Summary Year One
Jack and Mary Zumwalt asked if we have any advice for the Texas APers. Seems they visited “Friendly” HI and are planning on planting in Texas soon. I thought the best answer for that might be a year one summary mixed with advice. My attempt to that end follows:
We have a Friendly Aquaponics “Micro System 64”, Deep water trough (raft) system with 72 X 2 (i.e. 144) two inch net pots and any seed we could find that was supposed to grow locally. We wanted a lot of “root” experience quickly. System description at end of article.
Our summer temps were over 100 degrees for 70 days or more, so our AP start in July made any plant growth unexpected. Many seed didn’t even germinate, others tried and withered.
Sun and Shade:
Use shade cloth/frame when hot to help cool and protect from strong sun, also helps keep algae down. The sun cooked what plants did grow in July and August. The sun grew one plan unbelievably well, Algae. I think it has a 4 hour life span and reproduces 3-4 times a day, then dies to become sludge to deal with.
I built a shade frame to slide over one trough which helped a lot! I’ll likely use it as a mini green house to protect the plants in the cooler weather with plastic vs shade cloth on top; that’s if my fish and plants make it into our unpredictable fall/winter weather mix.
Due to hail storms and winds, our AP plants are pretty beat up now, late October.
The temps are in mid to low 50s at night so Mozambique Tilapia will likely die soon, if we don’t eat them first.
We got minimal eatables from our growth July – October, did get lettuce, squash, cucumber, peppers, some tomatoes, and Taro.
System layout: Make sure the ground you build troughs on is level and firmly packed, especially where the troughs touch the ground.
Bury the pipes but include clean outs strategically, screw in plugs work well. Do not over tighten PVC to PVC threads. Oversize the pipes to ease water flow. Keep plumbing short. Use curved 90 degree turns rather than 90 degree bends.
Consider installing turn off valves strategically placed. Add a faucet that you can connect a hose to near the pump, in the PVC. It makes it easy to access system water for seedlings, washing rafts off, moving system water when you have heavy rains, etc.
Keep good records when you start. Read your system levels at least – every other day for the first month and then every third day for the second month. I charted my readings to better understand the Nitrogen cycle and would have misunderstood it had I not done so.
It is helpful to be able to read the water and air temperature. I read it at about ½ down in my 4 foot of water in the IBC fish tank.
Start seeds indoor under cheap grow lights or window seal a few weeks before planting time.
Get Seeds in the system earliest spring date seed packet recommends
When wind or storm comes, cover to protect, especially when you have taller plants
Keep filters on pipes in trough
I started with 10 pounds of Mozembique Tilapia, from a local breeder, RS. They were almost a pound each.
Keep mosquito eating fish, during warm weather especially, in trough, and perhaps fish tank or sumps if other fish not large enough to eat them. Research having algae eater fish in the troughs. Ex: Plecostomus (I plan to have some.)
Feed fish food recommended or equivalent. 1/8 Rangen floating catfish food 35% protein, 5-5-10. I can’t get it without paying shipping from mid America plant so I use Purina equivalent.
Any food fish don’t eat, remove from fish tank after say :30 minutes, otherwise it goes to pollute water.
If your food is good, your fish process it and poop cleaner waste, which dissolves and processes into nitrates.
Keep extra air stones and change out often, say 4 weeks, less in summer Algae time. Soak and clean over night.
Keep backup air pump. Fish die quickly without air.
Keep a light on the circuit with your pumps so you can see that power is on easily. One goof with cord unplugged or a breaker off can be costly.
Keep a backup tank you can pump water into for various uses: de-chlorinating water, storing rain water to replace evaporated water, temporary fish storage. I also keep 5 five gallon buckets to use for various tasks. Often I keep water in it a couple days to vent the Chloramine, then add it to the troughs to replace the water evaporating.
Keep a small fish net to use for cleaning things out of the water,
Keep a large fish net with long handle for “fishing” out fish from the water.
I filter my fish tank water as Algae builds up on the sides of the raft, and gets on plant roots, and there is lots of poop in the tank.
I had issues with the fish tank water getting lots of solids and turning medium green. Because it is designed with a small screen filter on the Fish tank, it got clogged a lot. I built a 5 gallon 4 stage mechanical filter to go into the Fish Tank drain line. It needs to be cleaned every 3-4 days. I understand that the system design does not need to be filtered (in HI), but I was uncomfortable getting any more fish poop into the troughs. Maybe Texas fish poop more, cause everything IS larger in Texas!
Media – We tried these:
- Grodan – Fiberglass plugs
- Rapid Rooter plugs
- Coconut coir
- Vermiculite and Coconut coir (from bricks)
Coconut matting, rolled
Hydroton is made in Germany from extruded clay pellets fired in a very hot oven. They expand inside and form a hard raw pottery like exterior, some float from the porous centers. They are light, about ½” diameter, marble like, and expensive.
They do not support plants well, but work OK with self supporting plants that spread out onto the raft, like Lettuce.
Grodan – Fiberglass plugs:
Stayed moist easy, grew seeds well, easy to tear off of a plant to transplant, but did not have the mechanical strength to support vertical plant growth. Too small to fit into 2” net pots. We added Hydroton beads around it to hold it in the net pots. Fiberglass plugs worked well for sprouting seedlings for the “rock” media system.
Rapid Rooter plugs:
These are about 1” diameter by 1&1/2” tall and came moist. They fit into mating little nursing trays with a water tray underneath and clear lid. They grey seeds well, but did not work in the net pots, plants fell over when they got large. Even adding Hydroton around the plugs when planted, did not provide adequate for taller plants.
Rapid rooter plugs worked OK for Lettuce, etc. in the raft system and worked well for sprouting seedlings for the “rock” media system. We purchased the rapid rooter plugs from Sylvia at TheAquaponicSource.com
Coconut coir (from bricks):
Coconut coir from “small” dried bricks. It turned the water brown and washed out of the pots into the system.
Vermiculite and Coconut coir (from bricks)
Same as with brick coconut coir, dirty brown water and media washed into system. The vermiculate floated away quicker than the coir.
This is the media that Friendly recommends be used, but I had no luck figuring it out. Perhaps Friendly will post a picture or video of the raw materials they use for planting and how the use it to plant seedlings.
Coconut mats, trimmed into 1&1/2” by 9” strips, rolled and stuffed into net pots, Seeds were rolled in or added in the middle. This worked the best of all media tried. It was a lot of time consuming hand work, and likely will become too root bound to reuse.
Friendly Aquaponics “Micro System 64”, Deep water trough (raft) system
Two about 4’ by 8’ grow beds with 2” Corning Blue Board Styrofoam rafts, each with 72, 2” holes filled with 2” net pots, planted with seeds.
Fish Tank: 250 gallon Fish tank is an IBC (Intermediate (Sized) Bulk Container).
Pump: Danner Manufacturing Supreme Classic Model 3 (350GPH) water pump. Pipes are buried in ground with clean outs.
Air: Two Tetra Whisper AP300 Aquarium air pumps, one in fish tank, one in troughs.
Note: We also have a separate flood and drain system fashioned after Murray’s design with large gold fish and one grow bed full of rocks and plants.
Training, University of Virgin Islands
Training, Friendly Aquaponics http://friendlyaquaponics.com
Aquaponics Book = “Aquaponic Gardening: A Step by Step Guide to Growing Fish and Vegetables Together” by Sylvia Bernstein http://www.theaquaponicstore.com/Aquaponic-Gardening-A-Step-by-Step-Guide-p/evaas002.htm
Systems & Resources:
Micro System 64 & 128 http://friendlyaquaponics.com
Apartment sized system http://friendlyaquaponics.com
Toteponics Murray Hallum ebb and flow, rock for media system www.PracticalAquaponics.com
Manual, Barrelponics_manual.pdf http://www.aces.edu/dept/fisheries/education/documents/barrel-ponics.pdf
Everybody likes a free meal: