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Self-Sufficiency Basics: Aquaponics

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posted on Jun, 6 2020 @ 09:41 PM
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This thread is going to try to cover Aquaponics in much the same vein as the solar thread. Meaning, Im looking to provide a quick look into the topic, followed by an easy-to-use shopping list. One criticism of my previous thread is that there was still too much info. Given that it was expanded upon anyway, Im going to try to keep this one more terse and info dense. Ill try to keep it system-specific, so wont be showing much maths (even simplified). Its a very massive topic though, so as you can see, still a long OP!

Aquaponics is a method of producing food that combines aquaculture (livestock like fish) and hydroponics (growing plants with water). The advantage of this is that we can produce a surprising amount of food in a relatively small footprint. The overall concept is also quite low maintainence once the system is actually setup and cycled for a bit. In essence, we are creating a small, self-contained ecosystem that provides what it needs on its own.

For our structure, we will be using what is called an IBC Tote. These are easily purchased used for $100-$150 (Craigslist is great for these). They come in a few sizes, but the most common is 275 gallon and thats what we will be using. It is very important to note though.. The concepts here are universal. You can design and build this any way you please. Do make sure it is a food safe tote, and ask what was stored in it previously! For instance, you can build a pond system for the fish, if desired. As a sidenote, IBC Totes can also work really well for rainwater collection and are stackable. If you connect them together, with the outlet on the lowest tank, you can even generate a good amount of pressure without the need for a pump.

The next piece will be the air pump. For this system, we are looking at ~30lpm (liters per minute). We will also need some tubing to run it, and some type of diffuser to better oxygenate the water. There are a lot of options here, as well as kits, but I would suggest dishing out a bit of money on this. Its one of those things that will end up costing you more if you try to cheap out. Anything made by Supreme, Danner, Matala, Hakko, or in that realm of pumps will work great. For everything though, we are looking at about $200 and the Matala MEA Pro 2 Plus kit would be my suggestion.

We will also need a water pump. This moves the water from the livestock tank back up into the grow bed. These are generally pretty inexpensive, so it can be wise to always have a spare on hand. We really only need about 150gph (gallons per hour) in this rig, but with adjustable flow rates, head height, and expandability in mind, we can go a bit bigger. I really like this 400gph pump made by Winkeyes. They have some nice features for the price and are not so expensive that getting an extra (or two) is cost prohibitive. Since we will be lifting our water about 3 feet, this 400gph will end up delivering about 250gph once installed. Piping for this can be handled with good 'ol PVC.

Now that we have the pumps and structure sorted, we will need a Bell Siphon for the Flood & Drain system we are putting together. This will go in the middle of the grow bed (with the plants) and will drain the water back into the fish tank once it reaches a certain height. This isnt a complicated piece, and we can DIY one out of PVC, but Smoky Mountain Aquaponics on eBay makes great stuff for a good price. For our system, we will look at the 12" siphon. This is the listing for one with a clear top, which is a bit more expensive..

The last piece for year round growing is the grow light. These have come a very long way in the past few years, and while they still struggle to compete with natural sunlight, they can make a lot of installations work reliably regardless of conditions. That said, if you can build the structure containing your aquaponics system(s) to let in natural light, definitely do so! There are a lot of routes to take, but since we are also looking to have this backed up, or run completely on solar/wind/hydro, LED is the way to go. This is an area where we can spend a lot of money, but its tough to beat these lights by Spider Farmer for cost efficiency. Lights like the Phyto-Max2 made by Black Dog LED are a great choice, but they also more than quadruple the cost of lighting alone. For LEDs, cooling isnt as much of a concern, but a clip on fan getting some airflow to it isnt a bad idea.

In the summer, keeping the tank *cool* is going to be our priority. However, the best ways to do this is through clever design or just simple evaporative cooling. With Tilapia, we are generally looking at 82F-86F, so we arent looking to keep it particularly cold. In the cooler months, this starts to require tank heaters as an easy solution, or even solar water heating for a bit more advanced solution. This will require roughly an 750w-1000w heater (about 5w per gallon, and we have ~175g tank) and having a bit of headroom isnt a bad thing if the outside temps really start to drop. With this much water, we have a good bank to store that thermal energy, but it can still get cold over time. A heater like this one can help us ensure that it never gets cold long enough to become a concern. For a bit more money, the Catalina RF-1000T is pretty standard for large tanks.

It can be a good idea to get a separate temp controller too, but that starts to get more complicated. If you wish to go that route though, you can get something like this Bayite Digital Temp Controller and the 800w Catalina. Ill be honest, Ive yet to actually find a tank heater I liked (though I DO like that Bayite Temp Controller.. Its handy). They tend to like to break, at any size tank.. So make sure to have a spare! That may seem a bit costly, so I wouldnt worry about it right off the bat. Just remember, we arent doing this so much as a hobby, but to provide supplemental sustenance for ourselves and our families
edit on 6-6-2020 by Serdgiam because: (no reason given)




posted on Jun, 6 2020 @ 09:41 PM
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The last item we will need is a grow media. We will need a good amount too. Very roughly 15 cubic feet (112 gallons, 425 liters). Yeah.. So thats a thing. One of the best is expanded clay, like Hydroton. However, if we add that up.. We are increasing our cost dramatically. The best method I have come across is a layered approach. We put larger river rocks at the bottom (3/4"-1"), pea gravel to fill in the rest of the bulk, and then a final layer of expanded clay. The actual ratios are not hugely important, but try to make most of it the pea gravel and expanded clay. I would suggest 100 liters of the Hydroton, and then go from there. We can purchase the pea gravel and river rocks online, but sourcing them locally will be extraordinarily cheaper (shipping costs!). The only thing to watch out for, and this is important, is that they have very, very limited amounts of limestone. Ideally none at all. Limestone will mess with our pH, and thats a pain. We can test this by using vinegar; if it bubbles, weve got limestone. Generally, we can pick this up locally for about $1 per gallon. This is likely to be the single most expensive item in the system.

A notable mention here is something like a swirl filter. In a smaller system like this, we dont really need to worry about it, but they are pretty easy to put together ourselves. We can also purchase them, and they can be made as decorative parts of the system, like waterfalls. Its a function over form type deal, but why not have both if we can swing it?

Now onto livestock & crops:
The general rule of thumb is 3-8 gallons per pound of fish. Thats a big range, but its dependent more on the bacteria colonies and the growbed being able to handle the nitrification process. We can technically raise any fish we want, but since the goal of *this* system is year round production for supplementing a family, we will be looking at Tilapia and freshwater Shrimp/Prawns. They both like the same temp regions, the same pH regions, tend to get along well (enough), and can grow to the harvest point quite quickly. For fish, we usually look at the 1 pound mark and for Tilapia, that takes a bit over 6 months and for shrimps/prawns it takes 4-6 months. Do note that we arent looking at a whole lot of prawns, less than half a dozen. It might even be better to look at them as tank cleaners more than an actual food source. Breeding can happen, but for higher chances of success, something like a prawn hatchery can be built.

The temp range for Tilapia is going to be 82F-86F (28C-30C) and they like a pH range of 6.5-9. General freshwater shrimp & prawns will thrive in ~60F-84F (~15C-29C) and a pH range of 6.5-8. Pulling out our calculators here, we can see that we want to keep our system at 82F-84F and 6.5-8 pH. We can actually go outside these ranges, by more than one might imagine.. but not for too long. To keep this in check, as well as keep our eyes on things like nitrites and nitrates, its best to get a testing kit like the industry standard API Master Test Kit. Its also not a bad idea to get pH Up & Down. As opposed to normal aquariums, or normal hydroponics, the system should take care of itself beyond that!

Crops are a massive topic all their own. Im hesitant to go too deeply into it, actually. Generally speaking, things like corn will not do great. Likewise, anything that grows a lot of roots very quickly can be difficult to deal with. Crops like taters arent a good choice either, but they can be grown in a Tater Box. Other than that, there really arent too many limits other than creativity and how much time you want to put into it. Something like strawberries can do great, but they can require a lot of plants to actually have meaningful yields. With that in mind, I would personally recommend some nice leafy greens like a Kale, and trying to fit some medicinal plants like artemesia annua in there too. Having something like a germination chamber can help a lot as well.

Now we get to the actual construction. Ill only give some general guidelines here. There are no steadfast rules. 1" PVC is your friend, and is a wonderful construction material in general. You want to avoid too much metal, as it can mess with the pH, but a little here and there isnt a big deal.

To create a tank and a growbed from the IBC Tote, we have to cut it. Its easiest to separate the inner plastic from the outer metal cage for this process. To create the growbed, we are going to measure down 14" from the top of the plastic tank and cut all the way around. We will do the same for the outer cage so that both the growbed and tank have the support. Dont worry too much about precision, unless your OCD will bother you later on..

We want to set it up so that the water cycles from the livestock tank to the growbed and back again. The simplest way to do this is to place the growbed directly on top of the tank. This can be done anyway you want, but make absolutely certain that whatever you build can support the growbed with media, plants. and water! It can also be a good idea to make a cutout on the front top of the tank so we can access the fish & prawns easily.

The bell siphon is easiest to install right in the middle of the growbed. This will just drain directly into the fishtank. Then, to get the water back up, we need to run tubing from the submersible pump in the tank so that it will pour out into the growbed. This can be done with PVC quite easily, and the easiest would just be a single pipe running from the water pump vertically to a 90 degree fitting that pours it into the growbed.

Our air pump goes into the livestock tank, and will pretty much work anywhere we put it. However, if we are going to make life a bit easier on the fish through things like structures and objects (which can also help the prawns/shrimp hide, the younger fish run around, etc), we need to make sure that wherever it goes isnt obstructed.

Our heater can technically go anywhere, but to produce as even temps as possible, we should place it somewhere that will circulate the most, but also in a spot where the fish do not have easy access. Because we are dealing with a (roughly) square tank, this presents a bit of a challenge. However, we can divert some water from the water pump, or air from the air pump, to move the water however we wish.

Now we just place the media in the growbed in whatever fashion we desire, filling it up about 12" The idea isnt to completely submerge things though, so keep that in mind. We want an inch or two of media that stays dry to prevent the growth of algae, etc. There are other ways to achieve this too, but the most straightforward is to leave the top bit dry. Now, before we really get going, it is a good idea to try to run the system to rinse the media. We can even build a little PVC pipe system that runs where the bell siphon would be, rinse it with a hose in the grow bed before we even construct the system, use sieves, etc. The idea is to wash away as much debris as possible.
edit on 6-6-2020 by Serdgiam because: (no reason given)



posted on Jun, 6 2020 @ 09:41 PM
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Once we have our media in place and clean, we can start the beginning stages of cycling the system. What we want to achieve here is a thriving ecosystem of everything from plants and fish, to bacteria (called a biofilter). This can take a while to achieve (a few weeks), and there are no hard and fast rules. Letting the system run for a few days without any crops or fish is wise though; we want any residual stuff from the media to dissipate, as well as any chlorine or other chemicals if we have used tap water to fill the system. We can use the API test kit to get a read on progress. The cycle of our ecosystem here is that the fish waste creates ammonia, which is converted to nitrite by bacteria, and the nitrites are converted to nitrates by other bacteria (nitrification). We want the nitrates to feed the plants.

Once we have the base going, its time to add some fish to really get that nitrification going. It doesnt take many at this stage, and Ive read about people even using goldfish to kickstart things, as they are very hardy, or adding bacteria colony starters directly. We will be checking ammonia, nitrites, and pH levels until they get where we want them. We can expect to see a lot of fluctuations, but when all is said and done, the bacterial colonies handling the ammonia and nitrites should keep those levels ultra low, and the plants should be taking care of the nitrates. Nitrates arent as much of a concern, but it can be a good idea to watch them all the same. In fact, once our system is healthy and has been healthy for a month or two, nitrates will be the one we test most frequently! If the system is producing too much nitrates for the plants to take in, the issues are not always as apparent as if the nitrite or ammonia levels are high. When we test for nitrates, we want to see a bit over zero, but not higher than 20ppm. If it reads zero, that means the plants could probably use more nitrates. Adjusting that can be done in a lot of ways, but it all goes back to fish poo and bacteria biofilters. If we have an established, healthy system.. a lot can be adjusted simply by how much we feed our fish. We can also adjust it at the other end by changing how many plants are in our grow bed.

And that about covers the basics! Basically, we are looking at right around $1k. Thats a good chunk of change, but given what a system like this can do for us, it is well worth the investment. Next up will be sharing more of my automation work. I basically have to start it back over from scratch, but its a key component to truly making some of these systems accessible for as many people as possible. Something like an aquaponics system is largely self-contained, but with more difficult crops, large crop variety, and even harvesting, it can be made a lot more effective with some code!

TL;DR: Quick Reference

Aquaponics System: $958.41(Not including crops/fish and can certainly change over time!)

Structure:
    IBC Tote (Craigslist): $150

Air Pump & Fixins:

Water Pump:

Bell Siphon:

Grow Light:

Heater:


Grow Media:

    Pea Gravel/River Rock (local): 80g @ $1/g= $80

Testing:


Crops & Livestock
    No links.. But you can actually get Tilapia fry on places like eBay. Its not as crazy as it sounds! Water isnt compressible, and if the seller is worth their salt.. They will pack it in an insulated bag to make sure temps stay as stable as possible.
    For crops.. We can look at either seeds or starter plants. Small plantlings will be quickest and "easiest," but also cost more. Seeds are less expensive and can be stored, but take more time and effort. When getting started, its not a bad plan to jump right to lil plantlings and then have seeds on hand. For seeds, a germination station can be quite useful.

edit on 6-6-2020 by Serdgiam because: (no reason given)



posted on Jun, 6 2020 @ 10:56 PM
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If what you state about the tilapia is true - pH between 6.5 to 9, then for most every region of the US, the pH up and down should be unnecessary. Fish are generally very adaptable to a range of pHs, water hardness is much more important a measure for breeding purposes as it will sometimes impact the viability of eggs.

The most important thing for good fish husbandry is stability. So the best way to ensure that is to make sure that whatever your water parameters are, you keep them there. Larger water bodies are easier to maintain and more resilient to change over time (lose/gain heat more slowly, are more chemically stable), so they will be easier to start with than a micro-system like a 5g tank would be.

But when you start to tinker with your water with chemicals, you introduce an extra variable that impacts stability.

If pH is going to be an issue, it might be more with your while to investigate RO water systems that can produce completely neutral water for your base which lies easily within your acceptable range. I don't think that would be necessary with a hardy fish like a tilapia for most people.

I've ordered fish online many times. It works, and I've ordered rare Tanganyikan cichlids. Generally, they come overnight to the nearest airport or direct to you and you have to sign for them.

Make sure the system is set and cycled to handle fish before you add them.

I do this on something of the small scale every summer with a 40g stock tub. I'm not growing crops obviously, but I do have a water lily and take cutting of my aquarium plants. I run a simple sponge filter and throw in some fish for mosquito control. They generally all thrive together beautifully ... unless a local raccoon gets the munchies.



posted on Jun, 6 2020 @ 11:44 PM
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a reply to: ketsuko

The issue with the pH comes more from the grow bed, the biofilter there, and any materials that might be in there. Particularly small pieces of things like limestone if using river rock.

Arguably, the pH is more important for the crops than the fish. Most plants are going to be happiest at the lower end of that scale (5.5-6) and for testing pH in an aquaponics system.. We are actually generally going to test the water draining from the growbed before it hits the tank(s).

Its a really good point about tank size too. It seems that most assume a smaller tank is easier to deal with, but its a smaller system and therefore less stable.

If you already have tanks, youve already got a great foundation and a lot of the work done. Particularly if you do something similar during the summer. Theres nothing saying you have to eat the fish.. or the plants for that matter! But, it can be a good way to grow fresh herbs, etc. year round.

All you would need is a pump, some way to return the water, and a growbed. Theres so many ways it can be done.. Im actually a bit surprised it hasnt caught on more with aquarium enthusiasts in general. Its a pretty clever thing.. Its modern form is only decades old, but the concept goes back civilizations.

Im not sure what your cichlids eat, but with a crop and grow bed, you can actually either grow the crops the fish will eat right in the system, as well as the addition of something like red wrigglers depending on diet.

I really appreciate the knowledge you bring though, I would guess you know more about the fish side of things than I do. Thats a relatively recent interest for me (last couple years).



posted on Jun, 6 2020 @ 11:54 PM
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a reply to: Serdgiam

I'm somewhat close in the sense that I am growing a creeping Jenny plant out of the back of one of my two HoB filters. The things has taken over the entire top of my tank in the nearly year it's been in there. It's sort of a pest in the sense that it chokes the light out from reaching down into my tank it's so thick, but the fish love it because of the cover it provides them.

I'm not as deep into the hobby as I was before we had our kiddo. I only have my patio pond and a lone 55g now. I used to have a lot of tanks prior.

Recently, hobbyists have been getting into growing emersed systems (plants grow partially under water and partially out of water). The entire system is shallow with maybe a waterfall type setup for the filter to feed back through. They will screen the back and sides with bog plantings.

And another trend has been to grow plants out of the backs of the HoB (hang on back filter) because the plants help filter out excess nutrients from the water. Most people use pothos or bamboo. I tried the creeping Jenny because I happened to have some hanging out from the pond after last summer.

I'd say the hobby is trending in that general direction over time as hobbyists try new challenges with plants and livestock.


edit on 6-6-2020 by ketsuko because: (no reason given)



posted on Jun, 7 2020 @ 12:31 AM
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a reply to: ketsuko

I remember seeing that filter type before, but havent used one myself.

Whats interesting is that they pretty much look like a tiny lil growbed to me. I mean, size/construction/etc. arent quite there, but I have no doubt plants thrive in them. I would even think with a little DIY, one of those could be converted to an actual growbed relatively easily. Its got a lot of the pieces built in, maybe just change the filter material to something like a hydroton in a shallow bed.

And yeah.. I would think with a kid, hobbies take a bit of a backseat
Aquariums can be a pretty good amount of work too. Aquaponics tends to be relatively self-sustaining once its healthy, but it also doesnt tend to be particularly attractive unless its specifically designed with that in mind. We are essentially talking about plastic tubs and PVC here lol

Ill be messing around with a lot of automation stuff with my system, but I figure that once that starts to be more finalized, Im really going to start looking at aesthetics. There is just way too much potential there, with so many people doing incredible things with aquariums for a bit of inspiration.

Id really like to setup a pond system myself, but not so sure there is the space for it. A clever stream/rivulet system might work though.. And it could provide some great nutrients for everything from the "normal" garden to the lawn. Havent looked too much in that direction though.
edit on 7-6-2020 by Serdgiam because: (no reason given)



posted on Jun, 7 2020 @ 05:03 AM
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a reply to: Serdgiam

It's a good idea to have had practise with a small system first , ie the balance going out which it can , on something large scale is a liability , well , the liability , would a worse problem .

Check you can actually buy tilapia too . When I did they were impossible to find , even eggs were bought before they were laid.

Don't go for one pump and one grow bed is my advice , diversify. Same for aerators, have more than one diffuser . In which case you need pipe splitters .

With a lot of water you need a lot of filter medium , and you might need to add or take away to get the substrate right. Big volume systems often use a race , something you in which you can add pots too where the compost wicks up the water and nutrient , a race is easy access b cause you'll be dealing with the plants a lot more than the fish.

Fish food is something you didn't factor in op and they'll eat a lot. Tilipia eat plants too do grow something for them .

Some plants go wild in hydroponics , not in a good way , but reversion , massive greenery with actual sour tomatoes is possible. Good for filtering rubbish for eating.

Herbs that like water , lettuce , greens of all kinds those are the best crops , and you don't need that much water to produce a lot. Go stock heavy when comes to fish or you get weak plants , and remember back up ... Have a spare normal systemfor if things go wrong , protect the fish stock first , plants are expendable.

Lastly although you can go o n all day , aquaponics can feed into other systems , part of diversification.
For example cuttings , say basil tops, root very quickly indeed shoved in hydroton which is half submerged in the tank with bubbles running up into the net pot , or just straight in the grow media anyway. That way you could propagate hundreds of cuttings for a garden , most cuttings root very quickly in that water, Dont use any hormone powder obviously . I've rooted fushia plants all sorts in aquaponic hydroton and can guarantee it happens well quick like 2 days max whereas other methods might take a week or two and fail .

ETA are you sure you want to bring a whole ibc inside ? As in you need a bank of grow lights to cover that much water that's alot of grow medium , a roomfull ?and think of aesthetics first if it's inside.
Maths only goes so far in appropriating balance you must also think in real terms and where you're trying offset and balance water volume , fish numbers , medium volume , surface areas , plant growth rates , heat variables , harvest replacements , all kinds of things , there's no set formula and no replacement for original exprrience , you see aquaponics done wrong as well as right . Have you tried it before ?

Not to wet your fire but sometimes getting really simple is better , growing a shed load of wheatgrass to dry off of one tank of densely packed fish is much less time consuming long term also. Aquaponics works on a minature scales as well is what im saying an Ibc is a whole lot of water to bring inside.


edit on 7-6-2020 by DoctorBluechip because: (no reason given)



posted on Jun, 7 2020 @ 05:57 AM
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a reply to: Serdgiam

Interesting reading to be sure! Great post!

After doing a little additional research there's one subject I think you may have left out, and another which you may not have stressed enough (although you did mention it).

Left out - How do you deal with evaporation and water loss? Here, something like this would be a major consideration due to the low humidity levels. Specifically, what is your process for introducing water lost to evaporation

Perhaps didn't stress enough - Tilapia are a tropical fish, requiring a tropical environment, so heating could be a major issue depending on latitude and humidity. Large water mass rarely, if ever, gets much above the low 70's here, and when you couple this with the evaporative cooling effect of low humidity, heat would be a constant issue. In other words, unless you have a massive waste heat source or some significant solar arrays you're going to be dumping a lot of money into electric heating 24x7.

Again, great post though, and thanks in advance.



posted on Jun, 7 2020 @ 07:17 AM
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What is a good flood cycle?
(How often do you fill/drain it in one hour?)

You said 12 inches deep: if you use a smaller system, is the depth important?


Please talk about your experience about crops:

Obviously lettuce is a good idea, you mentioned kale, I'm guessing spinach, cabbage etc as well. My mum has successfully grown tomatoes (her system consists of an aquarium and 1m long balcony planters), but she has problems with nearly everything else.

Do you have experience with peas and beans?



posted on Jun, 7 2020 @ 07:30 AM
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a reply to: Flyingclaydisk




Perhaps didn't stress enough - Tilapia are a tropical fish, requiring a tropical environment, so heating could be a major issue depending on latitude and humidity.


That's not so much of an issue when combined with a greenhouse/grow dome and geothermal climate batteries.




posted on Jun, 7 2020 @ 07:46 AM
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Something else that I've seen some hobbyists do for their fish is build relatively simple greenhouses out of PVC and plastic. That might help with the issues of keeping in moisture and maintaining heat at least in the winter. In the summer ... well, that might be an issue depending on where you are, but some designs I think are designed to be somewhat modular or temporary to the point where you can take them down and/or remove as needed.

Another fishy thought is to look at different species of catfish. Obviously, you are not wanting the ones that get monster large, but some of the native bullhead are still decent eating and stay relatively small. With a catfish, how muddy they taste is in relation to their water quality. It's one of the reasons that people who catch the really, really big ones will tend to pay to tank them for a time to clean them out before eating them.

Catfish also tend to be easy to feed and fairly hardy.
edit on 7-6-2020 by ketsuko because: (no reason given)



posted on Jun, 7 2020 @ 08:00 AM
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I find aquaponics unnecessarily complex, inefficient and unstable.
A simple drip system into rockwool is much easier. It goes through about 5 gallons of water a week on about 20 plants.

Good write up though.



posted on Jun, 7 2020 @ 08:24 AM
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a reply to: Mandroid7

Aquaponics would have the net benefit of getting you protein alongside the plants.

Honestly, without factoring in the plant side of things which I am not good at, getting a stable fish setup is pretty simple. I would imagine that once you find the balance for plants too, it's not hard.

My aquarium with plants and fish has been more or less running itself with a weekly to biweekly water change for months now with no hiccups. The fish are thriving and spawning, and the plants are going well. My outdoor pond also does well.

I always water my potted plants with the castoff siphoned out of my aquarium at water change time, and they always respond well to it = free fertilizer.



posted on Jun, 7 2020 @ 08:24 AM
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Please give us some more info!

Where do the plants get their nutrients?
Do you collect and reuse the water?
Do you use rain, tap or aquarium water?

You mentioned 20 plants?
Are you speaking of seedlings, lettuce or full grown tomato plants ?



posted on Jun, 7 2020 @ 08:37 AM
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a reply to: DoctorBluechip

For plants that tilapia can eat, if you have a tub that doesn't have fish, use it to grow duckweed/salvinia. Both are rapid growing surface plants that help to sponge up excess nutrients in the system. Then you simply scoop out excess and add it to your fish tubs for the fish to graze on at their leisure.

They'll probably eat it faster than it would grow naturally, so having two tubs would be essential there.

Another munchie for plant oriented fish is to simply blanch leaves of lettuce that you don't plan to eat and them clip them to the sides of your tub. You can do the same with other veggies like zucchini and cucumber. I don't know if the tilapia will attack the last two like plecos do, but most all plant eating fish will go for blanched leafy greens.


edit on 7-6-2020 by ketsuko because: (no reason given)



posted on Jun, 7 2020 @ 10:38 AM
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a reply to: DoctorBluechip

I actually disagree about the smaller system. They are more difficult to take care of, and arguably.. The IBC Tote is a small system. The cost is also not as much as a savings as one might imagine.

Good comments about tilapia, they are super easy to get here in the US on sites like eBay, but other regions might be different.

Fish food is kind of its own subtopic, one I was hoping someone would bring up! That is actually one of the arenas that my automation system will handle, but there is typical fish food that can be supplemented by the grow bed (crops to worms).

This chart is for Purina stuff, and obviously wont take into account supplemental feeding, but its a decent enough general guide:


A lot of the system can be controlled through feeding, and general rules like "only feed what they will eat in 3-5 minutes" can apply too.

Yes, Ive had systems before. They were tied to much more advanced tech though. This is trying to come at it from the other direction; starting from the basics and expanding over time.

The location of the system is definitely something to put just as much time into as the design of the system itself. Weight is a big consideration! You can look at doing it in an insulated outbuilding too. But, the grow light linked will cover a 4'x4' bed of this nature. Particularly if it is set up in a place that also receives natural sunlight (its still the best!).

Its also good to keep in mind that preferences and opinions abound. There is definitely no set way to do this, in fact, all we are doing is mimicking a natural ecosystem.. That can be a good place to look for inspiration.



posted on Jun, 7 2020 @ 10:56 AM
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a reply to: Flyingclaydisk

Evaporation and water loss are absolutely a problem in areas like CO.

We can handle a lot of that through an insulated shed or building built for the purpose. The design Im currently working on will incorporate some greenhouse panels that can be covered & insulated in inclement weather.

However, a good plan can be to use additional IBC Totes for rainwater collection. Or just tap water. Have to be careful not to unbalance the system, but its certainly a process that aquarium enthusiasts have down pat.

Heating is definitely a consideration too. For this system, at least, inside a relatively stable building.. A ~1000w heater can handle things pretty cleanly. However, its not at all a bad idea to look into a solar heating array (as opposed to a solar power array).

The plan right now is to use these "Self-Sufficiency Basics" posts to provide a rough outline while I slowly rebuild my technology suite. The next one will be a basic guide to 3D printing, and then Ill be moving on to my actual work. I have to start over with all that, so the threads will kind of follow that progress. So, some things are said with that in mind. Still trying to figure out the best way to share code..

What Im really trying to do is inspire someone(s) to look into things further, as there are significant resources for all this stuff out there. Crops alone is such an expansive topic that we could have a thread with hundreds of pages and still be missing stuff.



posted on Jun, 7 2020 @ 11:28 AM
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a reply to: Aldolas

A good rule of thumb is to cycle the livestock tanks volume through the growbed at least once per hour.

In this IBC system, that would be about 175gph. The pump linked should provide 225-250gph (with head loss).

The growbed depth is a bit of preference coupled with the actual crops that will be grown. Having an inch or two that does not get submerged is a solid rule though. It will prevent things like algae growth. We can also do that through other means, like covering the growbed with various materials, but for my preference.. Handling it through media depth is pretty straightforward.

And yes, a lot of "leafy" stuff , and ground level plants, will do great! Alongside herbs, medicinal plants (like artemesia annua), etc.

We can even grow things like corn! Buuut, once we start moving to crops like that, we need to build the system with that in mind. Corn will be tricky.. We will need a media that can support it, etc.

Tomatoes can do great too, and there are a lot of techniques we can use to increase yield, like weaving the branches through screens as it grows. This enables the light to get to more areas of the plant, but also requires a lot of effort. These are low stress training techniques, and a lot of resources can be found regarding The Plant That Cannot Be Named.

What else has your mom tried to grow? What size fish and how many? A simple test that tells us a lot is; what is the nitrate level in the leachate coming from the growbed?

When it comes to specific crops, we need to make sure the media is right for the job, watch out for things like root crowding, and make sure the fish are able to actually provide the nitrate levels we are looking to achieve.

I do not have experience with peas or beans in an aquaponics or hydroponics system. My first plan of attack for something like sweet peas or green beans would be building a vertical support system, or using an elevated screen, or a combo. In the latter, it makes it so we can "force" the plant to grow perpendicular to the light source. This can work for any vine or bushy plant as well.



posted on Jun, 7 2020 @ 11:35 AM
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a reply to: ketsuko

"Fishy thought" heh..

Spot on with the catfish, they do very well! They take longer to get to market size, and tend to not utilize the tank volume as much as others (tending to stick along the bottom), but there are pros and cons for pretty much any decision made.

Trout is another great option, but their temp range can make them a bit tricky in the warmer months. They also tend to like more water flow.

Salmon would be nice too. But, has a lot of the same considerations as trout.

And you are very right about the greenhouse/PVC. We arent really looking to reinvent the wheel here.. A lot of longstanding techniques and knowledge can apply to this stuff directly.

For cooling, we can actually use the evaporative process to our benefit. Even just a fan blowing across the top of the water can have an impact. Even moreso if we are breaking the surface tension with our airflow.

Cooling can also be done through initial design. Doing a few growbeds that cascade from one to the next can do a lot of work in dissipating that thermal energy.



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