Thursday, May 31, 2012

Fry Pen

I don't know if it will work, but I built this today for my fry.

I used a 1-1/2" PVC frame which I filled with sand so that it will sink.  I then used Zip Ties to fasten this plastic fence material to both sides of the frame and filled it with short pieces of pipe.   The fry will now have a place to hide until they are large enough not to be eaten.

Seedling Care

Sometimes my seeds sprout but then die. These videos appear to have some good information.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Aeration And Water Movement

These plants thrive right above the air stone!  (LINK)
Could this be caused by the movement of water through the roots or is it increased oxygen?  In any case, whether it's due to increased oxygen or water movement it is obvious that air stones in the raft tank are quite beneficial.

I asked Forest, my friend and hydroponic guru, if it might be due to water movement.  He felt strongly that it's the improved oxygen in the water rather than water movement.  I'm still on the fence about that, but Forest really knows about hydroponics so I tend to believe what he says.

But this has gotten me thinking  about adding an aquarium PowerHead and/or incorporating an Under-Gravel Jet System as described at this link.  The Under Gravel Jet appears to be very similar to a Fluidized Sand Filter.  
I found this article about designing a Fluidized Sand Filter.  
Further research shows that they can be designed to remove Nitrates as well as Ammonia and Nitrites.  This of course is not what we would desire in an aquaponic system, but it appears easy enough to avoid removal of Nitrates by not building the filter too deep.

Devin uses very large 12" air stones in his raft tanks under the gravel.  Yes he places gravel in the bottom of his Floating Raft tanks.   His results are astounding and I tend to agree with Devin about Rafts vs Gravel beds.   Transplants do better when placed into a raft and growth rates seem to be better, and with good aeration the raft systems can only be improved.

I bought a Hydrofarm Active Air Pump.  
It's a bit noisy but an optional volume control can turn adjust the volume and the noise.

* UPDATE October 10, 2012 -  This Hydrofarm pump has been running 24/7 for 4-1/2 months.  It progressively became louder until it sounded like a jack hammer.  Two days ago I turned it off and replaced it with a new EcoPlus Commercial Air 5.   Even after rebuilding it with parts supplied by the distributor it was no longer working properly.    I have high hopes for the new EcoPlus Commercial Air 5.  It runs much cooler than the Hydrofarm pump which ran so hot I could not even touch .
The new EcoPlus Commercial Air 5. is by no means silent, but it purrs with a low tone rather than a raspy and unpleasant noise. 
The noise was too much so I placed the air pump inside my shop and plumbed the line out to the system
Here's a video about how to repair an air pump

Today I placed four fat air stones in this raft tank under about 4 inches of gravel.
It's about time to make some better rafts 8-)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Black Soldier Flies In My Compost

While watering my compost pile I noticed a lot of Black Soldier Flies.
These flies are prized for their larvae, and many people raise them for chicken and fish food.
They are extremely beneficial and will help decompose compost very quickly. They will also help to keep pesky House Flies away and will not bother people like House Flies

Soon i will build a Black Soldier Fly barrel and begin to raise the larvae for my fish.

Here's another design from Chris Smith at Coastview Aquaponics - very simple and inexpensive.

Along the same lines is this house fly composter.  At first you might ask why would I want to attract house flies.  But if the chickens are eating virtually every maggot they will not survive long enough to reproduce.  In fact the chickens will also eat flies. 
My neighbors dogs are responsible for the flies, this is another way to control the populations.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Water is flowing in the IBC system / Cycling and Phoshate

Close to completion. The outdoor IBC system is flowing water. Take a look at my settling tank. It's based on a wet dry filter. The cool part is if it gets clogged it will not jam up the system.

I've begun to fill the beds with plants, but have no fish.  I'm cycling the system, but right now I want root growth.  So I embarked on a study of Phosphate.  

Here are two articles I believe are quite good although somewhat over whelming.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hydroton $90.00 / Cubic Yard!

Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate (LECA)
From what I can tell, Hydroton was developed for concrete.  Light weight concrete to fill in pot holes.   No kidding it replaces part of the sand aggregate in concrete.  Are you wondering why?  At this point I certainly was wondering why.  Here's the deal.  Concrete can be made very strong by providing a high slump (thick) mix with moisture as it cures.  Pre-moistened Hydroton is porous, and holds a lot of water.  Thus as the concrete cures the water is made available to the Portland cement, and the concrete cures at it's optimal strength.

Well get this!  A company in Texas created an Expanded Shale and Clay product for this very purpose.  The micro surface area is enormous!  Basically it's the same thing as Hydroton, so far as I can tell.

The difference is 89.20/Yard compared to $28.00/50 Litter.  Let me do the math... Oh forget the math you don't need no stinking math to realize this is CHEAP!

A company called TXI  sells Expanded Shale.  Texas Industries

From what I've read this material has all the same qualities as Hydroton.

Hydroton 50 Liters for $28.00
TXI Expanded Shale 1 Yard for 89,20

Interested in specifics?

I just spoke with Carol Philips who told me to call before coming to pick up the product.
Her number is 925-899-6213
The address in Stockton is 915 West Anderson Street, Stockton, CA
I believe this is  known as FTG Construction Material in Stockton.  At least they appear to share the same address and is associated with a trucking company.

I spoke to
Reggie 801 243 9348
at Ureilite in Nevada.  He directed me to Brown-Sand Incorporated also in Stockton.  While Brown-Sand does not stock expended shale they occasionally receive large shipments as special orders by rail.  They may be willing to sell extra material on hand, but once again calling ahead is recommended.

Brown-Sand Incorporated supplies golf course sand and pea gravel, topsoil, sports field mix, playground sand, base rock and environmental soil to developers
800 Mossdale Road  Lathrop, CA 95330

(209) 234-1500

I did the calculation... 1  litter = 0.00131 yards  and 50 liters = 0.0654 yards.  So 1 yard of Hydroton would cost $428.00

PS: Here's the bottom line -

"a porous, lightweight, chemically inert and hard material useful for many applications. Expanded shale is approximately half the weight of sand and gravel, which makes it easy to handle. It’s one of the best soil amendments because it will not decompose, float, or introduce foreign pathogens into your soils. It’s roughly the size of pea gravel and because of its porous nature, it has the ability to retain water and nutrients for use in the root zone. TruGro expanded shale is a valuable ingredient in rooftop garden mixes, landscape bedding mediums, potting soils, bonsai planting mixes, hydroponics, bio-filtration mediums and rain gardens."

Well, it must not be exactly like Hydroton because it says it will not float.  To me that is a big advantage because Hydroton often floats and that causes problems for me.

Also read

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sage Advice

I will say right up front that I don't know as much as some other people about aquaponic systems, but I am a General Building Contractor so I know how to build stuff and I have experience with green houses and gardening.

This post will be an ever expanding list of considerations for those who are attempting to build an aquaponic system based on what I have learned.

To start with here is some advice I just parted out to someone who is planning to build a green house.

The problem with green houses is over heating and freezing:

My advice would be not to glaze the North side or North Roof.   Very little light gain and a lot of insulation lost.
If you live in a dry climate include evaporative cooling.
The sides and North wall should be insulated as heavily as you can afford. 

Place the fan as close to the peak as possible.   Squirrel cage fans move the most air.  Stone or brick walls are good for thermal mass and will help even the temperature swings. Water barrels are even better, but thermal mass is not as effective as insulation in controlling the environment and water barrels take up a lot of space.

My grow room is insulated with R19 walls and ceiling, the floor is insulated with R7.5 over a slab, and the tanks are insulated with R11 on all sides.  Total area glazed is 40 sq. ft.with single pane glass.
The grow bed is 25 sq. ft. adjacent to the window.

1000 gallons of water in the tanks helps to keep the temperature steady.  Currently it is Spring and we have daytime temperatures of 90F and night time near 65F.  By ventilating during the night I have been able to maintain a tank temperature of 70F-75F.

When it gets hot I open the windows I used to use an evaporative cooling system, but the electrical expense was too high and I found that simply opening the windows was enough.  In the winter outside temperature range from 20 to 60F and I used about 17KWper day to maintain 72F in the tanks.  That was last year.  I am currently switching out my tilapia for catfish which do well in a cool water tank.  The goal is to grow food not waste money and energy doing it.

Here is a simple inexpensive green house design. 

Sump Tanks:
Sump tanks are good.  Sump tanks make maintenance easier, help maintain temperature, allow a constant water level in the fish tank.

Hydroton / Expanded Shale:
One thing that I find valuable about Hydroton and  Expanded Shale grow medium is Neutral PH and No BufferingInert is a KEY advantage.  When problems occur we always look at PH and if you don't know what affect the medium is having on the buffering then it adds one more unknown element to the problem.
Another advantage of Hydroton is that you can move your hands down into it.  This is great for transplanting.  Crushed rock is very hard on your hands and nails.   While it's not as good as Hydroton, adding some pea gravel to crushed rock will make it easier.
A disadvantage of Hydroton is that most of it floats.  Expanded Shale on the other hand will not float.

PH and water chemistry and nutrients:
I may need correcting here but  my motto is don't fuss with it if you don't need to.  Chelated Iron is about all you should have to add, but if the PH is above 7.8 you may need to lower it in order for the chelated iron to be effective.  Buffing from the growing media and local water supply may make the PH difficult to adjust.  GO SLOW.

Don't rush into placing fish until you have cycled the tank.  Cycle the tank before purchasing fish.  YES I repeated myself.  Cycle before adding fish!

Sick Fish:
SEA SALT cures a lot and is the least harmful treatment.   More fish die from people who try to treat their fish than from disease. More Information on SALT

Bell Siphons:
Use an air cap and a snorkel tube.  Click this line for more.

Self Built Tanks:
Notice even this shallow tank is bowing from the pressure of water

If you are not in construction or have little experience with engineering, then consult with someone whom you can trust.  Your design may look strong, but the weight of water will destroy your tank while you stand in awe.

Under Ground Tanks

Where to Build:
I admire people who build their systems indoors.  I've seen beautiful systems in the house, and some on hardwood floors!   Maybe I'm just a klutz, but I think that's asking for trouble.  I can't tell you how much water I've spilled.  I'm not talking about the ever possible leak, I'm saying a lot of water gets spilled by accident, and I'd advise against building a system indoors.
Even if you are confident that you will never spill substantial amounts of water, then keep in mind the weight of system.  House's are not built to hold several tons of anything in a small space

Air Stones:
Air is highly advantageous.  It's good for fish and great for plants.  Use lots of air!
This raft has one air stone in the water.  Can you guess where?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Below Grade Tanks

An in ground tank has several advantages.
  • The ground will tend to stabilize the temperature, 
  • The system can be built lower and still rely on gravity
  • Less exposure to sun

There are many ways to build an in ground tank.  Each method comes with it's own pros and cons.
Here is the list of cons
     1.  Set a molded tank into the earth.
           a.   Cost per gallon is high
           b.   Shape and size is limited
           c.   Susceptible to buoyancy if the tank is drained.
     2.   Build a concrete or block tank below grade.
           a.   Very costly
     3.  Build a wood box with a liner and set it into the earth
           a.   Costly in both time and materials.
           b.   Wood will eventually fail to insects and rot
           c.   Attention must be paid to the inward forces of the water table and or the earth.
     4.  Set an IBC into the earth
           a.   Prone to UV deterioration
           b.   Attention must be paid to the inward forces of the water table and or the earth.
           c.   Susceptible to buoyancy if the tank is drained. 
     5.  Dig a hole and line it with pond liner.
           a.    Uneven sides
           b.   Attention must be paid to the inward forces of the water table and or the earth. 
           c.   Susceptible to buoyancy if the tank is drained. 

Building a concrete tank is costly and labor intense, but the longevity is unparalleled. If you are dealing with a high water table it may be your best choice. Here is a link to a discussion I was recently involved in which addresses water proofing concrete tanks.

A molded tank set into the earth has the greatest appeal to many.   It is by far the easiest method and molded tanks can be found at reasonable prices.  An old hot tub can be used if you are feeling thrifty.

My least favorite is #3 because wood to earth contact is never a good idea.
I can not think of any advantage that would compel me to choose this method.  

Setting an IBC into the earth will provide a uniform smooth non toxic tank.  Protecting it from UV is important, but manageable.   To provide side support and prevent caving when the tank is empty, the back fill must be tamped down and compacted or cement should be added to the back fill to ensure stability.

Using a pond liner in a carefully excavated hole has some interesting advantages.   Pond liner is not susceptible to UV and it can be made any shape and size you wish.   This is the method I would like to describe here.

For the cost of the liner, some concrete and the form boards this method is simple and affordable.

Dig the hole to your specifications.
Drop the liner in and fill with water.  
Let the excess liner lay on top of the earth.
Then build a form around the edge and on top the the excess liner.  Include any conduit and rebar you wish and pour a high strength concrete into the form. 
Next day remove the forms and enjoy.
If you are pouring a low edge of 6" or less, the forms can be built very simply by drilling holes through the wood and connecting them with a piece of baling wire inserted inside of a spacing tube as shown above.  The wire can be tied off with a nail.  The spacer will remain inside the concrete after the forms are removed. Other materials such as a piece of paving block or even small piece of wood can be laid at the bottom. 
Lay a piece of rebar on the wires and secure the top with a piece of wood.   Be gentle but work the air bubbles out by running a rod up and down along the inside of the form.  Knock on the form with a hammer to settle the mix.  If this is not done there will be voids along the edges.

The concrete edge can be made any height, color and width.   You can make it  a work of art or as simple as you wish.

Here is a link to concrete information.

The simple rule is
1 part Portland cement
2 parts water
3 parts clean sand
4 parts gravel