Cycling a New Aquaponics System. Quick Guide.

How to Cycle a new Aquaponics System.
Have your system built and the water circulating, the auto siphons are functioning and adjusted well. If you have decided to use a timer system for flood and drain, then your timed cycles should be functioning well. You have run the system long enough for the water to be clearing.  The water can be a bit dirty from loose dust on the clay pebbles or gravel, but it should start to clear after a few days.

Barra in a basket

Small Barramundi contained in a plastic laundry basket within the fish tank. This makes it easy to take the fish out and treat them in a salt bath if necessary.

Small Barramundi contained in a plastic laundry basket within the fish tank.  This makes it easy to take the fish out and treat them in a salt bath if necessary.

Adjust the pH to just below pH 7. Adjust using pool acid to bring pH down or hydrated lime to adjust pH up. Get some plants in there right away.  The plants will soon tell you if there is not enough nutrients.  Use some Maxicrop or Seasol seaweed extract to provide some nutrient for the plants.  It will not harm the fish once you have them in the system.
There are very small amounts of ammonia in these products, so the process of building a suitable colony of beneficial bacteria will be slow, but it is a very safe and gentle way of cycling your system. Be patient.  These are natural processes and they take time. If you feel you must  speed the process, then, in addition to the seaweed extract, add a VERY SMALL amount of Urea.  No more than 1 teaspoon per 1000 litres of water.
If you can obtain some pure ammonia then use that in preference to Urea.  Once again, very a small amount like 1 tablespoon per 1000 litres (250 gallons). I stress that my preference is not to use Urea.  It can be vicious and cause lots of problems if overused.

The beneficial bacteria are naturally occurring, and they will begin to multiply once there is ammonia present. One option t ensure you have a good number of the beneficial bacteria present is to add some water , 3 or 4 liters (1 gallon) from a disease free freshwater aquarium, or a friends Aquaponics system.  The beneficial bacteria will be in this water and will take up residence in your new system and begin to multiply and use/process the ammonia. After your system has been running for about two weeks and everything is going nicely…..add the fish of your choice.

Stock lightly for your first batch of fish. Don’t be tempted to have a lot of fish in the beginning. Remember , loads of aeration and a backup system. Conduct your usual tests for Ammonia, Nitrites,  Nitrates at the following frequency. Daily for pH and Ammonia. Every second day for Nitrites. When the Nitrites appear you will know that the beneficial bacteria are on the increase. A short period of time after that Nitrates should start to appear. Test for Nitrates every second day until you see them appearing.  Once you see Nitrates you know that your system has cycled. All the while test for Ammonia.  If it goes beyond 1.0 mg/L then carry out a one-third water change.
The good thing about having the plants in is they are capable of taking up some of the ammonia.  Once the system has completed the "cycling" process tests for ammonia should reveal very small amounts or even none at all on occasion. All the while test pH.  Try to keep it just below pH 7.   It is not uncommon to observe swings in pH during this early period.   Don’t panic and start chasing the pH.   Only adjust when you see a firm pattern developing, for example, if it stays at say, 8.0 for 3 days, adjust gradually down using pool acid or similar…….be gentle, adjust in small increments, until you get it steady just below pH 7.

Once your system is up and running and everything is just fine, if you want to introduce more new fish always quarantine them in a salt bath for a week before putting them into your main system.  Don’t risk bringing sick or infected fish into your working Aquaponics system.
Happy Aquaponics Murray.

Is Aquaponics Worth The Effort?

The question has been asked countless times and I guess will continue to be.  Why do Aquaponics and is it worth it?  Is Aquaponically grown produce and fish all that different?

Some claim no!  Some say that the nutritional value or density, is not much different between produce grown in a regular dirt farm or garden, a hydroponics system or an Aquaponics system.  I suppose that comparison is something to be documented, but let's suppose that the comparison is correct.   Why then bother with growing Aquaponically?

Aquaponics fish

Fish dinner. Home grown and home cooking.  How good is this!

In this short piece so far, we have not mentioned the fish.  Regular dirt gardens/ farms, or hydroponics at any level can't deliver a fish dinner.

So what other reasons might there be to engage in Aquaponics.  I will list some. The list is not exhaustive but a good start.
1. Freedom from dangerous pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
2. Aquaponics can be truly "Organic" (none of that midnight spraying of poisons. If you do, you will kill those little policemen, the fish.)
3. Use of natural processes for the production of plant nutrients.
4. Most efficient use of water. (that one is a big one, especially now in SoCal, Aussie and other places)
5. Can be done anywhere. Especially significant in desert areas, places of poor, degraded or polluted soil. Inner city areas that are food deserts. At village level where resources are very limited.
6. Pure food. This sums up many of the above reasons.

Aquaponics produce

Wonderful pure food. Aquaponics produce at it's best. Your body will thank you for this meal.

Food purity is the overriding consideration.  Many, if not most other food production methodologies, are pure food failures.

Perhaps you can add some reasons that are important to you.   Please comment below.

Let’s Consider the Two Principle Workers:

Aquaponics utilizes natural processes. We rely on these natural processes to produce a truly organic nutrient bank.

- Nitrosomonas Bacteria
- Nitrobacter Bacteria

These two bacteria are naturally occurring. They are in the soil and water all
around us.

When we provide the starter compound, ammonia, the bacteria
swing into action and grow and multiply according to their food source.

The nitrogen cycle

The nitrogen cycle

TheNitrosomonas bacteria
convert the ammonia to Nitrite, and when Nitrite is present, then
theNitrobacter Bacteria convert the Nitrite to Nitrate.

Nitrate is, of course, the principal plant food for all plants, in particular leafy green plants such as vegetables.

To reiterate - it is important to understand that there is a myriad of microbes and bacteria at work in an Aquaponics system and eventually as the system matures many naturally occurring
nutrients become available to the plants.

Ammonia is the major waste product of the Kish.
released across the gills as a gas, and immediately dissolved in
the system water. Ammonia is TOXIC to fish at low levels and therefore, needs to be made
non-toxic as quickly as possible.

This is where the Bacteria play their role. The Bacteria convert the Ammonia (NH3) to Nitrite (NO2), then to Nitrate (NO3) Nitrate is non-toxic to the fish at small to medium levels ( This bacterial conversion of Ammonia to non-toxic Nitrate occurs in the bio-filter and on all the wetted surfaces of the system.

The breakdown, or mineralisation of solids in other areas eg, media beds and mineralisation tank, or sludge tank. This process occurs on all wetted surfaces. Grow media, underside of rafts, sides and bottom of raft beds, walls of fish tank and inside vertical towers.

So we have a system that is home to many, many forms of beneficial oxygen dependant microorganisms that perform very valuable tasks for us, providing the necessary ingredients for nutrient dense produce and healthy fish.

Aquaponics Courses.  Go HERE

18 Reasons Why Air Lift Pumps Will Revolutionise Aquaponics.

 

18 reasons why air lift pumps make so much sense and why you should seriously consider this methodology for your Aquaponics system. (Yes your home Aquaponics system will benefit as well)
Here is the list.

1. No more submersible pumps.
2. Lower install cost.
3. No need for additional Earth Leakage Safety cut out switch. (GFI outlet) Higher safety threshold.
4. So simple even school children can do the install.
5. Virtually maintenance free.
6. No moving parts. K.I.S.S.
7. Easily pump solids.
8. Stock separation.
9. Increase water lift.
10. Save electrical energy cost.
11. Go way beyond common lift provided by a regular submersible.
12. Pump higher than ever before.
13. Turbo drive your water pump.
14. Turbo drive aeration.
15. Verticals easily supplied, such as Zip Grow towers or Greenlife Pocket towers. (this feature alone is amazing)
16. Repair and replacement costs greatly reduced.
17. Very long service life.
18. Never run dry.

There is a few more reasons that will be expanded on in our one day Air Lift seminar with Glenn Martinez  Brisbane Friday 6th March.
Glenn will show you how to make it work, has plan books showing exactly how to do it at your place.   Glenn's air pumps will revolutionise Commercial Aquaponics.

PS.....Class was run on Friday 6th March and was just fantastic. WE have filmed the event and will soon post the edited film for our Gold Members to see.

Three levels of Knowledge -

Three levels of Knowledge -

Training class in progress. Practical hands on training.

Training class in progress. Practical hands on training.

The 4 day Master Class is a good mix of both introductory subjects and leading into and concentrating on commercial Aquaponics subjects. We have excellent material to share including some very extensive spreadsheets that will play well for your business plan development.

As you are most likely aware we have excellent credibility in this area. We have been delivering Master Classes in the USA and  Australia for more than 5 years. We are very fortunate having travelled around the world and consulted on many farm projects. Many of our students are running their own projects and some are building farms for others. Some are teaching and sharing with others as well as running their own Aquaponics farm.

Additionally We are the holders of Australian Federal Gov approved 10427NAT - Certificate III in Aquaponics Organic Food Production. The only such course in the world at this time.  We are still finalising the teaching notes and training some staff to deliver this Cert III course.  We anticipate the first delivery of this course to commence in June 2015.

So, we deliver Aquaponics knowledge in three levels;

1. Discover Aquaponics.  A one day course crafted especially for the hobbyist. This gives a really good framework for the person wishing to grow their own chemical free healthy vegetables (and fish, don't forget the fish!)

Aquaponics Greens

Salad greens growing in a home Aquaponics system

2. Aquaponics Master Class. A 4 day training course aimed at those who may be wishing to develop a commercial business in Aquaponics farming.  This course is by far our most attended and enthusiastically recommended by graduating students.

(Yes, we have many Aquaponics home hobbyists who complete this level of training because they want to be really good at producing their own food and move closer to a sustainable lifestyle.)

3. 10427NAT - Certificate III in Aquaponics Organic Food Production. This is a 500 hour plus course that is designed to fit the student with in-depth knowledge of Aquaponics Farming.  This will produce qualified persons who can confidently enter into an Aquaponics farming venture. Further, it will produce qualified persons who an Aquaponics farmer can confidently hire as excellent, knowledgeable AP farm technicians.

Aquaponics Salad Greens

Aquaponics Salad Greens.  A farm built in the Middle East by one of our star students.

To secure your place in the March Master Class, go here

Sucking up Filth and Dirt.

Pump Maintenance in Aquaponics

Pumps like sucking up filth and dirt. This ultimately leads to total destruction.

Look at this disgusting mess.

The possibilities of killing everything in the Aquaponics system is very high starting with pump failure, quickly followed by fish deaths. OK, it will take a bit longer to kill the plants but not too long to kill all the fish.

The possibilities of killing everything in the Aquaponics system is very high starting with pump failure, quickly followed by fish deaths. OK, it will take a bit longer to kill the plants but not  long at al to experience fish deaths.

So, what is the problem?
Very simple, = poor maintenance regime.

So many home systems in particular, suffer from poor pump maintenance. The pump should be looked at weekly. Just give it a quick look over to remove any debris that may have collected on the filter screen. Quickly remove and we are all good. This is particularly important for systems being run outdoors, that is, not in a protected cropping structure such as a greenhouse.

Leaves and even dead plant roots coming down from the raft system to the sump and finally onto the filter screen of the pump.  In the photo above you can even see a lonely clay pebble that has found its way onto the pump.

Commercial farm systems need to be even more vigilant. A well-organised regime of maintenance should be followed. Checklists for farm staff should definitely include physically looking at the pump or pumps.  Not good enough to walk past, "Yep, water is moving and I can hear the pump".

Stop, take a careful look and if necessary clean the filter screen.

Of course, you will not have any of these problems if you employ an air-lift pump.

Immediately following our March the second 4 day Master Class we will have Glenn Martinez from Olomona Gardens Hawaii here to teach and demonstrate a full day of airlift pumps.  That's right, pumping water, loads of it using a regular air pump.  That is Friday March 6, 2015 here at Brisbane.   We are flying Glenn down to Australia to demonstrate airlift pumps.  This is a rare opportunity to meet Glenn one of the very few innovators in the world of Aquaponics.

Glenn will, on the day, actually build several different configurations of pumps.  These are real and are capable of moving lots of water in a very economical way.  No more pump blockages.

Book now for this standalone one-day event.
If you are coming to the Master Class make sure you book to stay for this fantastic learning experience.

Go HERE to make your booking.

The Cost of Commercial Aquaponics.

Is it possible to build your own small scale commercial aquaponics system without costing you an arm and a leg? How much should it cost to build it yourself? How much money can you expect to earn? Where do you sell your produce? Where do you go to learn more about all this stuff?

Aquaponics Farm

Aquaponics Farm.

We grab hold of Aquaponics kit builder and teacher Murray Hallam and get the low down on his training course and how much money a small DIY commercial Aquaponics system would cost you to set up. His answers may surprise you.

Harvesting lettuce in an Aquaponics Farm. Practical Aquaponics.

Harvesting assorted greens for a custom order in an Aquaponics farm.

Transcript of interview.  Edited and updated 25 Jan 2015

Ecofilms: Now you’re running a course about commercial Aquaponics. Tells all about the motivation behind it because you were doing workshops last year in backyard systems. Is this the new hot thing?

Murray Hallam: Well it certainly seems to be from our perspective because we get phone calls literally every day from people who are wanting to go into commercial Aquaponics.

Now the definition of what is commercial is quite elastic as you can imagine for some people. Probably the biggest group of people we talk to our people who are at retirement age or near retirement age, they discovered that their superannuation pension plan is not going to get as much income as they thought it would so they what about do something that will bring in a $500 or $1,000 a week and is not too stressful and they see aquaponics is a great way to go.

Of course behind all that is their desire to be able to produce good clean food. Food through security, food purity reasons. So that’s what motivates them. That’s what excites them about aquaponics and they want to learn to do at that level.

Then there is the next group of people who are actually into the idea of a sea-change or a tree-change as we call it. They want to move to the country. They want to change their lifestyle. They’re sick and tired of living in the city and they want to do something they see as sustainable. It's a good thing to do that is going to provide good food and they can make a nice living out of it. That's the next group of people and once again that’s not a massive great big farm.

Then you’ve got another group of people which is very small, who see it as a way to build a mega-farm.

I personally don’t think that’s the way Aquaponics will succeed.  I think it’s going to be small family farms. Small suburban farms. Local food distributed locally. Cut down food miles. Food purity. Food security. They are all good reasons to do Aquaponics.

Aquaponics ticks all the boxes in those areas. Aquaponics commercially.

This 3,000 square foot system can be expanded to cope with local demand for fresh aquaponically grown lettuce.

This 3,000 square foot system can be expanded to cope with local demand for fresh Aquaponically grown lettuce and greens.

Ecofilms:  Because a lot of people when you say commercial aquaponics immediately think of enormous farms. Some of the large hydroponic farms and so on. Is there a limit to how big you can go commercially with aquaponics in your view?

Murray Hallam: I don’t think there is a limit.  I think that anything is done on a hydroponic farm scale could also be done aquaponically.  One might ask why would you want to do it aquaponically when it already is proven to do it hydroponically?

Well the simple answer is aquaponics is an ecosystem. By combining the two disciplines of aquaculture and hydroponics the third brand-new discipline all of its own called aquaponics has evolved and the beautiful thing about it is – what makes it distinctly different from those of the two is that it is an ecosystem. It relies on natural processes in order to produce the nutrient for the plants, in order to keep the fish healthy and plants happy. You produce two products (fish and plants) out of the same system.

It's very efficient and I see no reason why one day we will see great big farms. But personally I think the way the world is going – food miles need to be cut down. So it is no longer going to be economical to grow plants in one part of the country and transport them thousands of miles to somewhere else for sale. People are going to have to be to produce food locally much more locally. They are going t demand it to be delivered to them in a much fresher state. In a much purer state.  Aquaponics ticks all the boxes.

Ecofilms: So you are about to embark on a course teaching commercial aquaponics in Australia as well is in the US states in March and July of this year. (2015)  Can you tell us a little bit about what people will learn, will discover in that course? Will it be just a course to introduce them to that? Or will they be able to go home and have enough material in their hand to embark on a project?

Murray Hallam:  Yes the training course we’re doing in Brisbane starting 2nd March will actually have hands-on building of troughs and fish tanks to show people exactly how to do it so that people can go away and build it themselves or employ a contractor and know exactly what the contractor ought to be doing so they get the result they want. They will also have training in our legal requirements. What are the legal requirements at the moment in Australia for running an Aquaponics farm?  We will touch on business marketing. All that kind of thing because really the key to making it successful is being able to sell the product, because if you can’t sell the product at a good price then the whole thing goes up in smoke. So we’ll have a lot of discussions about how to sell the product. How to gain a premium price of your premium product and then of course will be the theory of the whole thing. How does Aquaponics work? How does that bacteria convert the material? How does it make it all work?

People need to understand that and that's a general outline of what will be covered in a very broad way.

Ecofilms: What would be the upfront costs for someone who wanted to set up a small commercial Aquaponics system? Say they had are some acreage and wanted to perhaps sell (produce) off the road or go to a farmers market. What would their costs be to run something that could earn them $500 to $1000 a week?

Murray Hallam: Well at that level, if you going to build it all yourself and do it all yourself you could build it for a minimum of say, $20,000.  That’s my guess. Buying new materials and providing all your own labour and buying a decent greenhouse or greenhouse materials and that kind of thing. Once again that depends on where you live in the world. For example here in south-east Queensland where we enjoy a fairly good climate all year round, it’s cheaper to build here obviously than it would be in one of the northern states of the USA where they have really cold winters and they might require heating in the winter.

So that would add additional cost for what they do. Or in the southern states of Australia for example right down in Tasmania and Victoria, your building costs will be different there than what it will be in a place like south-east Queensland or for example in Texas or Florida USA.

So those figures at pretty hard to be definite about but you’d be looking around about $20,000. If you wanted to get someone to come and build that for you, that same kind of thing, as a turnkey option, it might cost you $50,000 to $100,000.00. It's a very difficult thing to put a price on it, I have to be honest, without proper assessment of the particular project.

Ecofilms: It would be a floating a floating raft, deep water cultures system?

Murray Hallam:  That would be a part of it. We have what we call our FloMedia system which is a combination of both floating raft technology and also media bed technology and one of two other little things began to throw in the people really enjoy finding out about when the course runs, that will help you grow all sorts of things in your systems and grow very well and make sure that you utilize every little bit of that beautiful natural ecosystem nutrient that is produced by the system. That’s very important I think. To get a good cross-section of all the different crops that you can grow and grow in your local area. We’ve had some experience with some farmers now in the USA particularly, that are told us that they can sell all they can grow but the difficulty they have is that the customers want more than just lettuce or just tomatoes or just carrots.

They want to be able to buy a variety of things that are grown in the Aquaponics system. So it has become very obvious to me that we need to be able to produce a whole lot of variety of quality vegetables if we’re going to successfully sell locally and produce and run a truly local business.

Ecofilms: So just getting back to FlowMedia at this is the a lot of interest in what it is exactly because it’s a combination as I understand it of floating raft and gravel media systems so that you can run different sorts of crops. Is it two systems split or are they somehow joined together and work off one pump?

Murray Hallam: No they are joined together and work with one pump. We spent quite a long time working out the parameters of how to do the plumbing so that the water distribution is done correctly and that the nutrient distribution is done correctly so that everything works really nicely in one harmonious system and can be run of just one very small low wattage pump.

That is the key to the whole thing. Keeps a running cost right down, but make sure we have maximum efficiency running through the whole system.

Ecofilms: And will you be teaching people FlowMedia in your Courses?

Murray Hallam: Absolutely yes.

Ecofilms: So this is something that really nobody has cracked yet. Would that be right to say?

Well, there are lots of people that are dabbling in it right now. There’s a lot of interest around. Just fascinates me. We’ve been playing around with it for more than five years and working out – making sure we know exactly how it should and shouldn’t work and just in the last 18 - 24 months, I guess, there’s been an explosion of interest in what some are terming hybrid systems because people are beginning to realize that to take all the nutrient out, to take all the waste material out, the fish poo, take it out of the system and basically discarding it, it’s not very smart.

Because there’s a whole lot of great nutrient and minerals locked up in that fish poop. To take it out and throw it away is pretty silly – which is what happens in a typical floating raft system. It’s taken away. Some people are a bit more clever, will treat it and try reintroduced nutrients back into the system but that is another job you have to do. Another process you have to do.  Whereas the way we do FlowMedia is it’s all done in the system and there’s no waste and the nutrients are retained in the system and the system just works absolutely beautifully.

Ecofilms: Tell us about your Australian Course. When is that happening and how long is it run for?

Murray Hallam: Our Australian course will happen on the 2nd March through to the fifth, 2015. It's four days and it’s pretty intensive actually. We’re going to have a difficult job keeping it down to four days. I reckon we could do six days really. But four days is what it is, and we going to cover all subjects we talked about earlier. The ones we’re doing in the USA in Oregon and Texas in July we actually are going to run two sessions.  Two identical four-day sessions because we’re anticipating the number of bookings will be quite high

Ecofilms: Well thank you Murray I think the fact that you’ve given us that little tip about how much people can spend on building their own small-scale commercial aquaponics system is a tremendous incentive. I think most people can find that sum of money if they were close to retirement age. I’ve always thought one of the beauties of Aquaponics is that all the food is almost at waist level. I always like the fact that I don’t have to bend over and pick things and it’s just an easy stroll. I feel lazy saying that, but it’s one of the advantages I think.

Murray Hallam: Well is another little advantage that comes with that as well. We’ve noticed that food is grown at waist height has a much lower pest problem than food grown on the ground, believe it or not. Now I’m not quite sure why that is, but it’s a much cleaner food, much better food and it’s just fun to work with.

Just backtracking a little bit to the cost of doing an Aquaponics system, we must stress that that’s assuming you already have some land and you already would have a place to do it in. If you have to go and buy land then obviously it’s a whole different kettle of fish. (no pun intended)

Ecofilms: When it comes to selling your produce as a general rule what should people be focused on? What advice would you tell most people who are considering doing a commercial Aquaponics course?

Murray Hallam: The first thing we say to people who contact us, the first thing you need to do is work out where and how you’re going to sell your produce. It’s not good enough to say, “Oh, Uncle Fred has a fruit and vegetable shop and he said he’ll buy it from me.”

You’ll probably find Uncle Fred won’t when the crunch comes.

You can’t go into this with just some loose idea that because you’ve grown a better product that people rush to your door and buy it. They may not necessarily. You have to have a good plan which we can help you formulate that plan in these courses. We will help you formulate that plan. Something will work for you in your area and you really need to sort that out long before you start worrying about how big the greenhouse is going to be or how big the pumps going to be. Those are all easy things to solve.

The big issue is where and how am I going to sell it, because this is a premium product and you must obtain for it a premium price. If you’re just going to send it off to a local bulk wholesale place you’ll get very poor prices and you won’t make a living.

Further Information

Murray will present his Australian Aquaponics Master Class in March 2-5, 2015 in Brisbane Australia.  See course outline here.

NB, please check the links above for current dates and times.

This article edited and updated January 25, 2015.

 

 

Aquaponics Book of Plans. Tried and Proven Plans to Build.

Do you want to build your own home Aquaponics system but not too sure where to start?  What materials to get or even what tools you will need.

Book of Plans available in hard copy or as an instant download.

This book of system plans is just what you are looking for.

 All plans, drawings and material lists have metric and imperial measurements.

Four plan sets that will give you an excellent choice of where is best to start for you.
A large home system that will supply all your fresh vegetables for a family of two.  A wonderful fish dinner every two weeks or so.(very conservative estimates) This INDY system looks good and is a serious food producer.
Ever wondered just how to build a wicking bed?  The instructions are all there. A very small wicking bed, say of 1 sqm (10 sqf)  or as large as 6 sqm (65 sqf approx).
Use recycled Totes (IBC’s) to build a well proven three bed design…..or
Build a very low cost system from two recycled bathtubs.

Over 180 photographs, illustrations and diagrams.
Bill of quantities for each of the four projects.
Plumbing mysteries unravelled.

Go HERE to get your hard copy

Or go here to get your Kindle or eReader copy.  Instant download.
Or download it instantly from Amazon.com

Rosemary Charlotte Appleton says,
Very useful book-essential reading for the DIY backyard aquaponics system prospective owner.
Kate Wildrick says,
I am so excited to see that Murray Hallam has made his plans available by Kindle. I absolutely love this book!! The easy to understand step-by-step instructions have helped us build our own abundant aquaponic system. After spending several months doing research on what type of systems and plans would work best, we decided Murray Hallam had put together the most thoughtful and practical approach. He has a great way of explaining what you need to know every step of the way. Plus, the easy to understand diagrams and pictures provide a rich visual source of information. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is curious or serious about aquaponics. It is an excellent and super affordable resource that is guaranteed to save you a lot of time and costly mistakes.