Monday, July 30, 2012

More, Bigger, and Better

The pipes are buried to keep it neat

Expansion is already planned for
This is a settling tank.  I have stubbed out for future expansion.

Waiting for the Uniseals and the next Bunk feeder to arrive. 

Cherry Tomatoes in abundance!
Bunk feeders are on the other side of this IBC system.
Can you believe it, there are three IBC tanks here?

I really like these bunk feeders.
I'll be using a hard plastic which will stay afloat by means of sealed PVC pipes for my raft.
It's called the GM Raft!
This will allow even more air to circulate around the roots.
Take a look at this link and the idea from Giorgio

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Choosing a Pump

The first consideration is external or submersible.  The reasons you may wish to go with an external pump is power consumption and GPH.  Submersibles are easier to install, and generally less expensive, but the most efficient pumps are external. Some pumps can be run as either external inline or submersible.

This is not to say all external pumps are efficient. Many are power gluttons so be sure to check    
Some pumps actually consume less than the rated value.  Perhaps they rate their pumps at maximum power dissipation before failure.  We can only go by the number they specify unless you have access to the pump and make your own measurements.
For example a Max-Flo 960 GPH for $106 will be less expensive at the end of the year compared to an ActiveAqua 1000 GPH for $57.00.
They both pump about the same GPH, but the Max-Flo uses 35 Watts less energy.
That will save you 25 KWH per month if run 24/7.

External pumps generally move more water.   My experience has shown that waterfalls need at least 2500 to 3000 GPH.   Aquaponic systems generally require a pump that match the size of the fish tank.  I've read 2-1/2 times the size of the tank with head loss is about right.  That ratio is probably negotiable.

Head pressure is the height the pump stops pumping water.  Some pumps are designed to move water efficiently with little change in height.  Others are designed to lift water.  You will have to find a pump that fulfills your needs without loosing too much efficiency to lift.  In the comparisons below my calculations for Gallons / Watt are based on zero lift.  Your final decision should be calculated with your required lift in mind.  You will have to consult the head loss specifications which are generally provided. 

If you choose to use a submersible you should be aware that some are filled with transformer oil.  Hardly something you would want to leak into your fish tank or pond.  I've had it happen twice so make certain it says No Oil.  Oil is used to offset the water pressure, and keep it out of the motor compartment.  But there are better ways to deal with this.

Epoxy filled pumps encase the motor winding in epoxy.   The permanent magnet which drives the impeller is allowed to sit in the water.  Epoxy filled pumps are in my opinion the best way to go if you are buying a submersible pump.  Oil filled are OK as a utility pump such as pumping out a flooded basement.

The impeller is often driven by way of a V-notched disk which allows it to slip if it becomes stuck, but the V-notch often becomes worn, and then impeller fails to pump any water at all.  So I try to avoid pumps that use this cheap V-notch clutch.   Other  methods use magnetically connected impellers or direct drive impellers.

Continuous duty operation is important to both a pond or aquaponic system.  The most vulnerable parts are the impeller and the bearings.  Some pumps are designed to allow these parts to be replaced.  Others are designed to be thrown away or the parts are so expensive it becomes a throw away.

Quiet operation is a consideration.  As the bearings wear any external pump will become louder, but it's nice to start out quiet, and when you begin to hear the pump it's time to think about repairs or replacement as it will not be long before it fails. 

Some of the more efficient pumps are listed below.
Submersible pumps in the  700 - 3100  GPH range
External        pumps in the 2400 - 4000 GPH range.

External Inline Pumps
Dolphin 115V Amp Master Series Pump
3900 GPH
161 Watts (24.2 G/W)
ReeFlo 2500/4300 External Pump with Saltwater Seals
2500 or 4300 GPH
105 Watts  (23.8 G/W)
4300 GPH
175 Watts  (24.6 G/W)
AZFlo 2400/4000 External Pump by ReeFlo
2400 or 4000 GPH
105 Watts  (22.9 G/W)
4000 GPH
175 Watts  (22.9 G/W)
PondMaster Supreme Inline/Direct Drive HyDrive Skimmer Pond Pump
Saltwater OK
3200 GPH
200 Watts  (16.0 G/W)
Pondmaster Magnetic Drive Waterfall/Skimmer Pond Pump
2000 GPH
150 Watts  (13.3 G/W)
Alpine Waterfall Hurricane Pond Pump
3100 GPH
175 Watts  (17.7 G/W)
CalPump Waterfall Pond Pump
3500 GPH
205 Watts  (17.1 G/W)

For many years I  have used a
Sequence 750 Pump 3600SEQ12 -3600 GPH
They seem to last about 3 years which is when the warranty runs out.
3600 GPH at zero head and 2400 at six feet.
They consume 139 Watts  ( 25.9 G/W)
and cost $289.00

Submersible Pumps
Laguna Fountain And Statuary Water Pond Pump
750 GPH
112 Watts  (6.7 G/W)
Pondmaster Mag Drive Pond Pump
700 GPH
60 Watts  (11.7 G/W)
Pondmaster Mag Drive Pond Pump
950 GPH
93 Watts  (10.2 G/W)
Alpine Hurricane Pump
3100 GPH
175 Watts (17.7 G/W)

All but the Alpine Hurricane pump are available at AZ Ponds
I have bought many pumps from AZ Ponds and like doing business with them.
I used to like doing business with them. This last time they failed to send a tracking number.  After I called they said they would call back and never have.  They are on my shit list.

I also have a submersible Alpine Hurricane Pump 2400GPH
2400 GPH at zero head and 1751 at six feet.
The specs show that it consumes 157 Watts  (15.3 G/W),
but my measurements show that it uses only 128 Watts for (18.8 G/W)
It costs $129.00, but I found  on sale for $58.00!
This is a really nice Oil-Free, Magnetic-driven, Epoxy Protected, Ceramic Shaft & Impeller pump with a three year warranty.

Here is another excellent article about pumps.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Vital Movement

I'm having fun, and watch my nutrient levels like a hawk.  I feel obligated to do this because these vegetables are expensive.

The one thing the aquaponic experience has done for me is give me a much greater appreciation for the food I buy at the grocery store.  While I'm delighted to eat a fresh tomato even if a worm has put a small hole in it; I would not buy that same produce at the store.

I think about it every time I shop at Costco.  Enormous quantities of perfect produce everyday.  People are always bad mouthing current farming practices, but when it comes down to it, the commercial production of food is a lot more difficult than most people realize.

Aquaponics has been around for a long time, but it seems that it's only now beginning to catch on.  With droughts and population explosion I feel that our experimentation, and sharing of information is contributing to a vital movement toward small household food production which will help carry many of us through rough times.  Some of us may go on to create commercial systems which will take agriculture back to a less destructive method once we understand the problems we are likely to face, but we are all making a collective difference.

Aquaponics is not without fault as it does tend to influence the genetic makeup of the fish we are breeding.  But it may also help to relieve the stress of over fishing.

So I look at my $3000.00 tomato, and know that it's not about that tomato, but a contribution to the greater good, and enjoyment of creating my own food.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fun tattoos

Here's a fun link to science tattoos.
These are a few related to aquaponics, chemistry, and Fibonacci

Fulvic Acid

Monday, July 16, 2012

Loss of Appetite

UPDATE 8/9/2012
I know it must seem like I'm always correcting myself with these updates, but I'm documenting the learning experience and attempting to pass on knowledge as I learn it.  Many times it appears that I have understood the problem at the time, but as more information appears this changes on occation.  

A few days ago I found small red worms, and at first thought they were Camallanus, but it turned out to be Midge.  Midge is a great food for fish, and it was only after transferring my fish to the raft so that I could better care for them that I figured that out.   The fish have not shown the excitement they used to show when fed, and I wonder if this is because they were feeding on Midge worms, and have become spoiled.  Simple fish food must seem tasteless to them now, and I suspect this is the reason for their lack of appetite.

For about six weeks my fish have not been eating as aggressively as they used to. 
They have been showing signs of breeding, and
I attributed this to the loss of appetite.

But it was about the same time I added Dr Iron iron chelate. 
The iron made the water quite brown, and I also observed some algae on the walls of the tank, and in the water which I attributed to warmer weather. 
So the cloudy water did not concern me, and
my assumption remains that iron chelate is not harmful to the fish, but it's definitely not to be dismissed.   
The Iron Chelate level has dropped from 0.5 ppm to 0.1 ppm over the past three weeks.  Today I bumped that up again with 60ml of
Dr Iron .
Before the fish began to loose their appetite I began to allow the salt levels to become depleted in an effort to see what affect if any a 0.15% salt level has on plants.
I let the salt level drop to zero over the course of a couple months.   That experiment was trashed when a leak developed in my grow bed, and I had to remove all the media and plants. 
The bacteria took a small hit but I was able to preserve, and restore the bacteria within a few days by using a small wet/dry bio filter.
Two days ago I began to bring the salt levels back up since I have very few plants left in the grow bed to experiment with.  I'm now using this system for starting seeds and growing outdoors in my other system.

After bringing the salt up to only 0.9% the water cleared the fish began to eat better.
I'll continue to watch the fish to see if their appetite continues to improve, but since I have several variables going on I'm still trying to figure out what it is that caused the loss of appetite.   It might be simply salt levels, but I feel that there is more to it than that.  Maybe there was enough algae in the tank to keep them satisfied. I'm also  pretty sure they are also eating their young even though I have tried to provide a safe areas for the fry to escape into.

I added FE2 today, so I should be able to tell if this is the cause or not.  I'll update this post as I learn more.

UPDATE July 22, 2012 
After adding the FE2 on July 16 the water became dark again.   The fish seemed to feed a little less aggressively, but they did not ignore the food like before.  A week later they are eating better.   Dr Iron contains Phosphate 5%:  Potash (K2O) 8%;  Iron (Fe)  8%  so there are other ingredients beyond FE2 and it may be that this may be causing the fish to temporarily eat less.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Growth Rates

At first there was an iron or magnesium deficiency.    The furthest grow bed is yellow and close to death.
Then I got that under control and during the past week, the growth rate has accelerated .
That marigold has been enveloped by the tomatoes.

In the pictures below there are two different kinds of duckweed growing together in this tank. 
The duckweed looked like first picture taken 07/09/2012 for at least a week with very little growth.  It had not changed since I started it.. 
In the picture the light is on, but up until 07/09/2012 I had not been using the CFL lights. 
You can see the ripples from an air stone in the upper left corner.  This air stone was under the raft on the left.

On the 9th I moved the air stone into the center, and began supplementing the light with several 6500K CFL bulbs.
Six days later there has been improvement in the growth rate.
On the 14th I bumped the Ammonia up a little since the Nitrate level has been near zero. Today it tested 5ppm
I think this will help to accelerate the growth rate.   All along the water temperature has been about 74F.

My conclusion is that the light or the air stone has caused the duckweed to grow.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Tanks and Grow Media

If I only knew then what I know now...

I like these troughs I found at Tractor Supply.  They are a bit shallow, but I think they will do very well.
Here's an update to my expansion using bunk feeders.
I'm seriously considering this long one (approximately 10"Dx24"Wx108"L) for a grow bed.  $154.00

These would make a nice fish tank.  The big one is about 300 gallons. 5'Dx3'H  $250.00

After building my own tanks from both 45mil EPDM and the pond liner they sell at Home Depot I would lean toward these heavy duty Rubbermaid Structural Foam Stock Tanks, because they are less likely to leak, easy to clean, easy to insert bulkheads into

I have also built an IBC system.  But polyethylene is not UV proof.  This round tank appeals to me because it would be less difficult to manage than a 4' deep IBC fish tank.   

My relentless quest for a reasonably priced media has finally turned up Pumice.

UPDATE 12/3/2012
Pumice has turned out to be a great media for net pots, but it packs, and I believe it would tend to clog if used in an aquaponic media bed where the purpose of a media bed is to filter the solids.  It might be acceptable in a hydroponic or bioponic system where solids are not an issue.

The pumice I bought looks exactly as in the picture.
The size ranges from about  3-8 mm.
The pieces are very hard and do not easily crush.

I crushed a piece with a pair of pliers.  Then I rubbed it between my hands.  Some particles first appeared to be long and pointed, but the rubbing caused them all to break down into irregular grit.  There were no sharp shards left in my hands afterward, and nothing that looked sharp remained.  It tends to form roundish particles.

It's extremely easy on the hands.  It's soft on the skin and nails; not at all like feather rocks or lava rock.  There are no shape shards, and if it brakes I doubt that it would create sharp shards. When it was dry it felt like placing my hands in puffed rice.
The best description I can think of is 'like heavy Perlite'

After soaking for approximately 20 hours about 2/3 sank and the other 1/3 remained floating.  It was easy to separate the sinkers from the floaters.
After two days 95% had sunk and eventually all of it sank.
I would suggest rinsing well as the water was a bit cloudy.

When I rinsed it, the first water changed from pH from 8 to 6.6, but after several rinses the pH did not change.  
The cost was $28 per 1/2 yard.

I would assume that it is available at many garden nursery suppliers so availability is less of a problem than expanded shale, and yet the price is well below clay medias.

Overall I think it would be a very good media for ebb and flow if some protection were put in place to screen the very small particles.
The material could be separated according to size with a screen, but it packs well enough that it does not fall through the cracks of a net pot like the clay balls, and yet continues to drain well allowing for plenty of air.

I'm very impressed by it, and look forward to replacing all of my other medias including Hydroton.  Considering the price it is well worth taking a look at.

The pumice worked in a net pot.  Fewer grains fell through the pot than if I had used Hydroton.