Aquaponics — 29 June 2013

As you can see from the title of this post, I’ve decided to remove the indoor Aquaponics system that I have had running for the past 4 months.  For those unfamiliar with my indoor system you can see detailed pictures of it here.  The system consists of a 55 gal. barrel, a large storage tote, and a 30 gal. garbage bin.  The system has only been up long enough for me to get a few salad greens, …besides learn what the heck I’m doing.

Removing the system is a little bit sad for me since it represents a lot of learning and labor to put the system together.  Some of the things I’ve been able to learn with this project have been building and running a siphon, fish ratios vs. grow bed size, and the nitrogen cycle which allows fish waste to be converted to plant nutrients. I have really enjoyed having the aquaponics system, and hope to be able to put another one together in the near future.  Before I give you the lessons learned, let me try to explain why I’ve come to the decision to remove the system I have.

Reasons Why I’m Removing My Aquaponics System

  1. We went on a week vacation and sometime during the vacation the tube became disconnected from the pump.  This prevented water from flowing into the fish tank and then into the grow bed.  This caused the grow bed to be dried out, which may have killed the good bacteria in the grow bed.  The fish were still alive, but there wasn’t any fresh water being circulated into the tank.
  2. A leak has formed in the grow bed container.  There is now a constant drip from the grow bed.  If this was outdoors, it wouldn’t be a bid deal.  Since the grow bed sits on a indoor wooden shelf, this is not good.  The wood will soon become saturated and will start to deteriorate.  I haven’t been able to locate the exact location of the leak.
  3. The aphids have become rampant; covering all of the plants in a thick mass.  I’ve written a little bit about the aphid problem.  The aphids must have been introduced when I transplanted a broccoli plant from outdoors into the grow bed.  An easy way to get rid of aphids is to spray them with water.  Since the system is indoors, I can’t blast the plants with water without making a big mess.  The aphids have nowhere to go and with no predators, they have had free reign on the plants.
  4. The plants need some additional light.  The grow bed is located next to a window, but it is easy to tell that only the plant directly next to the window are getting the light they need.  A solution would be to add a grow light.

Given the reasons above, I felt that it would be best to remove my aquaponics system.  This has given me a chance to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned and how I could improve the system for next time.

Lessons Learned

The number one lessons I’ve learned is to keep the system outdoors in a greenhouse.  Although heating will most likely be required during the winter, it would have allowed me to be more responsive to the aphids.  A greenhouse would also allow natural light to reach all the plants in the grow bed, without being dependent on using grow lights on timers.

The second lesson is to use a more sturdy grow bed container.  The plastic tote warped with the weight of rocks and water and was obviously too much for it to handle.  A more stout container would most likely have prevented leaking.  I’ve seen steel containers with a plastic or polyethylene  liner on the inside.  This may be a good option in the future.

Although not necessary, a larger system would be better.  I found it hard to order meat fish (i.e. tilapia) in quantities less than 15 fingerlings.

Whats next

I haven’t given up on the idea of aquaponics.  I see it as an ingenuousness way to provide abundant plants and fish in a harmonious and water conservative way.  I hope to build a new system and implement the things I’ve learned.  I hope that you can learn from my mistakes and lessons and build your own system that works for you.

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Ben

(3) Readers Comments

  1. Well, it’s sad to hear that your aquaponics system is down but I’m glad that you haven’t given up on it. I am planning on building one myself in a green house which I still have to build so its going to be awhile before it even starts up. Some ideas and suggestions I thought of from your post. You can use ladybugs to help take care of your aphid problem, but that’s more of an outside/greenhouse solution since bringing more bugs into your house sounds unappealing to me. When I get my system up I plan on going big. By getting a large water tank (I’m thinking 300-500 gal range) it will be less susceptible to temperature fluctuations and by partially burying it, it will help it retain heat. I’m still up in the air about grow beds though. I’ll probably either use plastic lined cattle troffs or 55gal barrels cut in half and braced by wood. Also you may still need supplemental lighting in the greenhouse depending on its exposure to the sun and for during the winter when the days are shorter.

    • I think you have a good plan Cliff. You brought up a good point, I may need additional lighting even in a greenhouse.
      Here is a video of a greenhouse aquaponics system that really got my mind going on the possibilities.
      greenhouse aquaponics video

      Keep us informed when you start work on your greenhouse.

  2. I’m excited about the things you learned.
    Aphids: Get a clean simple hand spray bottle. Fill it with water and a health dose of dish soap. Spray the underside of the leaves. I guarantee it works indoors and outdoors. The aphid lay their eggs on the underside and the soapy water does the trick!

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