I had to make some changes in the greenhouse this winter which gave me the opportunity to take a closer look at my grow beds. The grow beds had a high concentration of fish solids making it difficult to maintain clean water and a proper ph balance.
These tanks have been in operation for over 3 years so I guess that’s not bad considering how lax I have been cleaning the swirl filters, which removes 80% of the fish solids. Note the mud like substance in the photos as well as the algae buildup in certain areas of the grow bed.
The only real option I had was to remove the grow media and rinse it through strainers to remove as much of the solids as I could before returning it to the grow bed.
Hopefully I will never let it get that bad again, but I know my fish and plants appreciated the clean out.
This last year has seemed to quadruple in speed. So much has happened and changed that I did not even realize how much I have neglected my aquaponics systems in the greenhouse.
You know you have not been paying attention when you find moss growing on your grow media! The grow bed above “B” tank in my greenhouse has collected a large amount of fish poo in the grow media, allowing for moss growth on top and around all the edges.
Honestly this past winter, I did not grow much in this bed and kept feeding the fish as normal. The tank is currently over-crowded with about 30 adult tilapia fish, which produce a large amount of waste.
I have a swirl filter attached to the system to help eliminate heavy solids, but I have not kept up with cleaning and draining the swirl filter on a regular basis. The swirl filter with an over-populated tank should be drained every other day and cleaned about once per week. Through the winter, I probably drained it every 2 weeks and cleaned the filter once a month-very neglectful on my part. Truly I am surprised I have not lost fish from the tank as the ammonia levels are way out of control.
I dug down into the grow media a few inches and found the majority of fish waste was contained in the top 2-3 inches of the media. I took off the top few inches and rinsed it thoroughly before replacing into grow bed.
I added a pound of red wigglers to the bed, which should reduce the amount of solid fish waste, since they feed heavily on the waste. Planting the bed full of herbs or other plants will have a significant impact as well.
Over the course of the next few weeks I will drain the filter daily and clean the filter two to three times a week. I am hoping within the month this will clean the majority of the waste from the system and get it back in balance.
Living through our 20’s are tough for most of us – it’s the time we make some of our biggest decisions. We have moments of clarity and joy, scattered with moments of inquisition and uncertainty. We question the time we spend on this planet earning money, and whether more money and stability is worth sacrificing happiness. Through our love of the environment, science, and community, Sean and I discovered aquaponics, and the possibility of a tiny business selling plants grown from fish poo. Sounds exciting right?!
For the last five years I have fueled my aquaponics entirely with Tilapia Fish, but this year have seriously considered expanding our systems with catfish. Have not as of yet, but probably will before summers end.
After a little bit of a wait, I finally got some catfish to help power the system. They’re really small at about 4 inches. Not sure if we should be calling them kitten fish at this stage. I’ll have to check on that. After the big fish kill from the aerator diaphragm failure, I wasn’t sure how many hybrid carp I had left in both tanks. So to make room for the catfish, I emptied the tank with the least amount of fish “stashing” most of the water from the 500 gallon tank into the rest of the system. Earlier in the day, I noticed the sump tank was low and figured if I clear the swirl filter to lose about 100 gallons, I could isolate the fish tank by closing the valves and use a pump and hose to empty it into the rest of the system saving my…
Our second full year in the greenhouse with the aquaponics systems has been wrought with a few mishaps and mistakes. Nothing major-lines burst, junctions break, heater burnt out, air pump stopped-but today I woke up to an entire tank of dead tilapia fish!
It happened in my constant height tank, which was the first of the type that I had built. I had cleaned out the 3 stage filter last week during our warm weather snap because the water was starting to turn a little too brown. I checked the ammonia level, which was high but thought it would go down after I cleaned the filter.
I never cleaned out the grow bed. Honestly it never really dawned on me as I had the 3-stage filter and the gutter garden circulating water for filtration in this tank, but I did not grow anything in this grow bed over the winter.
This morning, after removing the fish, I took off my 3-stage filter and it was already full of sediment. So I looked under my grow platform and it was 1-2″ deep in solid fish waste! The ammonia level was through the roof, so no doubt why all the fish died.
Needless to say I am pumping all the water out of the tank and cleaning the grow bed so I can start the system fresh with new fish. We had been talking about changing this particular tank to a cold water fish, so we would have 1 tank that did not need heated. I guess that decision is now made.
Unfortunately, I was planning a neighborhood fish fry next weekend to utilize the fish from this tank. Most were 14-18″ long and 5-6#-perfect for a big fish fry! I guess the fish fry will be postponed for a while!
As with everything, there is a learning curve, one just hopes for no sharp turns like this! But with this epic fail, I have a chance to start fresh and utilize my new found knowledge to become even better with my aquaponic gardening.
I have officially been in business as Baltimore Aquaponics for about a year now, although I have been doing business for almost 4 years in the aquaponics industry. As a growing business in the Mid-Atlantic region, I have started to gain the attention of industry leaders. Just recently I was interviewed by The Aquaponic Source, a renowned aquaponic trainer and retailer in Colorado.
A little background: My start came when I got a call from a friend who wished to see an abandoned fish farm that had come on the market. (Being in real estate for 26 years, I had many friends and previous clients which contacted me anytime they wished to see or sell a property.) I didn’t think much about it at the time, but I did go through the process of securing an appointment to view the property. Little did I know that I was going to receive a very solid beginning education into this new-to-me concept of aquaponics, during the tour of the farm.
I have since had many conversations with Ms. Bernstein and her help as been invaluable in insuring proper setup and maintaining the mini eco-systems. Since her company was in Colorado, I thought extending her educational reach to the east coast just made sense, so I opened Baltimore Aquaponics to start an educational side to my business.
Teaching aquaponics has been fun and rewarding, watching budding enthusiast’s grow in knowledge and see how their systems evolve. I look forward to future classes as well as growing relationships with former students.
A few months ago, Ms. Bernstein contacted me and said that she would like to do an interview with me about my business that she could post on their website. I was all too excited to comply, since she was such an integral part of my business growth.
Although she has since sold the Aquaponic Source, she is still very involved in the industry. New owners JD and Tawnya Sawyer have been full time aquaponics researchers, educators and farmers since 2009 and have fully dedicated their lives to the development of sustainable food systems for our planet.
You can see the resulting write-up from the interview on their website:
I am taking advantage of the nice-but cool weather today to start preparing the suburban homestead for winter. Bees, chickens, rabbits, fish, the greenhouse, the aquaponics systems the garden, canning, freezing, dehydrating, and I am sure there are a few other things that will need my attention over the coming weeks.
This morning started at 5:30, fixing breakfast for the little woman. Yes she still works outside the home, which is why I became here “Homestead Hero”, as she calls me. Hero I am not, but it is a full time job to take care of a homestead-even a small 1/5 acre suburban homestead.
After getting her off to work, its time to gather food scraps and greens (grow in the garden and greenhouse) to feed the chickens. Taking food and water to the chickens is not as easy as walking out the back door since we can not legally keep fowl on our property. (In Baltimore County-must have 1 acre for any chickens) So I have to take a short drive of about 1 1/2 miles to get to the chicken coop on our friends property. This isn’t so bad and I really do not have to go every day since we installed the solar electric door to let them in and lock them up at night. But it’s nice to feed them greens and scraps to keep our feed bill low.
Once back from the coop, I focused on getting the bees wrapped all warm and toasty. We have had a few nights now at 30 degrees, so why wait until the last minute.
I start the wrap with a layer of 2″ foam board around three sides. This is held tight with a metal plumbing strap. Then I can surround the hive with straw bales. These serve as a great wind break and an insulator for the cold weather accompanied by high winds that we usually have here on the east coast.
In the third picture, many of the bees came out to see what was going on, almost looks as if they are getting ready to swarm, but they quickly settled back inside to their routine. I was going to start feeding them today, but with the activity I will just wait until tomorrow before I disturb them again.
While I was outside, I just checked on the rabbits. We have a mating pair of Florida Whites, of which our female is currently pregnant. She is due on the 27th, so I just added some straw in the cage so she could build a nice comfy warm nest to deliver the litter. I have the plastic wrap put up but have not surrounded the hutches with it yet. That only takes a few minutes to unroll and attached to the outside of the hutch, so I can wait until later this month.
Chickens, bees, and rabbits-check, check, and check. So on to the greenhouse. I have not been real active in the greenhouse over the summer, since all of my attention has been devoted to the outside garden projects.
Of course the last few weeks have been filled with canning, freezing and dehydrating our spring and summer crops. “crops” that makes it sound like we have so many acres, but we have just enough for one little homestead hero to handle. You would be amazed at how much can be grown on a 1/5 acre!
Anyway, back to the greenhouse. I wrote a couple of months ago about our cherry tomato plant in the aquaponic grow bed. I figured today was a good day to say goodbye to it-after 11 months of growing and fruiting. Yes it was still delivering cherry tomatoes, but the growth had taken over the greenhouse and the vines had rooted in several places throughout 2 grow beds.
It took some time to clean out the remains of the tomato plant, along with some lettuce, spinach, and mint that the growth had been hiding from me. But now that the grow beds are empty, except for a thriving mint plant in one corner, I can start to plant for winter growth.
While working outside I found some bean plants that had sprouted around my outside grow tower. I guess when I let some stay on the vine to dry for use as seeds next year, they must have fallen off and germinated in the ground around the barrel. There were six small plants that seemed to be thriving, even after the frost we encountered the last two nights. I thought this would be a perfect time to try green beans in our aquaponics system.
I installed one of our larger tomato cages into the center of the grow bed. Then I dug up the 6 bean plants and cleaned the roots for transplanting. This will be a first for me trying green beans so I am excited to see how well they do.
The other grow bed, with the mint in the corner is now planted with seed for lettuce, mescaline, spinach, and arugula. It is nice to be able in the winter to feed our chickens and rabbits fresh greens.
Part of preparing for winter is also thinking ahead to spring, so today I had a full load of wood chips delivered. I use these to spread on paths and walkways between the raised beds, as well as around fruit trees to keep roots warm in the winter.
Anyone like pumpkins this time of year? I did not plant pumpkins this year because it absolutely took over our garden beds last year. But I guess God had other plans for the garden this year as I have a great amount of pumpkins that grew. I think it fascinating that they are hanging from my tomato cages and green bean tunnel.
While working around the homestead today, I had an engineer here all morning checking, measuring, taking pictures and asking questions, readying our house for a solar panel installation. We are really looking forward to adding solar to our property, hopefully to help get our utility costs reduced and be more in line with our belief in sustainability and eco-friendly.
I think this is the first time I have ever written over 1000 words for one post. I hope I did not bore you, but there is always a lot going on at the little suburban homestead this time of year. This hero, although tired, really enjoys the activity.
If you are thinking about joining the great world of aquaponics-Here is your chance!
Saturday, September 12, 2015
Because of the uncertainty of getting IBC totes for class-at this time we are ONLY OFFERING THE AQUAPONICS BASICS CLASS ON THIS DATE! If I have the ability to get totes-I will open up the tank building class and those who have signed up for the basics class will be given first option for the class.
There will be three options for the class that day:
Aquaponics Basics, Aquaponics System Building, Full class which includes both options
Be prepared to get your hands dirty! The day will start with a tour and explanation of our suburban greenhouse. We will discuss:
What is aquaponics?
How does it differ from hydroponics, aeroponics, or aquaculture?
Is it cost effective to grow this way?
Is aquaponics legal in residential areas
What about more commercial applications
Do you need permits for vegetable/fish sales?
What are your goals with aquaponics
What are you wanting to grow? flowers, vegetables, herbs
NOTE: for Washington, DC residents: since Marijuana is not legal in MD, I cannot teach to that specific plant, but will answer any questions as best I can.
Personal consumption only or larger scale
Outside system or in a garage, shed, or greenhouse.
Types of aquaponic systems
Fill & Drain, Constant Height, Vertical, Gutter
Pro’s and Con’s of systems
Which system is best for you?
Types of plants best for your system
Different types of Grow Media or floating rafts
Pro’s & Con’s
Raising and breeding Tilapia fish (This is our fish of choice)
Pro’s and Con’s of Tilapia
What other fish lend well to an aquaponics system
Are you wanting to harvest fish for food, for sale, or just have fish for the system
Receive tracking logs for maintenance and monitoring of your system
We will also be covering topics about: cycling your tanks, grow media, heating, lighting and covering any questions that you may have leading a good understanding of aquaponics and how to start. After attending the basics class, you will have the knowledge to successfully start your aquaponics adventure.
Once completed in the greenhouse, you will roll your sleeves up to be completing your own IBC tote tank system. Be sure to bring your truck or trailer. We sold almost 100 of these last year at $299 each and you will take yours home with you the day of class!
I will take you through step-by-step in building your tank and the importance of measurements, heights, and clearances to insure your tank will function properly. Although we will have the majority of the parts pre-cut, please have knowledge of basic hand tools and drills. If you have a battery operated drill, feel free to bring it.
With any system there is some basic maintenance. As we complete the tank systems, I will cover basic maintenance and common causes of malfunctions, as well as the necessary steps to solve and prevent future issues.
If you bring pictures of the area where you want to install your tank and a simple drawing , I will help you determine the best setup for positioning lines and filters. We can also make small modifications on the spot that would make your system very user friendly for your location.
When you complete this class, you will walk away with the knowledge you need set-up and run your new aquaponics system successfully. Not to mention that you will have your tank system built and ready to set and function as soon as you get home!
All class participants will receive the book and DVD from the foremost expert in Aquaponics in the United States: Sylvia Bernstein.
Aquaponic Gardening: A step-by-step guide to raising vegetables and fish together. This book is the first and best book I have read in starting my aquaponics adventure: a $30 Value
Aquaponics Explained Video: full-length aquaponics course taught by Sylvia Bernstein in her warm, approachable style in June, 2012 at the Denver Botanic Gardens: a $30 Value
Just choose the option that best fits your needs. If you just need the knowledge right now and a better understanding of the aquaponic system, then the Aquaponic Basics Class is for you.
9:00 am Aquaponics Basics-This will include everything listed above in the “Greenhouse Tour” plus the book and video to take home.
$99 per person.
If you understand the basics of aquaponic gardening and are ready to get your system set up[ and going, with the knowledge of building and maintaining the system, then the AP Tank Class is for you.
11:30am Tank Only Class-This class will be spent hands-on in building your own tank system to take home right after class*. It will include all instruction on the mechanics and maintenance of the IBC tank system. You will be able to leave the class with the knowledge to build more tanks or variations to fit your needs in your own space. This class will include Sylvia Bernstein’s book & video to take home.
*Does not include Grow Media or fish
$349 per person
If you want to combine the knowledge of aquaponic gardening and starting your system, then come for the complete 1/2 day training!
FULL CLASS-Best Value. Save $50 from the cost of both classes for a packed 1/2 day of training and education about aquaponics; leaving with all the information and material you need to get started with your own aquaponics system when you get home!* Includes everything in both of the above classes at a $50 savings, but as an added bonus full paid tuition will include ONE guest FREE. So bring an interested friend, neighbor, or relative and they can participate with you.
$399 for 2 people**
*Does not include Grow Media or fish
**Includes only ONE book and DVD per paid tuition
Every class will have door prize drawings and giveaways throughout the class, so come prepared to make it a day of learning and fun!
Classes held in Southeast Baltimore County in Dundalk. Times and exact address of class will be sent on your payment confirmation page.
This is awesome and works well. The only issue is if you grow a fish which must be in an environmentally controlled tank. Growing tilapia I must heat the tanks which takes too much energy to run from a small display of solar panels.
Our last class on June 20th went well even though we had a few minor glitches.
First I need to check my emails better to make sure that when I send something, it actually goes! I found that no one had received the pre-class email with follow-up dates, time, location, and other pre-class information. For some reason, which I am sure was operator error, the email ended up in my “drafts” folder.
For that reason, some of the preliminary information that I send so I don’t have to spend as much class time on a subject, did not go. This meant more time in class covering subjects in more detail.
Another issue was a change in class time, because of potential weather, so a couple of participants showed at the original start time versus the new time. These issues made for a very interesting and long aquaponics basics class, but at least everyone got a lot of time to thoroughly understand the subject matter.
The aquaponic system building class went much more smoothly and everyone was able to properly build the system. With the class being very hands-on and pretty much one on one instruction, (Thanks so much to my two assistants for the day, Rob & Chris!) We were able to get the entire class done in about 2-2 1/2 hours.
We will not be having any aquaponics classes through the summer, but will probably set another round in September. Until then, here are a few pictures from the system class.