Category Archives: aquaponics

Our Aquaponic Journey: Part Four – Choosing Media for Grow Beds and Other Product Selections

aquaponic media grow beds

 

The system I built is from the Endless Food Systems DIY plans. I used untreated pine for all my grow beds, and treated pine for the sump tanks that will sit on the ground, as well as the leg supports. To line the beds, I did a lot of research, and settled on DuraSkrim pond liner. It’s what aquaponics farmers use to get organic certification. I was overly concerned with using plastics and how the leaching could impact the quality of the plants. It’s really hard to get away from plastic, since galvanized metal is poisonous to fish. Unless you have the time to let algae coat all the surfaces, the zinc will be toxic. I emailed a friend of mine in the plastics industry, who happens to have a lot of the same concerns I do, and she recommended I go with the DuraSkrim. I ordered a roll online, but realized later that my local aquaponics store (Brite Ideas in Austin) carries it as well. I could have saved so much on shipping!

 

For the plumbing, I chose to use polyethelyne pipe (aka pe pipe) for the main units. PVC has a bad reputation for good reason. You can have leaching at high temperatures, and the chemicals used in their construction are still controversial. PE pipe has a much higher temperature threshold, and generally speaking has a better reputation. I like that the parts all snap together without having to use toxic glues, and are easy to cut and assemble. As someone with virtually no plumbing experience, I appreciated it! I tried to use 2″ PE pipe to connect my sump tanks, but I couldn’t find the fittings I needed nor figure out how to get the tools to connect them. So, we went ahead with PVC for the sumps. I’m not entirely thrilled about it, but it will do. I’m pleased to say I also did this myself! Hopefully I didn’t lose too many brain cells in the process 😉

 

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Choosing the media to fill my beds was an obstacle. At first, I planned to only have media in my main grow bed to act as a filter for two raft beds. But talking to a few pros and attending some classes led me to decide to go with media in all three beds. It seems rafts are best for leafy greens only, and if you want fruits or vegetables you need something a bit more sturdy for them. I talked to a lot of folks about different options, and it seemed that granite would be the most affordable and easily available option. At least, so I thought. My dad mentioned he had several cubic yards of decomposed granite on the property that I was free to use. And that was the key word, FREE! I was so thrilled. I set out sifting and rinsing all the dirt, piling it into a tub and filling up my first bed. It took me four hours and something like 200 shovels worth of granite. All to find out that it was too small. Oy. I posted a photo along with a question to the Facebook aquaponics group I’m in, and the consensus was that the rocks were too small to work well as a media bed. Ouch. So I set to work emptying the bed. The good news was it only took 30 minutes. The bad news was my entire body ached to high heaven.

granite aquaponics media

 

I was told to look for 3/4″ granite rocks, and to make sure to do the vinegar test to check for pH neutrality. Basically you drop a few stones into a jar of vinegar, and if it fizzes, you don’t use it. Luckily this passed. I searched for a couple of weeks to find a stone yard that carried the size granite I needed. Finally, I found it at New Braunfels Mulch. They had 3/4″ – 2″ granite for $55 a cubic yard, and offered delivery. I ordered two yards, and it turned out to be exactly enough for my three beds! Considering bags of the stuff at box stores run $6 per half cubic foot (meaning I needed about 100 bags) I consider it a great bargain.

The rough part was rinsing and moving, but I managed. I’m thinking I’ll start a new diet program: Body by Aquaponics! I drilled large holes in the bottom of a five gallon bucket, put in 5-6 shovels of rock, rinsed it then dumped it. Registration offices Several hundreds of buckets later, my beds were filled. Whew! Now I just need to finish up the leak checking, bribe my husband to finish wiring the electrical, and it’s time to fill up the beds! SO CLOSE NOW!

Our Aquaponic Journey: Part Three – Adding a Ventilation Window to Ana White’s Barn Style Greenhouse

Ana White Barn Greenhouse

 

The plans for this Barn Style Greenhouse don’t include any ventilation. Which in Central Texas, where I live, mean that it could easily get over 100 degrees in a flash, wilting all my plants and killing the fish in my aquaponic system. That can’t happen! So I decided to make one wall of the greenhouse a “window”, and give it the ability to flip and be propped open for air movement. My original method, above, was a bit too flimsy. A mild storm flipped it all the way up and ripped it off my tiny supports. So I built a whole new frame and rigged up a good solid support to hang it. Here’s what I did:

greenhouse-window-support-beam

 

I started by adding a 12′ 2×6 (I should have measured twice before I cut! This was just a touch short, make sure yours goes all the way to the end) by drilling 2 1/2″ screws into each of the trusses.

 

greenhouse-window-frame

 

Next I rebuilt my frame. Before I just pieced together some scrap boards, which made it weak. This time I used a solid 2×4 for the top and bottom. Then I measured the distance between the top of the paneling side, and the bottom of the 2×6. I subtracted 7″ or the width of both 2×4’s, then cut five center supports. I attached them with pocket hole screws, then removed the greenhouse panels from my old frame and put them on the new one.

 

greenhouse-window-hinges

 

I just used a bunch of old hinges to attach the window to the support, pulling back the greenhouse panel a bit so half would be below it. I want to keep the water away from them.

 

greenhouse-window-water-covering

 

Lastly, we cut a spare greenhouse panel in half width wise, then removed some of the screws from the panel on the top, fed the new sheet below it, and reattached the screws. Then we folded it over the top of the window, added more screws, and voila! Easy, water resistant ventilation. Eventually I plan to take down the panels on the other wall, and build another window frame so I can get a good cross breeze going in the summertime. It should also help let pollinators in. Or if pests or critters start being pesky, I’ll add some hardware cloth and screening to keep them out. Whatever it takes to get a happy, breezy system!

Our Aquaponic Journey: Part Two

aquaponic media bed

 

Happy February everyone! I’m not normally one to apologize for long blog absences, as they’ve been happening a lot for the past year. After doing some thinking, however, I decided that it was either time to get back into blogging more, or say my farewells and move on to new things. So, without much hoopla, I’m putting it out there that I plan to be more regular with posting and share more about what it’s like for an everyday “conventional” family to move toward greener living. I’ll do my best to post three times a week, without stressing too much over pretty pictures. I do a lot of “microblogging” over on my Instagram account, so it should be easy to elaborate more with some tutorials and information here on the blog instead of clogging up my feed with long descriptions. Anyway, that’s that.

In aquaponics news, the system is moving slooooooooowly. Very slowly. The cold weather and rain isn’t exactly a great motivator to lug around gigantic, heavy boards and beds. But it’s moving. I finished up the first grow bed, a 4’x8′ media bed over the fish tank. I’m planning to fill it with gravel, and keep this for my perennials. I got a little whimsical and ordered a couple of dwarf banana trees, some coffee plant beans, and berry bushes. Cranberries, actually. I also grabbed a variety of perennial herb plants that are good for teas and remedies, like Anise, Toothache Plant, and St. John’s Wort.

aquaponic raft bed build

 

I also finished up the second grow bed, which I’m planning to use as a raft bed. That means it will be filled up with water and have styrofoam floats on the top, with little baskets for the plants. Here’s where I plan to try out vegetables and greens. I have one more bed to build identical to that one, which will fit on the left side. It’s going to be a tight fit in here! I’m planning on building a frame for each side of the greenhouse and removing the fixed greenhouse panels onto the frames so they can lift up for ventilation and pollination, as well as making harvesting a bit easier. It seems my goal of having it finished on February first was a bit too over-zealous, so now I’m hoping for March 1st to get things moving. I made things harder for myself by jumping into building before watching all the videos and reading completely through the instructional pdf, and now I’ll need to take a break and stain/seal the grow beds from the moisture. It would have been so much easier to pre-stain before installing them! But, at least I figured that out now, so I have a bit of wiggle room left in there. That’s it for now, I’ll be back soon with another update, as well as some more fun homesteading adventures!

Our Aquaponic Journey Part One: Building the Greenhouse

Ana White Barn Greenhouse

 

Have you ever heard of aquaponics? It’s the practice of growing food using fish in a water-based system. I heard about it last year, and have been learning all I can about it ever since. This past year was fine with my conventional garden, but I wanted more. I wanted year-round vegetables, in abundant quantities. I wanted a simple system that was self-sustainable. I wanted aquaponics! After a lot of research, I decided to take the plunge and build a greenhouse specifically for my system. I chose the brightest spot, which happened to be just to the right of our house, in the gravel area we designated as a driveway overflow. My husband was generous enough to give up this spot for the good of the larder. We had just enough money left in our house building fund to cover the costs of the greenhouse, which was just under $800.

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It took four days to build Ana White’s Barn Style Greenhouse. We purchased all our supplies at Lowes. The first day was spent digging a foundation in for the cement blocks. We decided to add them into the plan since we get such serious winds around here. They have since been buried, so I’m hoping it will be enough to keep the greenhouse in place. I also decided to make the lower “wall” on the left side, the one covered in greenhouse panels, have the ability to open for ventilation in the summertime. You can see the darker brown frame that I used to attach the greenhouse panels to. I just made sure the uppermost panel threaded beneath the one above it so water wouldn’t get in. I’m planning to add some spray foam to each edge to keep the winter chill out, as well as some pool noodles along the base where it meets the metal wall as there is a 1″ gap due to the frame construction. But overall, it’s nice and warm inside.

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 2.06.21 PMThere are thousands of ways to set up your aquaponic system. YouTube is overrun with tutorials, system tours, and the like. It became overwhelming. I knew I wanted to build my own system rather than spend thousands on a pre-built one. So I decided to invest the $40 to get the Endless Food Systems DIY tutorial, which will fit perfectly inside my 10 x 12 greenhouse with a few small tweaks. From what I’ve read, to feed a family of four you would need 100 square feet of grow bed space. My system will have 78 square feet, so it will be close. Couple that with my outdoor conventional garden, and my dreams of food self-sustainability may come to fruition sooner than I hoped! This 300 gallon tank should hold about 30 pounds of fish, we’re planning on starting out with catfish since they’re so hardy in our area. The limestone rock we live on means we can’t bury our tank, so the fish will need to tolerate some temperature fluctuation.

 

That’s it for my first installment of our aquaponic journey! I’m hoping to get our system finished and running before February 1st, so I can get some early spring plants started. I’ll be sure to update each step of the way!