Growing indoors though Aquaponics

(26 Posts)
sammarriott Tue 08-Oct-13 10:05:16

Hi, I hope you don't mind me popping in here as I'm just wanting some thoughts on a final year design project at university.

I'm researching aquaponic growing systems (will explain further down) and require some insights from people exactly like yourselves. Parents of young'uns.

Aquaponics is really simple. You have a fish tank with goldfish, turtles, tilapia or any other fish really. Linked to this, you have a small pump as you would in any fish tank that pumps water to plants growing in a growing medium (think those tiny red stones that nearly all shopping centers in the 90s used to 'grow' fake plants in). The plants extract the nutrients left in the water via the fish erm... cough pooping cough cough and in doing so filter the water, proving clean water to the tank i.e. never clean out the tank. If that doesn't make sense, check out this project to get the basic idea in video format...

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2142509221/home-aquaponics-kit-self-cleaning-fish-tank-that-g

I'm just wondering peoples thoughts on perusing a project following this concept. Ideally I'm looking for parent feedback from people without a garden and would have to grow in the home if they wanted too. I'm not restricting feedback to just those however!

My 'manifesto' for the project is as follows (just to give you a little more insight into my train of thought, which is nor wrong nor right)

The worlds population is set to increase to 9.7million by 2050 and this will put huge strains on global resources. Things like oil, energy and rare earths will become increasingly scarce but these are things, as a planet, we can adapt to. Food and Water is going to make the biggest impact on our lives.

Food is becoming quickly something that very few of us have any control over. Tesco is the new allotment and super farms of 100,000+acres in the US are intensively farming GM crops covered in an array of pesticides and chemicals. People are beggining to revolt against this, but we have
forgotten how to grow. Aquaponics provides an easy, sustainable and, most importantly, expandable platform on which to practice the ‘art’ of growth.

Phew, thanks for reading this far! So, I'm looking for feedback on the idea. Think what restricts you from growing in the home, keeping pets, lack of green fingers, think as wide as you can tall.

Thanks for your time and I hope to be making some contacts on here that wouldn't mind been prodded a little more in the future!

Sam

WynkenBlynkenandNod Wed 09-Oct-13 06:39:11

I don't think you'd get much yield from an indoor system that would make much impact on feeding a family. People who don't have a garden are fairly likely to have restricted space in the house and a decent sized fish tank will take space. You'd need lights as well and I personally wouldn't want that set up on in the house. Plus the issue of aphids etc - whilst I'm happy to have them in the greenhouse or garden, I don't want a growbed full of them in my home.

AP systems improve as they mature and I think a lot of people would start, not get the yields they imagined and lose interest being stuck with a tank of fish to feed everyday.

I think AP has its place for indoor growing but more suited to community larger scale projects rather than individual small scale kits.

WynkenBlynkenandNod Wed 09-Oct-13 06:40:24

Can I ask if you have run an AP system and if so how long for ?

Grumpla Wed 09-Oct-13 07:44:34

I researched aquaponics quite extensively but the main issues preventing me from giving it a go was a) expense (even a DIY option was going to cost me quite a lot in bits, tools etc) and b) aesthetics - husband will tolerate a fish tank in the room, not so much a massive set up with triffids coming out of the top!

I was surprised that there don't appear to be any mini kits available. E.g. A "lid" that can be dropped onto a standard Clearseal tank which would house trickle filter, growing medium etc with space for a couple of say herb plants. That would be a good bet for the home / classroom.

I have a fairly disused greenhouse out the back which I plan to convert to an aquaponics setup at some point in the future smile but with two small children it is on the list of things I don't have time for at the moment.

sammarriott Wed 09-Oct-13 10:04:44

I cannot thank you all enough for your feedback. Exactly what I'm looking for. WynkenBlynkenandNod I have never ran a system myself but I am about to set up a small experimental one in my small flat for this project. Sounds like you know your stuff, have you ran systems before? If so, it would be appreciated if I could contact you at a later date for a little more insight? If this isn't cool, that's absolutely fine, no worries! I'm looking at a system as an industrial designer, so sizing, aesthetics and costings are all things I need to design for.

The key things I'm taking from the above comments are...

Space
Yield
Cost
Hassle

Which are all points that I expected to be thrown up. The idea of the system is not to provide high yields as such but to re-educate people in growing, with a successful small indoor project perhaps influencing someone (Grumpla) to go back into their old greenhouse and make things work and grow as efficiently as possible.

Keep the feedback and thoughts coming people, this is great!

funnyperson Wed 09-Oct-13 20:26:50

What is grumpla?

EauRouge Thu 10-Oct-13 10:08:43

How will you replace essential nutrients in the water for the fish (ie vitamins and minerals) and prevent the reserve alkalinity being exhausted and the pH crashing?

How will this be worth doing on a small scale? I know a lot of people grow watercress as a veggie filter for their koi ponds but what size are you talking?

How much experience do you have keeping fish healthy? I'd be concerned about the health of fish in a tank that was never cleaned, especially since there are fish diseases that can be transferred to humans.

Interesting project but I'm curious about how it would work.

WynkenBlynkenandNod Thu 10-Oct-13 12:45:07

Grumpla is the poster thinking of doing a system in her Greenhouse I think FP.

I have a system I was given that's in my Greenhouse Sam. It was set up nearly a year ago and has 6 small Koi in it. I'm far from an expert and had to learn about fish keeping as that was all new to me. You are very welcome to contact me. Can I suggest you google BioAquafarm to see an impressive commercial venue in it's first year, very interesting website, they have worked very hard. There's a more established one in Wales you should find on Google.

EauRouge, the water needs topping up one weekly basis, the amount by depends on what you've got growing. PH does need a close eye kept on it. Some people use shells/chicken grit in the growbed which helps prevent a crash.

AP is big in Austrailia where they have space amd weather for outdoor systems. Plus a lot of people use it for Tilapia or Trout so have fresh fish as well as veg.

EauRouge Thu 10-Oct-13 15:08:12

Ah thanks, I wondered how it worked. I've seen the bigger systems but unsure how it would work on a smaller scale. I'm eying up my 60 litre tank now... grin

sammarriott Fri 11-Oct-13 10:49:25

Once again I cannot thank you all enough for your impact, I may well be in touch WynkenBlynkenandNod fairly soon. I have noted all the issues along with all the positive feedback. I'm glad that your eyeing up your tank EauRouch, proves my awareness theory!

Regards, Sam

sammarriott Fri 11-Oct-13 10:50:09

Feedback not 'impact'. That will teach me to do three things at once!

ButThereAgain Fri 11-Oct-13 10:59:46

Just wondering why someone would be likely to try this novel, techy way of indoor growing rather than just sticking a few plants in soil on the windowsill -- or deeper into the house if they are prepared to invest in special lighting. It seems such an elaborate way of doing something that we can do more easily in the conventional manner.

dododoing Sat 02-Nov-13 00:23:30

Thought I would resurrect this thread as I'm looking into setting something up like this at the moment. In my case, it's because I've been given an aquarium through Freegle, would like to keep fish but am a) lazy and b) into growing things, so it seemed ideal to set something up that would reduce the need for water changes/messing around with filters, and does something positive with the nitrates that are the by-product of the fish/ammonia cycle. Have to say, what's putting me off at the moment is the apparent lack of any product that's easy to retrofit to a tank. I'm not so good at DIY, so am currently scouring the internet for something that looks easy to put together and also isn't going to look completely out of place in my living room!

WynkenBlynkenandNod Sun 03-Nov-13 13:47:11

I don't think there is anything but could be wrong. I was however swapping notes with a local guy who is into AP and has a company who specialise in some gorgeous looking outdoor ponds.

He is in the process of sorting some bell siphons (kindly going to sort the dodgy one on my AP system and will know all about pumps etc plus has identified a new growing medium I think that will probably look better in door's than clay pebbles. He might be able to sort and send you something possibly, PM if you would like his details. You'll need some kind of lighting as well I would think unless you can get it near a natural light source.

This thread made me get back more into my system. I've got some Meteor peas that have just germinated plus some winter lettuce and might stick some garlic in. Once they are up and running they are very easy to maintain and I am determined to put mine to better use next summer.

EauRouge Sun 03-Nov-13 16:06:37

I've been reading up more about this and seen a few smaller indoor aquaponics set-ups; some of them are awful, a totally bare tank with too many fish and no heater sad Very cruel. And others look a lot better, properly stocked tanks with fake plants and ornaments for the fish to hide in. It's worth remembering that the Animal Welfare Act does apply to fish.

WynkenBlynkenandNod Sun 03-Nov-13 17:55:00

Yes I agree Eau. The amount of fish that the manufacturers of my unit say it can support sounds totally ridiculous to my new to fish keeping ear. Mine are in the greenhouse with heater when needed, and various fake plants etc. their favourite is the very realistic fake log they hide under.

I think people are going into it with a view to growing veg but no thought about the fish welfare as you said. I have to say I had no idea about fish when my AP unit landed but learned very quickly and am hugely relieved they all survived. I used to have nightmares about going out and finding them all dead.

EauRouge Sun 03-Nov-13 18:13:38

Your set-up sounds brill, have you got any photos? What species of fish do you have? I've seen some of the outdoors tilapia ones and they look fab, makes me wish I could eat fish without puking!

WynkenBlynkenandNod Sun 03-Nov-13 19:28:15

I haven't unfortunately and my phone camera isn't working. This is the system I have. The smaller of the two. I've got 6 Koi in there I bought as fingerlings a year ago. They will be relocated to an outside pond when they get too big for the tank.

Wouldn't recommend the system though. The bell siphon has been a nightmare plus I got an electric shock from the heater provided so had to get another. There are a couple of those air curtain things in there.

I've had it a year this month and it turned up just as my Mother started to get ill and things were a nightmare. I cycled with the fish in but only because I was told to and didn't have the first clue what I was doing. If I do it again it will definitely be fish less cycling as I would never do it with fish understanding how it works now.

A good book for anyone who wants to do some further reading is by Sylvia Bernstein. It takes time for a system to mature so hopefully next summer should be good. I'm thinking that I might look at getting a bigger tank and expanding my system. I've got a friend who is lucky enough to have a big poly tunnel. He started with what I have the after a year dug a big pond and set up 12 grow beds off it to grow chilles.

He had trout with the original intention of eating them but when I last spoke to him that wasn't looking likely! I will only ever do ornamental as hate eating fish plus DH is veggie. If you are looking at eating them you have to have some kind of licence I believe but haven't taken much notice as I know I'm not going to do it. The guy local to me is going to set up an indoor system with some Tilapia but has all the contacts to sort his licence.

I went to Chelsea this year and was very surprised to see my AP system in a Geodesic dome on a stand in the Pavillion. I saw a blog someone in the US (I think) did about setting up a system in a Geodesic dome they built themselves and that looked amazing. I think it could get quite addictive but am hampered by being a bit rubbish at DIY which is probably a good thing!

EauRouge Sun 03-Nov-13 20:25:22

If it's in a greenhouse and it's heated then there are loads of other coldwater species that would do fine and stay smaller than koi and goldfish. How many gallons is it? I wish I had the space for a greenhouse. I want a poly tunnel when we move but it's years away yet.

WynkenBlynkenandNod Sun 03-Nov-13 20:42:22

350 litres I think from memory, can't do gallons, sorry. The GH isn't heated but the tank is if you see what I mean. Suggestions would be very helpful in case I do expand the system.

The GH is 12 x10 so room for something a fair bit bigger. Am very lucky to have it and was really worried about it in the winds last week ashad visions of my poor fish being exposed to the elements.

EauRouge Sun 03-Nov-13 21:37:15

Ah, depends on the temperature of the water then. How cold does it get in the winter? These guys might be an option.

EauRouge Sun 03-Nov-13 21:38:22

Or lots of native species that might work, minnows maybe.

WynkenBlynkenandNod Sun 03-Nov-13 22:01:07

I'll have to check my records. The GH was heated last winter but won't be this one so I'll need to guess a bit.

dododoing Mon 04-Nov-13 22:41:03

Forgot I'd posted here! Well our tank is a tiny 55 litres, and from what I've read the smaller the volume, the more easily things can go belly up (ha - no pun intended!). I really don't want the deaths of lots of fish on my conscience, so we're definitely doing a fishless cycle first to minimise that risk. From what I've read we should be aiming for a 1:1 tank to grow bed volume, which we'll be nowhere near, so I was wondering about having a 'dirted' tank and growing loads of plants in the tank as well as in the grow bed. I'd rather we had happy fish than a productive grow bed - I've got an allotment too, so this is just an experiment really!

We're going with an air lift pump to get the water into the grow bed, and a loop siphon to get it out again, on a kind of ebb and flow basis. Not sure whether the tank water will need aerating on top of that? We should be able to cycle the tank water volume through the grow bed at least once an hour.

I think we're going to go with white cloud mountain minnows so we don't have to heat the tank.

I'm not sure about putting plastic ornaments in the tank & then being able to eat the grow bed produce? Anyone got any views on that?

Visiting the local hydroponics shop was entertaining - as my DH said, I don't think they're growing chillies smile.

EauRouge Tue 05-Nov-13 07:52:33

Any ornaments sold for fish tanks should be inert and non-toxic. You could go with rocks instead of plastic if you're concerned. Again, go for inert ones so that they don't mess with the water parameters- granite and slate are the most common ones.

I don't think ornaments would make any difference to eating the produce, the only (very minor) concern would be bacterial diseases from the fish, so I'd get some of that milton food spray. It's highly unusual to catch anything from fish, I would say it's safer than eating something from your garden because you have more control over the environment, but proper food hygiene is always a good idea.

I've never seen one of these units in the flesh but from how they work, I don't think you'll need any extra aeration. You could always put an airpump in the tank if you like, fish seem to like the bubbles.

What sort of plants would you be growing in the tank? Most aquatic plants are fine with gravel/sand and fertiliser underneath. You can use compost but get the aquatic stuff otherwise the nitrate level will go sky-high and the fish will snuff it. I've never used compost in a tank but I know people that have. I think it takes a while to settle but looks fine once it's all established.

Minnows are a good choice, sounds like you've got the cycling well planned. Make sure you post a photo when it's all up and running!

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