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DIY Aquaponics Set up

PostPosted: April 22nd, 2017, 10:41 am
by chris oak

So the history goes like this. We have a watershed exhibit that used to have rainbow trout in them, but you need to get a permit from DFW and have to take a class to get it. We have a staff member who did this but could never get in touch with the guy at DFW to get the trout and the tank stayed empty.

I started putting tilapia (mozambique species) in there because they are found in a lot of local lakes as well as storm drains. They are also able to handle different salinities, I collected some from a lagoon and then had them in pure sea water and pure freshwater and both survived.

Tilapia are hardy, they are one of the most widely used fish in farm raising. I got twenty fry from a guy nearby thinking only half or less might survive. Every single one survived and grew to adults and I had to give most away to one of my buddies who had a pond. I grew probably 4 generations of fish and had the smaller ones on display and then had a crash a few summers ago when it got really hot in so Cal. Most of my males didn't make it and the remaining two beat the shit out of each other and then I was out of males.

Another guy was raising some locally and I went to pick up a male. He had a aquaponics set up where veggies were growing in the filter bed, and the fish were in the sump below and this was in a six foot bed in his backyard. I've been wanting to do this for years, I saw a display at Epcot maybe 20 years ago and was impressed then but never pursued it. I talked to my chief Aquarist and my director and they said give it a go so I started researching the methods.

There are a lot of substrates you can use, but I chose crushed lava rock over hydroton because it is very cheap and available. I got the tilapia from yet another breeder who has a gigantic greenhouse and raises veggies and fish for his restaurant. The hardest part was designing a draining system, most guys use what is called a "bell sipon" but there are a few problems with the design so I started trying different siphon designs. The problem with any type of siphon is the water coming in has to be slower than the water going out, otherwise you end up in equilibrium where the water just sits midway in your grow bed. I tried out a series of designs and ended up basing mine on a Carlson siphon with a few changes, I call it the Oakpwr Siphon :rolls: .

My siphon is set up in your typical u fashion with a 3/4" main drain. When I ran this I always had problems with the system draining fully, no matter the flow rate it almost always went to equilibrium where the water in was the same rate as the water out and it never fully drained. I ended up adding a second smaller 1/2" drain connected to a T. Basically what I am saying is I have two drains, the main drain which siphons most of the water and the second smaller drain connected to it makes enough pull to break the siphon when the water gets to the bottom of the grow bed. At this time the water stops draining into the sump where the fish are and the process starts again.

I will point out that it is possible to grow certain plants without a bed, but from what I read you get maximum growth using a ebb and flow bed to expose the roots to oxygen. I wanted that so that's what I went with.

The results are pretty cool, I went with carrots and lettuce on the first run. The carrots were a mistake, I need a deeper bed to get proper root growth but they flourised. The lettuce was doing GREAT until the raccoons climbed the fence and ate most of my lettuce. Lesson learned, I put a roof over the enclosure and will try it again.

The neat things about this design:
1. soilless. It requires no soil and no nutrients besides fish waste
2. fairly idiotproof. Since it is based on a siphon rather than any moving parts, the drain is less likely to fail
3. can be converted to solar. I'm getting ready to change out that pump I'm using to a slower flow rate (I used one of our extra magnetic drive pumps and valved the flow waaaay down). It looks like I can do a dc pump for about 20$ on amazon, but I will need 45W solar panel which is a bit expensive, plus a back up battery for nighttime use.
4. You can easily do this at home and grow your own veggies and fish. Many types of freshwater fish and shrimp can be grown this way. There are large scale versions of this set up pumping out 100 heads of lettuce a day.
5. I use a protein pellet type of food but you can use duckweed for tilapia and they will eat this readily and you can also feed them alternative types of food ie it's cheap to run.
6. The main point is this. It wakes people up and you can discuss the problems with overfishing, farming using too much water and wasting it as it runs over the soil etc. You would never be able to eat a large amount of tilapia from a small system, but you could eat them once in a while. There are different species with different growth rates and that's going to be in my next trial as well.

Re: DIY Aquaponics Set up

PostPosted: April 22nd, 2017, 4:50 pm
by CaptainLeo
I haven't messed with aquaponics, but have been growing our veggies in some type or another of hydro systems for about 4 years now. I love it and it's super easy. I have about 5 different systems in my backyard right now. I need to get on the ball ans sprout some seeds for the summer. Anyway, gardening without soil is the way to go, I believe.

Re: DIY Aquaponics Set up

PostPosted: April 22nd, 2017, 6:48 pm
by phil herranen
Aquaponics is really cool ,when you get into larger systems you can grow fish that you would actualy want to eat like sturgeon . You can Also Do Native Fish . I have a friend that's done systems up to around 8 acres ,and now flies all over the world doing consulting on big Comercial and community systems

Re: DIY Aquaponics Set up

PostPosted: April 22nd, 2017, 7:25 pm
by Behslayer
Check this guy out. He's got 1300 videos full of info on growing food and if you watch them all you will probably never buy produce again. Here's one of them on the basics of Aquaponics.

Re: DIY Aquaponics Set up

PostPosted: April 23rd, 2017, 9:19 am
by chris oak
Yeah one of Phils buddies runs a really cool one that he builds at schools, his site is here: If I had the land and time I would definitely look into a system like that, the guy I got my tilapia from in OC has a couple of greenhouses and I'm going to check them out as well. When I started reading up on aquaponic systems I was blown away on what you can do, even if you don't have fish you can use a recirc pump and pvc tubing and set up grow tubes that take up way less area and are more productive than traditional farming. My goal when I retire is to set up a smaller system with maybe a couple of 8 foot beds in the backyard with ponds underneath them. I figure as solar panels get more efficient and the price drops I should be able to run the entire thing as well as my pool pump on solar.

Re: DIY Aquaponics Set up

PostPosted: April 23rd, 2017, 9:20 am
by chris oak
CaptainLeo wrote:I haven't messed with aquaponics, but have been growing our veggies in some type or another of hydro systems for about 4 years now. I love it and it's super easy. I have about 5 different systems in my backyard right now. I need to get on the ball ans sprout some seeds for the summer. Anyway, gardening without soil is the way to go, I believe.

When you get a chance take a pix of it Leo, my new pup pretty much destroys anything I plant on the ground and I'm looking into alternative beds.

Re: DIY Aquaponics Set up

PostPosted: April 23rd, 2017, 12:22 pm
by Behslayer
In Indonesia they do this traditionally. They grow fish like Tilapia or Lele (eels) mixed with the flooded Rice fields, and they have herds of ducks which they shepherd to and from the fields every day. It's pretty amazing to see a kid with a bamboo pole keep 100 ducks in a line walking quickly to and from the fields. At harvest they drain the fields or lower the water so it's easy to catch the fish. Amazing place. But soooo many of those 1000's of years old systems have been polluted with pesticides now.

The dirty cousin of the Organic Aquaponics systems over there are the Chicken Coups over the Tilapia or Shrimp ponds.

I like the idea, but at the same time I enjoy so much to actually work with the soil. For me the soil is as much alive as the plants I'm growing in it. One thing which I really rely on are Fish. I'll bury Fish Head/bones, or just the racks from bigger fish all year right into the garden. I make sure they're 1' down and I never have pests. But I'll find a way to squeeze those in even while everything is growing. The Ulusub workshop is covered with gardens around it. Literally there's 10' ropes of Tomato vines hanging from the shop and 20 different kinds of hot chillis along the back. Cucumbers, squash and cantalopes as a wall in the front. Garlic everywhere, etc.

Re: DIY Aquaponics Set up

PostPosted: April 26th, 2017, 7:49 am
by phil herranen
Hopefully I will get my greenhouse ,aquaponics system in sometime this summer or fall ,I took down 12 trees last fall to make room but I still need to move all the logs and kill the stumps and grade the ground .

I'm with jon I like to grow in the dirt ,and the 1/8 acre I plant now will allways be a dirt garden ,but the greenhouse will let me grow year round . Where I'm at in the mountains I'm in a frost pocket so I will get really late and early frost (last frost is late April most years ) so even though I still have long warm days the frost will kill my plants by Oct or Nov

Re: DIY Aquaponics Set up

PostPosted: April 26th, 2017, 1:53 pm
by Behslayer
We have another level of Frost going on here...

Last year I had to kill so many of my prized Chilli plants. They were all very robust especially the Ghost Peppers which were like small trees. They battled even some light snow but with a baby crawling around I couldn't bring them inside to overwinter so I mercy killed them. My neighbor has a big hoophouse and he uses a method where he has Cold frames inside the Hoophouse which brings him down two planting zones so without any form of heating, he's able to grow all year. For next winter the plan is to try a Double Walled Hoop House. It will have a small blower fan which brings air from inside his house and circulates it between the walls, then into the hoophouse and their are some one way vents for air to expel which are low down.

We also battle heat.. When it's cold we want everything in the sun, but once it's hot I transplant all my Leafy greens to these beds which are shaded by this Fence and they only get a few hours of gentle sun once the heat kicks in. This way I can grow things like Collard, Lettuces, Kales, Cabbage, Beets, Carrots, etc. even in the heat of summer. Lot of rain the past two days so I went down and harvested a bunch of Seaweed before the rain and spread it out in the driveway to leech out the salt. Now it's Grade A fertilizer, especially as it's infested with little crustaceans. I'll mix that straight into the soil but also as a major ingredient to the compost bins. As a point of reference the snow will pile up to the top of the fence during our cool season.

Phil check out Double Walled Hoophouses/Greenhouses if it's real cold, or look up what the guys in Maine do with the Cold Frames inside the Greenhouse or Hoophouse. If they can beat winter in Maine, you guys should be able to grow summer crop all year in California.

Re: DIY Aquaponics Set up

PostPosted: April 27th, 2017, 8:10 am
by phil herranen
Jon ,fortunately where I live it never gets that cold , we might get a couple below freezing nights per year but rarely have daytime Temps below mid 40s and probably average around 60 during the winter and 80 in the summer with a few 90+ if the fog is pushed offshore . Most of the year the vents would be wide open , we use solar fans and these cool wax filled rams that when they warm up they extend and will open roof vent's automatically then close when it cools totally power free and automatic