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Aquaponics project

Postby tokyo » Sat May 01, 2010 3:41 pm

Alright, so for those who don't know, aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. You raise fish and plants in a closed circuit system. The fish waste will fertilize the plants and in return the plants will remove the waste making the water liveable for the fish.

It was conceived with the intent of creating a more efficient farm. One that will raise edible fish and edible crops without using very many resources.

But in my case, I'm just using it to keep my aquarium water clean and healthy for my fish. Plus I think its a great idea and really wanted to give it a try.

When I get my own place I am planning on creating a much larger system and maybe even raise some edible fish. But for now, I can only fit so much in my apartment. :lol:

Ok, on to the project...

My first issue, before even getting into the design, is that regular aquarium dechlorinator can't be used on anyting that will be consumed by humans. So until I can afford to buy some human friendly dechlorinator I will have to just grow ornamental plants.

Here is a picture of what I making the system out of:
Image

The blue barrel is a 30 gallon compost bin I picked up at a local Agway. It will be used to house my bio media.

The rubbermaid is a 37 gallon bin, and will be used to house my planters, and return pump.

I haven't decided which container will house my heaters yet.

There will be mechanical filtration in both containers. You can see I already added the mechanical filtration to the rubbermaid by cutting out a hole in the lid and dropping in some small stackable bins which I modified by cutting out the bottoms, replacing them with mesh and filling with my filter media.

I've had an issue with the rubbermaid bin bowing when full of water. So I am making a frame to contain it.

I'll post more when I get started. Probably tomorrow.

It may be another two weeks before I can add plants, but I would like to get the sump up and running this weekend if possible.
55 Gallon African Tank:
Pseudotropheus saulosi, Aulonocara jacobfreibergi "Lemon Jakes", Synodontis multipunctatus(wild caught)

Additional Fish List:
Parachromis motaguense(1.5"), Geophagus pindare(1.5"), Ameca splendens
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Postby bertolli » Sat May 01, 2010 7:24 pm

very interesting concept, I have stayed away from planted tanks because I don't want to have to deal with fish waste in a tank that has plants in it, interested to see how this turns out.
55 - mbuna and a few extras
43 - 5 pseudotropheus polits
20 long - 2mgara shellies
50 - juvenile flowerhorn
CCA Member - CapitalCichlids.org
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Postby tokyo » Sat May 01, 2010 7:36 pm

Yeah, thats part of the reason I went with this idea. I won't need as much light or space to grow terrestrial plants as I would if I were to grow aquatic plants. Plus terrestrial plants are usually more efficient.

I went ahead and started making the plumbing for the large barrel. I will post a pic once its finised.
55 Gallon African Tank:
Pseudotropheus saulosi, Aulonocara jacobfreibergi "Lemon Jakes", Synodontis multipunctatus(wild caught)

Additional Fish List:
Parachromis motaguense(1.5"), Geophagus pindare(1.5"), Ameca splendens
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Location: Hampton, New Hampshire, USA

Postby kmuda » Sat May 01, 2010 8:10 pm

I've attempted several small scale plant filters but have never achieved significant results. I'm not really sure as to the cause (of limited results). I primarily attribute it to scale. In my opinion, it's a valid concept. In my experience, depending on tank size and stocking), you may be underestimating the requirements. My attempts were with a 100 gallon Oscar tank using a 20 gallon sump (filled with water), covered with a thick sheet of styrofoam, holes cut into the styrofoam through which the plants were placed (I tried numerous plants, from vines to Peace Lillies, to tomato plants, to pepper plants.)

To clarify scale, several years back a staff member on another board managed to take nitrates down to zero, and keep them there, eliminating water changes, using a plant filter (for an Oscar tank), but he basically turned a bedroom in his house into a filter room, using a water bed as a sump (no kidding), with PVC pipes running everywhere, holes cut into the top of the PVC, where he placed the plants (I belive he had pebble size gravel in the PVC pipes). It was a Dr. Frankenfish operation, but it worked. He found that tomato and pepper plants worked best but he was never able to get them to bear fruit, even with supplemental dosing of nitrate and fertilizers. He posted photos and I've attempted to search for that thread but am currently unable to find it. If I finally find it, I'll PM you a link.

The key, like any use of plants to remove nutrients, is to have fast growing plants. Slow growing plants will have little impact.

I will be interested in learning your results. Do you know what plants you intend to use?
100g- Oscar, Male Convict, 3 SDs - 20 gallon sump
55g - 20 Year Old Kissing Gourami + friends
55g - Pleco - 55g - Angelfish
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4 Cats, 1 Sheltie, 1 wife, 1 old lady, and one of sub-adults broke back in.
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Postby Pali » Sun May 02, 2010 6:11 am

Hi Tokyo


There are some up's and downs with aquaponics, but as said very interresting.

I have never seen it done successfull on aquarium basis, or with anything but koi's for that matter. I had a mate 10 years ago who ran a huge commercial greenhouse in switzerland, all his greenhouses where fed from massive koi ponds.


Now you don't mention what you planing on growing in your aquaponics, I would think it will be unlikely to grow any kinda crop. The main issue with aquaponics is your Ec is very low, I don't know how much about hydroponics you know. So just ask me if I use odd terms or you have any questions at all. I have been working with true aeroponics, hydroponic and greenhouse efficiency for more then a decade.



There are a lot of issues with cichlids and aquaponics, unless your keeping SA cichlids thats in soft water.

The main issues would be

High pH
Low Ec
High water temprature


For your plants to optain the nutrients in hydro, your water should be kept around 5.5 - 6.0 pH

Your Ec should be up around 0.6 - 1.0 to keep the plants alive, if you want them growing your aiming for a Ec around 1.5 - 2.0 and then your fish will have huge problems surviveing.

The water in a hydro system should be around 20 C / 68 F degrees, if you temp go much above 24 C / 75 F the roots will suffer lag of oxygen and they will get root rot and the plants will die.


If your looking to make a rootzone filter thats something else, where you don't aim for any kinda crop. Just plants to uptain nutrients and clean the water, where you can go for something more hardy then veggies and just change the plants if they die.


What kinda hydro where you thinking about?

NFT (Nutrient film tech)
DWC (Deep Water culture)
Ebb n' flood (flood & drain table)
Soil-less drip
Low pressure Aeroponic



Personaly I would go for Soil-less drip with coco fibres, as you will be able to eleminate a lot of the temperature problems. The roots will have much more access to oxygen, lowering the temp problems alot.

A flow table with soil less pot's with drippers, then you could always add a T and ball valves on the drain, so you could dose the flowers / veggies during the last stage with nutrients and let the excess water run to waist and not drain back to the tanks. Still useing the tank water, so you use the water for something before it's going down the drain.



Looking forward to seeing some pictures :popcorn: :popcorn: :popcorn: :popcorn: :popcorn:
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Postby kmuda » Sun May 02, 2010 7:32 am

Good info there Pali. Would explain why my limited attempts were not very successful.

Are there not any plants that would do better at low Ec values and higher temps?
100g- Oscar, Male Convict, 3 SDs - 20 gallon sump
55g - 20 Year Old Kissing Gourami + friends
55g - Pleco - 55g - Angelfish
29g Livebearer Community
4 Cats, 1 Sheltie, 1 wife, 1 old lady, and one of sub-adults broke back in.
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Postby kmuda » Sun May 02, 2010 8:56 am

kmuda wrote:Good info there Pali. Would explain why my limited attempts were not very successful.

Are there not any plants that would do better at low Ec values and higher temps?


EDIT:
Thanks for the research opportunity. :D

I'll answer my own question (plants that do better at low Ec) = Tomatos and Peppers, at least until they start to bear fruit, at which point they have high Ec values, which explains why the individual I mentioned prior was never able to get the plants to bear fruit. :thumb:

While researching it out I came across a blog that included a video of an aquaphonics green house that reminded me of that same invidual and also was a great example of defining scale ). This invidual was using Talapia (and was also harvesting the talapia for food) but was also setting up a seperate section using Pacu, which would be an indication that the temp requirements could be overcome.

The link to that page is:
http://aquaponicgardening.wordpress.com/tag/video/

Third video down.
100g- Oscar, Male Convict, 3 SDs - 20 gallon sump
55g - 20 Year Old Kissing Gourami + friends
55g - Pleco - 55g - Angelfish
29g Livebearer Community
4 Cats, 1 Sheltie, 1 wife, 1 old lady, and one of sub-adults broke back in.
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Postby tokyo » Sun May 02, 2010 10:39 am

Thanks for all the feedback!

I have not completely decided on a hydroponics system yet. I was thinking NFT, but I am also considering aeroponics or flood and drain. I've seen people have alot of success with flood and drain systems.

When I buy my own house I am planning on setting up a system with edible fish and crops. This is more of an experiment to see if I can get the same principles to work in an aquarium setting. As you pointed out there are definite set backs to this, but I'm determined to get it to work.

I am not going to be growing any crops, at least not now. If I can get the system to work and stay stable I may start looking into ways to start growing crops. For now I'm going to stick with fast growing leafy green plants that can handle the high ph, temperatures, and low EC. I plan on buying several plants and testing eachone in a seperate bucket to see which absorbs the most nutrients in the shortest amount of time. I have not been able to find a good source for info on what plants can handle these conditions best, but I will post the list I come up with when I figure it out, and maybe get some suggestions on how to imrove it. :thumb:

Thats interesting about the tomatos. As a rule, fruit bearing plants are not supposed to do well in aquaponics systems, and are very difficult to get to actually bear fruit. But maybe if your goal isn't to grow them as a crop they could work well.

Mangroves are supposed to be one of the most efficient plants to use. They are fast growing and very hardy, although I'm not positive about pH and Ec requirements. If you keep them in check with regular trimmings they can be fairly manageable too. I beleive black mangroves are the most efficient, but I will try to get both black and red mangrove seeds to try out. Mangroves are usually grown in brackish conditions, but it shouldn't be a problem growing them in freshwater right? Anyways, I'll give it a try.

Like I said, I won't be able to start experimenting with plants for another couple weeks(next paycheck), so for now I am working on getting the sump up and running and researching. If anyone has a good resource they want to share that would be great! :thumb:


Heres a quick pic of what I have so far for plumbing.
Image

The thing on the left is my pvc overflow that will take water from the bottom of the blue barrel and dump it into the mechanical filter on the rubbermaid. I still need to add a siphon break at the second to last elbow.

The "T" is going to be the intake for the blue barrel. I will drill holes all along the "T" to spread out and aerate the water flow.

I also included a few mesh bags I picked up at the dollar store that I'm going to try out as filter media bags to hold my bio-media.

Today I'm going to build a simple frame for the rubbermaid, to prevent bowing, and install the plumbing in the blue barrel. I also need to do a water change today, so my time is limited.
55 Gallon African Tank:
Pseudotropheus saulosi, Aulonocara jacobfreibergi "Lemon Jakes", Synodontis multipunctatus(wild caught)

Additional Fish List:
Parachromis motaguense(1.5"), Geophagus pindare(1.5"), Ameca splendens
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Postby Pali » Sun May 02, 2010 2:42 pm

A cheap and very easy way to make a effective filter would be to use Willow tree or industrial hemp, but as hemp is illegal in most of the world unless you have a permit I would avoid that or atleast check the laws.

I would try willow tree, it's very forgiveing and have a awsome huge root system. It's growing fast and should do all right under flurecent light, I figure your not planing on useing HID lights.

I don't know about any plant thats all right with high water temps, but give it a try and see what you can do about it. There is a american product called hydro guard, that can be used to prevent root rot in hot water. It's a enzyme of somekind, but I have never used it myself. Only talked with american greenhouses who use it if they get a massive heat wave, it also have other benefits but I have no idea how it would effect the fish.

If willow trees are growing wild near you, I would start to try with that before buying anything. You can just cut willow tree in 8 " sticks and root them in water, maybe some will die but most will make it no doubt.


Aeroponics are not the ideal option for many reasons!

I'll mention a few of them, but if you wanna go there anyway I'll be happy to help as thats my specialty.

First of aeroponic is a mister system, organic nutrients (in this case fish poop and fish food) will clog your misters in no time. So you will spend a lot of time cleaning and changeing them, it will bite later on.
Next it's the most ekspencive way you can choce, as you will need more parts as misters, micron filters and much more equiptment then any other hydroponic setup.
Aeroponic is more unforgiveing then any other option, but it's also the most efficient way if you have everything right. If not there is no benafit to it, at all and the end result would likely be a kick in the family jewels.
You need 5.5 pH and 20 C/68 F degree water is a must, even a few degrees lower would be prefered.

So I would recomand you to go with something else for your own good, NFT i not the best option either. You have a continualy water flow just covering the roots, so the roots will get there oxygen from the water alone.

Ebb n flood is a good option for the high water temp, there you only cover the roots with water a few times a day. The rest of the time they will get water from whats in the media, I would say hydroton would be a good choice.

The down side I would say is, you don't have a lot of waterings in ebb n flood to start with. But once the plants have settled and grown in, they will be able to handle more often floodings.


A plant that might be ideal is peace lilys, I use them in my sump fully submerged and they can handle that no problem. They loose the flowers after some time, but stay green and grows fine under water. You should be able to find them at most garden centers for a few bux, here they are 1-2 euro per plant.

Im gonna try them in a rootfilter in the future, when I get my fishroom done im gonna hook it up with a rootfilter in my greenhouse. I belive I can move them inside to my sump in the winter, submerge them for 4 months and move them out of the water back to the greenhouse next spring.

I plan on makeing a DWC rootfilter from a rubber maid, where I just cut holes in the lit for pots and a few bubble rods in the bottom and a return overflow w. bulk head. Then pump the water from my sump thru the wall into the greenhouse, thru the DWC setup and let it drain back into the sump. I hope the massive amount of oxygen bubbles, should be able to provide the roots with enough extra oxygen to handle the high water temps. The root hairs should be able to optain the oxygen from the passing bubbles in the water, it's just the question if it's enough.
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Postby tokyo » Sun May 02, 2010 5:25 pm

Not to argue, since I am fairly new to most of this. But it is my understanding that the NFT system is designed specificly to give the roots plenty of oxygen. It does this by only supplying a thin "film" of nutrient rich water so the roots have to bunch up on the bottom in order to absord the nutrients. This leaves a large portion of the roots in open air allowing them to get as much oxygen as they need. Its supposed to be one of the most efficient systems because it supplies large amounts of both nutrients and and oxygen. It is also supposed to be fairly unforgiving if you don't balance it right.

Peace lilies are one of the the plants on my list to try. I don't have access to willows, but I think the mangroves are really going to be the best option anyways. That is, other than price.
55 Gallon African Tank:
Pseudotropheus saulosi, Aulonocara jacobfreibergi "Lemon Jakes", Synodontis multipunctatus(wild caught)

Additional Fish List:
Parachromis motaguense(1.5"), Geophagus pindare(1.5"), Ameca splendens
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Location: Hampton, New Hampshire, USA

Introduction

Postby slywoman » Sun May 02, 2010 11:53 pm

Hi all. Great discussion, and I'm thrilled that this group is experimenting with aquaponics. I'm the author of the Aquaponic Gardening blog that Kmuda was referring to earlier and have been deeply involved in the aquaponics world for about a year now. I also have a lot of experience in hydrooponic systems from developing the plant growing technology around the AeroGarden product. I'd like to throw in a few opinions if I may.

Aquaponics systems are almost always either deep water culture (rafts) or media based, with the vast majority of home-based, hobby systems being media based and commercial systems being deep water. All other hydroponic system types just don't work as well.

One of the big differences between hydroponic flood and drain (media based) beds and aquaponics is that you want to have about 12" of media for aquaponics because you are creating an environment for nitrifying bacteria and 12" gives you an optimal depth to do that. And we tend to run our pumps 15 minutes on and 45 minutes off so that the returning water helps to oxygenate the fish tanks.

Another difference is that EC is not really a useful measurement in aquaponics. EC is a measurement of Electrical Conductivity of mineral salts so organic nutrients just don't register on an EC meter. And while a pH of 5.5 - 6.0 is ideal for most vegetable plants, they actually have a broader tolerance that allows them to grow almost as well at the ideal pH for aquaponics which is 6.8 - 7.0 - a compromise for the fish.

A final thought...I think a reason why the tomato and pepper plants didn't fruit might have more to do with light spectrum, intensity and duration than aquaponics. I'm able to grow just about everything in my systems (including tomatoes and peppers) and have no issues with fruiting at all.

I hope this helps and thanks for letting me join your discussion - I'm a big fan of Cichlid Forum and have learned a lot about the nitrogen cycle through you guys. I also run a ning community site called Aquaponic Gardening that you are invited to come visit if you want to get into this further.
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Postby tokyo » Mon May 03, 2010 12:21 am

Thanks for the input slywoman! Its great to hear from a seasoned aquaponics fanatic. I am very much looking forward to getting a slightly larger scale setup going. But unfortunately I am still saving up the downpayment for a house, so it could be another couple years.

My plan was to grow my bacteria in a seperate container(the blue barrel) and then have the water run into a main sump which will feed the aquaponics system.

I'm still toying with a few different ideas about how to set up the actaul planters. I think I'll start looking more into the flood and drain type of system now. Thanks for the recomendation!

Please come back and comment on this thread whenever you like. Its going to be a little bit slow going for the next month or so due to money constraints, but I will be recording all of my results as I go and I imagine I will have to tweak my system multiple times before I can get it work properly.

Oh, and what does everyone think about using bamboo in the system(and I don't mean "lucky bamboo")? I figure since it is supposedly the the fastest growing plant known to man it must be pretty efficient at removing excess nutrients. I was also thinking about looking into different plants that are considered weeds, since many of them will pop up overnight and grow very quickly. I think horseweed could be a good option.
55 Gallon African Tank:
Pseudotropheus saulosi, Aulonocara jacobfreibergi "Lemon Jakes", Synodontis multipunctatus(wild caught)

Additional Fish List:
Parachromis motaguense(1.5"), Geophagus pindare(1.5"), Ameca splendens
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Re: Introduction

Postby Pali » Mon May 03, 2010 5:07 am

[quote="slywoman"]

Another difference is that EC is not really a useful measurement in aquaponics. EC is a measurement of Electrical Conductivity of mineral salts so organic nutrients just don't register on an EC meter. And while a pH of 5.5 - 6.0 is ideal for most vegetable plants, they actually have a broader tolerance that allows them to grow almost as well at the ideal pH for aquaponics which is 6.8 - 7.0 - a compromise for the fish.

quote]

Awsome info and nice to know for shure, I used to be a commercial grower, I have never used organic nutrients. I would say the organic compounds are broken down into minerals, as they have to be turned into something the plant roots can optain.

How do you messure the amount of nutrients in your water and with what???

Shure the plants can handle all kinda pH values, but the nutrient uptake is very different from a plant in 5.5 pH water and one in 7.0 but it's good to know it's not that important in aquaponics.

I just have my pH chart pop in to my mind and maybe thinking too much as a commercial grower, after spending more then 10 years with Nasa's aeroponic tech.

Image

As you can see phosphorus uptask drops heavy in water cultures above 5.5 pH


I visited you homepage yesterday and love your greenhouse, looking really nice indeed and I would love to turn my personal greenhouse into aquaponics some time in the future.

How do you handle the hot water and avoid root rot in 27C / 75 F degrees culture water and whats your watt per sq ft as i could see you have HID lights in the GH.


:thumb:
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Postby slywoman » Mon May 03, 2010 10:56 am

good morning.

Tokyo, I'm not sure why you aren't growing whatever plants you want to grow. Is there a lighting issue where you are setting up your system? If you get the right balance of fish to grow bed you can grow just about anything in aquaponics...certainly more difficult plants than lucky bamboo.

Pali, after having been in the hydroponics business for almost 7 years myself I completely understand your skepticism/concerns because I had every one of them. I don't measure nutrient levels. I only track ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate to make sure that my bio-filter is functioning properly and handling the load my fish are dishing out. It's all about balance - this is a natural system. I'm very familiar with the pH chart you have attached, and all I can say is not only do my plants grow beautifully at 6.8 - 7.0 but there was a study out of a university in Canada (maybe British Columbia, but I need to refresh my memory) in the past year showing that after 6 months aquaponics actually outperformed hydroponics productivity. I have no issues with root rot, and pythium is unknown in the aquaponics world. This is probably due to the frequent cycles (15 on, 45 off) so there is lots of oxygen in those beds. Plus, I have to think that the great natural bacteria levels also help ward off disease to some extent.
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Postby tokyo » Mon May 03, 2010 11:08 am

slywoman wrote:Tokyo, I'm not sure why you aren't growing whatever plants you want to grow. Is there a lighting issue where you are setting up your system? If you get the right balance of fish to grow bed you can grow just about anything in aquaponics...certainly more difficult plants than lucky bamboo.


Basically my goal is to get rid of my nitrates with as few plants as possible. I am not trying to grow any sort of crop at this point. Partially because aquarium dechlorinator cannot be used on anything that is going to be consumed by humans and partially because I want to get the system to run successfully before switching to slightly more difficult plants.

Also, I'm talking about real bamboo, not lucky bamboo. I don't think lucky bamboo would do much since it is fairly slow growing in my experience. Where as real bamboo can grow up to 4ft per day in some cases.
55 Gallon African Tank:
Pseudotropheus saulosi, Aulonocara jacobfreibergi "Lemon Jakes", Synodontis multipunctatus(wild caught)

Additional Fish List:
Parachromis motaguense(1.5"), Geophagus pindare(1.5"), Ameca splendens
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tokyo
 
Joined: Tue Jan 19, 2010 12:57 pm
Location: Hampton, New Hampshire, USA

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