DIY Plans – Indoor Aquaponics System

After the Brio35 was going so well the Aquaponics sustainable home growing hook was firmly set and the research and planning phase for a DIY bigger system was underway.

The Plan was to grow at least various lettuces, herbs, Peppers, Chillies, Cherry tomatoes to give us enough so that we dont have to buy produce especially during the colder months. Another main driver for this project is to grow some delicious Trinidadian herbs (the mighty Shadon Beni aka Culantro) and peppers (Sweet Pimento, Scotch Bonet) that are absolutely stunning but simply are not available and cant take the climate and daylight changes in Ireland outdoors either.

Its important to note that an Aquaponic system can be as cheap as it gets with literally two buckets and a pump. Or just putting the plants straight on top of an exsisting Aquarium. They can be upscaled to commercial undertakings and brought indoors with artificial lighting. And the great thing is that all this is so accessible due to tons of information online.

I am quite proud of my design but I am not saying its anywhere near perfect. It has very quickly gotten a bit out of hand in terms of scale and costs but once you are hooked and want to get the best out of it its all worth it and tons of fun.

After many weeks of research and iterating my design of this systems I now have the final version. It consists of two parts. First on the right “The Shelf” that houses the Fish Tank and two large growing areas above it. Second on the left “The Bench” on the other side of the wall that will have the taller, more light hungry and more long term all year round plants like the peppers and tomatoes. Here a sketch of the system.

The Shelf

The goal was low footprint with maximised aquarium size. This is the engine of the system and houses two grow areas 80L each for mainly leavy greens, lettuces and herbs etc.

Starting from the bottom…

Ground Level: The Engine aka Fish Tank

The Aquarium is a custom DIY built 300L made from 6mm Glass (L160cm, W48cm, H42cm). More on the building of it later.

There is going to be a sectioned/baffled area on the left where I can insert some filter media for the bacteria to live in and to remove solids. In this area the water circulation pump is installed that feeds the nutrient rich water into the two grow areas above and to the Bench to the left simultaneously. Here a sketch with the water flow. Blue is nutrient rich water from tank to plants and Red is clean low nutrient water back to the Fish.

Some water is directed straight back to the aquarium to create some flow and currents in the tank.

The Fish in here are the engine of the system. Their waste will feed the plants so I decided to stock it fairly heavily with Platies Xiphophorus maculatus. From research and given the rather large footprint of the tank for its water volume I think I can easily have about 100-150 Platies in there. As long as I provide plenty of structures for them to hide and swim around.

(picture from Google)

Main reasons for the selection of this fish is…

  1. They are not goldfish (dont like them) but Goldfish would be an even higher waste fish
  2. Can handle lower temperatures around 20degC and pH Range of 6.5-8
  3. Live bearers, give birth to finished young fish at a fairly fast pace (lots of fun) so extremely easy to breed hence less investment in stock needed
  4. Have lots of color variations and will mix colors when interbred (so lots of fun again)
  5. Due to their constant breeding activities and in general they are a heavy waste fish (so lots of good poo)

Also I want to stock 10-20 of Amano Shrimp for cleaning up, some Otocinclus for graseing if I have an algea issue and some up to 15 Corydoras to scavenge left over food that reaches the substrate.

Important to say here too is that I do not want to have plant inside the tank as they will compete for nutrients with the terrestrial plants. It would look nice and give plenty of cover for the fish but it wouldnt be efficient as we cant eat the aquatic plants πŸ˜‰ However Anubias are very slow growing and give excellent cover so they will provide a bit of green to the aquarium and plenty of driftwood will provide the cover and structure for the fish to hide and explore.

 

First Level: Grow Bed

On the first level is the grow bed with expanded clay pebbels (about 80L) where we can just throw in seeds and I assume it will at some stage be a jungle of various mixed stuff. This is a nice setup for flexible growing and various different plants but mainly small thin stuff like herbs and radish and sorts. Its setup as an Ebb-and-Flow or Flood-and-Drain (Checkout this link for more info) which means the water will fill up the bed to a certain level and then a so called bellsiphon (I use an EZ-T) will automatically initiate a siphon and drain the whole bed fairly quickly. This is repeated roughly 5-10 times per hour depending on water flow setup. This is by far the most efficient hydroponic system due the fact that every time the water drains the bed, it pulls oxygen right down to the roots.

 

Second Level: DeepWaterCulture/NFT

On the Second level I have a DeepWaterCulture/NFT setup (Checkout this link for more info). This bed has no media in it but has a fixed water level of about 6cm that is constantly circulated (Volume of Bed around 80L filled with about 60L of water). This is much more practical for lettuces and other plants that you usually harvest in full (with the roots) once they are finished. the seedlings are dropped into net cups that are then placed into holes in a styrofoam board. The net cup is just above the water so that there is plenty of roots above the water level that get lots of oxygen.

As for the lighting I have gone for LED because anything else would drastically raise the running cost of such a fairly “large” indoor system due to higher power consumption, never mind the higher heat output. Its a higher upfront investment but in Decmeber 2016 Samsung has come out with a new generation extremely high efficacy/efficiency Diode (LM561C, I will be using the LT-H282D PCB Strips ) that will make this system as low running costs and high lumen output as possible. A lot more on that in a later post…

 

 

The Bench

Here is where we plan to grow the long term all year around plants like Bell Pepper, Pimento Pepper, Scotch Bonnet, Cherry Tomatoes, Onions, Garlic etc.

All of the buckets (10L each, big one about 40L) are filled with expanded clay pebbles. The water feed from the Tank is done with two drip feed lines to each container, probably 4 for the big one. Each container has a drain on the bottom that feeds into one line back to the Tank.

The Lights here are planned to be adjustable in height to accommodate the taller plants especially the Cherry Tomatoes. Not too sure exactly how thats going to work put the lights are not in yet so I have a bit of time to think πŸ˜‰

So thats the Plan lets start cracking πŸ™‚ … actually I am a bit behind so at the time of writing this a good bit is built already so stay tuned…

As always any suggestions, advice, tips, comments or questions are very welcome!

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