Monday, March 12, 2018

Aquaponics Dreams

A working man's hands
Reese decided to start up his aquaponics system which has been sitting idle in our backyard.  Seven years ago the dream was born and since then it has been redesigned and rebuilt again and again.  It is a work in progress as he continues to research and experiment. Two years ago it was shut down when he left home to accept an internship.  Now that it has ended, he is back home looking for new employment.  If he gets a local job, he will keep it running, if not, the fish will be released into the river.  Reese claims time stands still for him when he is working on his system because he enjoys it so much.  His goal is to someday start his own business selling the crops and fish produced by the system.

Where do I begin?
An aquaponic system is nature contained.  Fish produce waste which provides the nutrients for the plants which then cleans the water for the fish.  

The waste produces ammonia.  It is converted by bacteria into nitrites which are then converted into nitrates. Plants only uptake nutrients in a dissolved state and in an aquaponics system, the nutrients are always dissolved. The plants uptake the nitrates as their fertilizers and this cleans the water which then flows back into the fish tank - the cycle begins anew. 

This system's advantages are that it uses 90% less water than traditional gardening plus the plants grow faster, bigger and taste better.  There is no bending over, watering, plowing, weeding, and it has very few insect problems since the fish devour bug larva. Chemicals cannot be used because they will harm the fish.  When the fish grow big, they also become our food.

The biggest negative is the building expense because a greenhouse is necessary to avoid extreme temperature fluctuations. There must always be a power source, never any blackouts - if the fish die, everything dies.  It is also extremely difficult to keep the nutrient levels correct. Too much waste kills the fish. Not enough nutrients cause the plants to suffer.  It is a delicate balance which nature does easily.

Work in progress.
This is the sump tank which holds an extra reservoir of 275 gallons of water.  In this design, it must be the lowest point of the system because everything flows downhill to a central point to be pumped back up to the grow beds.

Inside was a large, slimy, disgusting slug slithering up the wall.  Reese was impressed and wanted a picture.  I agreed.  Then he insisted I show everyone so others could be impressed also.  No matter how much I persuaded, argued, begged or threatened, he would not back down. Unless I included the picture, he would not share about his aquaponics system.  Being trapped, I conceded; however, I never agreed to make the picture HUGE.  So this is a tiny picture of the large nasty slug.

The grow beds are empty now but plants are either floated on top of the water or are planted in the gravel as the water is cycled through.  

The fish tank holds 330 gallons of water.  The metal trash can holds the catfish food.  It is a bit old but the fish don't mind. They consider maggots and bugs dessert.

Reese bought 30 channel catfish for $.50 each.  He chose them because they are hardy, survive a wide temperature range, eat a variety of food and can be purchased from a local source cheaply.  Tilapia are tropical and would not survive our winters.  Koi are just too expensive to use for experimentation (about $5.00 each for the tiny ones).  As for goldfish, nobody wants to eat them.

Reese's fish were purchased from a hatchery which delivers to the local hardware stores periodically. A variety of fish are available to people who want to stock their ponds. The hardware stores advertise their arrival dates and the customers wait in the parking lot for the tanker truck to arrive.  There are different tanks on the truck and each one holds various kinds of fish.  The truck driver will scoop out the fish, put them in plastic bags, and then write up a bill of sale.  They can't live long in the water without oxygen so it is important to get back quickly.

Upon arrival home, the bags are placed in the tank water so the temperature can equalize and not shock the fish.  The blue pipe is an airline attached to an air stone to add oxygen so they can adjust slowly.  Reese also adds water from the aquaponics system to the plastic bag so they can adapt to the different ph level.

It doesn't look like thirty fish could fit in the bottom of one bag, but they do.

Being transported to a new location upsets them so it takes a few days before they become accustomed to the new environment.  They won't eat if they are upset.

Below is a link to a Youtube video of his different systems while they were up and running.

This is another smaller aquaponic system in November of 2013.  Reese put it beside the house so he would have easy access to electricity.

He built it a few inches above his head not realizing condensation would collect on the inside of the roof causing it to sag.  Every time he walked inside, a few hairs on top of his head would touch the roof causing all the water to pour down on top of him. It was easy to know when he had checked on his system because his head would be wet.  He decided to build the next system taller.

The grow beds were placed above the fish tank because the plants need sunlight but the fish don't.  If you put the plants in the fish tank, the fish will nibble on the roots.

Unlike a traditional garden, plants can be grown closer together because there is plenty of nutrition in the water.

This was to be the end of the story, but before I could share, Reese received a great job offer.  Plans quickly changed.  He will be leaving in two weeks to begin a new job 450 miles away.  Every penny possible will be saved to finance his dream.  Someday he will reach his goal of owning his own aquaponics business; I have no doubts. 

I am so happy right now.

UPDATE: Reese closed his system down before he left home and the story continues in
Aquaponics Dreams Delayed, part 2

Roofer Reese


  1. These are great news! Reese is especially diligent and ambitious. It is wonderful that his
    efforts have been rewarded. This job offer will be a good start for his career path. And maybe later even these "Aquaponics Dreams" will come true. Why not?
    I wish him a good start and all the best for his future.

    1. I read your congratulation message to him. He was grateful for your kind words.

  2. Congratulations on Reese's new job! I guess the fish will fall to you, as do leftover dogs, boxes of items the kid doesn't want right now, and so forth:). At least if the fish are released, he isn't out much money, and it's better to do something while waiting, rather than just pace around, waiting! I'm sure he's very excited to have been offered a job! And, I guess you get to look forward to some road trips:)

    I'm glad you are getting to plant your seeds, and got to order a bunch. It just makes me more cheerful, and I'm sure it helps you, too.

    1. We will need to make a road trip to the river one day soon right before he leaves. That is not a problem because the fish will swim away. It is all the other junk/stuff he is leaving behind which needs mowing around that is driving us crazy.

      I have started planting seeds to start my seedlings but nothing has sprouted yet. I keep checking every few minutes.

  3. That is so interesting! Best wishes to Reese in his new position! ~TJ

  4. Both aspiring and interesting! As an Aquaponics enthusiast myself and a publisher I find blogs and posts such as this one informative and a learning experience. It is amazing how easy it can be to source materials and begin Aquaponics.

    Good Luck with your system and keep the blog updated with your progress...

    1. Reese has closed the system that was the post mentioned above "Aquaponics Dreams Delayed, Part 2". He is living in another state far from us as he could find no good jobs locally (the economy is not as good as the newspapers claim). He is working to save money to open his own business. He wants to be working on his aquaponics, but life has not allowed it yet. Thank you for commenting.

  5. How cool! Aquaponics is so interesting.