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!

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Aquaponics – first harvest of fish (Tilapia)

It’s getting close to two years since we had our first batch of fish in the aquaponics tank. But we never harvested any fish mainly because kids weren’t too favorable to this idea, although I always wanted to complete the farming cycle 🙂 

Over the last few days we had been working on cleaning and rearranging the tanks and growbeds, which I can summarize in one word as “messy” 🙂 Some of the older fish have grown really big and tanks are now over crowded. Unless we start harvesting now, we will soon be losing fish due to water quality issues. Infact, I lost a two year old karimeen (pearlspot) a few weeks ago.

Tilapia harvested from Aquaponics

So today we harvested one tilapia from the first batch. It weighs just over 1 KG (2 lb). I am not telling the kids where this fish came from for a few days 😉 
We bought the first batch of teeny-weeny fingerlings from a hatchery in early 2015.

With this harvest, although it took a little too long, the Aquaponics farming cycle is now complete 🙂

Aquaponics – Setting up a new system

I just got a new aquaponic system setup today. 🙂

We have a 5 ft tall metallic stand on our roof top for keeping a back-up water tank for our home water supply. I utilized the bottom of this stand for setting up a fish tank. Metallic sheets of about two feet height were welded between the four legs. Then used a polyethylene sheet as the lining. This should hold about 500 litres of water.
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Added two growbeds to the system. One is a small new growbed made from a used blue barrel. Second one is a reuse of a similar sized old growbed that was connected to another system earlier. These together would give only about 6-7 sq ft of grow space, which is about two thirds of the capacity what this fish tank can support. I will need to add one more growbed of similar size soon.

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Growbeds are kept very close to the fish tank so that plumbing for getting water to the growbeds is easy.

This system will keep constant water  level in the fish tank and for now I am keeping the growbeds in constant flood mode, meaning growbeds will always have water two inches below the surface. I have kept a 2000L/hr (30W) pump in a common sump tank for pumping water back into the fish tank.

I temporarily stopped an existing small system for maintenance 🙂 and moved 10 or 12 tilapia into the new tank. Fish are looking happy.  🙂
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I plan to plant long beans, cucumber and may be a melon plant (experiment) on these grow beds.

I’ll keep the system running for a couple of days before planting, just to make sure everything is running fine. Will keep the progress posted. 🙂

 

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 – Babies in the fish tank!

We have a fairly dense population of Tilapia in our fish tank and so it is unusual to see baby fish. Either they don’t breed well when tank is overcrowded or big fish eat the new ones quickly.

This time we were lucky to notice a few tiny ones and removed them from the big tank. There are 13 of them (out of the usual 300+!), I don’t know where the rest went.

We are excited and looking forward to seeing them grow big! 🙂

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Aquaponics – Feeding small fish

Normal practice in feeding fish is to feed them as much as they can eat in five minutes. Any uneaten feed that remains after half an hour of feeding should be removed from the tank. When we feed smaller fish with smaller granules of fish feed, say less than 1mm, feed spreads over water quickly and it becomes hard to assess how much is uneaten and it gets even tricky to remove it.

I just tested with a one inch high ring of 4″ PVC pipe with a few pieces of thermocol aound it to keep it afloat. This keeps the feed inside the ring without spreading across the tank. Also this makes removal of any uneaten food easier. This may not work if you have bigger fish in the tank as they will shake up the water and start playing flying disc (frisbee) with the ring… 🙂

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Feeder ring

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Feeder ring with fish feed

Three in one (Chicken, Fish, Passion fruit)

We had an old chicken enclosure on our rooftop where we used to raise Japanese Quail (Kada Kozhi) for eggs. Kids always loved their morning routine of going to the terrace.

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We modified the enclosure to have a fish tank under it by welding metallic sheets connecting the legs of the enclosure and putting plastic sheet inside it. This will hold about 500 litres of water and should support the new growbed I am designing. There is a metallic sheet below the enclosure to prevent chicken manure falling in to the tank.

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I was looking for ways to reduce heat in the chicken enclosure since it is kept openly on the terrace. So I got a frame added above the enclosure to grow passion fruit  (thanks for the idea Jasid!).

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It is going to take a while before the enclosure gets fully covered by the passion fruit plant, so I need a temporary arrangement to keep the heat low before I bring home our new addition to the roof top farm – the chicken! 🙂

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