The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Aquaponic answers


I've been getting a lot of aquaponics questions both on and offline, so I thought I'd sum the most common ones up in a single post. Questions have been paraphrased to save space.

"What kind of fish are you putting in your tank? Are you going to eat them?"

I'm very new to aquariums, so I was surprised to learn that a 10-gallon tank is actually too small for even a single goldfish. The aquaponics aspect also mean that you're better off raising tropical fish, since a heated tank makes the biology of the waste conversion work better.

To cut a long story short, we'll probably stock the tank with five guppies once the setup has cycled. Or possibly with some of AquaSprouts' other suggested ornamental combos: 8 neon tetras plus 4-6 dwarf corydoras catfish; 5 tiger barbs plus 2-4 kuhli loaches; or 5-7 zebra danios plus 2 dojo loaches. Nope, we won't be eating our teaspoon-sized fish.

Expanded clay aggregate
"Are you growing potatoes? If not, what are those little round things in the grow bed?"

The growing medium in a hydroponics or aquaponics system needs to be something inert that holds water between drenchings but doesn't disintegrate like soil would to fill the water below with gunk. In this case, we're using expanded clay aggregate --- an extremely light-weight, rock-like substance formed by baking clay at a high temperature. You'll soon see some rock wool enter the setup when I start my basil seeds since seedlings can't handle the large spaces between the clay pellets.

"Are you concerned about the sustainability of your aquaponics setup?"

I consider our tank in the toy category rather than the tool category. It's 95% for prettiness and 5% for production of herbs, and I'm well aware I could get the same production results with less input of electricity by growing the plants in a pot on a shelf. But it'll be fun and educational to watch the ecosystem develop, and I figure that's worth a little electricity!

"Doesn't cycling with pee as your ammonia source mean the tank stinks?

It actually did smell worse than I'd expected, but the odor disappeared within 24 hours. Perhaps that's a sign that my ecosystem is starting to work (although there's still no measurable presence of nitrite in the water). Stay tuned for more nitty-gritty details as the project progresses!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Anna, Consider the behavior and habitat preference of your fish. Some are bottom dwellers, others will hide, others will stay near the surface or in the middle of your tank. Some fish are very hardy others will not survive a small temperature fluctuation. For initial bacteria in your tank an aquarium shop may give you aquarium gravel or another bottom substrate to help start the Nitrogen Cycle. They may also offer you filter floss with bacteria. I always kept a Plecostomus (Pleco) in my aquarium, many people will tell you they will not work for a 10 gallon tank but I successfully kept them for many years. You can give a fish away if it gets to big, years ago the aquarium shops would trade them for smaller ones. LindaC

Comment by LindaC Mon Jan 2 10:10:17 2017

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