Though we desperately needed rain this winter, the one positive aspect of no rain was it afforded me the opportunity to experiment with different types of aquaponics systems!! My first design began with a 275 gallon IBC tote. With a few simple tools, I was able to cut the top from the tote, flip it over, and assemble. A few pieces of hose, a pump, a couple of bags of baked clay pebble, and I was in business! Because I already had a mature system to help establish a thriving bacterial colony (more on that later), I had this system up and running and full of fish and baby vegetables within three weeks!
The second design came as a gift from my neighbor! I had been studying ways to reduce nitrates in the fish tanks. Nitrification, the cycle of converting ammonia to nitrite and then to nitrate, is the driving force behind aquaponics. (I’ll post more about that in detail later.) Though plants l o v e nitrates, at high levels fish do not. My neighbor, in our many discussions over my “projects” decided he had the perfect “thing”. Within a few minutes, he returned with an item that looks like a lid for a 5 gallon bucket, but instead of a lid, it was actually a basket; a basket that fit onto a 5 gallon bucket like a lid! In the basket, I placed baked clay pebbles, planted a tomato, and then proceeded to pump water from my fish tank to the basket, which drained back out of the bottom from a hole I created… hence, project #2. Having one 5 gallon bucket growing one large tomato did indeed help reduce the nitrates in the fish tank. As the water was pumped into the basket, the nitrate loving tomato lapped it up. What returned to the fish tank then was a filtered, much lower in nitrate content, water that the fish now loved! That got me thinking about the third project. 😀 The gutter aquaponics system was born!
For project #3, I had one 55 gallon tank left that needed some help with reducing its nitrate content and I L O V E pesto. (I will make the pesto connection in one moment.) So off to Lowes I went to collect some pvc pipe, a couple of 10′ sections of gutter, bulkheads, flexible tubing, a pump, aaaand some basil plants. 😀 I needed to design a system where the water could flow from my fish tank, to the gutter, into a reservoir, and then be pumped back to the fish tank once again. With the help from my good friend, Professor Google, I was able to design a syphon to get the water from the tank to the gutters. I controlled the water flow with valves so not to overflow and drown the basil plants, plumbed the gutter so it could drain to a reservoir, set the pump up on a timer and voila, project #3 was up and running. (…and pesto was in my near future!)
Though I am proud of my designs, each of these projects provided me with plenty of frustration and bouts of profanity. The good news is as I struggle, I learn. My ambition is to become proficient enough to share intelligently with you so that you too can grow your own fish and vegetables organically, but hopefully with much fewer bouts of profanity! Please watch in the near future for posts regarding specifically how to build each of these three systems, as well as posts on the many aspects of running a successful aquaponics system.