ed rosenthal, newest edition sums up the math very well.

Lux is a type of measurement of visible light to the human eye, is an industry standard in Europe.
PAR is a measurement of Quanta of light in PAR range, used in Horticulture research, and the a measurement of "daily light integral" accumulated PAR light during an entire day, also used in Horticulture research.
There are other PAR measurements for Energy in PAR range, and total energy, that is used by engineers and researchers.

PAR is usually expressed in Moles, which measure the number of light photons (one mole = 6.02 x 1023 photons) and are frequently combined with units of area and time to give you moles per meter per day.

Page 101:
Light output or intensity is measured in several different units, including candelas, foot-candles, lumens, lux, and moles. Many of these units are based on each other, and some are more commonly used than others. They measure three basic things:
*the amount of visible light emitted (candelas, lumens)
*The amount of light that reaches a defined area (foot candles, lux)
*and the total number of light particles (moles)

envind added this comment in the forum discussion "Lux Versus Lumen & Par Versus Ppf" on the GreenPassion forum
Lumens measure the visible light or "luminous flux" emitted in a defined beam. a single candela light source that radiates equally in all directions produces exactly 4(pi) lumens (12.6); a 23 w compact fluorescent emits about 1600 lumens.
The lux is similar to the foot-candle in that it measures the visible light intensity (luminous flux) that reaches a particular area, defined as one lumen per square meter. so 100 lumens concentrated in an area of one square meter equals 100 lux. if that same 100 lumens is spread over a space 10 square meters, you have 10 lux.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

The gangs all here

Today I added the remaining 22 fish into the 800 gallon aquaponic fish tank.  They were very happy to see their old friends and a good time was had by all.

I built a light fixture today with 16 CFL bulbs in a straight line 8 feet long.   It's a lot of light, but I may need two.

Costco has a good price on 23W 1600 lumen CFLs (about $8.00), but there were some rebates that knocked another $2.00 off the price.  So each box of 4 costs $5.99 right now.    I was going to use T5 bulbs, but I saw that, and did the math.
I'm waiting for a response from the manufacture for more information about the light spectrum.  All I have been able to find so far is that they are "Full Spectrum".  I'm hoping this will work for me, if not Costco will take them back.

I'll post a picture of my finished grow lamp after it's painted, and the specs if I hear back from Feit Electric.

Here are the specs on the CFLs that Devin Duhaime is using very successfully.

Philips 41409-4 - 26 Watt - CFL
100 W Equal - 5000K Full Spectrum - 82 CRI - 114 Lumens per Watt - 15 Month Warranty

Monday, March 19, 2012

I love bacteria!

It's been 21 days since I started cycling the system.  Overnight the Nitrite levels fell to an acceptable level..
It's simply amazing to see the results of a Nitrospira bloom.
Just 12 hours ago this test was still off the chart purple.

It always seems to take about three weeks to get the bloom, but here are a few things I did to hasten the process.
  • Gravel from the existing Koi pond was used in the grow bed, but it's been cold and may not have had an active culture.
  • One small bottle of NiteOut was added at the beginning.  To be fair they suggest much more.
  • Aqua Gold was also added on the first day.
  • During the past two days I have been adding water from my aquarium, and even rinsed that bio filter in the water.
  • Limited the draining of the grow bed to half way (may not have been the best thing to do)
My take on the actions above are that the commercial additives quickly promote ammonia conversion, with bacteria and enzymes, but the Nitrite conversion takes time.  My feeling is that Nitrite will always take about three weeks with or without the commercial additives.

For many years the bacteria responsible for ammonia conversion were thought to be Nitrasomonas species, but more recent research indicates that these bacteria may do little or nothing in freshwater, and that bacteria known as Nitrosococcus may be the true ammonia-oxidisers.
NiteOut claims to contain select strains of Nitrosomonas, Nitrospira and Nitrobacter.
  • Nitrosomonas oxidize ammonia to nitrite
  • Nitrobacter and Nitrospira oxidize nitrite to nitrate

It was originally thought to be Nitrobacter species which were responsible for nitrite conversion to nitrate, but again, recent research (by Dr. Timothy Hovanec and others) indicates a different group of bacteria - Nitrospira - are responsible, but NiteOut includes both.

I added eight of the largest fish into the 800 gallon tank today!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fish Food

For fingerlings 
1/16" 50% protein pellets from Arthur Aquatics CLICK HERE

For your larger fish
I discovered my local Tractor Supply does not carry the brands listed on their web site.
What I ended up buying is Purina Game Fish Chow.
It's 20 pounds for $12.99 - 65 cents per pound

Guaranteed Analysis
Crude Protein, not less than 32.0%
Crude Fat, not less than 3.0%
Crude Fiber, not more than 6.0%
Phosphorus (P), not less than 0.8%

Supposedly there is a mix of pellet sizes, but I did not find much difference. Most are about 3/16" and I ended up putting it through a blender so that my 4" fish would be able to eat it.

Below are the products listed at the web site.
These fish foods list for less then 75 cents a pound. 
Catfish Diet - Crude Protein (min.) 32.00%, Crude Fate (min.) 4.00%, Crude Fiber (max.) 7.00%.
Trophy Fish Feed - 36% protein
Farm Pond Diet - Crude Protein (min.) 36.00%, Crude Fat (min.) 5.00% and Crude Fiber (max.) 6.00%

Product Comparison

Nutri Source® Catfish Diet Floating Fish Food, 50 lb. image
Sportsman's Choice® TrophyFish™ Feed image
Nutri Source® Farm Pond Diet Floating Fish Food, 20 lb. image
PRICE $17.99 $12.99 $12.99
PURCHASE OPTION Available in-store only.
Please check your local Tractor Supply Company store.
Available in-store only.
Please check your local Tractor Supply Company store.
Available in-store only.
Please check your local Tractor Supply Company store.
NAME Nutri Source® Catfish Diet Floating Fish Food, 50 lb. Sportsman's Choice® TrophyFish™ Feed Nutri Source® Farm Pond Diet Floating Fish Food, 20 lb.
TYPE N/A Nugget Mixed-Particle
BRAND Nutri Source® Sportsman's Choice® Nutri Source®
LIFE STAGE Adult Any All
ANIMAL TYPE Catfish Fish Fish
PACKAGE SIZE 50 lb. 25 lb. 20 lb.

Friday, March 16, 2012

My Spin Filter

I have to admit this did not work as well as I had hoped.  But I'm sharing my triumphs as well as my failures so that others can also learn from what I'm doing.

It will be interesting to see how well this spin filter works when I add the fish.  While it's not exactly as I had  hoped I believe it will make a significant difference.

UPDATE 12/23/2012
As the fish grew and the demand increased it became apparent that this was only marginally useful as a settling tank.  Maybe a better design would be more effective.

Below are links to two short videos that show the currents and settling of Koi food

Test with floating Koi food

Test with sinking Koi Food

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tour my Aquaponic System

Nearly finished
Please let me give you a tour of my aquaponic grow room.  
It's not quite finished, but I want to show you the progress I've made.    

Thursday, March 8, 2012

This is my tank heater

Several months ago I built this heater with a stainless steel element. It's actually refered to as an Incoloy type water heater element  (120-1500-ELD.

You can purchase them online here at

This heater now floats in the sump tank.  It's very important to add something buoyant at the end opposite the cord so that air bubbles leaving the element do not get caught in the small area where the element screws into the plastic housing.  Even this very small amount of exposure will burn out the element.


Previous Designs

Today I made the mistake of unplugging my pump while the heater was on.  PVC smoke quickly filled the room and the element died.
Here is my new design.  It's made of 1" galvanized pipe, but the element will still self destruct withing seconds if it's run dry so I have moved it to a position below the level of the sump tank.  The outlet is above the fish tank so it will not draw a siphon but the water level will drop to the level in the sump tank.
If I should loose the pump the water will boil inside the pipe, but this galvanized pipe will not burn.
The thermostat can not operate at boiling temperature, and will still burn and self destruct within seconds if the water is not flowing.  At least this will prevent heating galvanized pipe. - Just looking for a bright spot to an unpleasant situation...

I will not be using the Honeywell Thermostat because the water changes so slowly that I can regulate it as I wish by flipping the switch on and off.  The temperature changes by about 4F per day.
If I ever choose to hook up the thermostat I think I may be able the use the high cut off temp as a safety.
But there has simply been too much to do.

My plan is to use an 1-1/2" PVC elbow to cover the electrical connections.

Original Post:
This is my heater. It uses two 1500W elements in series to drop the current down below 8A which is the max amperage my Honeywell 675 thermostat will handle.  In this picture I am using only one element without the thermostat in order to deliver more heat.
It's an inline flow through heater. It works very well and should last for many years. As long as water flows through the heater it will not over heat.  I would like to add a relay that will only allow the heater to be on when the pump is on and water is flowing.
The elements are rated at 1500W, but measurements indicate only 1300 W are actually being used when only one element is used, and when placed in series 750 W is drawn.  I attribute the difference to line loss even though the building is wired with 12 gauge.
The elements screw into 1" female adapters.  The housing is made of 2" PVC.  When I put my hand on the heater, I can just barely feel the heat, but over time it will maintain my 1000 gallon system which is well insulated.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bell Siphon - My Conclusion

UPDATE -After 6 months my bell siphon failed to start siphoning.
Here you will find the best way to break the siphon, but I have abolished any further use of Bell Siphons because they are and always will be prone to failure.  
I am now using

Drip Dry Flood and Drain

But if you insist upon a bell siphon the instructions below are your best bet

I have found the answer to the Bell Siphon Blues. I have found a way to make any Bell Siphon absolutely 100% trouble free. Below you can read about my anguish and how I labored to get my Bell Siphon to work. Twice I thought I had it right.  Each time it worked for over a week without flaw, and then quit working.

There is a lack of real engineering available, and even the College of Hawaii failed to provide a mathematical reason for how a Bell Syphon works.   I will not provide the math either, but when you see my solution it will be so obvious that you will not need anything else.

First Stand pipe with 1-1/4 extension.
When screwed in it stands 8-7/8" tall including the bulkhead. 

New stand pipe goes directly to 1" from 2". 
The top is slightly smaller as the first standpipe used a coupling.

This is the tail piece without the 1" male adapter as shown below 

Exactly the same as  above except the horizontal section is 1" longer
It's difficult to see in this photo due to camera angles,
but there is 3/4" of air space above the standpipe,
the bulkhead adds about 3/8" to the height of the standpipe .
I don't believe the air space is critical.  I used to have about 4" of air space and it still worked.  I think the important thing about the air space is not to restrict it by too much.

Here are the differences 

The Tailpiece
By shortening the horizontal section of the tailpiece I shaved 1 or 2 seconds off the siphon break.
By lengthening the horizontal section by 1" the siphon will not break.

The Standpipe
With the 1-1/4" section of the standpipe
  • Drain Time (Siphon catch to catching air) - 3:52
  • Catching air to flow stop     - 0:12
  • Flow stop to burp               - 0:17
Without the 1-1/4 section of the standpipe
  • Drain Time (Siphon catch to catching air)  - 2:45
  • Catching air to flow stop      - 0:17
  • Flow stop to burp                 -0:05

My pump is rated at 500 GPH at 1 foot head with a maximum head of 17 feet.
I have a 2-1/2 to 3 foot head.  It varies due to the level of the sump, but the fish tank buffers any difference in flow.


My preference is the standpipe with the 1-1/4" extension. I ran the tests several times and recorded the events in order to get a verifiable test.  Without a doubt the standpipe with the 1-1/4" extension not only broke siphon faster, but it did it with a more profound and determined manner.

I spent well over 30 hours fine tuning this siphon.  My advice is to find someone who is willing to share their GPH flow and exact siphon design and then follow that.  In the real world your system is going to differ slightly from every other system so even if you try to duplicate another siphon you will probably have to spend time fine tuning it.  Have patience, experiment till you find something that works for you.  Taking a video of the test will prove to be very helpful. 
In my initial testing I used a hose between the sump and the tank.  After hard plumbing the pump into the system my flow rate increased slightly and the siphon no longer broke siphon.  Minute changes can make all the difference. 

Click Here To Watch Test 1
Click Here To Watch Test 2 

I have not tested this, but I believe it best to build your bell siphon so that it can break siphon at a flow rate higher than your system runs at.  If it will break siphon at a high flow rate then it should break at a slower rate too.

Here is a link to Construction of Automatic Bell Siphon from the College of Hawai