Aquaponics Adventure Mark II Part VI

Aquaponics - No Comments » - Posted on July, 2, 2008 at 9:43 pm

A continuation from part V.

I’ve learnt a fair bit since the last post. The first thing I learnt is that it’s too cold in the canberra winter to have aquaponics outside without some sort of heating. See the bacteria stops working at around 8 degrees C, and my water temps are now consistently below 8. This means that the essential ingredient of the system is effectively offline. The result is that you get high Ammonia (which is toxic to fish) and low Nitrates (which is essential to plant growth). When the plants arn’t getting enough Nitrates, they look like this:

i.e. Not healthy.

So for this to be succesful over winter, I need to get those temperatures up. So I’m going to build a dodgy little greenhouse over the top of it. This will double as a shadehouse in summer.

The second thing I learnt was what was causing that strange bloodying of the lips…

After reading about flexibacter I was able to say without a doubt that this was what was affecting my fish. I had noticed the ‘fungus’ like substance on some of the fish that died, and when the article said:

The natural course of “Mouth Fungus” is that the white fuzzies or patches are followed within a day or two by redness, ulceration and necrosis, which means that the mouth quickly turns into a gnarly mess!

I knew this was it. That and the photos look just like the symptoms I’ve seen. So now I know my enemy, I can do my best to look for signs and combat it.

The final thing I learnt was that english spinach actually sucks up salt:

Those little white specks are salt. I haven’t sprayed these buggers with salty water, my system runs with about 2 parts per thousand (ppt) of salt, and they’ve actually sucked it up and deposited on their leaves. Posting on the forums, one of the members said that english spinach does well in their salty bore water, and that it also sucks up heavy metals!!

Aquaponics Adventure Mark II part V

Aquaponics - 1 Comment » - Posted on June, 4, 2008 at 8:20 pm

This is a continuation from part iv .

I lost my transvestite fish pictured below. She/he died, possibly because the bloody lip was actually a broken jaw or something and it couldn’t eat.

Remember how I said “…and I reckon the nutrient problems are an easy fix… “, well I used a foliar spray of seaweed and fish emulsion, but I reckon I made it a tad too strong, because it seems to have killed my lettuce:

One step forwards, two steps back.

I have adjusted my reflector to try and reflect a bit more down, it seems to work pretty well. In the shot below, notice my shadow is cast on the plants, but they are still getting light from the reflection.

Temperature of the main tank has consistently been below 10 degrees. Which really isn’t that bad, but it means the fish arn’t very active and don’t grow very quickly. So I used some bits of left over polypipe to dodgy up another solar heater. This time I used the large surface of the colourbond fence to do the soaking up of the sun. It works, but not as well as the roof one of my hospital tank. Probably just to do with the amount of tubing (as you can see, I don’t have much).

Its providing lots of airation and the fish don’t seem to have noticed otherwise. One annoying thing is that the fish crap tends to settle on the far side of the tank now, which means it’s harder to siphon out when I’m vaccuming. I’ll have to adjust the angles one day.

I have also been investigating whether I can get my hands on some insulation to wrap around the tank. Apparently insulating will help a great deal. If all else fails, I might just procure some bubble wrap from work and wrap my tank up. Apparently it’s a good insulator!

Otherwise, the fish seem happy and are growing:

The plants still arn’t thriving as much as I had hoped, but they do seem to be picking up a little. Probably because I’m now feeding the gold fish larger doses, and twice a day, so there is more nutrients to be had. These photos were taken 1/6/08. Of course it doesn’t help that I had to strip most of the leaves of the lettuces because I’d burnt the crap out of them with my “foliar feed spray (of death)”.

We’ll keep a close eye on how well the burnt lettuce recovers (the one in the centre of the photograph below):

Aquaponics Adventure Mark II part IV

Aquaponics - 1 Comment » - Posted on May, 17, 2008 at 4:30 pm

This is a continuation of my photo blog of my aquaponics project. See part III to get up to speed on the story so far.

In my last post I said we’d keep an eye on this guy:

Well this is what he looks like now:

He’s healed, but dead. My girlfriend unplugged the bubbler in the hospital tank to charge the batteries for her electric bike. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice and I think this guy died of a lack of oxygen. I was pleased to see that the wound had healed though, but then I saw this fish:

Either it’s a transvestite, or it’s got bleeding lips. I queried the knowledge banks of the BYAP forums and the people there seem to think that it’s just fish fights. Nothing to be worried about.

Anyway, I decided that I should revamp the hospital tank to be like a little mini-system. Why do you need a hospital tank? Well, when you first get a new batch of fish, you want to isolate them somewhere and make sure they arn’t introducing disease into your established tank. So you put them in the hospital tank for a few weeks and monitor them. Also, if fish get sick, show signs of fungus, bacteria or even fish attack like this one, you can pop them in the hospital tank and hopefully give them a speedy recovery. There are few things that you must do to the hospital tank for it to be healing for the fish.

  1. The salinity levels must be higher than the main tank. The difference in salinity level helps kill off parasitic single celled organisms, as explained here.
  2. The water hardness should be comfortable for the fish.
  3. For diseases like ICH, the water needs to be heated to a temperature which speeds up the breeding cycle. Salt water won’t kill it while it’s in the fish, but if you speed up the breeding cycle, as soon as it hits the open water it will die. Since it needs to go to open water to develop, it will eventually die off in the body and won’t have reproduced, therefore your fish is healed. This is explained much better here.
  4. Lots of O2. According to the BYAPersSalt will slightly decrease the amount of O2 that water can hold.” And there isn’t a fish that complains about too much O2!
  5. Water conditions similar to the main system. One thing that seems to really knock fish around is changing water conditions. So if I drop my fish that are used to water of pH 7.4 into a pool of water with a pH of 6.0, they’re going to really struggle. So it’s quite important to get the systems in sync.

So here is my hospital tank:

The pump is pumping water up onto the roof of my shed, the idea being that it will collect a bit of heat from the sun to warm up the water. At the moment, the tank sits in full shade, all day, and is about 2 degrees colder than the main system. So the water gets pumped up onto the roof as a kind of dodgy solar heater:

And then returns back through a mini bio-filter:

It’s all covered up to stop it collecting leaves, and I’ve got the air stones for the bubbler in as well.

The main system seems to be doing OK. I got a reflective surface setup at the back of the bathtubs in the hope that it’ll help the veg, I am yet to angle it so it reflects the light down, but it should be reflecting some light as it is:

And the plants still seem to be growing slowly:

Aquaponics Adventure Mark II part III

Aquaponics - 1 Comment » - Posted on May, 13, 2008 at 1:23 pm

This is a continuation of the aquaponics adventure from part II.

It’s been a couple of weeks. We’ve had the system going, and we’re waiting for the bacteria to establish themselves. We know the system is going (“cycled”) when we see this:

That is, Ammonia (right) Zero, Nitrite (middle) Zero, Nitrate (left) > 0. This means the fish excretion Ammonia is being converted to Nitrate! It’s cycled.

But it’s not all plain sailing from here. Fish health is a major consideration, and here I was thinking my system was chugging along smoothly and I post in a thread on the BYAP ForumsI forgot to feed them this morn. Looks like they took it out on this little guy. I’ve entitled this picture “Look ma, no tail!” Watching him swim is funny.“:

And someone wrote back with “It is bacteria not fish attack (fin rot) if i see well on the pic.
Treat with salt quick before it goes further.

This guy ended up dying. I have treated my system with salts and have even built a hospital tank. But I’ve lost about 5 fish out of 74…

Here is another one that died. Notice the blood on the fins – once again, some sort of fungal/bacterial infection:

With these problems, it’s not good enough to treat the fish and hope it goes away, you have to find out the cause. I think water quality, low water hardness, and my fish feed being a couple of months out of date contributed to the problem. Apparently as fish food ages it loses it’s vitamin content. I’m pretty sure I’ve got the water conditions right, and I’ve bought more food, so hopefully the cause is no longer a cause.

However, there is this guy. He is currently in the hospital tank – I’m not sure whats happened to him, it doesn’t look the same as the fungal problems, I think it might actually just be because he’s the little guy and has been attacked by the other fish. I’ll report on his progress next post:

Anyway, the other end of it is the plants. So here is a quick update on their progress.

Here’s some spring onions and lettuce I planted on 5/4/08

Here they are a month later on 04/05/08:

This is actually pretty slow growing for an aquaponics system. And I have a few suspicions as to why – firstly, notice that in both shots the plants are in shade. I don’t think the vegies are getting enough sun, they need at least 6 hours a day and I suspect they’re not getting this. Secondly, fish provide Nitrate, but they can’t provide Iron, Manganese, Potassium, Calcium and all the other trace minerals needed by plants to grow. So I need to add something else – in this case I’ve added a splash of Seasol, and a tablespoon of Iron Chelate. I’m going to put a reflective surface up the back there to reflect a little more light onto the plants. That should fix the light problems, and I reckon the nutrient problems are an easy fix, so hopefully in the next month we’ll see much better growth.

Here’s a final pic of my fish getting a tasty treat of worms from my worm farm. Notice how clear the water is compared with part II – the socks have done their job:

Aquaponics Adventure Mark II part II

Aquaponics - 7 Comments » - Posted on March, 31, 2008 at 9:59 pm

This is a continuation of my Aquaponics photo-journal, part one is here.

This is the overflow from the main fish tank to the beds. Notice the pipe on the inside of the tank, this extends to the bottom and so when the tank “overflows” it’s actually sucking the crap (quite literally) off the bottom of the tank and dumping it on the beds. I’ve got a 50mm end cap with holes drilled in it on the end so no unsuspecting fish end up flapping about on some hot red rocks.

And of course the key ingredient to any Aquaponics system is fish. I had 70 goldfish (of various varieties) delivered last Friday.

I also re-plumbed the pump pipe to go through the side of the sump (instead of just sticking out under the lid). This allows me to put the lid on. The sock on the return pipe filters some of the dust and solids coming back from the beds.

My dog Archie usually jumps up on the sump and rolls over for a belly scratch, he came sprinting over whilst I was doing this work and my “Archie Nooooooooo!” fell on deaf ears as he leapt up onto the sump….except the lid wasn’t on….. and he plunged in and went straight under. He is the first living thing I’ve “harvested” from my aquaponics system.

I have run some black pipe from the outlets in the bed to the other end of the bed. My rationale here is that the solids coming out of the tank want to be as far away from the drain as possible. This means that the beds can do the best possible job of filtering out solids.

I used some old standpipe from system one to act as the last part of the pipe from the pump. Because it has holes in it, it creates a venturi effect which sucks air into the pipe before it goes below the surface of the water. This does some additional airation of the water, and stops the water siphoning back into the sump when the pump is turned off (by sucking in air and breaking the siphon effect). I plan on doing something a little less dodgy in the future.

I adjusted the standpipes so that they can handle more water by chopping off a whole side and making the holes down the bottom a little bigger. This increases the drain rate and means that it’s even harder to overflow. Note the adjustable “level control” implemented by the extra bit of PVC near the top.

This is then stuck in the beds, and has three states, empty (no photo), filling/draining (first photo), and overflowing (second photo).

The idea is that the water level rises to just underneath the gravel.

But doesn’t get too full. If the water rises above the gravel it gets direct sunlight which allows algae to grow. The idea is to keep the water out of the sun where possible. I still need some fiddling with my standpipes to get the level right.

The system works off a timer in my shed. Basically it’s a cheapo $2 Bunnings timer which turns the pump on for 15 minutes and then off for 45. I will need to run it like this for about a month for the system to “cycle”. A system is “cycled” once the bacteria needed to convert Ammonia to Nitrates has established itself. There are two types, one to convert Ammonia to Nitrites, and one to convert Nitrites to Nitrates. Once a system is “cycled”, Ammonia and Nitrites will be zero, and Nitrates will be present. At the moment, my bacteria aren’t established yet, and thus I have a ever so slight Ammonia reading!

Aquaponics Adventure Mark II

Aquaponics - 3 Comments » - Posted on March, 26, 2008 at 9:12 pm

Firstly, lets make sure you all know what aquaponics is all about. I won’t explain it well enough, so I’m not going to try. Lets just say it’s a cycle where fish and plants thrive in a symbiotic relationship where the fish provide the plants with fertaliser, and the plants clean the water for the fish. If you want to know more see these sites:

  • Joel Malcom has headed the craze in Aus and his site contains plenty of info as well as a lively forum. He also wrote a book for beginners which you can buy.
  • This free magazine is a great publication from the forum members at BackyardAquaponics, and a great intro to Aquaponics .
  • This page contains a pretty good summary of the process.
  • This guy seems to summarise the pros fairly well.

Little do you bloggers know, but my first Aquaponics adventure was a bit of a failed attempt. I think the main problem was that I was living in a rental, and thus I’d set it up at my parents house. This created all sorts of difficulties to do with maintenance and monitoring. It didn’t help that it was my first system and was flawed by design. Basically, if the power went out, the pump in my sump wouldn’t turn on and I’d lose about 500L of water into the neighbours yard. The fish were fine with this, but when I topped up my fish tank with water from the rainwater tanks, it changed pH, temperature, water hardness and all sorts of other parameters which the fish really struggled to deal with, and died.

So we bought a house and I’ve started setting up the Mark II system at my house. It’s what the BackyardAquaponics crew call a CHIFT PIST system – Constant Height In Fish Tank, Pump In Sump Tank. Basically the concept is that you have a large sump, in my case, 500L, which is the lowest point in the system (the sump) and houses a pump which pumps water up to the main fish tank. The main fish tank (in my case 1000L) overflows and the water runs out into the grow beds. These drain back to the sump, closing the loop. With this system, if the power ever cuts out, there is no circulation, but there is also no loss of water. So essentially it is more robust.

Here is a photo blog of my work in progress:

This is the site of the system, it’s behind the shed and that might throw up a few problems of it’s own (it might not get enough light) which I’ll have to deal with later:

Below we have some stills showing the back breaking work of digging the sump into the ground. This provides insulation and ensures that it is below the drains of the growbeds.

Below is the sump and fishtank in place. The sump is the green thing, the fishtank the black thing.

Then we have the growbeds. These bathtubs are filled with rocks which act as the biological filter for the system. In the photo below I show how I’ve raised them off the ground so that I get a height difference between the sump and the growbeds and also raise them up to a comfortable height to work with.

For draining the bathtubs I use a regular ol’ bathtub drain with the center thingo popped out.

Then a 40mm PVC adapter freakishly slots in that and makes a great seal.

And then my standpipe will fit into that (although this picture just shows some uncut 40mm pipe and the bathtub with some water in it – proof of concept though).

Put on the plumbers hat, plumb the overflow from the fish tank to the grow beds, and the drains from the growbeds to the sump. I use T’s in most places instead of elbows as it provides a “view port” into the plumbing and prevents any siphon effect from forming.

Then you have to wash the rocks to get all the dust and crap off them.

And you end up with two filled grow beds!

This is the reason you wash your rocks: GUNK. Look at this stuff, you really don’t want that in the bottom of your growbeds.

The concept behind a standpipe is that it sits inside the grow bed and drains at a steady rate. So when you have water coming into the beds at a greater rate than it is draining, the grow beds fill with water. When you turn off the water, the grow beds slowly drain. So that you don’t overflow the beds, you make it so that if the water ever gets above the level of the rocks, it just overflows into the standpipe and thus the growbeds can never overflow.

My standpipes have two small holes drilled in the bottom of the 40mm PVC pipe connector, and a large section cut out of the top with a PVC “C” to provide an adjustable overflow level control. In the photo below, the bottom of the standpipe is on the left, the top on the right. The bottom of the standpipe (left) slots in the drain of the bathtubs as seen above.

Now we don’t want the standpipes getting all clogged up, and we want to be able to remove them for maintenance. So we put in some 90mm PVC to protect it. We need to drill holes in this so that water actually comes through to the standpipe. Below is a picture of this 90mm PVC pipe sitting over the drain of the growbed without the standpipe in place (but that’s where it would go).

This is showing the water returning from the growbeds to the sump.

This is a work in progress, and as such there are still a LOT of things I need to do to get this system up and running. I’ve actually got a fair bit of it done and just not taken any photos, so we’ll see. I might just update this article, or I might post it in another. Either way, you’ll hear more about this aquaponics adventure in the next couple of weeks.

Aquaponics Revisited

Aquaponics - No Comments » - Posted on October, 23, 2007 at 9:42 pm

A couple of months ago I posted a progress report on my aquaponics…. well… actually I wrote it up and then FAILED to post it. So here it is. The data in this is a month or two old, but I did get several harvests from my aquaponics before it all fell to peices. Don’t worry, version 2 will be bigger and more robust. Anyway, on with the original post:

So you remember me talking about aquaponics? Well I’m not all talk you know. I have actually set something up and it’s been going for around 7 weeks. See my thread on backyardaquaponics (which is where I spend my time these days) and scroll down to the photos.

The jist of it is

Week 5

Week 7:

I’m starting to see some growth! I read an article that said that it takes a full year before a system is mature and working at full capacity, so should be some more good growth to come.


Aquaponics - 1 Comment » - Posted on January, 21, 2007 at 7:28 pm

Ok, for those who haven’t heard of aquaponics, this site gives you a good introduction on how the process works. I saw it on Gardening Australia once, when Joel Malcom was on there and it made so much goddamn sense that I thought I’d give it a go. Its like a little eco system of it’s own, almost a closed loop (you still need to feed the fish and provide sunlight). It uses less water than conventional veggie gardening because anything not used by the plants goes back into the tank instead of sinking into the earth. In addition to veggies, you get edible fish out as an end product. By virtue of the fact that it’s a closed loop it has to be organic. It’s a cool idea. I even went out and bought the guys book.
So this week I actually started. Here is my post on the backyard aquaponics forum. I’ve also uploaded some photos to my gallery. Check ’em out.

This is going to take me a long time to build, and even longer to get right. I’m going to try and do it on the cheap, so far it’s cost me all of $10, but I need to buy pumps, piping, and all sorts of other expensive bits. We’ll see how I go.