Category Archives: Aquaponics

New source for tilapia

Hey everyone, I just wanted you to know about a local (somewhat) source for tilapia and feed in the area. Blue Note Farm I just found out about in the Lafayette area. I will be picking up forty 2″ fingerlings this weekend. I also added them to the links on the right.

http://bluenotefarm.com/

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Build an aquaponics system for under $50

Recently I hosted a tour from the great folks from Aquatic Design. A local company that sells, installs, and services ponds and other waterscapes. They are beginning to enter the world of aquaponics, and wanted to see some real examples from the area. Granted my system are no commercial operation, nor are they often pretty to look at. I mean, I use kitty litter boxes as biofilters. It was cheap (free), I felt accomplished, I did it myself, it works, I can replace parts easily and inexpensively (free).  

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The tour was a learning experience for both I felt. I shared my experiences and lessons learn, often the hard way, and what I, as a new consumer, or someone just getting into aquaponics might be asking, looking for, and solutions to some problems I encountered. I have been a past customer of Aquatic Design and probably continue to be. It was a great feeling when they asked me to come see their new building which will house their aquaponics examples and configurations and maybe give advice as they were setting things up. I felt like all my lessons learned the hard way, shortfalls, and set backs were for a reason. I didn’t need to go to a course, an educational institution, or pay a big chunk of money for the education I had experienced. So when I tell people you don’t need to spend a ton of money on videos, books or classes, to learn about aquaponics I come speaking from experience.  

 While they were here I talked about the largest system 4500 gal outdoor down to my smallest system 30 gallon. As of now we have 4 systems in operation. 4500 gal outdoor pond, 3000 gal currently in a greenhouse but being converted to hoop house, the newest a 275 gal poly tote in the garage – still under development, and the 30 gal inside our kitchen/dining room. This 30 gal is something many people can put into place for inexpensively, it is a great conversation piece, it is entertainment, it is educational for kids of almost all ages, and in my mind, it’s really cool.

 

4500 gal system

4500 gal outdoor system

3000 gal greenhouse system
3000 gal greenhouse system
275 gal still under development

275 gal still under development

Tubs on top of the 275 gal tank. Using Raft grow system

Tubs on top of the 275 gal tank. Using Raft grow system, romaine, celery, and azola growing

30 gal indoor system

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Romaine from purchased head

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Romaine 3 days later

I made this system a continuous recycling flow system. I got the aquarium from a friend who was throwing it out. Free. You can look on Craigslist, Goodwill, or friends and family for aquariums. Many times people would love to get rid of them. Bonus if you get pumps or other stuff with it you can use later.

The rocks on the bottom of the tank are landscaping lava rocks. Mine were free. The previous owner of my current house landscaped with it. I hate the stuff in the yard. Again free. (well, if you count the $10 I pay kids to collect if they want to earn money). Fish habitat or hiding spaces I used left over PVC pipe from another project. Find them at building sites, or look around. It could be old Tupperware, or food containers just something for the fish to swim in and out of.

I actually paid for the submersible pump. But it was 75% off so I think I paid $10. Some big box stores will clearance pond and fountain pumps in fall and early winter. Just watch for sales. Or it may come with your aquarium you got for free. You can watch Goodwill and I have seen fountains or other pumps on occasion. Worst case $30 or so retail price.

The grow beds are wash bins. This was a Goodwill special and I only paid $0.25 each. Dollar Store has them for a buck. The grow media, lava rock again. Do not pay for the extruded clay. Not worth the extra money in my opinion. I drilled holes in the bins and had the pump take water from the tank, pump into the bins, and out the drainage holes in the bottom. It is important to add more holes than you think is necessary, because over time roots and other gunk can fill the holes and it will overflow. Another important lesson, add overflow holes below the lip. VERY important, if you don’t, and your drainage holes become clogged, your tank will overflow, and all your water will go onto the floor. Want to know how I learned this?

Because of the location in my house the system doesn’t get enough direct light to support plant growth. So I added a florescent light. The light, the stand, and the bulbs maybe $30. I made the stand out of PVC pipe and fittings. I could have just as easily hung from the ceiling and saved the cost. I use this system sometimes when I to talks or presentations and the stand is needed for display purposes. You need to use a bulb that will hit 2700K to 6500K, read the labels on the bulbs. Choose a T5 over a T12 type of bulb. T5 is higher intensity over T12, and more efficient use of energy. The fixture should match the bulb type, T5 bulbs fit in T5 fixtures. You could use HID, or LED. But for the money and energy I found fluorescent was just fine. HID gives off too much heat, and LED was too expensive. With fluorescent lights you want them 2-6 inches from the plants. The light needed for photosynthesis loses its intensity after 6 inches using fluorescent bulbs. HID can be several feet away because it is a more intense light (and 2-6 inches will literally cook your plants).  

We have some kale, some medicinal plants, and a philodendron, which are poisonous, but we can split and propagate to other containers to sell, or help purify the air in the house. We always leave the main plant so that there is always a plant purifying the water in the system. We have had tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, parsley, basil, cilantro, marigold and more. You can get plants from what many people think of wastes. We have started planting the bottoms of romaine lettuce. It was originally just an experiment, but now we are just harvesting the leaves for food. Celery is another plant that can be planted from the hearts when you buy them at the store. Here is another list of plants you can plant from cuttings when buying food. You can also regrow scallions, 3+ years of cuttings from the same plant.

Regrow

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Celery, this is the 4th regrowth for this plant

I got feeder fish from the pet store $0.12 each. I got a plecostomus (sucker fish) to eat the algae off the sides so I didn’t have to do it. $2.00. I feed the fish azola or duckweed I grow myself. So feeding them is free.  From an educational standpoint there are so many things to learn. From the 2 year old feeding and watching the fish, to adults and learning about the nitrogen cycle. There are lots of lessons to be learned. Want to learn more. Contact us, or follow us here, on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.  Or come see us in person November 23rd for a full day class on homesteading, growing your own food, preserving your own food and more! Ensure your spot is reserved by registering and prepaying for the class. Schedule your own series of classes with the Be Prepared Series.

Full day homesteading skills class

Thanks to everyone who completed the survey for what people are looking for as far as education here in Indy. Here is the first response to that. Based on the survey results this is what most people wanted to see.

Full day homesteading basics class. 8 full hours plus free samples to take home. As of now here is the breakdown of the class. This is for people from apartments to rural areas. I will give examples of how you can implement in just about any situation. I will bring examples, what materials I use, photos, and a CD/DVD of resources I use when I need additional information.

Class will be $40 per person or $60/couple. If bringing the family or more than 2 please contact me for other arrangements. Pay in advance or at the door. Cash only at the door. You will save the cost of the class alone if you just adopt and use a few of the topics mentioned.  Due to the limitations of Meetup payments (can’t do discounts based on number of people) contact me if you want to pay in advance with cash or use electronic payment.

Register through one of the Meetup groups below although not required. There is a limited number of seats but should accommodate a larger class size but to guarantee a seat registration is recommended.

http://www.meetup.com/AlternativeGardening/

http://www.meetup.com/Indiana-Disaster-Preparedness/

Here is what is being offered. I can add additional topics if time and my experience permits. Seats, and tables provided along with two large overhead screens for notes and examples. There will be breaks and a lunch period as well. Bring your lunch or visit one of the many local places.

  1. Backyard Grocery (fall is one of the best times to start this)
    1. Mini Orchard
    2. Vegetable garden
    3. Edible landscaping
    4. Aquaponics
    5. Backyard Chickens
    6. Goats
    7. Bees
    8. Rabbits
    9. Vertical Gardening
    10. Potatoes
    11. Container Gardening
    12. Medicinal Herbs
    13. Composting and mulch
    14. Water harvesting and rainbarrels
  2. Food Preservation (what to do with everything you harvest)
    1. Canning
      1. Water bath canning
      2. Pressure canning
    2. Dehydrating
    3. Freezing
    4. Smoking
    5. Fermenting
  3. DIY
    1. Laundry soap – how to make – free samples 5 ingredients or less
    2. Tooth paste – how to make – free samples 3 ingredients or less
    3. Bar soap – how to make –(free samples if cured in time)
    4. Fire starters – how to make
    5. Homemade bread – very simple steps <5 ingredients. Way more healthy for family
    6. Homemade pasta – very simple steps <5 ingredients. Way more healthy for family
    7. Make your own ethanol
    8. Battery backup for emergency home power use
    9. Make your own generator from your car with an inverter

Eating local

This harvest was grown with no chemicals, no man made fertilizers and cost little to nothing to produce. 100% organic, and traveled just feet from my door. How far did your food travel today? What was used on it? Do you know where you food has been? How much are organic apples, tomatoes or organically raised meat, running in the stores these days?

apples

This is from just 1 hour harvesting from some of our apple trees. We have two 55-gal drums full of apples and only started to make a dent in the harvest.  More picking this weekend. Each bin weighs about 150 lbs.

Tomatoes

two plants one harvest. All this came from only two plants in our aquaponics greenhouse in one day. This will go great into the home made v-8. using almost entirely things from our gardens.

Barter meat

So we are not currently producing our own meat, other than eggs. But I was able to barter some meat for apples. Some really nice brats, and package of chicken from a local farmer (Simpson Family Farm). I literally helped raise some of these. I knew exactly how they were raised and where processed. I know the farmer. I have been “interning” learning the ways or organic meat production in return for labor.

So our meal tonight, home made pasta, brats, salad, and baked apples, I know where 90% came from. As I either grew it or had a hand in producing it. The exception is the flour for the pasta, and oils in the dressing. Majority of ingredients in the salad came from our back yard. The cheese, the local farmers market. Hopefully we will be making our own cheese in the near future. Croutons, I made from home made bread. 5 years ago I wouldn’t have thought all this possible. Today, I am thinking what can I produce next?

I am presenting at Foodcon IV in Indianapolis

The Harrison Center for the Arts presents FoodCon IV, our unconventional convention celebrating the art and culture of food in Indiana. Now in its fourth year, FoodCon IV will gather a wide and exciting variety of local food enthusiasts. In the courtyard, attendees can learn more about raising goats and chickens, beekeeping, salmon cooperatives, hydroponics, lead abatement, the Garden Tower Project, Handsel Farms, the Butler Campus Farm, cow share programs, cooperative groceries and much more.

Late on Monday I got a call to have tables set up for various aspects on which I teach and practice at our homestead. I will be speaking about rain barrels, food preservation, aquaponics, and my wife will be presenting on medicinal herbs you can grow in your back yard along with their uses.
If you will be in the Indianapolis area on Friday evening come check it out. The cost is FREE.

www.harrisoncenter.org

Don’t forget, Saturday we are hosting a tour at our micro farm in suburbia at 9am. We may be inclined to offer an 11 am tour for those that like to sleep in a bit later. If 9 is just too early let us know you would like a later time.

http://www.meetup.com/AlternativeGardening/events/124494172/

Lessons learned in aquaponics

I don’t believe in failure. What others call a failure I call them lessons on what didn’t work, opportunities for improvement, and in some cases, the “failure” was an improvement. In each “failure” I learned something new or proved my hypothesis was wrong, and I needed to analyze what happened and why. Make it better then next time around.

I learned that you MUST make sure your system and all components are clean despite what people tell you. When I first started, I used 55 gal drums that previously contained vinegar. I bought them, and because the seller said they were cleaned, I started cycling my system. Well there was some residual in the containers and my pH was way off. Thus killing my first batch of fish and lesson two at the same time.

You must cycle your system for a while, and it depends on the size before adding plants and fish. I researched some and my first attempt was just to see if I could do it. Then learning from my mistakes I began to research more and understand the underlying fundamentals. There are three main components to aquaponics and each must work together effectively. If one of the three are out of balance then the other two get out of whack as well. Fish, plants, and bacteria. The bacteria break down the waste products of the fish, so the plants can take up the waste of the bacteria. The plants clean the water and grow off the bacteria waste, and then can feed the fish. At least in my case the duckweed feed the fish.

I say that your cycle time is dependant on the size because not two systems are alike and not one solution fits the situation. You could be using a 30 gallon indoor system, or a 55 gal outdoor system and the cycle time is different for each, as well as how you flow the system, and the media you use, the amount of light, what type of water you use. How you start your ammonia for the bacteria to begin digestion etc. All can vary your system requirements.

You can learn a lot more from doing than theory and reading. From my research several sites, and books said you should only grow leafy plants such as lettuce, herbs etc. and you couldn’t grow fruiting plants. Last year I grew melons, cucumbers tomatoes, beans, peas, chives and water chestnut. I try something and if it works great, if not, I note it, and try it again a few more times to confirm the results. My 1st few attempt at growing peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and beans failed. I was attempting to start them from seeds in the system. I learned you need to get the plants started in some sort of media then transfer. I used coconut coir. I am attempting strawberries in addition to celery, marshmallow root, leaks, and some of my other past accomplishments.

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Start with “disposable” fish. In my area tilapia are about $2 a fish for fingerlings. Catfish $1 for each 4 inch fish. When stocking a 2000 gallon system that is a big investment to have all of them die off. I used feeder goldfish from my local pet store. 100 for $12.49. My 1 inch fish I started with are not about 1-2lbs each. Goldfish are pretty hardy, they will survive through winter water temps below 40 degrees, they eat just about anything, and produce a lot of waste. Can you eat goldfish? Yup, it is of the carp family. But I doubt I would ever eat them. Because of their high waste output a larger bio filter is needed, but means a higher plant food source. We have added bluegill, read ear, and catfish as we catch them while fishing. Some fish are too small to eat, but they are great to add to the aquaponics and allow to grow to a bigger size.

Don’t believe you have to have a commercial system or parts. I wouldn’t ever but the thousand plus dollar kits they sell online. You can make an aquaponic system with just about anything. If it will hold water you can have a system. Rubbermaid plastic totes, 55 gal plastic drums, aquariums, in ground ponds. You also don’t need a commercial biofilter. I made mine out of plastic cat litter containers I found at my recycle center, landscaping lava rock, and seeded it with bacteria from a local pond. All free.

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I attempted to use pipe as my grow area. This would work if you harvested the entire plant. I wanted to be able to pick a few things, and let the plants continue to produce. The roots end up clogging the system. So now I have adopted grow beds.

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There are so many other things I know now that I would have done differently if I had to do it all over. I could have learned much of this from following someone else step and what they did. I could have bought a kit and paid for tech help and support. But I don’t think I would have learned as much about my own system. When something breaks I know how to fix it. I have learned to adapt other materials for my purpose, cat litter boxes, landscaping lava rocks etc. It would have definitely cost mre more. Experiment, learn what works for you and your system.

Want to start your own system? Let me help. I can discuss pitfalls and lessons learned. Help with sourcing materials that won’t break the bank. If you are in the Indianapolis area or are located in Indiana I can provide onsite help and consulting. Check out the consulting and contact us pages.

Outdoor aquaponic and garden pond

I was jealous of my neighbors “water feature” and wanted one. I couldn’t justify the cost of putting one in and it not be productive. Then while cleaning out my MIL junk barn, we found a small plastic pond. I dug a hole, and with a spare pump from my greenhouse aquaponics I had a water feature. No extra cost. But how to make it productive? Fast forward a year. I decided I wanted a bigger pond and stock with fish. So again I dug the hole by hand. It kept getting bigger and bigger as I thought of all the things I could add.

Here is a picture of the hole. it is 4 1/2 feed at the deepest 15 feet long and 8 feet wide.

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Next we added a roofing liner. I chose EDPM, 60 mil thick. I got a change through my professional work history to meet an engineer who works at firestone. Who make both roofing liners and pond liners. The material is identical. The only difference is the anti caking agent they use when rolling it or folding it. But here’s the catch, the pond liner is quite a bit more expensive. I just bought the roofing liner, and washed it several times, then with soap, and rinsed a few more. I cycled my system for several weeks before adding fish or plants.

Here are some photos of the system when we just got started.

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Here is the same angle today.

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The overflow from my rain catchment system goes into the pond. After a few spots in the yard heal from chicken devastation, I will swale and fence in the area to remove the pipe. It is only there to keep the water from eroding the surface soil.

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The overflow of the pond goes into my garden.

When stocking with fish I use pet store feeder fish. Here locally I can get 100 different colored and patterned goldfish for $12.79. They are pretty hardy to get the system started, and add some color. The fish I started 18 months ago were around 1” and now are 9”+ and 1-2 lbs each. I feed duckweed and a handful or organic fish pellets. Duckweed will duplicate every 24 hrs in summer, and has more protein than soy and the feed I give them. I bought my first duckweed from a pond store, and it just keeps going. I have given duckweed to people on tours when asked and now sell if anyone wanted to start their own for their systems.

For the production piece. I added drip irrigation to recycled plastic containers which I hung from my deck railing. I took 2L bottles and cut off the bottom. Then drilled holes in the lids. The top bottle drills to the second, and then to the third, which drains back into the pond. In each bottle I used coconut coir as media. We planted cucumber, 3 kinds of melons, 5 varieties of lettuce, strawberries, peppers, and cilantro. The liner is pulled up so high to catch the drip irrigation and to keep chickens and the dog from the back side of the pond.

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For the biofilter I again built my own. Recycled plastic feed containers, and PVC pipe. Inside there are river rock, lava rock, pea gravel and more coconut coir. The top container flows to the second which has a diverter and the drip irrigation. Again all recycled parts. Most of the plants I started from seed. The only things that cost me anything were the pump, bought off season for 75% off, and the liner. Since I bought roofing liner, rather than pond liner it saved me a few hundred dollars. The fish, but now we restock it ourselves when we go fishing. Any minnows that don’t get used, or fish that are too small to eat go to the pond to grow, and keep down mosquito population. The rocks were picked up from fields that get plowed. the 55 gallon drum serves no purpose than giving additional height. I am working on another system of hanging baskets from the pergola to give more growing area.

 

Here are some additional photos and description of our outdoor aquaponic system.  I have experimented with different growing systems. From drip irrigation to floating rafts.

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Do you want to turn your “water feature” into a production space? Contact us and we can help. Want your own aquaponic system, again we can help.

Q: What do you do in winter? All the plants and the drip irrigation go away, mainly to compost. I disconnect the biofilter, and run a fountain to keep the water from freezing and oxygenate the water. The water plants move to the greenhouse, and a stash of duckweed goes into the greenhouse, and in the indoor system, to be returned next spring.

Q: What kind of fish can you use? Any kind of fish that will be winter hardy. You can use koi, goldfish, catfish, bluegill, carp, sunfish etc. You may be able to use tilapia but the water needs to maintain 50 or above and for optimal conditions 70-80 degree water is needed. This year we didn’t get the system cycled in time to optimize the growing season for tilapia. Next year we may put them in once the water maintains above 50 overnight, and then harvest before the water drops below 50. MAYBE 9 moths or less. for now bluegill, sunfish, and catfish are stocked along with goldfish for color.

 

Group tour July 6th

If you are local to the Indianapolis area we are hosting a group tour to see in person and ask questions some of the things we have used on our micro farm in the city. See the three aquaponic systems in action, back yard chickens, medicinal herbs, water harvesting, edible landscapes just to name a few. Ask questions, tips, techniques and see some of the items we have for sale. Because we have a small yard, and to make sure question and answer time is available, we are limiting to 20 people. This will be scheduled through Meetup Alternative Gardening group. If you are not already a member of Meetup there is a link below. We are having it on Saturday July 6th 9am.

 

Group Tour info

Rainbarrel V 2.0

Last year here in the Midwest we had a pretty serious drought. “Officials” were stating you were not able to water gardens etc. due to water shortage. That took its toll on our gardens and aquaponics. Before the ban I had to refill the pond regularly due to evaporation. That became expensive.

This is version 2.0 of our rain collection system. Version 1.0 had the barrels upright and would cascade to the next one down the slope. They had many problems. Standing water for mosquitoes, water transportation out of the barrels, water transportation between the barrels, then storage and space capacity.

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I made this from barrels I got locally, they are food grade plastic, with closed lids and 2” bung caps. The caps are pre threaded for ½” pipe. The PVC plastic pipe I was able to scavenge from another project, but buying all the parts probably cost less than $50. Each system can be different, and scaled to your own water needs. I would have liked to have more barrels, but I only had 4×4 lengths that would support the current setup. With the 5 barrels, I can collect 275 gallons of water. This is enough to water 5-8 times or more of my vegetable garden depending on how much rain we get. Because I use deep mulch in our gardens, I am able to retain moisture and water better than if it was on bare ground.

I have two downspouts emptying into the collection system and the overflow goes into my aquaponics pond, or into the greenhouse pond. These refill each time it rains for even a moderate amount of time.

We have planted butterfly bushes in front of the barrels to somewhat hide them. They are in my back yard so it isn’t visible from the front of the house.

I am hoping to make version 3.0 using 275 gal poly totes on some of my other downspouts. I hope to have two high, and two across for a total of 1,100 gallons. Stay tuned for more updates.

These can be built on your site/home as well. Use the contact us or consulting page.

Aquaponics, Then and now

18 months ago we started with a greenhouse and some barrelponics. Barrelponics uses 55 gal barrels for fish and growing in an aquaponics system. We then moved to a pond liner and the floor being dug out, and used 4″ PVC drain pipe to contain plants. This worked for a while but learned some critical lessons.

1) If you do not harvest the entire plant, the root system will clog the pipes and you will have a reduced flow downstream. Since we use a constant flow system, this created overflow and loss of water, since the linter only covered the pond.

2) we extended the liner to everything under the pipes. This way if there was a leak or a backup, the liner would catch the water and no water loss.

3) the pipes and greenhouse were not heated this year, and as a result large ice masses formed. These masses were too heavy to support and resulted in system failure.

How we fixed the problems. We switched to a grow bed system, which has its own issues and problems but were much more manageable. These problems were grow media, weight issues, and plant support.  The grow media was solved by using lava rock from left over landscaping. No increased cost. The weight was solved by adding additional supports and using shelves father than lashing to the support structures.

This is May 2012

May 2012 Aquaponics

This is July 2012 after putting in the liner

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Here is how things look today. We have actually increased our growing area quite a bit. Still have a few more grow beds to add too.

 

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