The OLD system

Aquaponics - 1 Comment » - Posted on November, 24, 2009 at 4:33 pm

The last time I talked about the old system was back in this post way back in Feburary. At the time, I’d just managed to figure out that Nickel was leaching into my water from the bathtubs, and killing all the fish. Not one to admit defeat (apparently the Gemmell family motto is – unbelievably – “Dying but not defeated”), I fixed up the system and it’s been running amazingly well every since. Here’s what I did.

I lined the bathtubs with bubble wrap and pond liner (EPDM), which is as safe as. The bubble wrap gives it an extra layer of insulation – you can imagine a metal bathtub would act like a massive heatsink, it’s in direct contact with the water, so it was inducing big temperature swings in the water which also stresses fish. So I killed two birds with one stone when I lined these beds.

The system had been left without fish, and even without cycling water, for about a month. So I was dubious as to how quickly it would recover. I was pleasantly surprised.

Just 10 days later.

A month later and they’re still growing strong.

The watercress is damn near escaping, and that bok choi you can see next to it ends up being this monster a good 4 months down the track (I was away!)

This was with a load of 50 trout. Notice how clear the water is – this system is a bit more mature, and seems to handle solids really well. The water is always sparkling clear.

I dunno what happened (brain tumor maybe?), but I didn’t take any further photos of the fish in this tank. Sorry folks.

The growbeds currently look like this:

We’ve eaten or frozen most of our trout – there are about 20 left in the big system, though water temps have been up as high as 26 degrees, so I don’t know how much longer they’ll live (but I’m going to find out!).

And it’s just not a blog post if I’m not in it looking like an idiot (note that this bag contains the only brown trout that I had in the system).

The moral of the story (if you got this far) – LINE YOUR BATHTUBS. It serves a double purpose – stops nasties from the bathtubs getting into your water, and helps heat retention.

Continuing AP Success

Aquaponics - No Comments » - Posted on October, 28, 2009 at 4:02 pm

It’s been a damn cold spring. I’m not really complaining because it means I’m able to keep my trout growing longer – once the water gets up past 24 degrees they’ll start to struggle. In the mean time however, I am harvesting about 10 fish a week. They’re up to about 30cm now. I have recently cleared out my growbeds to make way for the spring/summer veg. I had a LOT of flowers in there, and when I cleared it out I found celery underneath! Oh and a couple of artichokes which are starting to fruit.

Me and my growbeds. You can see the artichoke leaves sticking out the side there.

This is a shot of my aquaponic flowers in the first bed, with the second bed in the background.

A sweet pea flower.

Some kind of odd cricket on my strawberry plant (EDIT: It’s a Katydid which eats soft bodied insects, so it’s beneficial. I found out through this site).

This is one of the daisy plants. They outgrew everything, including silverbeet. Yes, I’m wearing a flower. Shutup.


5 Trout = 1kg. You can also see one I’d smoked the previous day on the left there.

Me + AP trout = happy.

Unfortunatley because I cleared out some of the bed it now looks like a bomb has hit it and is no where near as impressive. It’ll be back.

I have about 75 trout left. I’m currently exploring options as to what the hell I’m going to do with them all. I’m having just about every family member or friend over for a smoked trout dinner, but I’m still not going to get through them all (plus I’m going to be damned sick of them). Someone has suggested a vacume sealer and a good freezer…  it should keep up to 6 months in that. I think ideally I would like to cold smoke them as this preserves them.

I’ve been talking to a guy at work who’s big into trout. He’s of the opinion that the flesh is pale because it hasn’t been receiving enough Calcium. I’ve read this somewhere else as well – that you’re supposed to feed them yabbies and crickets and stuff to get them to have red flesh and strong flavour. Might have to start breeding yabbies….

Food And Fish

Aquaponics - No Comments » - Posted on October, 20, 2009 at 8:45 am
I can’t believe I didn’t post this before now! About three weeks ago I was able to finally eat fish I grew in my own back yard. It’s taken a good 3 attempts, but I’ve finally got through to the eating end of the season. I had some friends around and we fished out 4 trout, smoked them, and ate them with crackers.

All four are rainbow trout, the one at the bottom is a male which is why it has a deeper body shape, a hooked jaw, and milt:

Spring growth has kicked in, here’s me being an idiot in between my two growbeds:

Finally, smoked for 15-20 minutes and served with crackers.

I have another 93 trout left, so I might need a hand because trout don’t like temperatures over 24 degrees C (i.e. they die). So I have to get all 93 out and a batch of Silver Perch in.

Spring Aquaponics

Aquaponics - No Comments » - Posted on September, 16, 2009 at 9:09 am

Well, it’s spring. This throws up challenges for AP’ers here in Canberra – today we have a temperature range of 1-21. That’s 20 degrees C of temperature change in the day. We’ll see how my systems handle it, the 1500L system is 12 degrees and the 3000L one is 11.5 – both perfect for trout. I’ll check again tonight. Other mainenance – potassium does not get into the system easily, and nor do trace elements. Buffering with Potassium Bicarbonate will both buffer and add potasium, but it’s damn expensive (until I find a new source). So in the mean time, I’m relying on sea weed extract.

A friend came over on the weekend and REALLY wanted a fish to try out his trout smoking skills, so I let him fish one out (lucky dip) and this was the result.

A little over 200 grams and 24cm long(ish). I know there are bigger ones in there. But there are probably smaller ones too.I’ve got another 2 months of growth before it gets too warm for them!

Here’s some pics of the grow beds. Note that I’ve got a lot of native australian flowers in there – the two of us can’t possibly eat all the produce from these systems, so I have to “bulk it out” with flowers… I need to to dose them up with Potassium quick smart so they actually flower.

Here are some bad pics of the growbeds:

Brocolini went to seed as did the pack choi. We’ve been eating silverbeet solidly but it’s still outgrowing us. I guess I’ll take a few bags of it in to work to give away.

Fruits of my labour

Aquaponics - No Comments » - Posted on September, 10, 2009 at 4:45 pm

Well it’s that time again: Time for me to pose with vegetables from my Aquaponics system(s) here in Canberra.

A basket full of rocket and arugula:

Bok CHoi Ahoy!

Without the roots, 5.25kg

I ended up getting 10 mini bok choi plants off it, and a stack of massive leaves

So my aquaponics is obviously doing quite well. Fish are healthy and active:

Oh I should mention, the pH of the system was 6 or below when I got back from overseas – this was causing the plants to “lock out” trace elements. Not sure which one exactly, but I added a few kilograms of shell grit to the system which has buffered it back to 6.4 which is good for fish and plants (though I would like it a little higher).

The Good Aquaponics System – Part III

Aquaponics - No Comments » - Posted on August, 5, 2009 at 10:49 am

I’ve been overseas for the last 2 months, and the system has been under the custodian ship of the lovely Eleanor. She did remarkably well – the professional system is still going strong with zero losses. Unfortunately Ele turned the power off to the old system and forgot to turn it back on, killing all 50 fish. She was very upset. I wasn’t too worried, I seriously expected to return to zero fish, so I’m really happy to have 100.

The system is operating, but it was getting a little bit healthy. Nitrification is an acidic process, so the pH goes down, and you need something to buffer it. This is usually some sort of Carbonate. I had been using Potassium Bicarbonate, but obviously the buffering effect had worn off, because when I measured pH when I arrived home it was 6. And that’s as low as my test kit went, so who knows how low it actually was. Potassium Bicarbonate is quite expensive, so I went and bought 20kg of shell grit (commonly used for chooks), which is Calcium Carbonate (i.e. limestone, chalk, garden lime etc). I’ve put this in the beds and the pH today is 6.4. On with the photos:

The beds have filled out nicely

But the plants aren’t exactly healthy:

And some weeds have really taken ahold!

But I think this might be due to the low pH. pH has a big impact on uptake of nutrient. I’ve also dosed it with chelated iron (just incase).

Some of the fishes dorsal fins have gone white at the tips, so I’ve dosed with salt (it’s now at 4ppt) and I’m told that this is a sign of stress – could be pH again. Just as a side note, 4ppt in a tank of my size is actually 10kg of salt. That’s a bucketfull!

So they’re eating, and they’ve grown, and the plants are doing pretty well. The water temperature is between 6 and 10 degrees C, which is fantastic for trout. I haven’t had the growbeds freeze (I keep the water running the whole night) which means that the bacteria are still alive and doing their job. Things are looking good for an October harvest (touch wood).

The Good Aquaponics System – Part II

Aquaponics - No Comments » - Posted on June, 3, 2009 at 10:38 am

It’s been going well.

My pro system is going well. Haven’t had to deal with frost or sub zero temps yet. I’m away for 2 months starting 11th July though, so we’ll see how well it goes then =)

Fish and veg are growing as well as I could hope. I did have one minor hiccup which left 40 fish dead, I don’t even know what happened. In the morning they were fine, floating by the afternoon, a quick water change and they’re fine again the next morning…gah. These new systems are always so unforgiving. Anyway, forget that, since then it’s been going great guns, lets have a look:

The fish feed like crazy:

I’ve had some problems with clarity – it all started when I put seasol in, and then it just got darker and darker. However it’s clearing up now:

Nitrites are still about:

But the plants are going well (photos taken a week apart):

In that first photo I’ve harvested a whole bag of rocket just to thin it out a bit. As you can see, it’s bounced right back.

The Good Aquaponics System – Part I

Aquaponics, Ideas - No Comments » - Posted on April, 10, 2009 at 9:43 pm

Well. I said I was going to go bigger and better, and I have. I was going to bulid a pond but that kind of fell through – kind of a lot of work and in the end I decided I’d just fork out some cash and get “the proper stuff”. So I bought parts of a BYAP style system from and started setting it up. Now this system I attacked with a different mindset. Previously I had rushed to get things installed and going because I was working fulltime and rushing to get as much done on the weekends as I possibly could (in between soccer, doing the washing and cleaning and generally doing “life”). But this time I had 2 weeks off and I thought “I’m going to do this RIGHT”.

One of the best things about having “a good system” is that you can now relabel your old system “the dodgy system”. So I went to town on it and actually got it up and working well as well, which I’ll detail in another blog entry.

I’ve got about 177 photos uploaded here, but I’ll give you the condensed version of my efforts on the good system:

The site (complete with old system in the background)

The tank (note the grin)

Because I was doing this system “right”, I spent longer than I usually would prepping the site. This included painting the carport with potable water (i.e. safe) bitumen paint. This is because I didn’t want condensation or rain stripping some zinc from the metal and putting it into the system (which would re-introduce the heavy metal woes that I had to deal with in the last system. The motto for this system was “no risks”.

Yay, the plumbing is coming together. I used green pvc glue (which is used for potable water) to glue any connections going up to the growbeds (because it’s under pressure) and just silicon in the joints of the drainage connections.

Note some of the ball valves I have here. Firstly the one in the foreground is to flush some water back into tank (the pump is way too powerful for my needs) – this is angled such that the water is put into a whirlpool style action, the trout love moving water, and it also means that scraps and solids migrate into the centre of the tank where the pump is and end up in the growbeds. The ball valves in the background allow me to isolate the growbeds and connect it up to a hose so I can empty the tank.

This is the custom built growbed stand.

And the water coming off the hydroton when I first washed it. It’s nowhere near as much work to wash this stuff as it is scoria. Expensive, but it’s awesome to work with.

My growbed drains

And this is my overflow – it’s connected to the drain of the tank and is raised to the level I want for the max water level, past this it will overflow onto the garden.

The first inhabitant of my tank

This is the water distribution to the growbeds. I don’t know if this is strictly neccessary, but I’m not taking any risks, any “gunk” that comes out I want to be distrubted so that it can get broken down properly.

So enough with the setup stuff, lets see it in action. Here it is, with the water going, and a skimmer rigged up – it’s actually REALLY effective because of the whirpool effect. You may also notice I have some rope holding pipes together. That’s the only section I didn’t glue, I need to be able to rotate the angle of that return, so instead of using an expensive barrel union, I just used some rope to make sure the pressure doesn’t smash the fittings apart.

This was where I got excited and forgot my “patience” rule. I ordered 200 trout without cycling my system with something else. Anyway, here are the trout.

I netted 50 of ’em and chucked im in my old system.

The thing with trout is that they’re suicidal. Well OK, they jump. And when they’re not careful they tend to jump straight out of the tank. First I knew about it was when my dog arrived happy as larry with a fish sticking out his mouth.

So I got a AP hat made. I haven’t got a photo uploaded, you’ll see it in the next blog entry.

This is why it’s a bad idea to have an uncycled system and then add 200 fish. Ammonia. That’s at about 1.0. I saw it go as high as about 2.0!

It took nearly two weeks for it to start falling. No losses yet, but I’m writing this on holidays, and we all know that stuff goes wrong as soon as you go away. Nitrite readings were pretty high too, and some of the fish were looking a little worse for wear. I salted to 3ppt (which means dumping in 9kg of salt!), and when I left last night the fish were looking happier. More to come real soon.

Aquaponics Adventure Mark II Part VIII

Aquaponics - 2 Comments » - Posted on February, 12, 2009 at 8:55 pm

Once again, it’s been a long time between posts. Sorry about that. What can I say? I’m lazy.

The story so far can be traced from my last post. So whats news? Well, the short is this: Plants are great, fish are still not great. But before we begin, check out these little guys:

I’ve got no idea what bugs they are, but they’re pretty cool. Anyway, what were we talking about? Err… Vegetables growing in my Aquaponics system in Canberra.

Some evidence (for the unbelievers)

So in terms of vegetables, I think I’ve done quite well. I can’t use enough silverbeet, it loves it. The toms are ripening and I’ve eaten a few and they’re tasty as. Now the other side is fish. Well….. lets just say Christmas wasn’t easy on them. So remember I had those nice big fat ones? I went away over christmas, and the DAY before I left, I noticed they wern’t healthy at all. I think I’ve now completed the set and had every fish problem known to man.

It may be my only purpose in life is to serve as a warning to others. Time for the obituaries.

I don’t have much experience in this kind of thing, but I believe the redness like this fellow indicates ICH.

I believe this guy has Dropsy (it could also be “lateral line disease”). You can’t see it on the photo, but the other side of him is swollen out – he looks like he is pregnant on one side of his body. You can definitely see the hole in his side though. It’s got a secondary infection.

This is another one, fished out a few months later, with the same symptoms (this one was dead, where as the one above was still kicking). I think it’s Dropsy, but would be happy to be corrected. Dropsy is an internal bacterial infection.

The fish below has “hole in the head” which is bacterial too (probably all the same strain). You can see how some of the scales have peeled away from the skull there.

And then there’s the ones I killed due to stupidity. I put 2 in a bucket of salted water to try and get all the bacteria off them, and left them in there a little too long (i.e. I forgot about them for an entire day). So they died too.

I guess the worst time was over christmas. SO. Don’t give up. What went wrong? Why am I struggling with fish health? I think I have two reasons.

The first is the bloody weather. Fish don’t like it if water temperatures swing about all over the place. I think the fish gets stressed if water temps swing 5 degrees in a short period. Last saturday was 40 degrees in Canberra, today is 18 (min of 11). My system only has 1500L of water in it, and it’s all sitting up there exposed, with the bathtubs acting as heatsinks, so I think my swinging water temperatures are contributing to the problems.

The second problem is Nickel. Yes Nickel. I’m using bathtubs, and I’d heard that the enamel on some bathtubs contains lead. Obviously you don’t want that in a recirculating system, so I went and had my water tested:

So that doesn’t mean a lot to me, so it probably won’t mean a lot to you. But suffice to say, the guy on the other end of the line said “Your lead levels are fine, but your nickel levels are very close to the limit” (he was talking about safe drinking water). A quick search online found that Nickel can reduce a fish’s immune system in much the same way as Copper. So how the frig is Nickel getting in there?

Here’s a photo I took way back when I begun this project:

See that big nasty exposed area there? I reckon that’s sitting there, in the slightly acidic environment of my Aquaponic setup, and leeching Nickel into the water. Goddamnit. Someone told me that Nickel was often used to bind two metals, so it could be used to bind the enamel to the pressed metal underneath.

So what am I going to do about these problems? I’m going to go Bigger and Better.

The only way I can solve the heat problem is to move somewhere nearer to the coast? Nah, usually you solve those problems by adding more water mass. If it were 7000L instead of 1500L it would take much longer to swing. So my next system is going to have a much larger water body.

As for the Nickel, well, I could rip out the plants, take all the gravel out, line it with EPDM (pond liner) which is potable and would also insulate the bathtubs a little.

But I’m thinking, bigger, better. So I might just let this system run for a bit and see what happens, and I’ll start getting the next one up and going.

Aquaponics Adventure Mark II Part VII

Aquaponics - 1 Comment » - Posted on October, 28, 2008 at 8:50 pm

Well. It’s been a long time. A work colleague commented on my blog saying it was like reading the fish obituaries, and I got really discouraged and stopped posting. However my aquaponics adventure has continued, and I’ll quickly bring you up to speed since Part VI.

I’ve had ongoing flexibacter problems (the obituaries continue) – this sorry little sucker is just one example:

And when the “mouth fungus” really gets to ’em, it basically eats away the mouth completley:

I am working through my problems though. Salting the water helps fish to fight off bacteria, so I dosed it up.  I think another major problem I had is that Canberra is just too bloody cold:

So cold in fact that the running water froze at 10pm:

So basically my bacteria wasn’t active down at those low low temps, and so my whole system just wasn’t working. Ammonia was sky high, and nitrates were a big fat zero. So what do you do? You build a dodgy little greenhouse out of PVC and ebay greenhouse material:

Next winter I’ll enclose it fully, but since there was only a little bit of winter left, this would do me for now. I also created a mini “solar water heater” using some old sheets of glass and black poly pipe:

As water is pumped up from the sump to the fishtank, it passes through my “solar heater” and dumps a bit of heat into the fishtank. So heat in the Canberra winter is solved, what now?

What you’re seeing there is a strawberry struggling with salinity. Basically my system was sitting at 5ppt (5 parts of salt per 1000L of water). This is supposedly quite good for the fish, but the plants struggle a bit. Ahh the balancing act that is aquaponics. Reduce the salinity, fish get sick, increase it, plants get sick.

But it’s not all bad news. I reduced the salinity to less than 3ppt and I saw some relatively good plant growth-

6th September:

14th of September:

22nd September (notice I harvested brocoli):

So nothing truly fantastic, but it’s a start – not bad when you consider it’s been grown with no soil, and no additional chemicals. Whats more, I actually got some harvests from my system. I also seem to have also hit an all time low – I’m posing with vegetables:

However, I think the REAL exciting news is that a colleague at work was cleaning out his pond, and dropped off around 20 goldfish…. but these were BIG gold fish.

Just one of these goldfish is about the size of 10 of mine glued together (??) – it looks like “the mothership”:

By the way, this is in my hospital tank which I’d moved into the shed due to the fact that it was freezing freakin’ cold outside the shed. The idea was to leave these guys in the hospital tank (which is heavily treated with salt – about 8ppt) so that they de-stress a bit and hopefully don’t suffer the same afflictions as the current batch.

However, with so many LARGE fish in such a small tank, the ammonia shot up to 1.0 in about an hour!! Ammonia is poisonous to the fish, so I thought they’re safer in the big tank, so in they went. Of course I had to do the obligitory Rex-Hunt-style-photo-with-the-fish:

They are slippery little suckers:

I caught this guy, but I did manage to drop another on the concrete. He didn’t go into the main tank since he’d lost a fair bit of scales which leaves him open to infection. He stayed in the hospital tank.

So this is where I’m at for the moment, the big goldfish are providing a stack of nutrient, and the weather is warm, so I’m expecting some smokin’ growth, and I’m seeing signs that it might just be time:

18th of October:

25th October:

Which aint bad for a weeks growth (it doesn’t help that the second photo is taken further away). The fish are semi-healthy, a few lost scales in the process of being transferred, and i’ve seen some signs of flexi but I’m really hoping these big guys can fight it off.