Thursday, August 23, 2012

Choosing a Small Home System

I'm attracted to rafts because you can look at the roots, easily move plants, and keep a production line moving , but with the right media an Ebb & Flow system will over time be the most economical.

Heavy crushed gravel is an initially cheap media, but it makes transplanting difficult, whereas a light soft media allows plants to be inserted even more easily than a Net Pot.  Apparently pumice is not readily available to everyone, but my recent experience with it has changed my opinion of media beds. There are other options such as expanded shale or possibly lava rock that provide a similar benefit.

The complexity of a bell siphon can also be avoided by using an Ebb & Flow design rather than a Flood & Drain method.  But it is the utility cost savings that makes this a very attractive option.  Running a pump 24/7 becomes expensive and adds heavily to the cost of the product produced.  $4.00 tomatoes are hard to swallow.

The added benefit of particle filtration inherent in a media bed should not be over looked.  Some might debate that the fish poo will overwhelm  the media, but vermiculture is an option I have been told will alleviate this problem.   Even a small settling tank as pictured here can remove the bulk of this pollution.

UPDATE 12/23/2012
The pumice has not worked out as well asI had imagined.It is prone to packing and clogging.  3/4" gravel or better yet expanded shale are my first choices.  Media like Hydroton are also good choices if you can afford it.
The settling filter pictured above shows a blue filter.  This worked well until the fish grew and over whelmed the filter pad which then required cleaning everyday.  For a better solution please read these posts.
 Filtering Poo with Continous Flow Media Bed

The Perfect System


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Growing Live Food

 I found this site very interesting.

My goal is to grow plants that will clean the water and provide food the fish will eat.
Even if I must grow these plants outside of the fish tank I believe it would be an asset to grow live food for the fish. 

I think the fish will really appreciate this live source of food, but big fish may uproot,and destroy the plants so setting aside a special grow bed will probably be necessary.
The vegetables will of course be the intention of my system, but putting aside an area for eatable plants the fish will enjoy seems like a good  investment in their health, and an economic solution to fish food.

TC has written a very good  blog post about Duckweed

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Darkside of Aquaponics

This is a link to a discussion I started about the reality of aquaponic gardening. 
If you are thinking you would like to design an aquaponic system, and grow and abundance of food in a perfect nutrient cycle - Then READ THIS FIRST.

What about those claims of "Lettuce in 5 weeks"?  Is it true? 
Lettuce at 52 days Utility cost $67.00
Lettuce at 58 days no supplemental light.
LOL... I guess you could have eaten these plants at 5 weeks.

The aquaponics industry is full of wild claims.  You may have heard about the balance aquaponics brings to gardening.  Supposedly the fish food will provide all the nutrients save maybe the chelated iron.  If so why is there so much discussion about balancing nutrients within the system?

The claims that vegitables will grow faster stronger more disease resistant are hype.  Aquaponics is not that simple. There areaquaponic farms that consistently produce above average crops, but be aware they do it with professional farming techniques and pay close attention to the details.  It's like anything else; it only works if you are well trained to do the job.

So you say "I'll take a class and become a professional aquaponic farmer".   I'm not going to tell you all these classes are a sham, but the truth is most who teach aquapponics do so to make ends meet.  They often don't even run a profitable aquaponics farm.   This industry is so new that there are no real credentials.  When's the last time you heard someone say they were majoring in aquaponics?  Beware of the scams.

You may be wondering why I still practice aquaponics.  It's certainly not for profit, or to lower my food bill.  I simply like doing it, but after one year I have decided to sell my fish, and convert to Bioponics.  I've also decided to plant with the seasons and not expect much growth during the Winter.  No more heating bills. No more lighting bills. No more fish food. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Close Look

Paul Holowko is the Host and Producer of the TV show 'Gardening Rhythms'
'Gardening Rhythms' shows natural gardening methods,
scientific technology and organic methods for land & soil
creation and regeneration.  See website for times and
Follow onTwitter  @pholowko" 

He has made many excellent presentations.  Below are a few of my favorites

Soil Food Web – Predator-Prey Protists Bacteria Fungi Microarthropods in an Aerobic Environment

Paul has also made a very nice web page for identifying garden bugs  CLICK HERE to identify pest by pictures

No Description

Video 1.
Published on Dec 28, 2012

The thin layer where soil and litter meet is especially crucial to this process. This layer of soil is the most biologically active; many species of microarthropods thrive only in the interface between soil and litter.
Video 2.
Published on Dec 28, 2012
Microarthropods video for a fly larva.
Microarthropods are important components of the soil decomposer food web. Organic matter is a major influence on microarthropod abundance and diversity. Conservation practices that increase soil organic matter improve soil quality by supporting the development of the soil biotic community. Microarthropods and other small soil animals are visible (sometimes barely so) but miniscule; most require some level of magnification for identification. Many microarthropods, especially springtails and soil mites, are responsible for breaking down organic material into a form that bacteria can consume, and are fundamental to the creation of humus and the formation of soil.

The thin layer where soil and litter meet is especially crucial to this process. This layer of soil is the most biologically active; many species of microarthropods thrive only in the interface between soil and litter.
Video 3.
Published on Dec 28, 2012
Protozoa are a diverse group of unicellular eukaryotic organisms. Protozoa were regarded as the partner group of protists to protophyta, which have plant-like behavior like photosynthesis. Below are some videos showing Protozoan in action. All videos are taken at 400X magnification. Some have flagellum (whip like tales) and others have cilium (hairy edges). As a cysts (can go dormant in bad times), protozoa can survive harsh conditions, such as exposure to extreme temperatures or harmful chemicals, or long periods without access to nutrients, water, or oxygen for a period of time.
Video 4.
Published on Dec 28, 2012
Bacteria are vital in recycling nutrients, with many steps in nutrient cycles depending on these organisms, such as the fixation of nitrogen from the atmosphere and putrefaction. In the biological communities surrounding hydrothermal vents and cold seeps, bacteria provide the nutrients needed to sustain life by converting dissolved compounds such as hydrogen sulphide (H2S)and methane (CH4).
Video 5.
Published on Dec 28, 2012
The nematodes or roundworms are traditionally regarded as the phylum Nematoda. Nematodes, (small worms) have successfully adapted to nearly every ecosystem from marine to fresh water, to soils, and from the Polar Regions to the tropics, as well as the highest to the lowest of elevations. The oral cavity is lined with cuticle, which is often strengthened with ridges or other structures, and, especially in carnivorous species, may bear a number of teeth. The mouth often includes a sharp stylet, which the animal can thrust into its prey. In some species, the stylet is hollow, and can be used to suck liquids from plants or animals.
Video 6.
Published on Dec 28, 2012
Protozoa are a diverse group of unicellular eukaryotic organisms. Protozoa were regarded as the partner group of protists to protophyta, which have plant-like behavior like photosynthesis. Below are some videos showing Protozoan in action. All videos are taken at 400X magnification. Some have flagellum (whip like tales) and others have cilium (hairy edges). As a cysts (can go dormant in bad times), protozoa can survive harsh conditions, such as exposure to extreme temperatures or harmful chemicals, or long periods without access to nutrients, water, or oxygen for a period of time.

Take a look at Dusan Beno's Bug Portraits Gallery.
Click this link then place your cursor on the pictures and click on the arrows to see all 20 pictures

Black Soldier Fly by Dusan Beno
Buzzer Midge by Dusan Beno

This is my favorite site for insect identification

Automation and Data Logging

Link to KickStarter

Just imagine what this could do for your aquaponic system.
Android Compatible

Monitor and Log Data for these and more:
  • pH 
  • Dissolved Oxygen
  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Light Intensity
  • Color
  • Liquid Level
  • Pressure
  • Barometer
  • Altimeter
  • Carbon Monoxide 
  • Chlorine
  • Ozone
  • Nitrogen Dioxide
  • Hydrogen Sulfide
  • Methane
  • Propane
  • Alcohols
  • Intrusion Detection
  • Plus inputs for Analog or Digital data from other external devices!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Midge AKA Chironomus riparius not Camallanus!

Thank you  John Malone and  Dr. George B. Brooks, Jr.  for your persistent help with this. 
You are correct.  It is Midge AKA Chironomus riparius not Camallanus!
I think the tell tale features are the body segments and the narrow pointy tail.

       Camallanus                               This is my worm                        Midge AKA Chironomus riparius

These worms are really small.  I had to take about 20 pictures to get just a couple that were any good.  These worms are so hard to see I had to wait until I could use full sunlight.

This is focused through the extra high magnification spot of a magnify glass.  My camera is set at maximum zoom and I still had to make it bigger with the computer!

I still moved the fish from the fish tank over to the raft tank.   I looked carefully to sex the fish, and looked for protruding camallanus.  None were found.    I was not very successful at determining the sex as they all seemed to have two holes.  Maybe it's determined by how close together those holes are. 

In any case I'm very happy to have them in a tank where I can view them.  I plan to rebuild my 800 gallon tank to a depth of only 18" with an extra 8" to the top edge of the tank.  That will make a 340 gallon tank. 

Two of the largest fish or maybe one really stupid fish jumped out today.  Dang that must have hurt because it's 4' to the floor. Is there a rule of thumb about how high the sides must be?

After reading about Midge I became absolutely certain because my grow room has been filled with what I thought were mosquitoes. Hundreds of them; I thought it strange that I never got bit.  They do not fly away when I place my finger on them, so I have been feeding them to the fish one at a time.

Thanks again for your help!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Camallanus Worms False Alarm

See my next post
This turned out to be Midge AKA Chironomus riparius not Camallanus!

Just one more learning experience.
Any advice?

Comment by Jim Troyer
Found this Bob:

How to treat for Camallanus Worms For more information on worms you can also check out this article

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Expanding the Outdoor System

I should be getting my new AZFlo 2400 pump this week.  This will be my pick up tube.
Slots cut in 2" PVC DWV and wrapped with cooler pad.

Hopefully this will keep the mosquito fish from getting sucked up

This is my new grow bed built from a bunk feeder and using the GW Raft system.  Maybe I should have followed Giorgio's design more closely, but I think this will work.  I wanted to be able to lift the rafts independent of the pontoons, so I switched it up a little.
Rather than a straight tube, my pontoon is shaped like an 8 and is made of PVC DWV pipe because PVC cellular core is lighter than regular PVC pipe, but not as expensive as ABS which is also cellular and lighter than Sch 40 PVC.  Actually PVC DWV is about 40 cents a foot less expensive than Sch 40 or ABS.  You may have to go to a real plumbing store rather than and Big Box store to find it.  I've got hundreds of dollars in just the pipe.  This is a way to save a lot of money.
The holes are cut into FRP board which will be smooth and easy to clean.

 GW Raft System 
Giorgio did a great job of documenting the construction so here is a copy of  his post with a link to the original thread.

Link to Post
On January 17 & 18, 2012 Giorgio posted an idea for the GW Raft

Comment by Giorgio on January 17, 2012 at 5:10pm

I’ve been doing backyard aquaponics for almost 4 years now and I was doing mainly the Raft system using the styrofoam boards from HD, (I have no choice, I live in a small Island).
These board get waterlogged  rather quickly and working with them is very messy and you have to do so much work with them.  Finally I got tired of buying new foam and making new rafts and I figured out a way to make them last longer,  I got some FOOD GRADE epoxy and painted the bottoms that touch water and they seem to be doing good so far but still you need to put some sort of aeration in the grow bed for plants to grow better which will required space, time and money (resources).
Finally I came up with a great solution which will create aeration naturally and is pretty cheap and easy to build.   I teach a Aquaponics class in the backyard and many of my student were impressed with the new design and after a few crops I feel confident that is a great way to go and I want to share with the AP community.
FYI:  I’ve dome my research and I’ve talked to the manufactures of some of these products that I use but you are welcome to double check and share.
I took some pics and I will try to explain how I did it.
The top is called Polywall from HD and I cut it to 2x4 pieces for easy handling u can make them bigger if you wish.
The pontoons are 2" PVC pipe with caps I don't use glue just silicone
I used 1/2 pipe for the frame, you can get all T's and Elbows anywhere (HD) cheapest.
I used stainless 1/4" screws to sucure the Polly the the frame
and I used zip ties to secure the frame to pontoons.
You don't want to make any holes in the pontoons or it won't float.
These are so easy to make and no need for painting and no mess and the 2" net pot just barely touch the water (which is what we want)
The only thing will be  to figure out some sort of clip to secure the raft to the side of the grow bed when plants get big and heavy  cause it will sink a bit
Have fun

Comment by Giorgio on January 18, 2012 at 2:02pm
Aloha !
Here are a couple more pics to give you better idea.
The GM Raft System
This design is fricking awesome...I'm growing lettuce almost  2x faster than regular foam rafts and cause the only part of the raft that touches water is the 2" pontoon there is lots of aeration underneath the root system (WITHOUT) the need of air stones, valves, siphoning or any other device.
Is very simple concept that works great, I'm sure whoever tries it will love it and is less than 1/2 the cost of the foam rafts and  about 75% less work without the mess and once you get one going you can make a bunch at a time.
I used 3 screw at the ends and 4 on the sides, make sure to use stainless

Have fun...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Bottom Line On Aquaponics

(Update link at bottom)

My venture into aquaponics has been an experiment, and while I have attempted to keep the costs reasonable I have made some poor choices and at times had to compromise practical energy use in order to experiment. But this is what experimentation requires in order to learn.

Below is fairly an accurate assessment of my costs.  I used a 'Kill-A-Watt' meter for accurate measurement of each appliance.  I have chosen to use $0.30 per KWH because I'm so far over baseline electric use.  It's really embarrassing.  

This spreadsheet is available in Open Office format.

A major cost of operating my indoor system has been movement of air.   Air is important, so finding ways to move it less expensively will be my first priority.  Currently I'm using a 20" box fan, but I will replace it with a smaller fan that uses only 30 Watts.

Air stones are also required whether inside or outside.  I'm using a Hydrofarm 52 Watt 70-LPM Active Aqua Commercial Air Pump.  Several smaller pumps may be sufficient, but this one pump supplies all my needs.

Moving water is also a large expense.   External pumps are less expensive on a per gallon basis, and with the newly expanded outdoor system I will be upgrading to a larger external pump as indicated in the spread sheet.

So far my systems have all relied upon a constant flow of water.  I am not fond of Ebb & Flow systems and have no plan to switch over,  but an Ebb & Flow system where the pumps are run intermittently to save energy may be the only way to cut this expense for some.   My plan is to expand my systems to the point that production out paces the cost of pumping water.

I have also learned that buried tanks are only somewhat helpful in stablizing the temperatures.
For example,our weather has consistently ranged from 66F and night to 100F during the day for about a week, and has been near that for even longer.
My 10' x 3' 1600 gallon above ground pool is 75F
My  1300 gallon fish pond with a 3'x7' above ground bio-filter is 72F
My IBC system uses 3 - 275 gallon IBC's.  The sump tank is buried and the fish tank is not.  The last IBC is cut in half, and serves as two above ground grow beds.  The temperature is 75F
My climate controlled indoor system is kept between 70F and 85F.  The water is 75F.

I have measured my pond during the winter at 58F, but this year I will keep better records of all these systems.  Last winter I supplemented the heat in the indoor system about 4 hours per day using a 1250W inline electric heater.

These costs can only be justified if the systems were to produce thousands of dollars worth of food.
My assessment is that large scale commercial systems may be able to  break even or better, but small backyard aquaponic enthusiasts with 100 sq ft of grow bed are going to face lower returns while still incurring many of the same costs.

Green house gardening with supplemental light during the winter's short day light is expensive, and demands that the green house be built with plenty of insulation.  My indoor system is proof that maintaining temperature in an insulated green house is feasible.  But the added cost of moving air and supplementing the light adds a significant expense which may only be justified in a commercial system where year round product is expected by the clients.  To be fair I recently read of a commercial system where 30,000 lettuce were grown in a 500 sq ft indoor room under artificial lights.  No financial records were available.

In conclusion barring the many other disastrous things that can go wrong in artificial systems, it seems 
outdoor farming is the least expensive, and may be the only economical option for backyard aquaponists.  Living in a temperate climate, and raising high demand crops, and fish appropriate to the local climate on a scale that offsets the base expenses could also help make an aquaponic venture economic feasibility.  But amortizing the cost of building, and maintaining the system has not even been address in this study.  Also solar heating and photovoltaic system integration may help improve the economy, but so far I have not incorporated this into my systems.

The bottom line is that it's either a fun hobby with expenses that will in all likelihood never find a return beyond the pure enjoyment of producing food and overcoming the many problems involved, or a high risk business venture.  

Indoor System
Outdoor IBC System

I'm happy to say my energy efforts have begun to work!

UPDATE:  This is an idea I have for an outdoor system that will consume only 1.2KWH per day!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Energy Audit

I'm writing this to get my head around what I've just found out.  I hope it provides you with food for thought.

I've noticed our electric bill climb as I continue to add to my aquaponic systems, so using a Watt meter I did an energy audit .  
The first thing to surprise me is the cost of moving air.   I'm using a whole house fan and a 20" box fan.  Both use more than I expected.  The whole house fan consumes 530W, and the box fan 90W. 

My submersible pumps are not too bad for submersibles, but one is not as large as I would like.
The Alpine Hurricane 2400 GPH is drawing 129W.  It is delivering 1750 GPH at 4 foot head.
The undersized 'No Name' pump I am using in the outside IBC system is drawing 20W and delivers 268 GPH at 4 foot head.

Expanding the grow beds in this IBC system is going to require a larger pump, so I just purchased an AZFlo 2400/4000 External Pump for 299.00.  It will deliver 1900 GPH using 105W at 4 foot head..  This is 20W less than the Alpine Hurricane delivering 1700 GPH.  If I were to replace that submersible with this external pump I would break even in 5.7 years.

Now here's something I find interesting.  Pump power usage is non-linear. These tables show as head increases GPH decreases as would be expected, but the Watts seem to peak around the midpoint of maximum head. 

I have also have a Sequence 3600 700 series pump on my pond.  139W delivers 2820 GPH at a 4 foot head.  As you can see the external pumps are a lot more economical.