Aquaponic Bang for Your Hard Earned Dollar – Some Lessons I Learned w/my Build..


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.

My Initial Siteplan

SIZING

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.

Seaweed ExtractREPEAT PURCHASES

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

PUMPS

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.

EHEIM-Jager-Aquarium-Thermostat-Heater-300WHEATERS

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!

  1. 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.
  2. For anything that cannot be ‘salvaged’, again shop around online (out of state, nix the tax, save 5-10%).
  3. 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 😉

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Posted on November 25, 2012, in Aquaponics, Garden, Get Motivated, Greenhouse, Hydroponics, Inspiration, Solar, Talapia, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. How did you connect the raft and the grow tables into the same system with ease? Also, do you have a form of filter to pull the particles out of the water before entering the raft system? I am trying to find out the best solution for this. I am thinking about using a sump, to the filter, to the raft, then back to the tank. ( fish tank > table > sump > filter > raft > fish tank ) What did you do? And what do you think?

    • Ah yes, the raft system.. as this was my earliest mock-up sketch, it has gone through a few revisions since then. The first being that I’m going to stick with flood and drain grow beds for the whole of the build (for a total of 8 beds versus the original 4 in the sketch).

      Originally I was gonna divide the flow from the pump to a vortex filter at the far end of the floating raft, then have that go through a few layers of filtration media before finally being pumped into the actual raft bed itself. The rest I’d leave up to gravity to have the water return to the tank which is buried in the ground. So the idea was to have a system that would return the water to the tank by means of gravity.

      What I’ve learned since that time is that there is a big issue with mosquitoes in my area breeding in such beds. So I decided to ditch the idea and focus solely on F&D.

      For your build, unless you can work out all the angles for your flow, you are right to think about adding a sump into your system as it would alleviate a few headaches with regards to the angles you’d need and getting the water to work in a closed loop with only the fish tank as the source.

      Also with a sump, it would eliminate too much water from being removed from the fish tank at any one time.

  2. Thank you so much for your response. I have revised my plan thanks to google sketch up, and your input. I am now seeing my greenhouse in a whole new light.

    I am going to divide the flow up. It will be going to the table (higher flow rate), and the filter / raft (lower flow rate) at the same time. I will have them both end up in the sump, then return to the fish tank. This decision was made based on available space. If I get the flow set correctly, via ball valves, I believe I can get it to work.

    I have a 275 gallon fish tank, and about 41 – 50 square feet of grow space. I plan on having a decent amount of water in the sump to balance the flow out.

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