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Home Aquaponic System Update: 2 Months In

In just two months, our home aquaponics system is churning out lettuce and basil and the tomato plants are growing unbelievably well.

A few notes:

  • Cilantro and pepper plants are currently stunted - but haven't died - which could be related to water ph.
  • There is still a healthy population of aphids on some of the plants (they tend to enjoy the peppers the most and definitely stay away from the basil plants).
  • We installed an automatic fish feeder which allowed us to leave for two weeks. When we returned the plants had taken over and had grown into the grow light causing a bit of burning on some of the leaves. It was nice not having to worry about a drought or animals destroying the grow bed.
  • We are eating the lettuce and feeding it to the turtle and fish.
  • Having different types of  fresh basil on hand is certainly nice for cooking. The best part is that we don't have to worry about it going bad in the refrigerator.
  • We have added red wiggler worms to the growing media to consume the solid waste.

Here are a few updated photos of the system.

Home Aquaponics

Home Aquaponics Update

Our home aquaponics system has now been running for almost two weeks so I felt it was time for an update. As with any project I do I am constantly making changes, adapting new techniques and updating the original plans based on things I am learning along the way. Since the last post we have purchased a "hi-tech" yet economical grow light that uses much less energy. Initially with the T12 ballast, the plants were emerging a little spindly and research suggested that that the lighting was inadequate and that the old T12 bulbs would need to be replaced as they lose their strength over time. So rather than purchasing new T12 bulbs for $20/piece ($40 total) we decided to upgrade to a T5 fluorescent system that produces better light and is more energy efficient (the system came with bulbs and the 4 bulbs that will need to be replaced on a yearly basis are the same price as two high output T12s). I would have enjoyed going with the newest LED systems which use significantly less energy but the prices of these systems are somewhat restrictive. Since the switch our seedlings have thickened, straightened, become more colorful and quickly gained their third leaves or true leaves. (For more information on choosing the appropriate lighting for your aquaponics system check out this blog post at The Aquaponics Source.)

One challenge we are encountering are aphids - which were likely brought into the mix from my introduction of a marigold from my summer garden into the apartment. Currently I am manually squishing the little guys off the plants but it seems a never-ending battle. I am in the process of tracking down a few asian beatles to help eliminate the aphids - but of course when you need them they are never around. :)

I have also changed the timing of the pump to run every two hours reduce electricity use and lowered the water level of the growing area after some online suggestions from other aquaponics enthusiasts. These settings will likely continue to be tweaked as I attempt to perfect the system.

Below are a few photos of our simple home aquaponics system. Any comments, constructive criticism, or suggestions are much appreciated!

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Hydroton in some reused seedling containers from this summer's seedlings ready to go into the aquaponics system a few weeks ago.

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The plants (basil, cilantro, lettuces, peppers, dill) as they look now. They germinated and are growing much faster than I expected. The plant in front is an ivy house plant (non-aquaponic).

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Some lettuce gaining some noticeable color after the new lighting system was introduced.

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Some hot pepper seedlings I haven't quite had the heart to thin. From the experience of other users hot peppers do extremely well in aquaponic systems.

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The piping going from the pump up to the grow bed. The pump is much more powerful than we needed so we had to use the included adapter to reduce the flow. Note: the aquatic turtle named Pesto in the lower right. She is loving the cleaner water in the tank.

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The inlet from the pump.

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The system.

As I mentioned in the last post the inspiration for how easy it was to put together a aquaponics system came from a small exhibit at this year's Growing Power Conference. Below are two photos of the simple system they had on display.
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Our Simple Home Aquaponics System

After visiting Growing Power a few times, seeing the amazing work being done at Sweet Water Organics, and seeing a small scale aquaponics demonstration at the Growing Power Urban and Small Farm Conference I have decided (with Erin's approval) to try doing some "desktop" or home aquaponics. Aquaponics is natural technique of nutrient recycling which was noticed and applied by the ancient Aztec and Egyptians. These civilizations saw the immense benefits of simultaneously cultivating plants and aquatic animals in a symbiotic environment. Aquaponics is considered by some to be better than certified organic and much more sustainable than most organic practices because:

  • no chemicals or fertilizers are used (any chemicals or fertilizers would be detrimental to aquatic animal health)
  • 1/10th the water is used
  • no weeds
  • no diseases

We are doing it "on the cheap" with our rather large fish tank. Many of the supplies being used to start the project are things that we have either recovered from dumpsters/trash or already owned except:

Here is a picture of the simple setup.

The plants are on top with the water pumped in from the tank, circulated past the roots, and back into the tank on an ebb and flow (flood and drain) cycle for 15 minutes every hour (set with a timer). Currently we have an aquatic turtle and convict cichlids in the tank providing our fertilizer. We also have basil, lettuce, and cilantro starts growing quite well in the system. (Will update on plant growth and system components periodically.)

If anyone is looking to try out a simple aquaponics setup check out an article on the Aquaponic Gardening Blog titled
"Aquaponic Gardening Rules of Thumb".

For more information check out this interesting piece was done by NBC on the Aquaponics System at Sweet Water Organics:

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