What is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics is the natural symbiotic relationship between fish and plants. Basically, the process involves flowing the water that fish live in to grow-beds in which the plants are contained. Naturally occurring bacteria convert the waste produced by the fish into fertilizer for the plants. The plants then filter the water and oxegenate it for the fish.
This combination is totally organic and produces vegetables three to four times faster than conventional gardening. It also utilizes only one-tenth the water that conventional gardening requires. Along with the organic vegetables that are raised, crops of fresh water fish can also be harvested from the system.
Circle Star Ranch has installed a large aquaponics facility to grow talapia and organic produce. You are welcome to come and see our facility in operation. Just click here to contact us to set up an appointment.
The entire system for the fish and the plants operates off of one very small pump and is totally automatic. Water is pumped from a sump tank into the tank that contains the fish. As the water level in the fish tank climbs, the water flows out to the plant grow-beds via gravity feed. Once the grow-beds fill up to the desired height, they automatically drain back into the sump tank. This method of "flood and drain" is very good for plants since the nutrients are brought to their roots by the water but they also have time when they are not sitting in water.
Each of the grow beds cycles full of water about every 20 minutes. There is also a recirculating pump and heater in the fish tank. This is necessary to keep the fish at their desired temperature. The heater has been supplemented with an outdoor solar collector as well. It is shown in the photo below.
January 15th, 2011: We installed two grow-beds and finished the plumbing from the tanks. We added gravel to the grow-beds as well. We put 20 goldfish into the fish tank to start the process of creating the biological filter.
January 22nd, 2011: We scattered some lettuce seeds in one grow bed as well as some dried bush beans and Italian beans that we saved from last year's garden. The fish water temperature was averaging 45 degrees and the temperature in the greenhouse varied from just above freezing to about 70 degrees if the sun came out for a little while.
January 30th, 2011: We started to see little lettuce sprouts where we had scattered the seeds. In our excitment over this, we threw caution to the wind and planted (dropped on top of the gravel) several different types of seeds. All of these seeds were from 11 year old seed packets that we had kept.
Februay 11th, 2011: We added 100 goldfish to the stock tank.
February 15th, 2011: We repaired and began using the heater in the fish tank to keep the temperature up higher than the 45 degrees it was hovering at.
February 15th, 2011: We transplanted some seeds that we germinated indoors into the grow-beds to see how they would do.
February 17th, 2011: We took pictures of some of the plants that are sprouting as well as some of the transplants and put them on the website below. The heater in the hot tub has been keeping the water at 70 degrees and is supplemented by the solar collector whenever there is sunshine. We have completed the other two grow-beds and are planting/transplanting into them.
February 21, 2011: We laid out a test bed of 15 different plants that were direct seeded. We made a slight depression in the pea gravel and put a small number of seeds in each one.
February 24-28, 2011: About half of the test seeds have germinated. Most of these have germination times of 10 to 14 days and they were up in 3 to 6 days. The germinated seeds were: roma tomatos, pak choi, dill, tarragon, brocolli, green onions and chives.
March 1-3, 2011: Now, all but 3 of the test seeds have germinated. They are: two other types of tomatos, marjoram, oregano and parsley. The only seeds that have not yet germinated are asparagus, cilantro and spinach.
March 3, 2011: We have completed a "compost heater" for the fish tank. We'll be updating the site once it is operational.
Our High-tech solar collector outside the greenhouse. It is actually just some spare pipe we had that loops around and around inside an insulated box with a glass front. All of the materials other than the pipe connectors and valves were recycled.
Fodder, why you should know about it.
We get a lot of questions about the fodder that we are raising for our animals. It is simply sprouted oats that we raise in the aquaponics greenhouse. The fodder trays sit above the sump tank and when they are watered, the excess water goes into the aquaponics system.
Sprouted grains are reputed to be very high in energy and easily digested. From one pound of grain, you can get eight pounds of fodder. This vastly increases the amount of useable food for animals and helps in their digestion. It also reduces feed costs by a significant amount.
We raise fodder for our milk cows, goats, pigs, chickens and turkeys.
One of our young plants
This is one of the transplanted cucumber plants. It was germinated for 12 days in our house and then transplanted to the grow-beds. (See the Aquaponics timeline at left.) This picture was taken on Feb. 17th, 2011.
Fish eating breakfast
Some of our contributing friends. We began the aquaponics facility with goldfish to establish the biological "filter" that converts the amonia into nitrate. These little guys, and about 100 of their friends put their little lives on the line to create the nitrate producing medium in the tank. Now that we have nitrates flowing through the system (it took about 4 weeks) we will transition to tilapia as our stock fish. I haven't met anyone except a friend I had in college (who was slightly impaired at the time) that thinks goldfish taste good!
Lettuce plants grown from seeds
These lettuce seeds were scattered on top of the gravel in the grow-beds on Janurary 22nd. This picture was taken on February 17th, 2011. There are approximately 100-130 lettuce plants growing in this part of the grow-bed.
This is another plant that germinated from seeds scattered over the grow-bed gravel. The seeds were 11 years old and we have no idea if radishes can be grown in a
"flood and drain" environment, - but we'll find out! About 50 radish seeds germinated after being scattered on January 30th, 2011. This picture was taken on February 18th, 2011.
Just for an experiment, we threw some 11 year old seeds into the grow-beds. Seeds are typically only good for 2-3 years. Here is an extreme closeup of one of the pea shoots that came up (there are about 15 of them). It looks like about half of the seeds germinated, which is about 20% more than germinated with the same seeds in our garden last year.