Monthly Archives: November 2012
I’d say that as AP’ers the biggest factor in what we build (and for that matter maintain) comes down to two simple components, space & money. After going through my first build there were many things I’d liked to have known prior to my putting stuff together that would’ve made my progress a bit simpler and with less headaches (both in design and cost). So I feel that the best thing I can do is share those lessons with the community at large, in hopes that some of what I share will help those of you with your own builds.
First get a good handle on the size of what you wish to build before buying a thing. This ultimately comes down to how much grow bed space your going to have overall. If you’re indoors, this is going to be small most likely, so determine the square footage of grow bed space, then that’ll determine what you need as far as the number of fish and finally the size of your tank.
For example, say you have a grow bed that is 3 feet by 5 feet by 1ft = 15 sq ft. With that you can determine the amount of fish you can have for that system. In this case a safe number that I used was 84% of 1 sq ft of grow bed space to 1 fish (so 15 sq ft x 0.84 = 12.6 rounded up for 13 fish). For that same number of fish, the size of your tank can be determined by roughly 2 sq ft of water per fish (this is at a minimum, the more water you can use in your system, the better, as this will help stabilize temps, nutrients, Ph, etc.) 13 fish = 26 gallons minimum (again, if you can provide a larger tank with the same number of fish, all the better for your system).
Now you may ask why I went with these figures? The answer lies in that as a beginner I wanted a few things right off the bat, stability with my system, as well as knowing I’ll have a good ratio of plants to the amount of fish poo. If you put in too many fish, they’ll produce too much poo and the fish essentially die from toxicity because there are not enough plants/bacteria to help clean the water. Some will argue my findings and that’s fine, but I’m basing this off my own system and have had great results so far with headaches being kept to a minimum. As the fish mature, they will produce more poo over the same period of time.. food for thought.
These are going to be items that will continue to be used in your system for the duration of your use of it. Fish food, seaweed extract (nutrient booster), testing kits, sometimes starter plants (if you decide you don’t wish to start from seed). All of these items will be ongoing, so if you find these items with a low overall cost prior to your build, you will save money over the long run. Plus consistency in the products you use will not throw a potential kink in your system down the road that is unforseen.
ONE TIME PURCHASES
The pump I chose was an Aquascape’s Aquaforce 2700 Solids Handling Pond Pump which pumps 2700 gallons per minute (on level ground). I over-sized my pump in order to take advantage of the fact that this can still pump out a great deal of water even after it is pumped vertically by nearly 14 feet (flow volume decreases considerably over various heights for all pumps, so be sure to check this when determining your own designs). For me I wanted something powerful, with a good head height, had a built in screen to keep the fish out and one that didn’t chug down electricity like a demon (pump is rated at 147 watts continuous). This pump also gives me the opportunity to add additional grow beds down the road.
For your own pumps, determine a good value based on water volume needing to be moved, head height (vertical flow of water over distance) and the wattage rating and of course how that all relates to price.
Here is another place where you can build using scrap materials and put together your own solar water heaters to heat your tanks throughout the day (mainly for outdoor AP setups, though it can be used inside if you provide a good enough pump to get the water from the SWH to your tank).
For alternative heaters, I went with EHEIM Jager Aquarium Thermostat Heater 300W. I did this primarily because I did not think to plan ahead and build my own SWH system for my tank. These heaters are rated up to 260 gallons each, I bought two for my 840 gallon tank. Turns out, you’re more likely to save a good deal of money by buying multiple smaller heaters than one gargantuan one. Plus, they can be spaced throughout the tank to heat multiple areas at the same time. Each has its own temperature regulator, so when reached they will automatically turn off. These are VERY important for those in colder climates. Mine are huge to be sure, but you can find heaters sized to fit your particular tank setups. The main negative remark I have for these is that they will eat a bit into your electricity bill. If you can build/plan your own SWH setup before hand, you will definitely start saving from day one!
BUILDING MATERIALS FOR GROW BEDS/FLOATING RAFTS/NFT
These are another area where real savings can be had!
- Always buy used or recycled materials. Craigslist and FreeCycle were two places I went to find materials from people that were just throwing the stuff out! This can be wood, PVC, cement mix and other building products. Start here and stock pile the materials you will need for your build ahead of time.
- For anything that cannot be ‘salvaged’, again shop around online (out of state, nix the tax, save 5-10%).
- Another recommendation is that if you have to build with new materials, look at speaking to a contractor to buy the materials for you. These guys are able to get materials ‘at cost/wholesale’ versus retail. So you arrange a fee for them to use their shopping power to your advantage. The savings here can be as much as 50%
A WORD ON TANKS
This is a special note to those who plan to build outdoors and make their own tanks… USE THE GROUND!!! i.e. don’t build a tank.. dig one. If I had it all over to do again, I would’ve saved a considerable amount of time, money and sweat if I had just dug a hole (possibly lined it with concrete) and then just laid a pond liner in said hole. Much easier to do, much less time spent, much cheaper option.
A FINAL WORD
So as with all things AP, its a learning process. I’m still learning myself, there is much more to share.. and I feel that all of us have an innate need to be a bit more self sufficient in our lives.
I WISH YOU GOOD LUCK IN YOUR OWN ENDEAVORS!
Drop me a line if you have questions. I’ll do my best to answer them 😉
Alright… what’s that title got to do about AP? Just that if you’re into gardening of any kind.. this is definitely THE best alternative way to go (I’m biased, so sue me) ;
The system provides both plant and animal harvests, you deal with less headaches usually associated with traditional dirt based farming (weeds, pesticides, herbicides, making sure you water regularly, etc.) Plus its scalable, can be used inside and out and pays for itself in self satisfaction.
To whit, I bring to you some humble images from my garden as it currently stands. Growth has been great, although I will admit that the one thing I wasn’t ready for was the fish and water temperature. Now that Winter is fast approaching, the key for me was to keep the water temperature up as high as possible. To do so, I’m mainly relying on a couple of large aquarium heaters rated at 300 watts a piece. Not the ideal, as I’d prefer a solar water heater option and not have to pay for the electricity, but that will come in a few months time when time and funds permit. So in the interim, the heaters will have to do. So far, water temps have not dropped below 64 degrees at night.
With a drop in temp, the Talapia are not as voracious with their food, so their growth has slowed down as a result. I get into this in more detail on my previous post.
The plants on the other hand are doing quite well. Everything in the AP is thriving. I’ve got a couple of plants with some nutrient deficiencies (corn and lemon balm). I’ve made efforts using Seaweed Extract to help give the system a nutrient boost once every nine days, but I feel this has more to do with the waters Ph and the reduction of the roots ability to absorb the nutrients. Its not a deal killer as far as the plants go, but definitely something I’m going to stay on top of to see if it can be remedied down the road.
I took the liberty to buy a batch of lady bugs as of late to help with a small infestation of some tiny black bug that creeped up on our squash plant. We released these at night as this helps them stay put longer and hopefully hang out for a while to feast on whatever our AP has to offer. I’m happy to say that they eliminated most of the pest problem (the rest we simply snipped off and fed to the chickens). The hope is that they will reproduce in the system and make it their permanent home for a while. But I must say, they do a great job chowing down on anything that might be an issue.
Another item that was recommended was to add in a few Marigolds to the system. Apparently bugs do not like the smell of them. So we placed them evenly down the length of the beds and they also add a nice splash of color.
All in all, the experiment seems to be chugging along quite nicely!