This is an update after the summer growing season. I had to tweak the system often to keep the flood/drain system operating. I noticed that decreased flow affects the ability to produce a siphon. Checking the pump inlet often and unclogging the screen usually solved the problem. I later covered the pump with an outer screen to reduce particles from getting to the inlet. I also had to tweak the length and number of bends in the outflow pipes to maintain the siphon cycling. Finding the proper flow seems to be the major factor for a properly functioning siphon system. Chemically the fish tank performed ideally. I tested the water weekly and everything was in the ideal range for healthy fish and plants. I ran a small aquarium filter on the fish tank to help with the chemical balance in the beginning. It removes some of the particulates floating around in the tank. I left it operating throughout the summer and think it helps balance the system as well. I thought initially I would have to cover the entire system to keep the rain water out but that water proved to be essential to combat high evaporation through the hot summer. I put an overflow pipe on the sump tank so any excess drained off in that stage. I could have just left the tank overflow the top but wanted to keep a few inches of headspace in the tank. During the hot, dry times I was adding between 12 and 15 gallons of water per week to keep the system full. I had a very small algae problem during the summer and added a plecostomus to keep the sides of the fish tank cleaner. It was about three inches long when I put him in there and when I last saw him ( a couple f months ago), he was about six inches long! The tomatoes grew extremely well and produced a satisfactory crop. Wet weather caused many fungal problems this year but did not effect the fruit. The plants themselves grew in excess of ten feet long. They grew up over the fence and the remaining ones now are almost touching the ground on the other side. I removed all but two plants to start the fall/winter crops. Part way through the season I added some bell peppers to the beds. They were constantly plagued by cutworms throughout the summer. Some plants were eaten to the nubs as many as six times, only to re-grow their leaves each time. I left all that were still living this fall as the cutworms are not around anymore . The peppers have been producing well lately. I did not use any chemicals on the plants at all this summer. I didn't want to hurt the fish or ingest any chemicals myself. That is the reason we grow our own stuff anyway right? I physically inspected the plants as often as I could to detect pests. One consolation is that all the worms and insects I collected ended up as fish food. Tomato horn worms were not a factor as I am used to looking for them. When the time of the season for them to appear arrived I would blast the plants with a garden hose to knock them off. This was very successful in reducing their numbers when they were very small. They also ended up as fish snacks. Only a few reached maturity but I nabbed those when I noticed damage on the plants. One thing I found out is the fish do not care for the giant slugs we get here. They tear them apart but do not eat them. I dealt with them another way. I just planted some kale and arugula plants I started from seed and plan to grow many greens this winter. I have Swiss chard, collard greens, Chinese greens, endive, spinach plants started as well. I will probably construct a row cover to protect the plants from an occasional frost we get here. Looking forward to a successful crop this winter. I am also going to place my order in for some hybrid bluegills to replace the bream in the tank right now. They are supposed to grow very fast compared to many other varieties. The fish that are in there now have grown considerably over the summer and I'm sure will provide sufficient meals when the new ones arrive. I will post more pictures here when the greens are established and when I harvest the fish this year.
These pictures show the greens I am growing this winter. The larger plants were started first. They are mostly kales with some endive, mustard and Chinese greens.I have been eating fresh salads every day for lunch. They taste much better than regular lettuces from the store. Completely inorganic fertilizer and pesticide free. Had a few cutworms until the weather turned cooler. I discovered how to find the worms when they were not on the plants. Gently "raking" the hydroton with my finger tips revealed them just under the surface. This helped reduce their numbers initially. The pH dipped into the slightly acid range after the weather got cooler. I reduced the amount of food I was giving the fish as I expect they are not eating as much and this extra food in the water was driving the pH down. The water temperature was also fluctuating wildly with the air temperature. I added more insulation to the fish tank and sump tank. I also added a 300W aquarium heater to the fish tank and the temperatures aren't changing as much. This is why many people have their fish tanks inside a structure that can be environmentally regulated. So far I haven't lost a single fish since I started this project. They are tough local Bream that are adapted to this climate. This time of year they would be in the deeper water where it stays a more constant temperature and they would not be eating as much. I am trying to keep the environment warmer so they continue to eat and produce waste. The color of some of the greens was lagging a little at first but everything is very green and healthy now. I can't keep up with the production so I have been giving some away. A friend even fed his chickens some of the kale and they loved it. I have finally achieved continuous ebb and flow for several months now. It's all in the tweaking of the discharge pipes into the sump tank. You need at least two bends at least two feet long and do not put an elbow on the end. The only thing that interrupts the siphon cycle now is flow interruption which hasn't happened for a long time. I will get my tomato plants going in a couple months because I want to can some sauce this year. Spring is just around the corner here in the deep south!
10/9/16 Update from summer growing season. My tomatoes did fairly well and I canned 26 jars of sauce during the season. Half way through the summer I was hit by several plagues. Cutworms were horrible and required removing almost every day. Spider mites were next and decimated several plants. Finally I was hit by hordes of mice which devoured every thing that was left. I yanked all the plants after that and kept it fallow for over a month. I removed all the hydroton to wash the roots and sludge from it. I did a 50% water change to help with acidity. I purchased a small pool filter (the kind for soft-sided pools) and filtered the water for a couple of weekends. This cleared the water up considerably and got the pH levels where they should be. The fish are happy and growing. I am thinking about harvesting some next spring and re-stocking more. My winter crop is started and will be planted in a couple of weeks. Below is a picture of some of my canned sauce from this summer, Mushroom and ripe olive!
Links for plans and parts
The sump tank sits below the grow beds and is filled by gravity/siphon. The water is then pumped by 25 watt fountain pump to the fish tank where it flows back to the grow beds by a 2" overflow line. The drain for the fish tank is fed from near the bottom to get some of the solids and dirtier water through the natural filter. The cover for the fish tank is constructed of 5/4" x 6" treated deck boards. I could have lowered the whole system by sinking the sump tank into the ground but my landlord may not approve of me digging up the patio. I gained extra storage under the grow beds and fish tank which I really needed anyway. I added an overflow for the sump tank to keep it from filling to the rim during heavy rains . I also added an air pump with a 32" curtain of bubbles which the fish seem to love swimming through. I alternate between gold fish flakes and floating fish pond food for their diet. The young fish can't eat the pellets whole but it softens quickly in the water. One important thing to mention, I had a little trouble getting the bell siphons to operate continuously, so I tweaked them several ways. You need a minimum of 18" of drain pipe with (2) 90's to help control the starting and stopping of the siphon. Make sure your bell siphons are completely sealed at all joints with glue or silicone. In the end the biggest factor was the downward angle on the drain line to achieve the most consistent results. Don't glue anything but the bell siphons until the system is operating correctly. I did silicone every connection to the tanks for added integrity of the seals. Updated pictures below show how much the plants have grown in 4 weeks. I also added 8 bell pepper plants 2 weeks ago and they are flowering and setting fruit.
I chose a 1" drain line from the grow beds to the sump tank and a 1" fill line to the fish tank. I changed the 1" drain line from the fish tank to the grow bed to a 2" line after I determined I did not have enough flow to operate the bell siphons properly. I installed adjustable valves on the 2" line to control the amount of water reaching each grow bed. I used bulkhead fittings on all pipe to tank connections. Bell siphons are a conglomerate design I gleaned from various sources. I used 6" pipe and atrium covers as a gravel guard for the bell siphons. All plumbing parts I sourced at Lowe's except the bulkhead fittings I ordered online. The bell siphon is pictured above on top the atrium cover. It features a snorkel tube for better siphon breaking. I notched the base out with a dremel tool. Everything is glued tight to help maintain a good siphon.
The frames for the grow beds and fish tank support are pressure treated 2 x 10's and 4 x 4's. I notched the 4 x 4's in the grow beds to help support the weight of the frame. I added 1 x 6 supports under the grow beds and screws and grommets around the lip to support the weight of the media, water, and plants.
This page is to highlight my new aquaponics project I started this spring (06/2015). Aquaponics is the merging of hydroponics which is growing plants in a liquid solution and aquaculture which is farm raising fish. It all started because I was tired of watering my potted vegetables every day in the Louisiana summer and missing one day only to have the plants die. I chose an "ebb and flow" or "flood and drain" system after much research into growing methods. It gives the greatest amount of growing area for the space it takes up. I have a small patio where I live (10" x 16") so growing space is limited. The system operates on the principle of mutually beneficial organisms coexisting in the same system. You feed the fish and they, well they poop. The bacteria in the water and on the wall of the fish tank convert ammonia and nitrites into nitrates which can then be utilized by the plants. The plants remove the nitrates from the water cleansing it before returning to the fish tank. When operating correctly you need only feed the fish and harvest the produce. There are many other things involved to ensure the system is functioning and healthy. Sizing the grow beds, fish tank, number of plants, and number of fish is the first step. Changing the water in the fish tank once per hour is recommended. Aerating the fish tank helps the fish and the plants. Not over feeding the fish and monitoring the pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels is important. My system has about a ten minute cycle for filling and draining. I am including links below to help you decide on size and methods for your prospective system. Also, some links on supplies you may not have available in your area. I considered covering the grow beds with a greenhouse but I am glad I didn't as rain replenishes the water that is evaporating and I don't have to add tap water to the system. The fish, however, are under an awning and covered as well to control their environment better. Heat is a factor which is why they are out of the sun for most of the day. I installed a radiant barrier around the tank as well to control temperature fluctuations. A floating thermometer is checked daily. I have been recording outside and water temperature to gauge the effectiveness of the controls. So far, with external temps at or exceeding 90F, the water temperature has stayed between 80-82F. I missed the window to ship fingerlings to grow this year. I had my heart set on some hybrid Bluegills. I opted for local bream which I cast netted from a local lake. I have 16 fish of varying sizes in the tank now. I will at least double that number when I am sure the system is stable. I also use a sump tank in which the grow beds drain into and then a pump returns the water to the fish tank which has an overflow drain to return the water to the grow beds. This keeps the water level in the fish tank the same at all times which helps better control the fishes environment. It also keeps the pump out of the fish tank. I was able to source the expanded clay grow media (hydroton) locally for $20 per cubic foot. The grow beds are animal feeding troughs I got for ~ $65 each on Amazon with free shipping. They may be available at a local store if you live in a farming region. Many varieties and price levels for grow beds are available. You can use IBC containers or any food grade plastic containers. Many people use 55 gallon barrels cut in half as grow beds. I have 20 sq. ft. of growing area in my system which has a very small footprint in my limited space. The fish tank is a 150 gal. Rubbermaid stock tank and the sump tank is 100 gal. Rubbermaid stock tank.
Above picture shows the greens progress one month from previous pictures. As you can see, I can not eat them faster than they are growing. I started tomatoes, banana peppers, and cucumber seeds last week end. I will swap crops when the new seedlings are ready. Everything else running fine. It's been a very warm and wet winter so far.
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