Aquaponics – System collapse :-(

Last couple of days had been probably the most challenging time we went through since we started aquaponics three years ago.

My wife walked up to one of our fish tanks to feed fish yesterday morning and there were about a dozen dead fish floating in the tank. Some of these were fish we had since over two years. Water pump was not working, so no water circulation. Water quality looked terrible, almost coffee brown.

Occasionally we find a dead fish in the tank, which is normal in any system and we usually toss it out for the cats and birds. But now we have too much fish to throw out, about 7kg (15lb) with a couple of them weighing about one kg. So I had to burry them.

The pump went off because we had frequent power outage during night due to a storm. When power was restored, one of the three phases was still out which unfortunately turned out to be the phase the pump was on. We didn’t realize this.

We brought the pump back up and added some fresh water. Water quality looked like is improving and there were no more loss of fish until late evening. Today I walked up to the tank and there were another dozen dead fish, which left with just a handful of smaller fish in the tank.

We had a couple of dead tomato plants on the growbed which I shouldn’t have kept for too long. There are two cabbage plants near the dead tomato plants that are almost ready to be harvested. If I pull out the roots of the tomato plant it will hurt the cabbage plants. So I thought I will wait for another week for cabbage to be ready for harvest. BIG MISTAKE!

The rotten roots have degraded the water quality considerably. This is usually not a big problem as far as water circulation is peoper. Now without the water circulation, ammonia level must have shot up and dissolved oxygen must have dropped, wiping out the fish population 😦

I emptied the fish tank and moved the remaining fish to another tank. Cabbage are now harvested (quite expensive harvest! 😦 ). We are heading for a full growbed clean up before bringing this system back up again. There is a lot of mint, a couple of tomato plants and a brinjal plant left on the growbed, but all that have to go away 😦

Growbed to be cleaned up 😦

Dead tomato plants

I consider this as more of a negligence than just a lesson learned. Very sad!

Aquaponics – Redoing an old growbed

Finally it’s happening! I have been wanting to clean up the media in one of my older growbeds and convert it from constant flood into a flood and drain system. Also wanted to take my hybrid experiment to the next level.

I got external help for cleaning the grow media as it is a labour intensive activity  (yah, I am lazy 🙂 )

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I had him clean the gravel and leave it outside of the growbed for the time being.

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The plastic inside growbed tank (it’s an IBC) is already starting to break so I have put in a polyethylene lining inside the tank, so that hopefully I won’t have to worry about this system for at least another year.

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We are running short of water supply over the last couple of days so I have kept the bed in half done state but in shape to keep the water filtered for the fish.

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I have a couple of containers getting ready for planting.

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I hope to get this system fully functional over the weekend. More coming.

Aquaponics – New hybrid system experiment

One of the challenges in having longer term plants, that lives more than 4-6 months, in aquaponic growbed is that they fill up the grow media with roots over time and it increases water level in the growbed. Also removing older plants from the growbed becomes very hard.

A new experiment is in progress to reduce the intensity of this problem. I am removing media (gravel) from a growbed so the growbed will have just water in it, and then to place pots filled with grow media in the water. It will look like a vegetable plant in a pot but the pot itself is placed in water with top two inches above water. I am using pots with holes around it for easy waterflow and for roots to extend into water. This way we can easily lift each pot/plant out of water or move around in the growbed.

Technically, this is a hybrid of deep water culture system and media based system. Hybrid has the advantages of deep waterculture that it is easy to maintain plants and doesn’t need as much grow media. Also it has the advantages of media based system that plants get good footing in the pot, media in the pot provides space for nitrification bacteria to grow and water filtering happens through the grow media in the pot by letting water from fish tank flow straight into the pots.

Will keep you updated on the results.

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Plant in the gravel filled pot

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Plant in the gravel filled pot

Wishing for a greener 2016!

As we have just stepped into 2016, here is a quick review of how things went for our little roof top farm (greens.farm) in 2015 and what is in the pipeline for 2016.

We entered into 2015 with the objective of starting  two or three small organic farming projects, that will reduce our dependency on commercially farmed vegetables, and to share our experiments through social media in an effort to encourage those around us to practice a greener lifestyle.

When I look back into 2015, I think we achieved only 25% or less of what we hoped for, but we are very very happy that we never lost our passion and kept moving  through some of the tougher times and busy schedule. Even more importantly, we stay resolved to continue this journey through 2016 with bigger but practical goals.

In 2015, we experimented quite a bit on aquaponics and now we run three systems of different sizes. We have some creative designs on paper that evolved through from learnings, especially around building systems for longer term plants. We tried to start an organic farm in a small piece of land, which didn’t fly due to a number of reasons, the primary one being the difficulty in getting electricity connection. We also brought chickens to the homestead for eggs, and still learning through how to take care of them.

I am not an experienced blogger but tried to share what I could. I am very encouraged to see the broad viewership of greens.farm in 2015 that spanned over 55 countries.

In 2016, god willing, we hope to take a leap forward. We want to implement the new aquaponic designs we have on paper, increasing efficiency and reducing maintenance. We also want to run the system off of solar than the grid. We want to revive the earlier “soil based” 🙂 organic farm project using solar energy. We want to take the social media activities into another level by launching a new website and have more useful content and posts. On the community side, we hope to experiment with establishing a couple of neighbourhood groups that would farm vegetables in a coordinated and shared fashion so that each family can focus on two or three crops in their backyard or rooftop.

Well, that’s good for now. Welcome 2016! While the world is busy complaining about the big problems you are bringing forth, we are excited that you are here and we got a plan for you for solving some small problems…

Happy and greener 2016! 🙂

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Welcome 2016!

Aquaponics – Roots roots everywhere!

Last week I was travelling and, as if our aquaponics system knows when I am out of station, a growbed became flooded and gave my wife a hard time. I got back home over the weekend and we did some investigation. It turns out that the growbed is full of roots to the extent that water won’t flow through the grow media anymore.

One of the advantages of aquaponics is that we don’t have to get our hands dirty working with soil (yes, I can hear you, I agree, I am a lazy farmer 🙂 ), but having to clean 12 cubic feet of grow media tangled in roots isn’t fun either!

I seriously think I need to switch to deep water culture instead of media based growbed. In deep water culture, plants are suspended or stays afloat on water surface and roots hang into the water. This way taking a plant out is very easy. It has its own set of challenges, but I think that’s the way to go. Actually, most of the commercial aquaponic systems use this method for growing plants.

Sounds like a busy weekend is ahead! More on deep water culture coming.

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Growbed is filled with roots

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Water is getting filled above media

Aquaponics – Lessons learned, the hard way

In my oldest growbed (about one year old) I have only a few plants (ridge gourd and long beans).

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But all have grown really big and extended from the terrace on our first floor to the second floor.

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When we remove a plant from the growbed it is always a challenge to remove the full root system. This becomes even harder if we have other older plants in the same growbed because the roots of plants will all be mixed up and we will end up hurting other plants or will end up leaving roots in the system which may rot eventually. I always thought it is just natural that roots will slowly decay and will become part of the system. But I just learned, the hard way, that it is not always the case. 😦

I was travelling out of country over the last two weeks and had call from home almost daily alerting something is not looking right in the system. Water colour changed drastically and we lost three mid size (8 inch long) fish.

Just before the trip I had cleaned up the growbed and removed a whole bunch of mint and a couple of other plants, but couldn’t remove the roots. Usually this is not a problem but this time I think there were too many roots left behind and it rot and somewhat contaminated the water. I can’t really clean the growbed at this point because it will hurt the larger plants.

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Lessons learned:
– Don’t mix plants that have longer and shorter life span in the same growbed. If we do, keep them in separate areas of the growbed so that we can clean up roots without hurting bigger plants.

– Plants that spread on the growbed, like mint, should be managed closely so that their roots don’t grow too deep and get mixed up too much with other plant roots.

– If removing a plant leaves too much root behind, it is better to clean it up even at the expense of other plants, to save the whole system which includes fish!

Next steps:
– Good bye to long beans and ridge gourd
– Shift all fish (30+) to another tank
– Full clean up of media (gravel)
– Plant the next batch!

Phew! That’s a lot of work ahead. I am going to get some external help.

After all, these challenges are what makes farming even more exciting, isn’t it? 😉

Aquaponics – Pruning climbers and creepers

Whenever I start pruning our vegetable plants my wife always asks, should we really cut these branches? Won’t they produce more vegetables?

Cutting off the branches of a healthy plant is a hard thing to do. But every time I prune a plant results are visible in a matter of days, interms of more flowers and fruits, and better growth of main branches.

Similarly if you see a small plant having flowers pluck them off early. Having fruits on young plants will reduce the growth of the plant and ultimately  reduce the productivity of the plant.

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Timely pruning improves production