Kiddie Pool Aquaponics – It Begins

In my last post on Going Big or Going Home, I mentioned that I would be uploading some videos. Wait no more! Here are a few videos going through my setup of the cheep-cheep kiddie pool which will serve as my fish tank:

Aquaponics: Go Big or Go Home

I’ve had a lot going on recently, which has made for few updates here on The Primal Prepper.

The biggest thing is that I have moved into my very own suburban (1/2 acre) homestead. No more balcony gardening for me!

And, as you might expect, in addition to spending lots of time and money fixing up the house itself (I bought a foreclosure in need of some repair), I have been giving a lot of thought to what to do with the outside.

As luck would have it, I bought a property that has a good amount of slope to it and faces south. Well, some say luck, others say buying criteria. I have plans for all that sun and the free energy provided by gravity.

Which brings me to my current point: a new aquaponics system.

To date, all of my systems have been… small. Puny in fact. But now that I have some room and some sun, that is going to change.

Since I got a $50 gift card for Target as a Christmas present at my job, I decided to see what Target had to offer. It turns out, they have kiddie pools. And kiddie pools on clearance! After shipping and my gift card, a vinyl & steel pool that holds over 1700 gallons costs about $80. Sold!

So my next AP system will be a 1700 gallon one.

Stay tuned for pictures and updates!

How to Keep Your Aquaponics Plants Healthy

One of the challenges of aquaponic systems is that they are closed, recirculating systems. Because there is no input besides what you put in, your plants can sometimes suffer. In the video, you’ll see that some of my plant leaves are yellowing, indicating a deficiency.

The solution?

Seaweed.

The seaweed extract does an excellent job of providing trace nutrients and minerals to plants. Generally the fish like the darker water too because they are less visible to predators.

Just watch out when you pour this stuff, it stains! Ask me how I know :).

Aquaponics, Worms, and Fig Tree Updates

I just wanted to share a few of the updates videos I’ve taken recently.

First up, the aquaponics update:

Next, the worms:

And finally, the tale of the figs and the ants:

I’ve Been a Bad Aquaponocist!

It’s official, I’ve been bad. Sometimes we learn more from our failures than our successes. So here you go, learn!

I ran out of fish food and let the little fishies go hungry for a week.

I didn’t keep my sump tank topped up, and my NFT system stopped flowing.

These are two pretty basic mistakes. To keep the nutrients flowing, you need the fish eating and crapping in the water and water flowing to plants.

Fortunately, this has all been rectified, and everything seems fine. Goldfish are tough little guys, but if you are raising fish to eat, you’ll definitely want them growing!

How to Cycle Your Aquaponics System

Over on my YouTube channel, condeefarm made this comment:

i just built my own mini system….my question is…how long under i can add the fish? and how long until i can add the plants? do i need to wait to add each component? thanks!

Normally I would respond with another comment, but this one takes up a bit too much room. So let’s talk cycling!

What Cycling Is

Cycling is the process of inoculating your aquaponics system with the necessary micro-organisms that will convert the fish waste (ammonia) to nitrites and then convert the nitrites to nitrates. This requires multiple strains of bacteria to be present in your system. This is part of the whole balancing system of aquaponics that makes it a miniature ecosystem. There have to be enough bacteria to convert the fish waste to plant food. Without enough bacteria, the fish will suffocate and the plants will die.

How to Cycle

There are 2 methods for cycling: fish-less and fish-ful. And yes, I just made up a brand new word, “fish-ful.” The purpose of both is to introduce some form of ammonia into the system. The presence of this ammonia will create a hospitable environment for the kind of bacteria we are looking for. These bacteria are all over the place all the time, so you don’t have to do anything special to put them in there (although you can – more on this later).

In fish-less cycling you put in ammonia manually. This can be in the form of ammonia bought from the drug store (make sure it doesn’t have any detergents in it), urea fertilizer, uric acid, or even human urine. After an initial large dose (size will depend on your system), keep up regular applications of much smaller doses until you are cycled.

In fish-ful cycling, you introduce a few fish to the system at the beginning. These fish may not survive, so don’t get too attached. The idea here is that the fish will produce their own ammonia, starting the cycling process. If you only put in a few fish, well below your stocking density limit, then they will most likely not suffocate from ammonia poisoning. This is how I started the cycling of my NFT system. I put 2 goldfish into my 55-gallon fish tank. I had planned to replace them with bluegill, but still haven’t gotten around to that.

How to Know When You are Done Cycling

Test with the master kit!

This is the test kit I use. It is very important in the early stages to know your water quality. What will happen during the cycling process is you will see the waves of nutrient conversion. First the ammonia levels will rise, which is good since you are adding ammonia. As the ammonia consuming bacteria breed, the levels of ammonia will fall and the levels of nitrite will rise. Then the second strain(s) of bacteria will populate, and the nitrite levels will fall and the nitrate levels will rise. When your ammonia and nitrite levels are 0 while your nitrates levels are greater than 5 (might be a lot greater), then you are done cycling! Hurrah!

When to Add Plants

This is a bit tricky. The nitrates are the plant food, so you want to time it as best as possible for the plants to germinate when the nitrates are present. The time to germination depends on your temperature, light levels, and plant species. So you’ll have to figure this out on your own for your situation. Alternatively, you can just wait until nitrates are present and put in the plants then.

How Long Does this Take?

How long the cycling process takes will depend on a few factors, ambient temperature being the most important. The colder it is, the slower it goes because bacteria breeding slows down. On average though, this whole thing takes about a month.

How to Speed Up the Process

The waiting period depends on the population of your desired bacteria. By introducing some bacteria intentionally instead of waiting for wild strains to land in your system, you can accelerate the process substantially. You can get this starter colony in many places: the filter gunk from an existing aquarium, water from a clean creek or stream, or water from an existing aquaponics system. Doing this can cut your cycling time in half or less.

So I hope this helps those just starting on their aquaponic journeys!

Video: Spring Is Springing in Aquaponics

I took a couple quick videos with my iPod on the aquaponic systems the other day. The first one is just a general overview as to how things are doing with 2 weeks to go before our last frost date:

The next one is a bit more detail about that tree that is sitting in the sump tank of the NFT system:

If you like them, feel free to click on the thumbs up. I’m not exactly sure what that does, but I think it’s good!

Turning Failure Into Success at WalMart

I went to WalMart yesterday to get 2 specific items: a cheap .22 long rifle and a couple of 5-gallon gas cans.

I want to get a .22 to develop some basic, fundamental marksmanship. I’m an OK shot at the range, but I want to get better. I plan on attending an Appleseed Project course a bit later this year, and I’ll need a .22 to do that.

The gas cans are simply to increase my fuel reserves. Gas prices are going up, and everyone knows it. Two years ago, it became very difficult to find gas for a while. All the stations were sold out because the supply pipeline had been shut off due to a hurricane. It would have been very helpful to have an extra 10 gallons, and the associated 200-300 mile range. Who knows if people will panic again over high prices at the pump.

I figured WalMart would be a good, cheap place to get this stuff. Alas, I was wrong. This particular WalMart didn’t sell guns at all, only ammo. And the gas cans were sold out. It was looking like a total failure for the day.

But then, as I was walking out, I noticed some berry bushes for sale. I picked up a raspberry bush (really raspberry stem in a cardboard pot), some potting soil, seeds, and a rayon mop head for the NFT aquaponics system.

Overall, I still need to get a gas can and a rifle, but it’s good practice to adapt and overcome obstacles.