Aquaponic Design & Maintenance
We provide fully customized design and maintenance plans for aquaponics. We focus on smaller novelty indoor systems and mid-sized backyard, deck, or patio systems. We can automate feeding the fish and monitoring temperature and pH. We can install an ATO (Automatic Top Off) to control water level. On a weekly to monthly visit we will test and monitor your pH and other import water/soil parameters. We will spray for what is needed. We will will plant, prune, and harvest, then leave you with a continuous supply of fresh clean organic produce ready for the table.
What is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics is a hybrid of aquaculture and hydroponics. The waste water from a fish production system is used to feed and water plants. Plants clean the fish water, the fish feed the plants. Aquaponics is a controlled ecosystem.
- Uses approximately 90% less water than traditional farming & gardening
- Plants grow up to 30% faster
- Sustainable supply for food fish
- Complete control of quality
- Less bugs and insects
- No soil
- No fish waste
- No weeds
- No watering
- No toxic run off
- No back strain
Types of systems
There are many different types and methods of aquaponics. What works best for you will be circumstantial. Aquaponics can be done anywhere. From a little desk top tank to filling a large green house or make a show piece in your home or office. It can be for novelty and aesthetics or provide an entire family with sustainable food sources.
- NFT- Nutrient Film Technique. This system grows plants in shallow troughs of moving water. Typically lengths of gutters or large diameter PVC are used horizontally. This system is easy and fast but it has problems with temperature fluctuation. It shoul be utilized in controlled environments like green houses. Exposed to direct sun or cold/windy weather is asking for trouble unless properly insulated.
- DWC- Deep Water Culture utilizes floating rafts in water. Typically seen in long isles for commercial production. Additional aeration must be provided for the roots of the plants. Water depth is minimum 12″. The deeper the water the more stable the temperature and pH and less evaporation. These systems are used to produce mostly leafy greens and herbs. Lettuce, basil, and green onions are very common.
- Ebb & Flow- Also known as flood and drain system. A bell siphon is the most common way to accomplish this action. There are also internal and external U-siphons that can perform the same task as the bell siphon. A pump on a timer combined with a control valve in the drain line is the most simple method but lacks the benefits of increased oxygen from the auto bell or u-siphon. The grow bed is filled with a medium. Media options range from the reliable and classic hydroton, to lava rock and pumice stone, or any other type of gravel. The medium has the ability to alter pH, alkalinity, macro & micronutrients, and other water parameters, The ebb & flow grow bed should have earth worms introduced. Not all worms were created equal. Red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) work best, avoid night crawlers (the big ones used as fishing bait). The worms help break down the solid waste that accumulates to make it easier for the plant to absorb. This type of system holds higher nutrients, bacteria, and oxygen levels. Fruiting and flowering plants that need more nutrients do much better.
- Wicking bed- Have you seen a flower pot with a dish of water under it? Same concept. This method requires a reservoir of water beneath a container of potting mix. A layer of gravel between the water and soil allows roots access to water without saturating the soil. An overflow drain directed back to the main system allows water and nutrient run off to be reclaimed without harming the natural environment. Certain plants cannot be grown with aquaponics or do best in soil. This method allows for more diversity in your garden. Root vegetables and larger fruiting plants do best.
- Vertical towers- This is essentially NFT turned sideways. It is best used indoors with artificial lighting or along the northern side of the garden so it doesn’t block out sun light. Leafy greens do best. Water pumps will decrease GPH (gallons per hour) with the extra head height. So there will be a trade off for efficiency at some point.
- Drip systems and aeroponics are less commonly used
What can you grow with Aquaponics?
- Leafy greens- Lettuce and basil lead the way in aquaponics. Spinach and green onions are easily grown. Mint and water cress will grow like weeds. Radishes do good as long as you don’t mind them being shaped funny. They have a tendency to twist and turn. You will have tremendous success with bok choy and other asian greens.
- Fruiting vegetables- Tomatoes lead the way for fruiting vegetables. Cucumbers, eggplants, and squash do great in ebb & flow beds. Citrus and pit fruit trees have been grown with success. Blueberries require a lower pH so don’t get your hopes up.
- Root vegetables- Carrots and radishes grow fast but have a tendency to contort into amusing shapes in the ebb & flow system. Onions, garlic, and potatoes really do best in soil. Luckily the wicking bed will save the day and round out the variety of vegetables able to be grown.
- Edible flowers- Most edible flowers are a bit lacking in the nutritional department but they sure add a splash of color to you garden and your salad. Pansies, violets, and violas can be tucked into the spaces in between plants. Day lilies, roses, and tulips are also edible. The list of common edible flowers is longer than you might expect.
- Perennials- I really must emphasize the benefits of perennials. No harvesting or planting seasonally. Plant it once and continually harvest. This is one step closer to a true self-sustaining ecosystem. Sorrel and red malabar spinach are examples that do great.
- Ornamental and house plants- You do not have to grow plants for food. We can set up an incredible system that is just pretty to look at.
Food or friends?
Aquaponics sytems are most commonly used as food production. Fish selection is limited with food fish. Tilapia are most common and are easy to breed. Catfish and trout can also be used. Food fish do require a permit to purchase and keep. Koi and goldfish have been used with success and do not require a permit. There are a plethora of lesser known species of subtropical fish that can handle temperatures into the 60’s. Hill stream loaches and dojo loaches are an interesting addition. Bitterlings develope surprisingly vibrant coloration and the have a unique breeding technique requiring the use of freshwater clams. Swordtails and endlers livebeares are a colorful alternative to the common mosquito fish. Freshwater prawns and crayfish are a great alternative food source to fish. They do have a tendency to escape out of poorly designed enclosures though. Small colorful fancy shrimp prefer the cooler water but might become lunch if not housed separately or in a small desktop system. Frogs from the Rana family are used as an alternative food source. Leopard frogs and bull frogs are commonly available. If you want a novelty system just for aesthetics in the home or office your world of biodiversity options becomes exponential. Most of the tropical fish in the aquarium industry trade can be enjoyed in an indoor aquaponics system. It is highly recommended to quarantine any new fish before adding them into your food production system.
Additional filtration is not always required. The ebb & flow bed will accumulate solid waste and the worms will help the plants absorb it. This works well with small or lightly stocked systems. Once the bioload increases you may need an upgrade on the filtration. A swirl filter in combination with a settling tank is common. Filter socks can be used but they must be thrown away or rinsed out after a few days to a week. The larger the micro size the longer they last. Filter socks with a small micron size clog fastest. UV sterilization can be used to control green water and disease outbreaks. There is some controversial debate concerning the beneficial bacteria being sterilized by UV. The concept of filtration in aquaponics is exactly the opposite of aquariums. Aquaponics traps waste to breakdown and dissolve to be absorbed by plants. Aquariums trap waste to be removed before it dissolves.
- Temperature should not drop below 65 F degrees. The bacteria will decrease and slow down and you could get an ammonia spike. If the temperature rises it will decrease the oxygen in the water. Teperature will be dependent on the chose species of fish and plants. 77 F to 86 F is ideal.
- pH- 6.8 to 7 is optimal. The pH is important for the absorption of nutrients by the plants.
- DO- dissolved oxygen. Oxygen exchange takes place at the water surface. The more surface area you have the more oxygen exchange takes place. Breaking the water surface tension with moving water will also increase DO. Additional aeration may be needed with use of an air pump.
- Photo-periods- Indoor plants can be grown with lighting 24 hours a day to increase growth rates. This works well with leafy greens and other plants before they start to bloom or flower during the vegetative state. A period of darkness in the light cycle will induce fruiting and flowering.
- Spectrum- High kelvin rating over 22,000 has large amounts of blue wave lengths needed for leafy growth during the vegetative stage of growth. Low kelvin rating of 5,000 is on the red and yellow end of the spectrum needed for the fruiting and flowering stage of growth
- Types- Flourescent lights are the lowest quality. T-5 lighting is good quality. Cheap to buy and run. Halogens are high in quality but expensive to buy and run. LEDs are high quality, high cost to buy. low cost to run.
- Daily- feed fish, check temperature, check pumps and plumbing, top off for evaporation (all can be automated)
- Weekly- test pH, ammonia, and nitrate. Check for pests and diseases. Spraying, harvesting, planting, and pruning.
- Monthly- check phosphate/phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, sulfur, and iron.