March 2016
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Aquaponics System Update

Previously I posted a 4-part series about the aquaponics system I built in 2014. There are links to it in the resource section below. Today I want to post an update of the activities since 2014.

2015 Was an Experiment
After I shut down the system at the end of 2014, I took a good look at the results. As previously discussed, there were challenges with raising tilapia in our climate. I decided I didn’t want to raise tilapia again because of the amount of effort for so little return. Maybe someday in the future I’ll find a way to heat the tanks or put them in a greenhouse, making it easier to keep the fish alive through the winter. For the time being, I decided to table that idea.

For 2015 I decided to try an experiment – a fishless aquaponics system. I know that means it really isn’t an aquaponics system, but that’s why they call it an experiment.

With no fish in the system, I needed another source of nutrients. So I decided to try chicken manure. We have plenty of that. Every time I cleaned the manure boards in the chicken coop, I put a small amount of the manure into the aquaponics tank.

I did water tests to see how the ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels were doing. With no fish, there was no concern about harming them with high ammonia levels. I admit I don’t know how ammonia would affect the plants. The tests showed good levels of nitrate, and the plants seemed to do just fine in it.

This time around, I focused on lettuces in the raft beds. As soon as it got hot, I set up the shade cloth over the top of the raft beds. The results were good, although the lettuces still went to seed in July. I started a second round of lettuce plants in the fall when it got cooler.

Overall, the experiment was a moderate success. This is an unscientific subjective opinion, but I felt like the system did not produce quite as well as the year before with the tilapia. So I decided to do something different once again for 2016.

Trying Something Different Again in 2016
For 2016, I am trying the system with fish again, but this time it is goldfish. This is also due to the challenges I ran into with tilapia. Goldfish are easy to acquire and are much more tolerant of wide temperature ranges. I’ve had goldfish survive water temperatures from 90 degrees all the way down to the 30s.

I purchased 30 feeder goldfish from the local pet store for about $9. I ordered a 5 pound bucket of goldfish flakes from Amazon. We’ll see how it goes, but this is a much less expensive way to add fish to the system. I know there is no protein output using goldfish, but my focus this time is on the plants. Besides, for the amount of money I spent trying to raise the tilapia and the amount of protein I got from it, the math didn’t work for me. Don’t get me wrong – I like tilapia. But some logistical issues will have to be solved for me to try them again, as discussed above.

The primary focus right now is lettuce plants. I have 36 plants in 2 raft beds, plus a few extra plants in the floor and drain beds. I also have some kiwi cuttings I started last fall with rooting hormone that had started to bud out. I put these in the beds and they have started to sprout roots. Once they develop enough roots, I’ll move them to pots.

Lettuces in Raft Beds Starting to Take Off

Lettuces in Raft Beds Starting to Take Off

I’m doing the same things with some sage cuttings which will eventually be transplanted into an herb garden in one of the swale berms.

Lettuce, Kiwi, and Sage Starting in the AP Beds

Lettuce, Kiwi, and Sage Starting in the AP Beds

When the weather gets a little warmer, I plan to add cucumbers and peppers to the flood and drain beds. Anything else that needs a home might find its way into one of the beds.

Future Possibilities
Where do I think I could take the aquaponics system in the future?

I would love to build a large greenhouse with heating and cooling capabilities to extend the growing season, and possibly raise tilapia year round.

The aquaponics system has also had me contemplating hydroponics in the future. It gets so hot here in the summer that it is difficult to spend a lot of time outside in the middle of the day. An indoor hydroponics system in our basement would allow us to grow greens year round in a controlled environment.

Whatever I decide, you can bet I’ll keep experimenting and trying new ideas.

Resources for this post:
Introduction to Aquaponics
My First System: A Small Scale Aquaponics System
Building the larger system: Part 1 of Scaling Up to a Larger Aquaponics System
Startup and Operation: Part 2 of Scaling Up to a Larger Aquaponics System
Results: Part 3 of Scaling Up to a Larger Aquaponics System
Adjustments: Part 4 of Scaling Up to a Larger Aquaponics System

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