Aquaponics Blog

Discussing everything related to aquaponics, with focus on home aquaponics projects.

10th Day Update

Officially, I started the system on 13-Mar-2013, with the first plants and installation of the grow lights. From what I read, a typical aquaponics system will need 5-6 weeks for the bacteria to populate and adequately start the conversion of fish waste to fertilizer. So, anything planted before that time, can be considered a sacrifice batch.

I thought it would be good to share with you the current status of the plants now

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I planted them in five columns, one for each type, from the left: mint, habag (a type of local basil), tea, basil, and oregano. A general change in all plants is iron deficiency (yellowish leaves), which seem to be a general shortfall of Aquaponics.

I also lost two plants: an oregano plant just withered & died, and a habag plant that I removed, because it had lots of black dots (I thought they might be parasites or tiny little insects I couldn't identify). So, I didn't want to infect the other plants.

Here is a close-up of the habag plant, I appreciate if someone can tell me its English name :)

A close-up of habag

A close-up of habag

Tilting Plants

تصوير سريع يبيّن حركة النباتات بعد إطفاء إنارتهم، وتحولهم الى إنارة غرفة المعيشة.. النعناع (أقصى اليسار) يبدو أسرع انتباه لمصدر الإنارة الجديد.

Time-lapse showing the motion of the plants, after switching the grow light OFF, to the living room lights.

Yellowish Leaves

I've been reading about this for a couple of days, and it seem to be a very common symptom in aquaponics. The reasons I found so far, are between two:

  1. Iron deficiency.
  2. High pH level (+8), which prevents the absorption of iron.

Measuring the proper dose for your plants, that won't hurt your fish, is a bit of a mystery for me. However, you can always be extra careful and not introduce the added supplement in high amounts. Liquid iron can be found at pet/plant shops and online.

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A couple of notes today

Just a couple of things I noticed today in the grow bed.. First of all, mint roots. I've read how mint can take over the grow bed, but now I see how. A root is occupying the corner and new leaves are coming out of it :)

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I also noticed some color changes in the basil, the new leaves are darker than the ones from the pre-aqua days. Notice how the top one looks healthier:

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Last but not least, our small oregano plant.. I'm supporting it with a small wooden stick (the ones used for BBQ), to help it grow. The stem is a little weak & cannot carry the weight of the plant, let's hope it works:

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Wrinkled Leaves

I noticed something new the past couple of days, newer leaves since the transplant from dirt, are wrinkled more than the older leaves.. I'm reminded of my fingers when I leave the swimming pool :)

Are they storing more water? Am I using the wrong grow lighting setup?

My home Aquaponics System

This is the family's pilot project of a home aquaponics system, and we did the setup in the living room.. Once we succeed, we'll probably set one up at either the roof or the garden to accommodate more plants and edible fish, such as tilapia (instead of goldfish).

Green Tea, added

Added a green tea plant to the bunch.. It's looking good.

Roots were gently cleaned from all dirt & peat mos, then rinsed/soaked with aquaponics water for a few minutes. I don't know if it would have any effect, but thought it's better than regular water :)

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Floating Aquaponics

Although I hate Styrofoam, but this is a concept from what I've been reading and learning:

  • A barrel of Hydroton is used to brew the fish waste into fertilizer, then siphons to the grow beds on hourly basis.
  • The floating system is so much easier to add/remove plants.
  • The scaling of the system also becomes easier.
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If you have any questions, please drop a note and let's discuss it.

Transplants from Dirt vs. The Store

I needed some plants to kick-start the aquaponics cycle, so I got the most resilient edible plant, mint. They are well known for their aggressive nature in spreading out their roots, to take over as much territory as they can. For this pilot setup of aquaponics, I just want to see the system working.

I got a bunch of mint from the local store, and they were refrigerated. I placed around a dozen branches into some nutrients-rich aquaponics water in a jar (after taking the lower leaves off), and waited for the roots to come out.. I'm proud to say that one of them gave a root, while the rest just withered and died. I then transplanted it into the grow bed (the one on the right).

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The one on the left, was bought from a gardening nursery and immediately transplanted into the aquaponics system, two days ago. I'm so glad it's flourishing :)

Can you see the difference :D

Side Note: with the nursery plant, I carefully cleaned the roots from all the dirt, and cleaned the leaves from any possible insecticide. You don't want to harm the fish with any of it. I used a gentle spray of water, while gently wedging the dirt from between the roots.

Grow Lights, ON

My son & I had fun installing the lights, after making the wooden box at a local carpenter. Ten light fixtures were prepared for installation and wiring.

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We measured the distances to align five lights at each side of the box, and began screwing them in.

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After fitting all ten lights, my wife came to install the sheet of aluminum foil. It will serve as a reflector, behind the lights.. Once that was done, we plugged it in for a test.

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One of the ten fluorescent bulbs was defected, so we have 9 x 20watts bulbs. The bulb box says 20w fluorescent = 100w incandescent, so theoretically we have 900w (which I doubt pretty much).

Next, we placed the lights above the grow bed

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The lights are evenly distributed over the grow bed. We also transplanted a couple of mint plants, to test the functionality of this aquaponics system. The next few days should show us any flows.

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Pebbles, pebbles, oh little pebbles

I ran into problems with the bell siphon. Little pebbles of hydroton were wedged in the siphon's openings, blocking the water drain. I had to stop the cycle to fix it, and here I learned a couple of things:

  1. Make the openings good enough for water flow, but not large enough for pebbles.
  2. Don't let the pebbles be in direct contact of the bell siphon.

Most of the water was drained, and here comes the trouble of taking the pebbles away to give you room to inspect what went wrong.

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I had a circular piece of plastic that used to be a cover for an exhaust fan, which I used to guard the drain pipe. I then made a larger PVC tube to protect the bell siphon from any future interference. I also made slashes on the new tube, to allow water in.

Everything is nice and tidy now, siphon operations are back to normal :)

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Got the Hydroton

Thanks to my good friend, Zeyad Alhendi, for sharing his supply of hydroton pebbles. I was able to finish setting up the grow bed :)

Transient
Transient

Got the fish

The price was SR5 per goldfish, which is $1.3

The price was SR5 per goldfish, which is $1.3

Got a bit crazy today and went to get some goldfish, I asked for 10 and the pet store gave me 13, if I counted them correctly :) 

First, I needed control over the time it takes to fill and drain the grow bed. So, I got a splitter and a valve today, to help me control the flow of water coming from the fish tank, to the grow bed. The splitter will give me a way to just returns the water to the fish tank, and the value will let me control how much water is going to the grow bed.

This "T" splitter is to divert water coming from the water pump. Up goes to the grow bed, left returns to the fish tank.

This "T" splitter is to divert water coming from the water pump. Up goes to the grow bed, left returns to the fish tank.

This valve controls the amount of water coming to the grow bed. It allows me to control the filling time of the grow bed & functionality of the siphon.

This valve controls the amount of water coming to the grow bed. It allows me to control the filling time of the grow bed & functionality of the siphon.

That's it.. Everything is working well, BUT without the hydroton.. Once I add it to the grow bed, filling and draining will be much faster and I'll have to recalibrate. 

Stay tuned for the hydroton test :) 

Siphon drain, in action

Siphon drain, in action

The water is circulating

Well, I went and picked up the new grow bed with the drilled hole for the siphon.. I was really impressed with the amount of plastic containers available :)

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I measured the depth of the grow bed, and decided I don't want anything more than 10cm of water in it. So I cut the siphon tube for 10cm

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I also cut stripes for water to come in the siphon bell..I might make them larger to allow water to drain faster, I still need to experiment with that.

Note that water will stop at the highest stripe, and I wanted at least an inch of water in the grow bed. I thought it will keep the system rich with bacteria, in case the water pump failed.

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The lower part of the bell siphon is just pipes shaped to help direct the drained water, where I wanted it to go. The setup is in the living room and I didn't want water splashing everywhere :)

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That's the setup for now.. The water is circulating properly, but the pump speed is almost the same as the drain speed, which means, the grow bed can never be empty. This is not good, as too much water can drown the plants. I need to tune the filling to happen in around 20 minutes and the drain in something around 5 minutes.

Once I get that done, I'll fill the grow bed with hydroton, which are little clay pebbles the size of marbles. Get the plants and the goldfish

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment

Broke the grow bed

I was trying to cut a hole for the siphon, and the plastic grow bed just cracked.. So, I went back to the hardware store and bought a tougher one. BUT, I gave to their Customer Services to drill the needed 26mm hole. I'll pick it up tomorrow..

Transient

Home Aquaponics Project

Aquaponics is a sustainable food production method, that combines aquaculture (growing fish for food) with hydroponic (growing plants in water). Plants grow faster, healthier, and with a delicious richness in taste. On the other hand, you're also maintaining a nice supply of edible fish, such as Tilapia.

I've been reading about it for almost a week now, and I think I'm ready to start my home aquaponics project.

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The diagram shows a simple indoors setup that we can build from available material. Once this proof-of-concept pilot succeeds, I can take it outdoors and scale its growth to accommodate more plants and fish.  A couple of points to pay attention to:

  1. It takes a few weeks for the system to kick-in.. Bacteria will need time to grow and populate the plants' grow bed.
  2. Oxygen is important for the fish, plants, and bacteria. So, make sure it's available.
  3. Since this is an indoors setup, grow lights are important for your plants.
  4. If you're using edible fish, such as Tilapia, make sure you read about their reproduction requirements and caring best practices.