Sunday, December 16, 2007

Done with Digging!

Well, since my last post, we moved from design phase into digging. Lots of digging! I have a series of photos to show the progress...

Modest Beginnings
Thanks to a group of friends, real progress!
Building on the group work and digging deeper (~4' deep)
Laying in the pipe that will carry the water from the pump (will be inside the black skimmer box on the bottom) to the hydroponic beds inside the garden fence. Note that I partially filled in the opening in the top step. Since we originally had intended that end to be a "deep end" and have the pump situated there, we left that open. Given the new arrangement with the skimmer (the pump sits inside the skimmer), I had to backfill the step back in. I wasn't able to get it as high as the other steps, but we should be able to stack rocks there to get it up to height once the liner is in.
Pipe's covered up, and a rough outline of a waterfall is in place. Note the large plastic tub. That will be a bog and will also serve as a grow bed, but for more typical pond-oriented vegetation
So, the idea is simple. Water flows into the skimmer box where the skimmer takes out leaves and other surface-floaties. Water is then pumped through the black pipe, which will be completely covered, into the garden area and into some sort of hydroponic grow box. We'll probably get a couple more of those 110 gallon plastic tubs, as they look to be about the right size. The water will fill up each plastic tub, which, in turn, will flow into the next plastic tub, and eventually out of the last plastic tub (pictured above) and out through a waterfall (base construction will be out of cinder blocks) and back into the pond.

Still left to do...
- Get underlayment and liner installed. This will require a 25' X 25' liner, just for the pond, which weighs about 200 pounds. So, I'll need to get some help! I'll also need a small liner for the waterfall (size yet to be determined).
- To secure the liner, I'm going to have to get some rocks delivered. These don't have to be fancy rocks, as any rocks that will be inside the pond will end up getting covered in algae. You want rocks and gravel inside your pond to serve as a place for the beneficial ammonia-converting bacteria to attach to and also to hide the liner.
- Get power to the area. I've already purchased an outdoor outlet set and outdoor wire, but I need to dig a trench (>12") from the pond to the shed, where I plan on installing a mini-breaker box to provide power. Having a double out let pond-side will be nice, in case we need to plug anything else in. The pump itself will run 24 hours a day.
- After the liner is in place, I can work on constructing the waterfall, as it will sit on top of the pond liner.
- Get dirt, gravel, and rocks delivered. Dirt to build up the bog and waterfall area and any parts of the berm that need work. Gravel to fill up the grow beds and disperse inside the pond to conceal the liner. And rocks to landscape the pond, hide the waterfall cinderblocks and waterfall bog plastic container.

So, that's where we're at for now. Looks like we'll take a short break from pond work for the holidays, but I'm really hoping that we can be pretty much up and running by the end of January!!

Look for another update after the liner's in place.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Phase II - Planning and System Design

Well, I can't say that I've built anything or bought anything, but I can say that this system design phase is turning out to be harder than I thought! I finally received the Backyard Aquaponics book and DVD, and it was very informative and helpful. I recommend buying it, although it is $98. I guess some of that has to cover shipping from Australia. It's well done, and it definitely helps to solidify system designs and the things you need to think about in your mind.

I started off thinking that I wanted to design a small system and run it in a 5' X 5' corner of my shed. I live in North Carolina, so we have a winter. The idea of putting in the shed was attractive, in that I might be able to run the system year round. However, the shed was absolutely non-winterized, so I went out and bought some insulation and insulated it. It's much more comfortable in there now, and it's a bit cleaner and more organized. But, I don't think I can run an aquaponics system in there without having some sort of heating unit during the winter. That, combined with the fact that I would have to buy a grow light has turned me away from that idea.

Furthermore, when I started looking into the components I would need, i.e. a fish tank, grow bed, pump(s), and a light, I realized that building a "small" system costs about the same as building a larger system. In other words, no matter what size system you are thinking about, you're still going to need at least one pump, some sort of water tank, and at least one grow bed. In my crawling across the internet, I found that the fish/water tank was going to be the most expensive piece of equipment. Polypropylene tanks of food grade quality are quite expensive. I found some water troughs for livestock, but they had long, oval shapes and weird looking plastic. The sizes and shapes and cost were making the shed corner look less and less likely.

So, now we're thinking we'll set it up outside. As Mr. Malcolm realized, when you are setting up outside, the look of the components comes more into play. You don't want a bunch of plastic tanks sitting out in your yard, purely for aesthetic reasons! So, now we're leaning towards digging a 6' - 8' round hole, about 3' deep for the fish pond, and building a grow bed up against our existing garden fence. Also, we're leaning towards building a gazebo over the fish pond and trying to turn it into a nice space to sit and eat dinner. One thing that occurred to me that I didn't see mentioned is the notion of rainwater in the system. Like many places, we get some nasty thunderstorms here in the spring and summer that can drop a ton of rain in a very short time. That seems to me to be a potential problem with a closed, recirculating system like what I have in mind. That's one of the reasons for the gazebo over the fish pond (in addition to trying to keep down the amount of algae that will grow from sunlight).

The image at the top is a ridiculous rendition of what we have in mind (or at least the general idea!).

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Phase I – Learning and Discovery

It isn’t often anymore that you come across an idea that’s simple, creative, and makes perfect sense, especially one that makes environmental sense. When I first read about aquaponics a couple of weeks ago, the brilliance of the concept took hold of me, and I daresay that it is now rooted with shocking permanence! For those that aren’t familiar with the term aquaponics, it’s a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. Essentially, you feed the fish, the fish poop in the water, the waste water is used to feed the plants, the plants use up the nutrients and return the water clean to the fish, and you make sure the chemistry of the water is good for both fish and plant. And after a few short months, you have fresh fish, veggies, and herbs ready for supper. As someone who enjoys fishing and tending a vegetable garden in the summer, I couldn’t think of a reason not to try my hand at aquaponics.
This was then the beginning of Phase I – Learning and Discovery. After reading all I could on the web, I purchased an e-subscription to the Aquaponics Journal, checked out Stickney’s Aquaculture: An Introductory Text from the library at UNC-Chapel Hill, and ordered the Book and DVD from Mr. Malcolm at Backyard Aquaponics, which should arrive this coming week from Australia. In addition, I’m reading Pearce’s When the Rivers Run Dry: Water – The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century, which is motivating me even further to get into aquaponics, purely from a water-use perspective. I plan on picking up some books on hydroponic gardening from the library or bookstore in the coming weeks.
I decided to keep this online journal of my trials and tribulations for anyone else who wanted to read about what it’s like for someone who knows absolutely nothing about aquaponics, and I thought it also prudent to keep a good, detailed record of my experiences for future reference. This may not be the most exciting blog in the world, but I hope that it at least will be informative.