Would someone tell us what in the world we’re growing in this Grow Bed?


This may be one of the lamest posts I’ve ever done because we have a Grow Bed in our Greenhouse right now that is full of this lovely green vegetable, which is really delicious, works great in a stir fry and is also quite good steamed. Raw, the stocks taste like mild celery. The leaves have a slight tartness to them. They don’t have smooth edges but are notched. Here’s what’s lame. We don’t know what the name of this plant is.Turnip Greens, Anyone???

Here’s what happened to create this embarrassing scenario. I, Grace, was out of town for an extended period of time and my partner, Oliver, was busy designing our next Food Forever™ Growing System and creating the manual for the last one, so our helper, Fred, planted seeds into this Grow Bed in the Greenhouse. He just placed the seeds into the bed without sprouting them first; and that was about seven weeks ago.

Now we have this beautiful and tasty plant that’s really great because you can eat the whole thing from top to bottom, and it grew like a weed in this Grow Bed. I’d really like to plant more of this plant; but Fred can’t remember what he planted and said he thinks it is some kind of cabbage.

With that in mind, I googled “cabbage” and found that there are cabbages that are more leafy than head like. It’s common knowledge that both Oliver and I are beginner gardeners and have only been gardening as long as we’ve been running our aquaponics systems, so we’re still amazed to discover all the veggies that are out there waiting to be cultivated. If only we knew the name of this one.

I googled “Bok Choy” and announced to everyone that it is Bok Choy; but when I looked at photos of Bok Choy closer today, I realized it’s too leafy and does not have enough stock to qualify as Bok Choy. Bok Choy is in the cabbage family and is a staple in Chinese cooking. It also works well in stir fries; and is becoming more popular in the West. I plan to plant some this spring as I’m sure it will grow well in one of our Food Forever™ Growing Systems. However, once I knew I wasn’t growing Bok Choy yet, I continued to search and came up with what I think this plant might be–“Turnip Greens”.

I also found a great website called “the world’s healthiest foods”, which is absolutely full of information about the best nutritional foods; and I discovered that Turnip Greens are part of the family of vegetables called “cruciferous vegetables”; and they are, just like Fred said, also part of the cabbage family.

They are considered supper foods because they are full of vitamins, fiber and disease fighting phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants. The term is generally used to refer to those chemicals that may have biological significance but are not established as essential nutrients. Scientists estimate that there may be as many as 10,000 different phytochemicals having the potential to affect diseases such as cancer and strokes.  Although certain phytochemicals are available as dietary supplements, some scientists believe that the health benefits of phytochemicals are greatly enhanced by eating whole foods.

Lends a lot of credence to the phrase “eat your vegetables”. What’s more, I discovered that Turnip Greens have four times the calcium as regular cabbage; and they outscore cabbage, kale, cauliflower and broccoli in glucosinolate content which means they have a natural ability to mitigate cancer. What’s not to like about this rather obscure veggie? It has a reputation for being bitter; and those cancer mitigating properties may be what’s attributing to the more bitter taste.

But here’s the thing. If this mystery plant is Turnip Greens, we’ve got a best seller because they aren’t bitter. They are tart but not bitter. So now you have the whole story and then some. If anyone out there recognizes this plant as Turnip Greens or WHATEVER, please let us know so we can sow more of this delicious, nutritious, cruciferous vegetable.

Even if it turns out I’m not growing them, I’ve certainly gained an appreciation for Turnip Greens today. Thanks for going on this journey with me.

Now, Let’s GET GROWING! (and hopefully, we’ll know what it is)

What’s happening in the Aquaponics USA Growroom Lab?


We had to do a Blog post in celebration of the first day of Spring. YEAH! It’s finally here. Hope yours was a happy one and you’ve started thinking about what you’re going to plant this year. You know it doesn’t matter what you plant into, dirt, water, a grow bed; or if you don’t have land and aren’t ready to tackle aquaponics yet, then maybe one of those famous EarthBOXES.

They are available on our website so go take a peek at the Videos here: http://www.aquaponicsusa.com/Aquaponics_USA_Earth_BOX.html

Or maybe you’re ready to take the leap into the one food-growing technology that really makes sense because it grows both food-fish and veggies using the same water. When all is said and done, Aquaponics is the supreme way to grow food. Here’s a peek at the new Food Forever™ Growing System we just introduced that duplicates our most popular system and turns the FFGS-20 into the FFGS-20-20. We can hook multiples of the FFGS-20 together to make an ultra FAMILY SYSTEM.

FFGS-20-20 plumbed and aerated

Back in our Growroom Lab we took an interesting series of shots of lettuce growth in one of our Growroom Grow Beds. This Growroom has a FFGS-40 Food Forever™ Growing System in it, which means instead of two 120 gallon tanks, it has one 320 gallon tank with four Grow Beds.Grow Bed after 1 Week

The first shot above shows the growth of our seeds after one week of growth. These seeds were planted directly into the Grow Bed and allowed to sprout right out of the bed. We experimented with this quicker form of seedling planting but have decided it isn’t as reliable as sprouting seeds in rockwool cubes and allowing them to grow out in their seedling trays for a few weeks and then planting them into their Grow Bed. Above is the same Grow Bed after the seeds have been growing in the bed for two weeks.

This third picture shows the same Grow Bed after three weeks. This gives you an idea of how fast plants grow in a Food Forever™ Growing System. Remember, this is growth from mere seeds, which were placed into the Grow Bed without having been sprouted.

Do you see something different about the light? During this three week experiment with these lettuce seeds, we switched our indoor lighting from florescent lighting to LED lighting. That’s why you now see this pinkish glow in our Growroom.

We now have four of these LED Grow Lights over our four Grow Beds and are using LED’s exclusively. I’ll be doing a Blog post about these LED’s and show you how well they are working in a future post.

This beautiful first spring day is coming to a close. God Bless the folks in Acapulco, Mexico where there was a big quake today; and God Bless all of you who are reading this post.

Stay Safe and Get Growing

Aquaponics USA Installs a Food Forever™ Growing System at Davis Bilingual Elementary School


Davis Bilingual Elementary School

Aquaponics USA installs an FFGS-40-plus into the Library of the Davis Bilingual Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona.

The Davis Bilingual Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona was the first site of three Tucson Elementary schools to receive Food Forever™ Growing Systems during the whirlwind installation project conducted by Aquaponics USA and the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.

Now you can view this fascinating installation in a Video recently posted on the Aquaponics USA You Tube Channel. Just click on the Blogroll to your right where the Aquaponics USA TV Channel link is located. The Davis Installation is called “Aquaponics USA Travels to Tucson, Arizona – Part 1 of 4″. You can also watch this installation right here on our Vodpod widget. It’s the second Video from the top.

During the break between Christmas of 2011 and New Years of 2012, Aquaponics USA took a two-man crew with them to Tucson, Arizona where the crew efficiently built, installed and tested three Food Forever™ Growing Systems in three different elementary schools. What was challenging about these installations is that the crew had no idea what the set up was going to look like until they walked into the rooms allocated to contain the aquaponics systems. Then the crew essentially built the systems on site to perfectly fit the allocated space; and, of course, after building the system, it had to be tested. It was an ambitious project that took one day for each of the sites given some of the system construction was done prior to landing in Tucson.

Davis Bilingual Elementary School opted to house their Food Forever™ Growing System in the Library. They tore up a section of carpet, moved book cases, painted the cement floor; and Wah Lah!, the library becomes an aquaponic garden ready to grow out food fish and veggies. This system will serve as a teaching lab for teachers and students in many subjects as aquaponics lends itself to teaching biology, science, physics, language arts and culinary arts.

This project has been created by the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, which is serving as a model for how Food Banks in other communities can run their programs. What’s different about this Community Food Bank is it has an arm that is all about food production not just government food distribution. If you find yourself in Southern Arizona and want to see an aquaponics Food Forever™ Growing System in action, make a request to visit the Davis Bilingual School Library. I’m sure they’d welcome you. In the meantime, watch the installation over at the Aquaponics USA TV Channel under our Blogroll or click on our Vodpod widget right here. The Davis Installation is the second video from the top.

All three schools received the exact same system, which is an FFGS-40 plus, which means they got four grow beds with a 320 gallon fish tank, plus an extra brooding and breeding tank that is 120 gallons. Watching all three videos showing these school installations is quite informative as each installation was shot showing different aspects of that installation. Putting all three of them together in your mind will give you a real clear concept of how these systems are built and how they work to grow-out food fish and veggies. (The Video of the third installation and the Interview of the lead on the project from the Southern Arizona Community Food Bank will not be up for a couple of weeks so watch for them.)

Until then have a happy and healthy 2012, which has moved into March faster than we can say “Aquaponics”.

AQUAPONICS USA’s FOOD FOREVER™ Growing Systems go into 3 TUCSON SCHOOLS


The Aquaponics USA Food Forever™ Growing System at Manzo Elementary School

Manzo Elementary School is in the Inner City of Tucson Arizona; and now it’s one of three Tucson schools that are the envy of  the Tucson School District because it has a state of the art Aquaponics USA Food Forever™ Growing System sitting smack dab in the middle of one of its all-purpose rooms, which also houses band equipment and music classes.

Now, you can see a video of this entire installation at Manzo Elementary on our You Tube Aquaponics USA TV Channel. Just go to our Blogroll on the right and click on our Aquaponics USA TV Channel or connect through our Vodpod widget right here. It’s called “Aquaponics USA Travels to Tucson, Arizona – Part 2 of 4 and is on the top of the Vodpod widget below.

The Tilapia that will be swimming around in the 320 gallon fish tank (it sits in the open space between the four Grow Beds) will love hearing the music that the students play in this room as they eat their Aquaponics USA FAST GROWTH Tilapia Fish food and fertilize the plants that will soon be growing under the indoor fluorescent grow lights that will soon be installed over this Food Forever™ Growing System.

The screen you see over the fish tank has been added by the Manzo Aquaponics Team to keep the fish in and the children out of their new and very exciting food growing system. In the main photo above, all the red stuff in the Grow Beds is called Hydroton and was originally created for Hydroponic food growers; and it works just as well for aquaponics because it is pH neutral and has lots of porous space for beneficial bacteria to grow on it. You can learn all about Hydroton from our website by going to our “Products” page and then scrolling down to the “Hydroton” page.

Manzo Elementary School has a wonderful feel and is the epitome of what every elementary school should be these days because it’s all about being and teaching sustainability. There are water-catch cisterns everywhere to catch and save rain water as Tucson is a desert environment.

These cisterns have provided enough rain water to water the schools outdoor gardens this winter.

There’s a courtyard in the middle of a rectangle of classrooms that has a hen house with six chickens that run free during the day  when they’re not laying their one egg a day contribution to food sustainability. 

The above photo shows the chickens in the compost pile. Teaching the children how to compost is another wonderful way to instill the importance of sustainable living.

The addition of their Food Forever™ Growing System is going to add a lot to this program as the students will learn how to raise food fish along with veggies in a cross-linked system that recirculates the water and raises vegetables year round. So many subjects can be taught through a hands on aquaponics system including biology, math, science, language and culinary arts.

We’ll be sharing posts and pictures of what’s happening with this Food Forever™ Growing System at Manzo Elementary School as it progresses through its stages of getting lights, fish and plants so stay tuned. In the meantime, visit the Manzo Elementary School Reconciliation Ecology Facebook page here:   http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reconciliation-Ecology-at-Manzo-Elementary/125141114170146

All three schools received the exact same system, which is an FFGS-40 plus, which means they got four grow beds with a 320 gallon fish tank, plus an extra brooding and breeding tank that is 120 gallons. Watching all three videos showing these school installations is quite informative as each installation was shot showing different aspects of that installation. Putting all three of them together in your mind will give you a real clear concept of how these systems are built and how they work to grow-out food fish and veggies. (The Video of the third installation and the Interview of the lead on the project from the Southern Arizona Community Food Bank will not be up for a couple of weeks).

Until then, enjoy the first two instructional installation videos compliments of Aquaponics USA and Enjoy.

A Mini Aquaponics System


Our Mini Aquaponics System is also our Tilapia Nursery

You can turn any aquarium into an Aquaponics System

A while back, we did a post showing this area of the Growroom when we had just set up this aquarium to work as our Tilapia nursery. In that earlier post, the aquarium was just an aquarium with the traditional aquarium filter on the left corner filtering out the fish waste toxins. However, our adult Tilapia in the big 320 gallon tank in this Growroom are so happy with their 80 degree plus degree water and their Tilapia Nesting Condos that they started mating like crazy and produced about 400 offspring, which you can see in this aquarium.

There were now too many fish for the little aquarium filter to handle. So what do you do when you want to house a lot more fish in an aquarium than the filter can handle? You turn the aquarium into a Mini Aquaponics System. We went to Home Depot and bought this 7″ deep black, 5 gallon mixing tray, which we turned into a Grow Bed. We filled it with hydroton, plumbed it and planted lettuce seedlings into it. WALA! A Tilapia Nursery as a Mini Aquaponics System.

The next thing you have to figure out is how much to feed these little guys to keep the system stable. We started out over feeding them; and when we did our water quality measurements, we had way too much ammonia in the system. In fact, the ammonia was so high it was almost lethal. Now, one of the great things about Tilapia is they are so hardy, which makes them capable of withstanding those kinds of mistakes so not one of them died. Tilapia are also gill sifters so they are getting a lot of their nutrition from the algae that naturally forms in the water and on the tank. We are feeding them the #O FAST GROWTH TILAPIA FISH FOOD that we sell on our website and we’re giving them l tsp. a day.

As we prepare to leave for Tucson for five days to assemble and install the three systems in three elementary schools, what do we do about our Greenhouse and

Growroom? We lock the doors and let the systems take care of themselves. We are so confident about the technology behind our Food Forever™ Growing Systems that we can actually leave them unattended for five days without worry. We have automatic fish feeders on all five of our tanks so our fish won’t even notice we’re gone; and because you recirculate the water continuously, we don’t need to add any to the system over a five day period.

Raising baby Tilapia and Lettuce in a Mini Aquaponics System

Raising baby Tilapia and Lettuce in a Mini Aquaponics System

So off we go. We’ll be bringing back lots of pictures of our adventures in the Tucson school installation and Phoenix where we’ll be picking up our 6,000 watts of solar panels for our next big “Getting Off The Grid” project.

Continue to have a healthy and happy Holiday Season.

Love, Grace

Beautiful Tucson, here we come!


Grow Beds for three FFGS-40 Food Forever™ Growing Systems.

These are the Grow Beds that will be teaching elementary school children in Tucson how to grow veggies aquaponically.

These Grow Beds, Fish Tanks, Water Rings and tons of other components are going to Tucson tomorrow.

Tucson! We're on our way.

Here are some pictures of the components of our FFGS-40 systems that are going into three elementary schools in Tucson Arizona. We’re going to be glad to load these Food Forever™ Growing System components into the U-Haul truck tomorrow so we can move again in our manufacturing facility, which, right now is full of Grow Beds, Fish Tanks, Stands, Tables, Step Stools, Fish Nets, Fish Food, Water Rings, Plumbing and a lot of other parts that make up three FFGS-40 Growing Systems with three extra 120 gallon Fish Tanks.

This project is being lead by Zotero Citlalcoatl the School & Community Garden Program Coordinator of the Community Food Resource Center of the Community Food Bank and the Tucson AquaPonics Project. The Tucson AquaPonics Project is an “open-source, non-profit, community supported training and resource organization designed to help individuals and communities achieve Food Freedom and Food Security”.  The Tucson AquaPonics Project has a new website and is a great place to make an end of the year donation. Tucson appears to be way ahead of the curve when it comes to innovative ways to grow food and create a sustainable community food program; and we are so pleased that Zotero decided to choose our systems for his elementary school aquaponics projects.

Fish love to hang out in schools. Soon Tilapia will quite literally be in three elementary schools in Tucson.

Schools of Tilapia in three elementary schools in Tucson.

We’re going to be shooting stills of the trip and the step by step assembly process of each of these systems in the three different schools; and we’ll also be making videos of this adventure to show on our Aquaponics USA TV Channel.

Once we complete the delivery and assembly of our Food Forever™ Growing Systems in Tucson, we’ll be going to Phoenix to pick up a pallet of solar panels from Sun Electric, a reputable solar company there. We’re getting 30 two hundred watt panels for a total of 6,000 watts, which we’ll be using to run our house, our greenhouse and our growroom in the near future. Eat your heart out, Edison. We’ll also be blogging about that early 2012 project under our Getting Off The Grid category so watch for those posts.

So many projects, so little time; and one hour before Christmas dinner.

Our Humble Seed Lettuce 12 Days of Christmas Later


You can almost watch it grow.

You can almost watch it grow

Merry Christmas 2011, Everyone! Hope you’re having a special day with friends and family.

Our Turkey’s on and I have a little time to post this amazing picture of our Humble Seed Black Seeded Simpson and Red Oak Lettuce, which will be the corner stone of our Christmas dinner salad tonight. During the 12 Days Before Christmas, since December 13th, when we posted our last picture of our Humble Seed Lettuce, this lettuce has grown almost up to our grow lights.

It's getting close to touching the grow lights.

It's almost touching the grow lights.

Before heading off to Houston last week to see children and grandchildren, we made our first Humble Seed Black Seeded Simpson salad; and it was really delicious. The lettuce was really crisp and tasty so our experiment to see how well Humble Seed Lettuce grows in an aquaponics system has been completed with glowing results.

But as I explained in my last post, we’re going to have to run another test on our Humble Seed Romaine Lettuce because our LED Grow Lights have turned out to be a disappointment. The lights are not growing the Romaine Lettuce varieties we planted at all. That Grow Bed is a wimpy, wispy shadow of what a Grow Bed full of Romaine Lettuce should look like by now. We’ve found another source for LED’s and will be running another test on our Humble Seed Romaine Lettuce soon.

We paid about $1,200 to get this sad result. UGH!

When you're in the Lab, things sometimes go wrong.

In the picture below, you’re seeing the back side of our Grow Bed #3 with the Humble Seed Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce growing in it. Above the Grow Bed, mounted to the wall is one of the three air circulating fans we added about two weeks ago. We believe these fans have helped our Lettuce grow and thicken as much as they have in the last 12 days.

The fan you see above the grow light rotates and is helping the lettuce grow thick, strong leaves.

It's important to keep the air circulating in an enclosed growroom.

Our Water Heater and the stainless steel ring that’s double wrapped around the inside bottom of the 320 gallon fish tank is working really well to both heat the water and the room. The water is staying right around 80 degrees F; and the room stays around 78 degrees F right through below freezing nights. It’s so humid in this Growroom, I have to shoot these pictures really fast before the camera lens fogs up.

This Stainless Steel Pipe twice circles the bottom of the fish tank.

The only metal you can use in an aquaponics system is stainless steel.

If you want your tilapia to breed, they need water temperatures in the 80's.

Our 320 gallon fish tank is 81 degrees, which is perfect for breeding.

It’s time to get back to preparing Christmas dinner. Enjoy the Holidays. There are many more interesting posts coming in the very near future as we’re off to Tucson AZ tomorrow to install three of our Food Forever™ Growing Systems in three Tucson elementary schools. We’ll be posting all about it so stay tuned.

Thanks for Visiting, Grace

Watch our Humble Seed Lettuce Thrive


Go to our "Greenhouse" page and watch our Humble Seed Lettuce Grow

Humble Seed Red Oak and Blk Seeded Simpson Lettuce growing in Grow Bed #3

On November 20th, we created a post with pictures of me (Grace) planting seedlings into our aquaponics growroom grow beds. These are pictures of those grow beds 23 days later. The above picture is Grow Bed #3 with two kinds of Humble Seed Lettuce planted in it. The front row is called Red Oak and the back rows are the popular Black Seeded Simpson lettuce by Humble Seed. These two varieties are really doing well in our aquaponics grow beds.

However, had we given them the proper amount of light and put lots of moving air on them from the beginning, they would be doing even better.

About a week ago, we had an esteemed guest whose name is Zotero Citlalcoatl.  Zotero coordinates a gardening cooperative for schools & community organizations for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. He is purchasing three systems just like the one in our growroom, which will be placed in three elementary schools in Tucson; and, “Yes”, we’re really thrilled that is happening. Zotero is a walking, talking encyclopedia of plant knowledge; and we learned a lot from his visit as we taught him how to set up and maintain an aquaponics system. I’ll be doing another post soon showing you our new LED lights and our three newly installed fans that keep the air circulating nicely in the growroom.

So besides not having circulating air in our new growroom, we also didn’t have enough lighting to allow our first grow out of lettuce to become thick and bushy. Right around December 1st, we added two more fluorescent lights to the lighting array; and started running the lights 24 hrs. a day  instead of 16 hrs. a day. That means we need to do another test with the same Humble Seed Lettuce starting from seedlings again after this batch grows out. I’m thinking that in 23 days, we’ll have lettuce ready to eat.

So that’s the good news about our Humble Seed Lettuce. Unfortunately, there’s also some bad news that has to do with lighting. In that earlier post, Nov. 20th, we showed pictures of Humble Seed Romaine Seedlings in the rock wool cubes that were about to be planted into Grow Bed #4. They were planted under one fluorescent light for the first couple of weeks and were doing well. However, we realized the single light really wasn’t covering the entire bed. We let things stand as we had ordered some LED lights that we were planning to put over that grow bed, which was full of Romaine lettuce from a variety of vendors including Humble Seed.

We got the LED lights, took down the fluorescent light and hung the new LED lights around Dec. 2nd. To our disappointment, none of the Romaine lettuce is growing properly; and today we just found another source for purchasing LED’s. We’re not ready to give up on using LED’s because the savings in utility costs are so great; and we’re feeling confident that this time we’ve found the right company. This was an expensive mistake. Once we get the new LED’s up and plant new seedlings, we’ll be sharing our LED results and the name of the company whose lights actually work. So stay tuned.

And remember, you can watch all this happening on a live webcam on the “Greenhouse” page of our site. Just scroll down to the bottom of the page where you’ll see our tilapia laying on top of their condos and our grow beds growing lettuce. The red hew over the last grow bed, Grow Bed #4, is coming from the LED’s that aren’t giving the Romaine lettuce in that bed what it needs. You can see there is no lettuce visible in the webcam. Although there are whisps of lettuce in the bed–scrawny, leggy, pitiful Romaine lettuce.

Here’s another photo of some Baker Creek Lettuce in Grow Bed #1. The front row is called Big Boston and the back row is Gentilina. They are doing well also; and were growing without enough light during their first two weeks as well.

Baker Creek Big Boston and Gentilina Lettuce growing in Grow Bed #1

Baker Creek Big Boston and Gentilina Lettuce growing in Grow Bed #1

Like we said in an earlier post, our growroom is our laboratory; and we’re learning as we grow and growing as we learn and sharing it all with you. In terms of the fluorescents, we now have the right amount of light and are getting nice, full, heads of lettuce. And we’re really thrilled with how well our Humble Seed Lettuce is doing.

You can purchase Humble Seed Kits right on our website at: http://www.aquaponicsusa.com/Aquaponics_USA_Seeds

Seeds make a wonderful Christmas gift for all of those gardening enthusiasts on your list.

Thanks for visiting our Blog. Have a joyful Holiday Season and check back for more great articles about Aquaponics in 2012.

Improving Aquaponics Water Quality


Improving Aquaponics Water Quality
By Oliver

Last weekend while Grace was planting Humble Seed lettuce into our Grow Beds in our new Growroom, I was working on a new water quality device I’ve been designing in my head for a while now when I had the realization that we had turned our Growroom into an Aquaponics Lab. We just installed our first set of LED Grow Lights over Grow Bed #4 where Grace planted Humble Seed Romaine lettuce; and we’re talking about turning one of our Grow Beds into a raft system in which the Grow Bed holds only water and no media like Hydroton. So this new Growroom has definitely become our experimental Aquaponics R & D laboratory; and that feels great as it’s important to always evolve and improve on Aquaponics technology. Having said that, I’d now like to share the particulars of this water quality device I’ve designed; but first, a little background.

In previous Aquaponics 101 posts, I have put forth an Aquaponics system design. This included a simple set-up of a single fish tank and one or more deep media filled grow beds. This design retains all fish waste in the system and, thereby, allows for (and requires) the mineralization of the fish waste solids in the grow beds, which also serve as bio-filters. Some of the advantages of such a design are low maintenance and operational cost, as well as a minimum number of components required to build the system.

In order for this system to properly function, it must meet certain design criteria. It must have an ample bio-filter volume in order to process the delivered fish waste. It must have ample water flow in order to deliver those wastes. It must have water aeration in order for the bacteria to process the fish waste. And, It must have ample grow bed space to grow the plants needed to uptake the produced nitrates.

For a simple backyard Aquaponics system this is all that is required, as long as it is limited to low fish density, which means having about one pound of fish for every five gallons or more of bio-filter/grow bed. This number can be pushed to one pound of fish for every three gallons of bio-filter; but that borders on the edge of instability. Even if the chemistry measures in the safe range, the lowering of pH due to the nitrification process will always require constant (weekly) adjustment by adding a pH-up solution. This solution can be either Potassium Hydroxide (potash) or Calcium Hydroxide (lime).

As mentioned above, the system must have ample aeration. This is necessary in order to create a Dissolved Oxygen (DO) content of 6.0 ppm (mg/L) or higher. This will also help to de-gas the water. More on this below. This DO level can be difficult to achieve by just aerating the fish tank, especially if the water temperature is above 78 degrees F, because the higher water temperature drives out the Oxygen. Additional aeration can be added to the grow beds; but it adds only a small amount of DO to the system water. This is because the depth of the water in the grow beds is minimal, and the air bubbles don’t spend much time in the water. Also, due to the shape of the grow beds, it is difficult to fully aerate them without multiple aeration devices spread throughout their bottoms. Again, this does add some DO to the water but at an equipment and energy cost. But, it may add enough DO to keep the system out of trouble.

Adding additional system components to help improve the water quality is in common usage among commercial aquaculture and Aquaponics growers. In order to understand these added components, we must first understand what need is being addressed by adding them to the system.

Water contains dissolved gasses. In addition to some oxygen in the water, it may contain excesses of Nitrogen, Hydrogen, Methane, CO2, and Hydrogen Sulfide. Some of these gasses are from the process of fish waste being broken down by the bacteria in the system. Hydrogen, for example, is released into the water when autotrophic bacteria break apart Ammonia (NH3) into Hydrogen and Nitrogen. They add Oxygen to the Nitrogen to produce Nitrite (NO2) in its first iteration process and later add another Oxygen atom to produce Nitrate (NO3), which is less toxic to the fish than either Ammonia or Nitrite and beneficial to the plants. The released Hydrogen is then combined with the CarbonDiOxide (CO2) in the water to help produce Carbonic Acid (H2CO3), which is what causes the water’s pH to lower. Carbonic acid is also formed anytime CarbonDiOxide is dissolved in water (CO2+H2O-> H2CO3). The alkaline buffers that may be present in the water initially will keep the pH high; but they will eventually be overwhelmed by the shear amount of Carbonic Acid being produced as the fish density increases when the fish grow out and are fed more food.

Part of the solution to these troublesome gasses in the water is to de-gasify them in a degassing tank. This is usually a rather shallow tank, which the water flows through as air is being pumped in by way of aerators in the tank’s bottom. This degassing operation also adds some aeration to the water.

Before the water gets to the degassing tank, the fish waste solids must be dealt with. There are essentially two ways to deal with these solids, either remove them completely (as best as can be done) or through a process known as mineralization, which is the breaking down of the solids by bacteria. These bacteria are found freely suspended in the water. Often, a combination of removal of the solids and mineralization of the remaining solids are combined in a system design.

Mineralization is accomplished by Heterotrophic bacteria. They, like the Autotrophic bacteria mentioned above, are Aerobic bacteria, meaning they require Oxygen to accomplish their task. Heterotrophic bacteria remain free in the water until they attach themselves to suspended organic matter, like solid fish waste and excess fish food, and convert them into dissolved solids, as well as produce Ammonia. The Ammonia is taken care of by the Autotrophic bacteria in the bio-filter, and they give us even more Nitrates. Again, Aerobic bacteria require and remove Dissolved Oxygen from the system water. The mineralization tank is much like the degassing tank in that it requires aeration to be effective.

We have now added two extra components to the system, a mineralizing tank and a degassing tank. And, if we plan on using Raft, NFT (Nutrient Film Technology) or Aeroponics (the spraying of nutrient rich water onto the plant roots) instead of deep media grow beds to grow our veggies, then we will need to add another component to the system, the bio-filter. It is interesting to see how little attention is paid to the bio-filter in some of the commercial system designs I’ve looked at on the internet. The bio-filter contains media with lots of surface area so the Autotrophic bacteria have a place to live and do their thing of converting the Ammonia to Nitrates. The bio-filter is a container of some sort where the mineralized (or filtered) and degassed water passes through the media; and, if properly designed, aeration devices are added to help with the process and to de-gas the Hydrogen.

So, why go to all of this trouble and expense in adding these components? Well, if you are building a low density backyard system, then they are not necessary. But if your system is a larger higher density one, and you want to get serious about growing large amounts of food (vegetables and fish), then improving your water quality not only makes sense, it is a requirement.

In a media filled grow bed, the addition of the solid fish waste can be problematic. Even though I have advocated for this being done in order to simplify a small low density backyard system, the grow bed is not the ideal place to mineralize the solid waste. It coats the grow bed media making it less usable for the autotrophic bacteria which need the media’s surface for attachment. It can also coat the vegetable roots preventing them from proper uptake of nutrients. As the amount of solid waste increases, this, then, becomes a problem.

If you are growing lettuce or other leafy greens that can be grown in a raft system, growing them in media such as Hydroton takes more time to both transplant and harvest. In our last post, Grace described this process. In a commercial operation, this added time cuts deep into what little profit margin there may be. By using a raft system, the transplanting and harvesting time is greatly reduced.

In order to use a raft growing system, the water must be relatively clean, which means free of solid fish waste that might interfere with the plants’ uptake by coating their roots. This coating would retard their growth requiring more time and thereby adding cost to the yield. Clean water is especially necessary in aeroponics, as the sprayers can otherwise become clogged with solid fish waste.

So, how do we accomplish this water quality improvement without adding a lot of system complexity and cost? One way is to combine as many of these operations into as few components as possible. Think vertical. By using a relatively tall tank (which we refer to as a water tower), say six feet or taller, we can take all of the water from the fish tank pump (it must have enough head and flow to reach six feet or more) and pump it into the bottom of this vertical water tower and remove it near it’s top. By adding aeration devices in the bottom of the tower, the air takes time to cover the distance to the tower’s top, which is vented. On our test tower pictured above, there is an eight inch cap on its very top with a vent hole. We cut a larger hole in this cap and inserted a bulkhead so we could extend the height to prevent water overflow as well as provide a high vent and a place to insert the airline running to the aerators in the bottom of the tower.

About eighteen inches from the tower’s top, we added a bulkhead outlet (as far as we could reach into the tower from the top with the cap removed) where the water is allowed to flow from it into the grow beds. This outlet is well above the height of the grow beds and good flow has been achieved. Each grow bed has its own control valve to adjust the flow into it. About one foot above the grow bed outlet and about six to ten inches from the tower’s top is another outlet (this, along with the bottom inlet, were built into the original tank) where the excess water being pumped in and not flowing into the grow beds is allowed to overflow back into the fish tank(s).

The slow upward movement of the water allows the heavier than water fish waste solids to precipitate. The air from the air stones placed in the tower’s bottom keep the solids suspended. We found that there needs to be a balance in the amount of air that is pushed through the stones; for if there is too much air coming in, then the water becomes less dense and doesn’t flow properly from the outlets near the tank’s top causing an overflow condition, as well as raising the suspended solids too high. As it turns out, we needed a smaller air pump than we are currently using in the main fish tank.

We sized the tower to contain the same amount of water that is contained in all of the media filled grow beds combined when full. This should be enough volume to mineralize all the solid fish waste that would otherwise be going into the grow beds.

We had initially planed to move the media from one or more grow beds into this tower. We may still do that, but for now we are testing the current implementation without media in the tower. When we do this, we will have combined the bio-filter into the tower. We are also thinking of adding a second tower just for the media as a separate bio-filter. The main problem with that idea is the limited space we have inside our grow room.

The project appears to be successful. The air under pressure entering the bottom of the tower and rising degases the water. The smell from the top of the tower is an indication of this process. Distributed over forty four square feet of grow bed, the smell was not noticeable, but the smell coming from the hole in the top of the tower gives an enhanced experience.

The Dissolved Oxygen in the water coming from the overflow back to the fish tanks is at 97% saturation as measured on our trusty Milwaukee DO meter. That is a measured 8.3 ppm (mg/L) out of a possible 8.5 ppm. The DO coming from the grow bed return to the fish tank is 6.5 ppm or greater. The combined DO level as measured in the fish tank is 7.5 ppm. This is quite an improvement in our fish tank DO.

The water going to the grow beds is much cleaner than it was prior to incorporating this technology. The fish tanks are becoming even clearer than before.

Prior to this addition, we were adding pH-UP weekly. Since adding the tower, the pH has stabilized at about 7.0. We attribute this to the degassing of the water. Time will tell if this trend continues.

What will be continuing are lots of interesting and informative R&D experiments and results that we’ll keep sharing with you. Hope you had an enjoyable Thanksgiving. Until we post again, Get Growing.

Oliver

Planting Seedlings into the Grow Beds.


Hearty Humble Seed Romaine Seedlings

Humble Seed Romaine Seedlings sitting on the Syphon

As I begin to write this post, I’m realizing I need to write a post about how I got the seedlings to germinate in the first place as that is an important part of the aquaponic gardening equation. Many soil gardeners buy their seedlings already germinated in small potting containers and simply place their germinated seeds into their garden beds. Aquaponic gardeners do not have that luxury as soil contaminates the growing area. So aquaponic gardeners need to germinate their own seeds.

The seeds you see in the photo above have been growing in Grodan Rockwool cubes for about 12 days. Grodan is one of the brand names of these popular germinating methods. Rockwool was originally used for insulation. It was first developed for gardening in Denmark and became popularized by hydroponic gardeners. Rockwool is made by melting a combination of rock and sand, which is spun to make fibers which are formed into different shapes and sizes. We sell sheets of 98 1 and 1/2 inch Grodan Rockwool plugs on our website on our “Accessories” page. The plugs come lightly stitched together like stamps and fit perfectly inside a standard seedling tray.

Grodan Rockwool Plugs

Grodan Rockwool Plugs

I’ll do an entire post on how this process takes place in the near future; but for now, I want to talk about our new Humble Seed Romaine Seedlings that you see sitting in their Rockwool plugs on top of the syphon that’s in our Grow Bed #4. As you can see, I placed more than one seed in each of these plugs; and every seed sprouted! That’s really great. I’ll thin out the beds after things get going. In the meantime, I’m really thrilled with our Romaine Humble Seed. I also planted seeds from some other popular seed companies like Paramount, Baker and even Martha Stewart; but our Humble Seed had a greater percentage of germination success and went into the Grow Bed strong and healthy. So far, I’m a believer in the Humble Seed motto–Seed that Feeds.

Humble Seed Romaine in a Grodan Rockwool Plug in Grow Bed #4

Humble Seed Romaine in a Grodan Rockwool Plug in Grow Bed #4

In the picture above, you see the Grodan Rockwool plug placed into the Hydroton in Grow Bed #4; and now I’m also realizing I need to do an entire post on Hydroton as it, too, is unique to both hydroponics and aquaponics. Hydroton is called a Grow Bed media, which means it’s used to take the place of soil in your Grow Beds. For now, I’ll leave the story of Hydroton right there; and do a post on it in the near future.

Once again you see several Romaine Humble Seed seedlings as every seed that was placed in the Grodan Rockwool plug germinated.

Grace plants seedlings in Grow Bed #1

Grace plants seedlings in Grow Bed #1

Now, you see me planting the plugs with the germinated seedlings in them into our Grow Bed #1; and, “No”, I’m not a giant. I’m standing on the top step of a handy 2-step stool that we provide with our Food Forever™ Growing Systems. Being up at this level, makes it much easier on ones back when planting the seedlings into the Grow Bed and when harvesting your vegetables. Unlike soil gardening, which can be very challenging for seniors or people who have back issues, aquaponics gardening is done in raised beds. In fact, these beds are very raised as the configuration of the system, which is all about water flow, dictates that the beds be higher than the fish tanks. Our fish tanks are on the floor, so our Grow Beds need to be way off the floor.

I’m making a hole in the Hydroton where I’m going to place the plug with the seedling in it. I use my hands to do this; but you could also use a trowel if you wish.

Grace covers the planted seedling with Hydroton

Grace covers the planted seedling with Hydroton

Once the plug with the seedling is secure in it’s location in the Grow Bed, I gently protect the delicate plant with one hand as I cover the plug with the surrounding Hydroton. I want the plant to extend out of the Hydroton and be supported by it as is shown in the bottom of the above picture. Once all the plugs with their seedlings are planted into the Grow Beds, I fill a spray bottle full of nutrient rich fish tank water and spray all the exposed seedlings.

Aquaponics allows for very dense planting; and I am able to plant about 80 plugs of lettuce in each of our four 11 sq. ft. Grow Beds. Aquaponics also grows lettuce out much faster than soil gardening so we expect to have mature lettuce in about 28-30 Days.

You can watch it all happening on our “Greenhouse” page as we have a live webcam showing our new Growroom in action. In conclusion, I’d like to wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving. It’s going to be so fun to walk out to our Aquaponics garden to pick our salad for that special family day.