Thursday, January 9, 2014

Fish, Fowl, And Fleecy Friends

I get asked what exactly aquaponics is from people who have heard that we're doing weird and wonderful things with our farm in 2014. So this page will get you a few links to other videos and some basic principles for building and operating a system in our greenhouse.

An aquaponic system is a method of growing plants hydroponically and raising fish at the same time. The basic principle is this: the fish excrete waste into their pool of water and the plants extract nutrients for their growth and in this process clean the water for the fish. This is accomplished by pumping the fish water up into the grow beds of the hydroponic system and then letting it drain back into the pond below. It really is a simple idea but building a system and finding the right balance of clean water and nutrients for the plants can take some working out.

First things first. There are literally thousands of websites and YouTube videos that you can watch to figure out what you are interested in building. I'd recommend watching lots to see which ones you find educational and maybe talk to someone who has a working system. Japan Aquaponics have info on their website that's easy to understand. And lots of graphics like the one to the left to let you see how it all works together. We are using a pretty simple start for ours with some wooden frames to hold our 170 litre plastic totes and keep them from warping, some used pool pumps to circulate, and totes again for the grow beds. Details to follow.

Now in an true aquaponic system you get 2 crops. Your fruits and veggies grown using the fish water fertilizer, and the fish themselves. Depending on the species of fish you raise you can expect to have a harvest in 9-12 months and you can vary your stocking rate (the number of fish in your system) until you find out what works for you. We are going to start out with goldfish in our set up which may seem strange as people don't usually eat goldfish, but the reason we're doing it is to get the kinks worked out of our system, balance the ammonia and nitrate levels and keep a close eye on the water temperatures. Depending on how that goes we'll know if we can raise Tilapia which are a warm water fish or trout and perch which like it cooler and are native to our area. We're just thinking that it could be a bit tricky to keep the water about 70 degrees f if it's set up in a hot greenhouse and we'd rather kill a few small feeder goldfish than a tank full of rainbow trout. Hopefully we don't lose any at all!

If it all works out well then we should have a working system by April and it should be able to operate year round with hardy vegetables in a greenhouse but we'll see. We don't want the pipes freezing. We will take notes and keep a good record so we can properly evaluate. If you'd like a look at some different set ups and ideas then please check out the work done at Colorado State University, It's great and there's lots of ideas.

The sheep are still in the barn but with the nice weather we're expecting this weekend we're going to fence a small run for the sheep to give them some fresh air. They all seem good though.

We responded to a Kijiji ad that starts as follows '26 stupid chickens'. We're hopefully going to pick them up and give them a new home here with us. They're a year and a half old and are moulting so they've stopped laying. All this is perfectly normal for a hen and she'll grown back her feathers and begin laying again.

So there you have it, another project for the 2014 list.

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