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One Barrel Aquaponics System Details

One Barrel AP System

This article is the third in a series:

1. One Barrel Aquaponics System

2. One Barrel Aquaponics System Construction

3. One Barrel Aquaponics System Details (this article)

Specifications

Constructed from one 55 gallon plastic food grade barrel

18 gallon fish tank

12 gallon grow bed media volume

6 gallon grow bed flood and drain volume

Minimum pump is Harbor Freight 158 Gallon per hour. Next larger size is better $12+/-

Timer recommended is Harbor Freight mechanical timer with :15 preset tabs. $10+/-

Cost $70-$100 if  you pay retail for all parts

Weighs about 170 pounds when full of water, media, plants and fish

About 3 cubic feet of grow bed area

6″ of media

4″-5″ of nutrient rich water

Fish tank in the bottom

Quiet to operate, all you hear is a relaxing trickle of water

Attractive, sturdy, water tight, mar resistant polystyrene

Comfort knowing you are reusing vs. purchasing another oil based product

Great for an herb garden!

Operation

The system is designed to fill the grow bed with water to about an inch (1”)  under the surface of the media. Then it drains off, both functions time controlled by the timer and drain pipe hole sizes.

The draining water pulls air into the grow bed media for the plants and microbes.

The splashing water from the drain puts air in the water for the fish and plants.

Set the timer to be on 0:15 per hour and off 0:45 minutes, in cooler months.

Set the timer to be on 0:15 and off 0:15 off in warmer months. Warm water holds less oxygen.

Plant Density

Produce 5-26-12

The amount of plants you can grow in the system is about 3-4 times what you could grow in the same size earth bound garden. This is primarily due to the fact that the plants have an abundance of nutrients, air, and water available to them all the time.

Fish Food

AquaMax Product List

aquamax_omni

Fish Food Pellets

Another important variable is how much food will be put into the system.  Most beginners tend to over feed their fish.  Overfeeding puts extra load on the system and is just a waste of food.

The easiest way to determine feeding density is:

  1. use floating fish food
  2. put in a quantity equally to 1/10th weight of your fish
  3. wait 0:30 and see how much remains
  4. the quantity eaten is the quantity you should feed
  5. repeat every week to determine new quantity fish will eat as they grow

Note: fish can eat food smaller than the size of their eye

Fish Density

Goldfish and Koi

The question most Aquaponic system newbie’s ask is “How many fish can my system support?”

A better way to ask the question is “How many pound of fish can my system support?”

The answer has to be given as a range of pounds, as it changes as the plants get larger. More plant density allows more fish density/weight. When plants are harvested and removed, fish weight should be removed as well.

For the one barrel system I am recommending the following amount of fish.

Start up small plant volume

10 each, 1” gold fish, typically $0.15 each or $1.50 for fish

System heavily loaded with plants

3 each, 5” gold fish

Harvest, 1 or 2 small plants remaining

5-10” each, 1” gold fish, system not in growing season but has seasonal plants that will live

System Start Up; The Nitrogen Cycle

What is it? How does it work? How do you get it started?

2 approaches to starting your system:

1- Follow the recommendations and trust it will work, easiest.

2- Follow the recommendations and take measurements so you can see that it is working.

Reference:

http://aquaponicfun.com/general/fast-fish-less-startup/

http://aquaponicfun.com/general/nitrogen-cycle-experience/

Tracking your progress, Startup Cycle Data Tracking
http://aquaponicfun.com/general/startup-cycle-data-tracking/

Test Strip First Nitrogen

Tracking Your Progress

System Variables

When people ask questions the answer is often, it depends. It’s not a consistent answer as it depends on several things many of which vary over time.

The Fixed System Elements are

  • Grow bed area
  • Water volume in fish tank
  • Amount of oxygen the system puts into the water
  • Fish type. Ex: gold fish and Tilapia grow rapidly and poorly digest their food.
  • Amount of oxygen in the water, varies by temperature and system efficiency/aging.
  • Amount of plant density, small plants, large mature plants, etc.
  • Type plants and if they are growing “fruit”, which consumes more nutrients.
  • System operating temperature. Ex: in hot weather the system can support less fish due to more strain on the plants or plants growing faster and using more system resources – plant dependent.
  • Amount of Algae growing in the system using system resourced.
  • The amount of fish food put into the system and the amount the fish eat and poop.

Some of the Variables are

  • Amount of oxygen in the water, varies by temperature and system efficiency/aging.
  • Amount of plant density, small plants, large mature plants, etc.
  • Type plants and if they are growing “fruit”, which consumes more nutrients.
  • System operating temperature. Ex: in hot weather the system can support less fish due to more strain on the plants or plants growing faster and using more system resources – plant dependent.
  • Amount of Algae growing in the system using system resourced.
  • The amount of fish food put into the system and the amount the fish eat and poop.

Questions Students Ask When Using Their First Barrel System

1. How many fish will the system support?

    1. Up to one pound of fish when heavily loaded with plants.
    2. No fish when there are no plants

2. How many plants will the system grow?

    1. As many as will fit and still get exposed to enough sunshine to grow.
    2. Up to five pounds of produce, like zucchini, tomatoes, etc.

3. How much fish food do I feed?

    1. As much as they will eat.½ as much as they will eat if your plants are nearing maturity

4. How will I know the system is working?

    1. Plants growing, fish growing, system smell is musky not sour

5. How do I know what the microbes are doing?

    1. Measure Nitrites and Nitrates with test strips
    2. Also measure system pH, which is a good system health indicator

6. Will the plants live without fish

    1. As long as there is water, air, fill-and-drain action, and nutrients for the plants. If you start a system with seaweed extract, fish emulsions, or worm casting tea plants will typically live 3-4 weeks.

7. Will the fish live without plants

    1. As long as you feed them and the ammonia doesn’t get too high. Typically about one-two weeks if you  have 10 1’ goldfish

8. How big will the fish grow?

    1. They will get too big. I’ve raised 6-7” goldfish in the Barrel System

9. What do I need to do to start up the system

    1. Plant your system
    2. Add fish
    3. Get the Nitrogen cycle complete

10. What do I need to do to maintain the system

    1. Feed the fish
    2. Remove uneaten fish food after 0:30
    3. Add de-chlorinated water as it evaporates and as plants use it from transpiration
    4. Watch fish to make sure they get enough air. If they gasp at surface for air system air should be increased. Increase water splashing volume or frequency or add a small air pump
    5. Add chelated iron when new leaves turn light green between their veins
    6. Add nutrients and minerals once a month.
    7. Seaweed mineral supplement powder
    8. Fish emollient
    9. Keep pH between 6.8 and 7.5; 6-8 is tolerable but the system is less productive.
    10. Use Phosphoric acid to lower pH
    11. Use calcium carbonate to raise pH (egg shells, chicken scratch is ground sea shells which are calcium carbonate.

Seaweed Nutrient

nitrifying bacteria

 

11. When will I know I need to adjust the pH?

    1. When the system pH is not between 6.8 and 7.5 pH
    2. Use pH test strips to measure pH
    3. Measure pH weekly to start for first month and measure pH monthly thereafter.

12. How much does it cost to operate a small system?

    1. Measurements for Nitrites, Nitrates, and pH cost the same regardless of system size
    2. Additives like minerals, chelated iron, etc are based on quantity of plants and size of system.
    3. Fish food costs depend on weight of fish in the system.
    4. Electricity cost vary based on size of system pump

13. What feedback is available from those that have gone before?

Lesson learned; Run the system without fish or plants for awhile until it stabilizes and test carefully.

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