Your Resource for All Things Aquaponics

Posts by brittabeach

Aquaponics Greenhouse Success!

Last fall we put up framework for our new greenhouse over our Aquaponics System.  We used painter’s sheeting, a moderately heavy plastic, as our covering.

1125150918During the first part of the cool season we would pull the sides up so the plants could still get sunlight but once it got cool enough both day and night, we kept the plastic down completely.

Through the winter we had several wind storms that whipped through the plastic.  We needed to be vigilant to make sure the seams were taped down well.  We also added water heaters to the tanks and a general air heater between the grow beds. This wasn’t entirely ideal for our electric bill, but we lost only 5 fish and we were able to have several strong plants going into the growing season!

In our green house we kept the bed of bell peppers and Jalapenos growing from last year 1201151249a_HDRand we got several more batches of peppers.  We had to keep on top of pollinating though.  We also had two beds of lettuce that thrived all winter.  Other than those three beds that
actively produced, we planted one bed of squash, one bed of tomatoes, and one more bed of peppers that could start producing as soon as spring hit.  The last bed was our ginormous basil plant, a left over tomato plant, and an eggplant.

1102151545aHaving grown under the green house plastic all winter long, our tomatoes are now thriving with at least 100 tomatoes and are 6 feet or taller.  Our new pepper plants are budding and starting to form tiny peppers, and our squash plants are the biggest squash plants I’ve ever seen.  Both beds of lettuce were pulled up and haven’t yet been replaced.

The benefits of having a green house over our system was tremendous!  Rather than having to “restart” my system with new fish every spring, I was able to keep my system running year round.  I was able to continue to grow fresh veggies through the winter, and several of my plants got a great, healthy head start for the spring planting season!

The best thing about having built the green house how we did?  We can now use the frame work for shade cloth and trellis as the plants grow through the summer!

My Aquaponics Greenhouse

comGreenhouseFrameworkWe started building my Aquaponics Greenhouse!  Where I live we have a nice, piping hot summer.  It is ideal for warmer water fish, like Tilapia.  Our winters are fairly mild but are still cool enough that Tilapia would not survive.  Because of this, we have had a plan to build a greenhouse over our Aquaponics System for some time now.  The problem, as it usually is for anyone in this life, is money.

We looked into buying an Aquaponics greenhouse that would be big enough to accommodate our system but they were a lot of money. Like, thousands…  Luckily, we are handy enough with wood and tools and we can build something. For months we batted back and forth several ideas of how to do a sturdy green house on the cheap.

comGreenhouseFramework2The stroke of genius came about a month ago.  We had been discussing framing- ropes, 2x4s, pvc… And suddenly we thought that we could lash 2x4s directly to the metal frame of our IBCs!  The IBCs are so loaded down with rock and water that there is no way its going anywhere.  2x4s are sturdy and able to hold weight.  Lashing the 2x4s cuts down on the cost significantly.  We don’t have to concern ourselves as much with the rest of the frame work.

So, taking advantage of a long weekend, we’ve started lashing the 2x4s to the metal frame of our comGreenhouseFramework3system.  This greenhouse will be designed simply so we can take down plastic during the summer and we can still use the frame work to hold up plants and lattice work.

It wont be a finished product until it actually starts cooling off and we need to put up the plastic sheeting– which will be in about 6 weeks or so.  But in the meantime, I’ve posted pictures of the process.
Also, look at how green my garden is!  We have several bedscomGreenhouseFramework4 that have been pulled up, ready for the next series of planting.  My canteloupe plant is taking over the system, my peppers are ginormous, and my leeks are getting so thick I’m salivating thinking of what to cook them in!

If you are interested in buying a small greenhouse or need something quickly, check out my review of Aquaponics Greenhouses here. It’ll give you a good idea of what is out there!

Feeding Aquaponics Tilapia

Video: Feeding Aquaponics Tilapia

My kids love helping in the garden.  Since their hands are pretty small, sometimes helping harvest the food can be more of a frustration than a help so we frequently let them feed the fish.  They love it! Watch as my oldest feeds the fish and I give a few pointers.

Transcript

One of the benefits of our Aquaponics system is getting to feed the fish.

(Aside: “Alright, let me see how much you got. Okay, go ahead and throw that in there.”

“All of it?”

“Yep”)

The fish are just now getting conditioned to eat the food even though we are watching them.  When they get a little bigger they’ll get so excited they’ll even splash getting their food.

Alright, throw the food into this one! This is our second tank.  The first tank I showed you had the 2-3 in fish and this tank has some 1-2 inch fish. I don’t know if you can see them yet. Oh, they are all the way on the other side of the tank.  There they are.  She just threw in the fish food so they are swarming on the other side. These ones are a little more shy so I don’t know if we’ll actually get a look at them eating.

These fish, this is the first tank again, have eaten quite a bit of the food and are going to take a break.  Usually you leave the food in there for 5-10 minutes and let them see how much they are going to eat in 5-10 minutes. And if they leave a significant amount in there you need to fish it back out so the food doesn’t become waste and gunk up your system.

 

If you are interested in what fish can go in your system, check out our post on the Best Fish For Aquaponics Systems.

Aquaponics Lettuce Harvest

Are you interested in seeing yields from an Aquaponics Lettuce Harvest?  I took a quick video of what one harvest looks like in my grow beds.  Watch and enjoy!

Transcript:

Hey everybody! Today I wanted to show you my lettuce bed. This is my Aquaponics lettuce.  This is a bed that’s about 4 foot by 4 foot give or take a little. And it was planted with a butter leaf lettuce.  It has been a couple days since I harvested and usually we wait about every three days or so.  But it’s pretty long and definitely ready to be harvested.  There’s some pretty big leaves back here if you look you can see, that one is almost as long as my hand is.  You can harvest this type of lettuce anywhere down from these little leaves right here that are, I don’t know, maybe the size of a quarter or a little bit bigger or you can wait until they are really big.  There was one point that I did not harvest my lettuce, it took me a couple days and I had a piece or two that was the size of my hand, like full broad leaf the size of my hand.

As you harvest this type of lettuce you need to be very careful because the roots are not very strong roots so if you are rough you could pull the whole plant out. If you do that it’s not the end of the world.  You can try to put it back into your medium. Like I’ve got some lava rock down here so it’s easy to move out of the way and you can try and just put the lettuce back in and if it does grow,  that’s great.But you do need to be careful.

I use a little pair of sewing scissors they are really sharp and small so I can get in and harvest the lettuce when it’s really close like this.  I’m going to go ahead and harvest some lettuce and get back to you once I’m done.

So I’m back and you might be able to tell I’ve thinned out the lettuce quite a bit. Here is my harvest in this bowl.  This is about, probably, more than one large salad for my family. I have 5 kids and me and my husband. The kids will probably only eat a couple of leaves each because they are not a huge fan of salad.  But between my husband and I that’s at least one salad, at least one salad a huge salad.  So that’s growth in about three days from my 4×4 lettuce bed.  That’s really great returns for the lettuce.  We’ve been able to harvest this lettuce, I think we are going on about 2 months now of at least twice a week harvests.  So if you are looking at growing lettuce, leaf lettuce is a really good plant to grow in your garden.  You get a lot of high yields and it grows really well in Aquaponics beds.

If you have any questions go ahead and comment below and I will try to answer them for you.  Thanks for watching!

If you are interested in seeing the growth of the lettuce beds, check out Aquaponics Lettuce Growth is Amazing.

Aquaponics Tips and Tricks Video 1

Are you a beginner, looking for some Aquaponics Tips as you start?  One Aquaponics Tip that I am excited to share with you is regarding leaks because of uneven pipes.  Check out the video!

 

Transcript:

So today I wanted to show you a little tip/ trick with my Aquaponics system.

So here, I actually am going to back out a little bit, I have my fish tank here and this is my lettuce bed.  The pipes, it’s a gravity flow so the water goes from this tank and it just flows from this tube, from this PVC pipe, and into the lettuce bed.

Well when it was plumbed there was some issues with leveling and we weren’t able to get the pipe completely level.  And the problem with that was that the water was dripping from here back and when it hit the tarp here it would go straight down. Well that’s wasting a lot of water.  It wasn’t all the water but it was enough of a drip that it was wasting water.

So what we ended up doing is we tied this zip tie right here onto the pipe.  You can actually see right here we actually tried to pull it down with some string and it wasn’t being as efficient as we wanted it to.  So we ended up tying the zip tie onto it.

And what that does is it’s a conduit to allow the water to go from there and straight down the zip tie. It then drips down into the grow bed and we are not losing any of the water from the fish tank.

Which I was hoping that would be a helpful tip or trick  for someone starting out a system because I know that those little leaks can be frustrating and eventually they add up. So let me know if that trick helped you in the comments, thanks!

If you are still in the building stage, take a look at our informational posts about How to Cut an IBC and How to Plumb an Aquaponics System.

Water Waster! Water Waster!

When I was growing up, my older sister and I would relentlessly tease my younger brother about wasting water.  He would let the faucet run while brushing his teeth or while doing the dishes or would take long showers.  And we were probably harsh about it.

Now, I guess he can start chanting “water waster” at me.

spray_of_waterThe other day my family and I were out in the garden. I was harvesting lettuce (a huge batch!) and my husband was feeding the fish and topping off the sump tank.

And then we went inside.  Without turning off the hose.  I didn’t notice the flooding…all…day…long.

22 hours after we were in the garden last I noticed out the window that the pump wasn’t running. Upon investigation I realized our grave error.  The pump cord had been sitting in water and eventually shorted out. Luckily it had just tripped a breaker and we were able to still use the pump after resetting everything.

Our full day of the hose running had completely flushed our system.  Completely!  Since the hose water was running into the sump, the sump pumped all the hose water into the fish tanks and all the good fishy water flowed into the garden beds and back into the sump where it then overflowed the edges.

I was very relieved to see that our Tilapia had survived the system flush but our poor Koi couldn’t handle the transition.

Fish are very particular about their water.  High fluctuations in the pH levels can be deadly for them.  And so it was.  We unceremoniously dumped the Koi into the garbage, but we were very sad to do so.

So, a word of warning- don’t abandon your sump tank while the hose is running.  If you do, be aware that you could lose all your fish.  And you’ll have a super high water bill to boot…

Back in Alignment

A few weeks ago we discovered that our fish aren’t growing fast enough to support the plants we have growing in our garden.  We sadly watched as our peas seemed to all die off and our corn stopped progressing and our tomatoes, squash, and bell pepper stopped growing their fruits.

If you don’t remember, we came up with several solutions that we could use for our garden.

1. Pull up some plants

2.  Buy more fish

3. Feed the fish more food even though they seemed to not be eating

4. Wait it out

AquaponicsGrowthPeasNone of the options seemed ideal. This is what we ended up doing:

From the point we realized there was a problem we started feeding the fish twice a day. Rather than feeding them a larger quantity at one time, we increased their feed by splitting the feedings.  We also purchased 20 feeder gold fish and tossed them in the sump tank.  And then we waited.  In the process, several of our pea plants died (akin to pulling them up…).  So in essence, we did a combination of all four solutions.

What actually worked?  I’m pretty sure that feeding the fish the increased amount is what actually pulled the system back into alignment.  The feeder goldfish were so tiny and they kept getting sucked into the pump. All of them were dead within a week.  I’d assume if we’d purchased larger fish, they might have made a dent in the problem.  Some of the plants dying off definitely helped a little bit.  Unfortunately.

I was pleased to see that the peas are re-sprouting at the base of the stalks.  So, not all is lost.  And its an interesting turn of events as well! Our lettuce is also growing twice as thick now as it was before!

I’m grateful that this experience wasn’t as painful as it originally seemed it would be. And now I know what to look for if this ever were to happen again.

Yellow Leaves In My Aquaponics Grow Bed

Just over a week ago my husband and I walked out into our garden and were slightly dismayed to see that some of our leaves had yellow spots on them.  Oops.  We thought we knew exactly what was wrong and we thought we knew how to correct it too!

yellowing squash  So we trooped on over to our local Aquaponics store and picked up some Liquid Seaweed with Iron.  Iron is one of the few nutrients that fish don’t give your plants in a system so sometimes, depending on your specific circumstances, you need to supplement.  We poured half the bottle of liquid seaweed into our system and walked away, sure that all the tank needed was that extra iron and the leaves would be green and thriving by the next morning.

We were slightly dismayed to find we were wrong.

We put the remainder of the bottle of the liquid seaweed into our system and thought that would help…it didn’t.  Then we got to speculating.  And we realized what the problem really is.  Its this- there isn’t enough nitrogen for our plants to live off of and
so some of the leaves are dying.  Sadness.

yellowing peas - CopyNitrogen? I hope I didn’t lose you at that.  Nitrogen is the stuff that the fish put out, after the beneficial bacteria has transformed it into a form the plants can eat.

The problem is that our plants outgrew our fish.  Although we have 100 fish, they are not growing and they are hardly eating.  They just can’t keep up with putting out the amount of waste our system needs to support the plants.

At the moment we really have only a few solutions-

1.  We could rip out some plants.

2. We could purchase more fish.

3.  We can feed the fish higher quantities, even if they aren’t eating the food, the food will still break down into nitrogen at some point.

yellowingoregano4. We can wait it out and hope for our plants to survive long enough for the fish to grow.

At the moment we don’t really like option 1 (that would be a sad day!) Option two runs into problems in the long run because those fish will get bigger and there might be too much waste or not enough room for all the fish to grow. Option 3 will be an expensive way to add more nitrogen into the water.  Option 4 could ultimately kill half our garden.

We are thinking we will probably do a cross between 3 and 4, feeding our fish twice a day for a week or so and see if that’ll help things. (At the moment our fish don’t seem to be eating anything, most of their food continues floating on the top of the water after each feeding…thats probably why their growth isn’t in line with the plants.)

Its always interesting to me that as much experience as I’ve gained in backyard aquaponics, I’m still learning.  Something new comes up every day!

On a positive note, we are seeing several bell peppers growing, several of our edemame plants and bush beans are putting out fruit, our peas are starting to bud in a few places, we’ve gotten a few strawberries and one huge zucchini!  Its so exciting to be able to walk into my back yard and pick something for dinner that night.

Do You Know What This Is?

Do you know what this is?

LettuceHarvest.jpg
This is my first harvest of lettuce from my Aquaponics Garden! It tasted *Divine*.  I ate it as a chicken salad with croutons to boot.

By the time I was done, I was longing for the rest of the bag of lettuce but decided I really want to save it for a second salad!

We planted this Lettuce in the middle of March, exactly 4 weeks ago.  This was the lettuce bed yesterday morning, showing an incredible growth rate:

Lettucegrowthb.jpg

At this point we have two squash plants that have female buds on them.  We are watching daily for their flowers to open to make sure they get pollinated.  We also have one bell pepper that is growing really well and almost a dozen buds in the process of opening!  Our Edamame and Beans are getting really tall and I can’t wait to see them start flowering, although I suspect we still have a few weeks for that to happen.

We have 5 tomatoes but they aren’t growing all that fast.  I’m not exactly sure what they need…I’m suspecting that our system is not mature enough to really help the tomatoes with all the nutrients they need.  But last year our tomatoes did this same thing and it took through the summer for them to start producing. So I’m being patient and waiting to salivate over those tomatoes!

It is really peaceful to sit in our garden and just feel it.  Have you ever done that? Just sit in a garden and feel it? Its almost as if I can detect their growth and feel the vibes they put out- peaceful vibes.  My husband and I frequently go out to the garden to just look at the plants and listen to the water. It helps fortify us for the rest of the day.

Aquaponics Lettuce Growth Is Amazing

One thing that is so cool about aquaponics is that the growth is amazing, compared to regular dirt gardens.  We planted our garden three weeks ago and you wouldn’t believe the growth we’ve seen!

Here is our Aquaponics lettuce:

Lettuce Growth Day 10 Day 21

This is a side by side, showing the growth of our lettuce at 10 days and at 21 days. These beautiful leaves will be ready to eat in only a few more weeks!

Aquaponics Bell Peppers Growth Day 1 Day 28
We bought the pepper plants already growing so their growth comparison might not be as shocking, but in the 3 weeks we’ve had them, they have chosen to start setting fruit! There are several buds on this plant. (You can also see the edemame in the background!)

Aquaponics Garden Bush Beans Growth Day 21
 Our bean plants are starting to grow really tall as well.  We have already harvested a small handful of strawberries and we have 5 tomatoes growing.  Our corn is pretty staggered in its growth but the tallest plants are about 5 inches tall already.

Aquaponics is such an amazing way to garden.  I’ve already touted the benefits of using less water overall and now you can see that aquaponics helps grow food faster as well.  There are a lot of companies who are turning to hydroponics or aquaponics as a way of feeding large groups of people for much less cost and much higher efficiency.  Typically they stick with leafy vegetables because they grow the fastest in these system, but I’m sure we will be seeing a greater variety of produce being grown commercially through aquaponics and hydroponics.  My local Costco stocks an amazing lettuce that I could eat all day, every day, that is grown hydroponically.  When I buy it, I like to think I’m promoting something I really believe in!