All Things Gardening forum: Aquaponics starter project.

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Name: Pete
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8a)
pmenefee
Mar 10, 2013 4:50 PM CST
Hello, I'm Pete from Jacksonville, Texas, and I wanted to share what very little experience I have and see if anybody has information they are willing to share. We have a Koi pond which has been up and running since 1997. Last year after a trip to Epcot we decided to try Aquaponics using the waste from the fish to feed plants. We tried a sort of a tree effect with PVC pipe going in a circle around a brace with holes in the pipe. The plants were inserted in the holes and the pond water trickled down the pipe and back into the pond. We used a fountain pump to move the water to the top of the pipe. Bottom line was it didn't work for me because so much sludge got on the roots of the plants that it clogged up the PVC. With no cures for it's ills, I abandoned the project.

This year we have a different approach which began in mid to late January, 2013. I bought an ugly (as my wife describes it) sheep and goat feeder, which is five feet long, but two feet wide and about 18" deep. I drilled a one inch hole in the middle of it and put 1" PVC through it and out to the pond. For grow medium we used some bags of the rubber ground cover material you can get at Lowe's. Probably not a great choice, but I was afraid the gravel would be too heavy, and other choices were too expensive, so on impulse we got this at Lowe's. The "planter" fills and empties about six times an hour by use of a bell siphon. The water from the pond is pumped in continuously and it fills up and empties every ten minutes or so.

Right now I have two types of lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, one strawberry plant, some basil, thyme, and oregano planted in the grow medium with no soil. I think I'll add five catfish this coming Thursday to add more "poo" to the mix. Right now I have 3 large Koi and one large goldfish in the pond.

The plants seem to be thriving, but I have had continuous problems getting the bell siphon to work. Any variable that is changed seems to mess up the whole process and the siphon doesn't want to shut off wen the planter empties and it never fills up again. I had it working for a week and then added a vortex filter to help remove solids, and now the siphon is being rude to me again, so I may have to remove the filter. We had about an inch of rain last night which raised the water level in the pond to the base of the planter drain, which may have changed the siphon.....so who knows!! It's a work in progress. Maybe raising the planter to give the drain more fall would work, but that's a serious challenge, considering the weight.

[Last edited by pmenefee - Mar 10, 2013 5:13 PM (+)]
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Name: Pete
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8a)
pmenefee
Mar 10, 2013 5:05 PM CST
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Sorry, I uploaded a picture of Kiwi fruit in New Zealand. Not real bright of me, but anyway here's a look at my backyard pond with the grow bed.

Pete
[Last edited by pmenefee - Mar 10, 2013 5:06 PM (+)]
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Name: Dave Whitinger
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8b)
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dave
Mar 11, 2013 11:48 AM CST

Garden.org Admin

Those pictures sure get my excitement level going up about getting back into ponds and growing plants from the nitrate filled water. Your system looks perfectly simple and I love the idea of using a feeding trough as a grow bed. Really, really nice.

It looks like your bell siphon is inside a larger diameter pipe and I'm guessing the water rushes down inside that bigger pipe and then back up inside the siphon? Or do you have holes drilled in that larger pipe to let the water flow straight through it?

I need to take pictures of the siphon system I have here and see if it's very much different from your's.
Name: Pete
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8a)
pmenefee
Mar 11, 2013 12:23 PM CST
The bell siphon is inside a larger diameter pipe which serves the purpose of keeping the grow medium out of the siphon. It has slits cut in it to allow the water to flow, but keep the grow medium out. The water moves freely in and out of the larger pipe, and it is not part of the siphon, other than to keep it uncluttered.

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Name: Dave Whitinger
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Region: Texas Master Gardener: Texas Permaculture Raises cows I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
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dave
Mar 11, 2013 12:32 PM CST

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Yep, that's exactly how mine is.

Nice basil!
Name: Sandi
Austin, Tx (Zone 8b)
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Bubbles
Mar 20, 2013 7:49 PM CST
An article on aquaponics was in the Austin newspaper this morning. It may be of some interest to you.

View "Using fish and pool-bound plants, three local farms are changing the way food is grown" article at http://tablet.olivesoftware.com/Olive/Tablet/AustinAmericanS...
Name: Pete
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8a)
pmenefee
Apr 8, 2013 7:34 AM CST
Thumb of 2013-04-08/pmenefee/90a3d7

Even though there's not much interest in the subject I thought I'd post an update. Some failure....the Basil did not like having its roots wet and I took it out and planted some of the survivors in soil. Spinach seems to just be holding on. I lost a tomato and a couple of peppers to a freeze while we were out of town.

The broccoli seem to growing quickly and is really doing well. The new tomato plant has several blooms and one tomato set. The new peppers are doing well. The strawberry plant on the right in the picture has a big strawberry about ready for picking. I've stocked some more fish in the pond.....5 catfish....but they have vanished. Surely the Koi don't eat catfish??
Name: Jonna
Mérida, Yucatán, México (Zone 13a)
Garden Procrastinator The WITWIT Badge Region: Mexico I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Ponds Tropicals
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extranjera
Apr 8, 2013 8:10 AM CST
I'm interested but I didn't have anything to contribute. I have several fish ponds and a couple of years ago I decided to try growing tomatoes in the filter of one on the roof. They didn't do well, they didn't die but they didn't thrive and I eventually took pity on them and planted them in a pot. I don't think I have a large enough fish load for the water plants and additional plants. I have only small tropical fish in the pond. When I tried my experiment I was doing a lot of reading about Australian aquaponics, it seems to be pretty big down there, and was really fascinated by the set ups I saw. I don't want to harvest fish so I wasn't interested in the tilapia that most of them use. I could use koi as they produce a lot of waste but I live close to the coast and don't want sea birds hunting on my roof. I gave up but it is still in the back of my mind as the perfect circle of food production, I would love to get it working some day. Anyway, I'm interested in any updates and pictures and I'll bet there are other lurkers as well. Good work.
A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.
Name: Pete
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8a)
pmenefee
Apr 8, 2013 8:38 AM CST
Sandi, thanks for the article. We're going to Georgetown in a couple of weeks to look at a setup there they will have open to the public for some type of aquaponics week to coincide with Earth Day.

Jonna, thanks for the response. Australia does seem to be ahead of the curve on this. I don't want to harvest fish either, and from what I've been told the Tilapia like warm water, so they would be a summer/fall fish in my open pond. My setup is just a back yard hobby.
Name: Cinda
Indiana Zone 5b
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gardengus
Apr 8, 2013 6:50 PM CST
I would say you under estimate the interest in your subject , there are a 176 views. It is probably just something there is not much experience in , and thus not many responses .
I for one put a watch on this thread because I wanted to learn more.
Thank you for the update.
Smiling
Cinda
Keep believing ,hoping,and loving
all else is just existing.
Name: Dave Whitinger
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Region: Texas Master Gardener: Texas Permaculture Raises cows I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
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dave
Apr 8, 2013 7:40 PM CST

Garden.org Admin

I'm extremely interested in the subject and I have big plans to get into this myself. I want to make a greenhouse first and put the fish tank plus grow beds in the greenhouse. More and more people are finding out about this and interest is growing all the time.

I was in town today and talking to another gardener who recently moved to the area, and he mentioned to me out of the blue that he wanted to get into something called aquaponics!!
Name: Jonna
Mérida, Yucatán, México (Zone 13a)
Garden Procrastinator The WITWIT Badge Region: Mexico I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Ponds Tropicals
Enjoys or suffers hot summers Plumerias Plays in the sandbox Dog Lover Cat Lover
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extranjera
Apr 12, 2013 9:54 PM CST
For those of you in colder climates, here's an article on a start up aquaponics business in Canada. I wish them well, it would be great if they were successful.

http://www.cbc.ca/hamilton/economy/story/2013/04/05/hamilton...

I thought it was interesting that they are using blue LED lights as grow lights.
A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.
Name: Pete
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8a)
pmenefee
Apr 13, 2013 6:18 AM CST
Thanks Jonna.....The little reading I've done this morning on Blue LEDs seems to produce a mixed result. I'm not sure I'd bet my business on Blue LEDs just yet. Will be interesting to follow.
Name: Caroline Scott
Calgary (Zone 4a)
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CarolineScott
Apr 13, 2013 9:06 AM CST
Thanks for the Canadian reference article.
Name: Jonna
Mérida, Yucatán, México (Zone 13a)
Garden Procrastinator The WITWIT Badge Region: Mexico I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Ponds Tropicals
Enjoys or suffers hot summers Plumerias Plays in the sandbox Dog Lover Cat Lover
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extranjera
Apr 13, 2013 11:49 AM CST
You're welcome, I do some part time work involving CBC and so I'm pretty current on Canadian news Thumbs up

I did a quick google on the blue LED's as grow lights and found that the blue light encourages leaf growth and chlorophyl production and discourages flowering. This would clearly be great for lettuce and leafy greens, which is their goal. I think that finding ways to produce healthy foods in the far north is both interesting and important for the people living there. It saves on fossil fuel for transport and allows people to eat a healthier diet with less cost. Of course, heating would be the big obstacle to keeping the costs down. I'm looking forward to reading about new solutions for that. Anyway, I'm impressed with the ingenuity and think it will benefit everyone.
A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.
Name: Pete
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8a)
pmenefee
Sep 16, 2013 7:14 AM CST
Fall update. Our original grow medium was some sort of ground up rubber (about 1 inch) ground cover, which was used instead of gravel or expanded clay pellets. The first post description was "probably not the best choice", and this proved to be correct. Plants started well, and looked great for a while, but most all succumbed to root rot, for want of a better description. The Basil really did poorly and I ended up taking it out and putting it in dirt where it thrived. The roots really looked bad in the aquaponics grow bed. I'll try some again next spring in the expanded clay.

Just started our fall garden and took out all the rubber used for a grow medium, and now are trying the expanded clay pellets that lots of people use. Hoping for a better result! My wife and I were on a trip to Hawaii and ran into a aquaponics farmer who grew veggies and Tilapia. He said our problem was the grow medium and suggested the clay pellets. Not cheap, but if it works that will be great and worth the cost.

Right now we have some fall tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, and greens. It's still 95 here for a day time high, so we'll see if they survive till cool weather arrives.
Name: Dave Whitinger
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Region: Texas Master Gardener: Texas Permaculture Raises cows I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
Garden Ideas: Master Level Beekeeper Garden Sages Avid Green Pages Reviewer Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
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dave
Sep 16, 2013 7:31 AM CST

Garden.org Admin

I'm glad to read your update, especially to learn that the rubber chips didn't work out. Where did you get your expanded clay pellets? The only way I've found them is to order them online.
Name: Jonna
Mérida, Yucatán, México (Zone 13a)
Garden Procrastinator The WITWIT Badge Region: Mexico I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Ponds Tropicals
Enjoys or suffers hot summers Plumerias Plays in the sandbox Dog Lover Cat Lover
Image
extranjera
Sep 16, 2013 9:52 AM CST
Hydroton or expanded clay pellets are really expensive, at least down here. I've decided to try hydroponics first and not add the fish to the mix. I'm going to use river gravel, it's heavy but it is cheap and doesn't raise the PH as the even cheaper limestone gravel would.

Pete, have you looked at Skippy type pond filters? I built one for a large pond in Calif and I grew tropical leafy plants, taro mostly, in the filter. They grew well in there and the system is very similar to a continuous flow hydro bed. I think that perhaps leafy vegetables like lettuce would do fine with minimal fish loads as you have. For fruiting things like tomatoes, you may need more nutrients. Just a thought.

I should start another thread with my hydro experiment.
A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.
Name: Sandi
Austin, Tx (Zone 8b)
Texas Gardening
Forum moderator Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Identifier Master Gardener: Texas
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Bubbles
Sep 16, 2013 10:05 AM CST
Third Coast Aquaponics, here in Austin, sells the expanded clay pellets. Fifty liters for $36. Don't know if that helps.
Name: Pete
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8a)
pmenefee
Sep 16, 2013 2:21 PM CST
Dave, I bought them online for considerably more than the $36 for 50 liters quoted by Sandi. I'll have to check out Third Coast....thanks Sandi.

I'll look into Skippy type filters. I'm not familiar with them. Thanks Jonna.

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