Let the Aquaponic adventure begin!

Welcome to our Aquaponic Family blog.

My wife and I, along with our two young children, are venturing into the relatively new world of aquaponics, and we have decided to share our experience with anyone interested in growing their own organic vegetables, fruit, prawn, and fish.

In this first post, we will explain what we have accomplished in the past couple of months and what we plan to do next.

In December 2011, we purchased the Aquaponic Micro System Plans and Manual from Tim and Susanne at Friendly Aquaponics.  After studying their PDF manual, we decided to build two 4′ x 8′ (1.2 m x 2.4 m) raft grow beds on our 12′ x 27′ (3.7 m x 8.2 m) concrete patio. Frankly, we (especially my wife) would prefer to have it on the ground in our backyard so it doesn’t take up precious patio space, but I was injured at work a few years ago and now rely on a wheelchair to get around…and this thing does not do well in our yard.  Fortunately, I have a very understanding and loving wife.

To begin our project, we purchased a 300 gallon (1136 L) Rubbermaid stock tank from Tractor Supply, wood and PVC pipes from Home Depot, DOW Styrofoam Square Edge Insulation (aka, DOW blue board) from Woolley & Company in Norcross, Georgia, 6′ x 50′ (1.8 m x 15.2 m) grow-bed liner from BuyPlasticNow.com, and a water pump, air pumps, air lines and air stones from AquaticEco.com.

Home Depot cut the plywood, two-by-fours, and one-by-twos to the appropriate lengths, and a dear friend we met in China almost ten years ago painted each piece for us and screwed the two-by-fours to the plywood (thank you Nate!).

Then the sides of the grow beds were screwed together and properly arranged on the patio next to the 300 gallon stock fish tank.  Bricks were evenly spaced on the concrete within the grow bed walls.

Then plywood was placed on top of the bricks and 2″ DOW blue boards were placed on top of the plywood.  This raised the bottom of the trough 4.5″ (11.4 cm) above the concrete.  Since the sides of the grow beds are 14″ (35.6 cm) tall, the trough will be about 9.5″ (24 cm) deep.

After it was all put together, we noticed that we were wasting about two feet of patio space between the two grow beds.  So, off came the adjacent ends of the grow beds.  They were modified slightly and re-installed as sides.  Now, instead of having two 4′ x 8′ grow beds, we have one 4′ x 18′ grow bed.  Not only will this modification allow us to grow more vegetables, it looks nicer too.

This is the modified 4' x 18' grow bed

Next, we will add the blue board insulation to the inner sides, the liner will be stapled into place, and the plumbing will be installed.

While all of this construction was going on, we purchased 25 White Brook Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) fingerlings and setup a 55 gallon aquarium in our bedroom so we could watch them grow until April, or until the weather warms up.  Notice how small they were when they arrived on January 13, 2012.

To our surprise, some of them have more than doubled, maybe even quadrupled, in size in the past four weeks.  The following photo was taken on February 12, 2012.

Here they are at dinner time.  They follow me as I approach the tank and then get so excited that they almost jump out of the water when I drop in the food.

We have also enjoyed watching how they interact with each other, especially when they kiss and twirl around each other as though they are dancing.  Do you see the two tilapia kissing each other in the top right of the following photo?

We plan to add some video of them dancing and kissing in one of our upcoming posts, so check back soon.

One more thing.  We have heard that we should not name any of the fish since we plan to eat them later, but we have ignored this advice and named the largest one.  He is now officially called “Bacon,” because that’s what he’ll be wrapped in when we eat him in September.  My mouth is already watering.

Well, that’s all for now.  More updates coming soon.

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28 Responses to Let the Aquaponic adventure begin!

  1. Bacon is the best name for fish.
    All the best from
    CCRES AQUAPONICS.

  2. jill says:

    interesting endeavor. they are beautiful fish

  3. fvblogger says:

    This is a great idea. It must be very calming and therapeutic to watch all your fish float around in their tank. Good luck!

  4. nortie1964 says:

    Bacon… TOO Funyy !!!!
    That’s what I tell my daughter, we will name the cow Hamburger, The Chickens we will call Nuggets… The pig, Hammy… LOL

    Great blog looking forward to more.

  5. babso2you says:

    This is a really cool blog! I can’t wait to see how thing progress here for you! And, a quick thanks for stopping by my site and for the like!

  6. Awesome post.. I’ll be interested to see the next stages..

  7. Thanks for stopping to look! I look forward to following your success with those fish. How cool is that. We’ve had the warmest winter up here in decades but if I tried that I’d probably end up with fish popsicles!

    • Me too. I’m still in shock that I haven’t killed any of them so far. Not long before the tilapia arrived, we bought about 30 minnows at a local pet store. Ten died within the first week. Now we only have about a dozen left. Fortunately, tilapia are very hardy fish.

  8. Nina says:

    How very exciting! I’ve looked into doing this but wondered if the space underneath our deck would be too dark. Looking forward to watching the success of this garden!

  9. Have you checked out Growing Power, of Milwaukee? They have developed a composting program that generates heat for aquaponic systems and utilizes defunct warehouses for local organic food production. As you will soon realize, the value of your fish waste is quite possibly a more valuable resource than the fish! In the eighties, I had a 150 gallon tank for native fish. The water resulting from occasional back-flushing of the gravel filter not only fed my entire, second floor, 12X15 foot patio garden, but several trees along the terrace on our block and across the street. The trees on that corner are still healthier than any of the others around! The Give Away Rituals always repay the best rate of return! It has become relatively difficult to find under gravel filters, especially if you go big. We made a somewhat serviceable device by installing a submersible twelve volt pump inside a sieve, placed that in a five gallon bucket, poured the bucket full of pea gravel and ran the outlet tube from the pump onto some adjacent rocks for a bit of waterfall action and oxygenation. The leads are just hooked up to a two panel solar array from harbor freight. It only runs when the sun is out, but if you wanted to double up the panels, charging a battery with half of them, then switching the leads at night, you could try that.
    I wish you the best of luck with your system! I really like the idea of having it up off the ground a bit, that way you can use the siphon effect for back-flushing or water removal, to keep the electric use and noise down, I prefer using human power to lift buckets and gravity to move as much water as possible. I primarily got into aquaponics so that I could use the vessels a heat sink that would maintain clear water by itself. In twenty years of owning aquaria, I have always maintained remarkably healthy populations of fish and when I realized the value of the dregs from cleaning the gravel beds, I became a much better gardener!

    • Your system sounds fascinating. I’ve been debating over using a filter of some type to remove solids or using gammarus (scuds). I would like to give the gammarus a try first, but it hasn’t been easy finding a place to buy them.

      The folks at Growing Power and Will Allen are my heroes. They are doing so much good for their community and the environment. Maybe one day we will be doing something similar in our area.

      Thanks for the solar advice. This will be one of our first upgrades.

      We’ve been pouring the fish water on all of our plants, including those in our raised bed gardens and around the house. The vegetables, trees, and flowers are already bursting with life. We have also been giving it away to friends and they act like we have given them a bucket full of gold.

  10. Ken Wallace says:

    What an interesting post. It is always great to discover something that you knew nothing about! Thanks for checking out my blog–I’m looking forward to following you progress!

  11. zedoktar says:

    That is too cool! I have seen some crazy greenhouses that incorporate aquaponics to create entire ecosystems self-contained in a single building. Fascinating stuff. It’s awesome to see it being done on a small home scale.

    • A greenhouse is on our to-do list, but it’s not in the budget right now. It would be great to have a self-contained ecosystem, with bees and other beneficial insects, and growing 365 days a year. Don’t get me started or I’ll get out of control and have to explain to my wife why I used the credit card to buy a greenhouse.

  12. kcwritermom says:

    I don[t know if you have a Harbor Freight or not in your area, but they sell a couple of less expensive greenhouses. They are small, but might be a great way to get started. I’ve always wanted one – and with our new house and the size of the yard, I think I might finally get my wish! Good luck with everything – look forward to reading more.

  13. ntgratedweb says:

    I am curious. You said that you started the fish out in your bedroom, however, the unit is on the patio, so I am a little confused about the current location of the fish and if the size doubling happened in the bedroom tank or the patio tank.

    • We have a 55-gallon aquarium in our bedroom and the 300-gallon tank on the patio. First we put the Tilapia in the bedroom aquarium until they were about five or six inches long. Then we moved them to the 300-gallon tank on the patio. Currently there are 12 Tilapia in the aquarium and 12 in the 300-gallon tank. We’ll be moving three or four more Tilapia to the big tank within the next week or two.

  14. ntgratedweb says:

    By the way, please do not buy the greenhouse from Harbor Freight. Go on line and look at the reviews for it. It is a very unstable greenhouse that has a tendency to fall apart. Just want to save you some headaches before you get one.

  15. Steve says:

    IT looks like a well thought out system. We are about to make the plunge into aquaponics.

  16. So this is a rafting system, not clay or similar.
    Thanks !

  17. Zamprogno says:

    Is so necessary to insulate the raft bed from ground ?
    thanks !

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