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Passive aquaponics system has Hugelkulture biofilter

Dale Hodgins
pollinator

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 3511
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
    
  40
I've been meandering around YouTube and other Internet sites in search of simple aquaponic systems that don't require lots of bells and whistles. Ideally I would like to create a system which doesn't require electricity.( Two weeks after posting this I now plan to use electricity and to turn my entire green roof into an aquaponics bed )I would also like to avoid a lot of water testing, temperature management etc.... So basically what I'm looking to do is skip a lot of steps and still reap the benefits .

   I've seen quite a few videos where the soil and sometimes plants are covered with mildew or algae and I assume this is because terrestrial plants are being grown in a very wet environment.

    So I had an idea. Miniature hugel beds could be set on top of rocks which protrude just above water level or they could be suspended in some other way. I like the rock idea because you could use basketball sized specimens spaced widely enough that fish are able to swim around and circulate the water directly beneath the beds. Steppingstones could be used by the gardener in order to work these beds which would span the length of the pond. Landscaping mesh or similar product could contain the soil. Those plants which don't mind having wet feet could be grown at the bottom of the bed and plants which aren't normally used in aquaculture could be grown on higher portions of the bed and would only reach down to whatever depth is optimal for them. The wicking nature of wood waste could be tempered with a layer of coarse sand or gravel so that separate moisture zones are maintained. I envision going two or 3 feet tall with steeply sloped mounds. This would give plenty of surface area compared to flat trays and because wood waste is a natural nitrogen hog, the beds themselves should absorb quite a lot of nitrates.

    If a system like this could be made to work it stands to reason that in a system where space is limited you could adjust the ratio of fish tank to grow bed in favor of more fish tank since all of that wood waste would be a giant biological filter which consumes nitrate.
Not really a filter. More of a nitrate sink as it is consumed in the decay process.

      One problem that may develop are issues with pH since wood waste is naturally acidic. Another is that these beds would break down at an accelerated rate, but that doesn't have to be a problem. It just means you're using fish effluent to accelerate the creation of compost. While normally I would want to use lots of alder and other nutrient rich material for hugel beds, those built over a fish pond could be made from maple, poplar and other woods that are not as high in nutrient value.

   Okay, please dissect my idea and point out its faults. I can take it. If you've heard of a similar system or know of a link, that would be helpful. I've already looked at dozens with motors humming away. What I'm looking for is a way to allow plant roots and the fish themselves to provide most of the circulation. Thank you: Dale


QUOTES FROM MEMBERS --- In my veterinary opinion, pets should be fed the diet they are biologically designed to eat. Su Ba...The "redistribution" aspect is an "Urban Myth" as far as I know. I have only heard it uttered by those who do not have a food forest, and are unlikely to create one. John Polk ...Even as we sit here, wondering what to do, soil fungi are degrading the chemicals that were applied. John Elliott ... O.K., I originally came to Permies to talk about Rocket Mass Heaters RMHs, and now I have less and less time in my life, and more and more Good People to Help ! Al Lumley...I think with the right use of permie principles, most of Wyoming could be turned into a paradise. Miles Flansburg... Then you must do the pig's work. Sepp Holzer
osker brown


Joined: Jun 28, 2011
Posts: 146
Location: Southern Appalachia
This sounds similar to a chinampa to me.

From wikipedia:
They were created by staking out the shallow lake bed and then fencing in the rectangle with wattle. The fenced-off area was then layered with mud, lake sediment, and decaying vegetation, eventually bringing it above the level of the lake.


If your hugel bed were more like a layered cold compost pile you might avoid pH issues.

How do you plan to keep the water aerated?  I'm not an expert but that seems to be the limiting factor in your plan, as I see it.  If you used large enough ponds you could add some ducks, that might help.  If it were smaller you could aerate manually with a paddle or rig up a bike machine to do it (i love bike machines!).


Glorious Forest Farm
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5320
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Yes, I think the chinampa system is something which could be adapted to aquaponics ideas.  Generally aquaponics relies on circulating the water, but I think it might be done with a static body of water if enough water plants were included to provide oxygen and  filtration.  This is how I wanted to make my aquaponics system initially but I chickened out and added a pump to circulate the water in the normal manner.

Regarding logs and pH, my tank water was initially too alkaline so I added an oak log to each fish tank and now the water has stabilized at an appropriate 6.5-7 level, good for both fish and plants. 


Idle dreamer

Dale Hodgins
pollinator

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 3511
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
    
  40
Thanks for the input. I checked out the chinampa growing system and its very close to what I envision except that I would want to have it directly over the water and it's done more on a flat plane. By building the beds in a hugel bed shape it should be easier to control moisture levels at the upper reaches for plants that don't want to grow in a bog. The system I described is what I would like to do inside the attached greenhouse portion of my house. My aversion to pumps and aeration equipment is more an aesthetic consideration since I don't want to listen to it all the time. I would never engage in peddling a bike pump to save two cents worth of electricity per hour . I have a firm policy against unpaid exercise. If necessary I'll put in a pump and turn it off when the space is being used for entertaining. It's going to be sort of a living room/conservatory. The indoor portion of my fish production will probably not be more than 500 ft.².
 
    It would probably make sense to do two ponds of identical size and stocking and then compare the quantity of fish and vegetables produced in each.
 
    Outside I will build much larger ponds and use a modified version of chinampa . Since I'll be using pond liners and there's no talking me out of that in my gravelly soil, these liners will extend as much as 15 feet beyond the pond in all directions. The land will be sculpted so that there is a slight slope toward the pond and plants will be grown in this ring. A layer of rock run under this growing media will connect the pond water to the furthest reaches of these beds. If more water is needed it can be broadcast from the pond onto these beds and any excess will drain back into the pond.
   
    Years ago I saw a similar system to chinampa that involved the raising of Israeli grass carp. They had long skinny ponds containing fish and raised areas which grew alfalfa and grasses. Every day they mowed some of the grass and broadcasted it onto the water to feed the fish.
   
    I suppose in the end I'll probably try several methods in several different ponds. Once I have a labor efficient system up and running I'll use it for years and will probably continue expanding since I have lots of space and an unlimited supply of clean fresh water. So I don't mind some inefficiencies in the beginning stages.
   
  The Nanaimo British Columbia water district has a giant pipe which crosses my land and every year in August they purge their lines which come down from the lakes and send me millions of gallons of clean water during the driest season . These pipes are 15 miles long and their easement over my property is only 350 feet long and that just happens to be the spot where the giant spigot for purging is located. It's by far the most expensive item on the property. I smile every time I walk past it . I'm not allowed to tap into this but when they purge it all runs into a big ditch to a boggy area and then flows into a big culvert which runs under my driveway. Then it splashes down the side of my hill to the river 120 feet below. My place runs along the upper ridge and I don't have river frontage. I'd be crazy if I didn't suck up some of this water . I've clocked it at about 15 garbage cans per second.
    Ludi if I could send you one hour of this flow every year, your water problems would be over. All you need is 2500 miles of garden hose

   







Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5320
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
It's the thought that counts, dale. 

Regarding pumps; the small pumps used for aquaponics are almost silent, about like an aquarium pump, and the sound of the burbling water is soothing, at least in my opinion.    The only noisy part is if you have a flood-and-drain bed with a bell siphon, which makes a lot of slurping and splashing sounds which some people find annoying.

Dale Hodgins
pollinator

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 3511
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
    
  40
  Some of the videos I watched were quite noisy but they were mostly large commercial operations. There may have also been noise from faulty camera equipment. I was thinking of a waterfall which could be activated from time to time since this would not annoy me the way all of the buzzing and bubbling.

  Or I could just accept that this is the sound of progress.
Robert Ray
volunteer

Joined: Jul 06, 2009
Posts: 1311
Location: Cascades of Oregon
    
  12
You might want to look at Uru and Aymara agriculture around lake Titikaka similar to what your describing.

"There is enough in the world for everyones needs, but not enough for everyones greed"
(Buckman)
osker brown


Joined: Jun 28, 2011
Posts: 146
Location: Southern Appalachia
Low energy pumps for the scale you're talking about are not loud, and can be easily silenced with any sort of insulating cover.

Sounds like you're gonna be busy!

peace
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5320
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Here's a website with more about chinampas:  http://www.chinampas.info/
Neal McSpadden


Joined: May 04, 2009
Posts: 269
I think the chinampa-hugel system has a lot of promise.

A few years ago I was trying to think of single tank aquaponic systems, and was thinking that fresh water mussels could be used to help circulate the water. You wouldn't get enou force to create a waterfall, but it might help integrate oxygen producing plants to the rest of the water mass.


Check out my Primal Prepper blog where I talk about permaculture, prepping, and the primal lifestyle... all the time!
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5320
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Mussels will certainly help filter the water and I hope to get some eventually, but I don't think they would help oxygenate it, which is necessary if you want fish. If you only want to grow plants, oxygenating isn't necessary.  The problem with using only oxgenating plants without circulation is that oxygen levels may drop dangerously during the night when the plants aren't working.
Neal McSpadden


Joined: May 04, 2009
Posts: 269
Yes, in my imagination, the mussels would help circulate the water past the oxygenating plants. This would aid diffusion of oxygen through the water.

In an anatomical analogy, the plants would be lungs, the water would be blood, and the mussels would be the heart. The fish would be... I dunno

Summer nights do tend to be a problem. You could always have an emergency aerator hooked up to a DO meter that would switch on if the DO got below some threshold value.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5320
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I think the mussels would definitely help! 

I tried relocating mussels from the lake where my dad has a cabin, but they couldn't handle the change of conditions and they all died.    I hope to try again some time.  I think they may need more careful acclimatization than I provided.
Amedean Messan
pollinator

Joined: Nov 11, 2010
Posts: 708
Location: Burlington, NC - Woodland, Clay - Zone 7
    
  22
Don't hate me guys for spoiling the party but to me this sounds like very bad design for its intended purpose of blending aquaculture and agriculture, more specifically if you live in temperate zones (I'll explain) like most parts of the United States.  Your system is essentially a chinampa system (there are different types of layering paterns).  Look at 2:40, 3:33

[center] [/center]

Its not just PH you should be concerned of.  These systems have issues with leaching too much nutrients from the fertile soil (I imagine you want fertile soil) for the aquatic system to balance.  During the cold season there is an excess of biomass because of the nutrients where bacteria thrive which creates deadzones for fish.  It strikes a balance for areas with only wet dry seasons because there is no mass die-off of the aquatic plants from the cold, however they still do have difficulties with the excess nutrients (shown in some pictures below).  Having healthy fish will be more difficult in these systems in most parts of the U.S.  Pay close attention to the correlation of water space and aquatic plant density in the pictures below.

[center]
[/center]

Now if your thinking of having animals to do work for you like all permies do, don't forget about their products and the amount they produce because you will have to provide enough space for water to balance the chemistry or you will end up making a condition in the water similar to a swamp.   Aquaponics would be better for this type of blended agriculture if you are going to use pumps anyways.

Those who hammer their swords into plows will plow for those who don't!
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5320
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Good points, Amadean.  It could only be done where water plants will grow year round.

osker brown


Joined: Jun 28, 2011
Posts: 146
Location: Southern Appalachia
Hmmm...I've seen temperate zone (zone 6) aquaponics in action.  The key in any aquaponic system is balance, you must balance the available nutrition with the number of growing plants.  If all of your plants die in cold whether then you will have to harvest all of your fish.

The system I worked with used a green house to maintain winter activity, so the outdoor portion of the water loop gets shut down in the winter (part of it reflects sunlight into the greenhouse), the fish get harvested, chickens are allowed to intermittently roost above the water to fertilize and winter greens and herbs are grown.

Dale Hodgins
pollinator

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 3511
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
    
  40
  I have access to numerous recycled hot tubs and will probably incorporate some of these. Does anyone here have experience with that and if so were there any issues with residual chemical in the fiberglass? My plan currently is to fill the tubs and allow them to go through an algae bloom, then to dump the water and start over. Because the sides of these tubs are quite unsightly when not built into a deck, I'll heap soil around them so they have a rock garden look.

    One thing I'll have to do is ensure that I don't lose production to raccoons, bears, cougars, ravens, herons, kingfishers, otters and eagles. I sure hope there aren't others I don't know about . I suppose fencing and fishing line suspended to interrupt flightpath will probably work. I'm currently building hugel beds on top of all areas of the property containing salmon berries in an attempt to replace bear habitat. I'll eventually look for a tenant who wants to raise dogs. Nothing dangerous, even little yap dogs will irritate raccoons and bears so they stay away. If I ever want bees, the hive would have to go inside some sort of bear cage.
Neal McSpadden


Joined: May 04, 2009
Posts: 269
osker wrote:
Hmmm...I've seen temperate zone (zone 6) aquaponics in action.  The key in any aquaponic system is balance, you must balance the available nutrition with the number of growing plants.  If all of your plants die in cold whether then you will have to harvest all of your fish.

The system I worked with used a green house to maintain winter activity, so the outdoor portion of the water loop gets shut down in the winter (part of it reflects sunlight into the greenhouse), the fish get harvested, chickens are allowed to intermittently roost above the water to fertilize and winter greens and herbs are grown.




Yes, most aquaponic systems are fallow/unstocked in the winter because of this issue. Some people do provide supplemental heat (greenhouse or whatever) to get around this.
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 5861
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
  88
I would imagine that wild rice would be a natural choice for northern aquaponics systems.
It grows wild in many of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes.  If it can withstand MN's winters, it is certainly "hardy"!  Plus it could supply you with an abundance of an expensive, nutritious plant that goes quite well with a fish dinner.  (I occasionally make a wild rice/salmon soup and there are never any leftovers).
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5320
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Wild rice is a large plant (up to 9 feet tall) that might overwhelm most systems.  But it would probably like the moving water of an aquaponics system (a really big system) 

Dale Hodgins
pollinator

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 3511
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
    
  40
      I've had an epiphany.

        I was  working on the plan for my green roof and realized that I have no use for sedum, hens and chickens,dry grasses and other succulents that thrive on green roofs in my area during our dry summers.

      Then it occurred to me that this surface contains all of the components required for a aquaponics grow bed. It contains a growing medium, has an impermeable membrane, has a gentle slope which brings all of the water, back to a collection point and it has plenty of sunlight.

    The additional cost to make the roof work as a grow bed is far less than if I created a separate space specificly for that purpose.

  Rooftops get quite hot and in my area that's a good thing since it will make the perfect spot to grow peppers, tomatoes, eggplant's and other crops which often suffer from lack of heat in the mild summer conditions of Vancouver Island. I could even see throwing a big plastic sheet over everything to stretch this season. My property sees very little wind in the summer.

  There will be quite a bit of water loss due to evaporation but I have plenty of water year-round. On hot summer days this evaporation will work like a giant swamp cooler which will moderate temperature within the house and around the rooftop deck.

    I will need to put up a good railing and I'll go with an extra thick liner. Flat boards or inset stepping stones will prevent foot traffic from damaging the liner. The roof will be somewhere around 3000 ft.². At some point a barn and implement shed will be built. I expect over time to have somewhere around 10,000 ft.² of roof area. By spending as little as one dollar per square foot more on my roof it will become one of the most productive areas rather than just a benign umbrella. And since the roof will have attractive plantings and a safety railing this leads to it being used for entertaining and other purposes.

    Although the property offers spectacular views from the ground it is often blocked by bushes and other growth. From the rooftop there is a view of the river valley and the rolling hills beyond. Until yesterday I only planned on going up there occasionally to check on the sedum and dry grasses.  Things change
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5320
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I would love to see that in action, dale! 

Really looking forward to photos of your projects when you get them up and running, you're always a wellspring of ideas.
Dale Hodgins
pollinator

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 3511
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
    
  40
            As luck would have it.

  I thought it would be wise to check and see if there were any aquaponics programs at any of Canada's universities. Turns out there's one and it's at Vancouver island University in Nanaimo BC. That's 8 miles from my land.

    Canada is a big place and this was the only program I could find in the whole country. My 23-year-old daughter goes there and my 16-year-old has already started two courses there under a "smart kid" program. She's still finishing grade 12 in high school.

    In the summer kids from the University often find themselves swimming in the river below my place and I'm already planning to offer the wildlife management/public park section of the property for some sort of nesting study. Eventually I plan to rent out rooms and University kids need rooms. One idea leads to another and another...

  Various departments at the University are constantly squabbling amongst themselves over space and resource allocation and the University is on a slope which faces North East which is not ideal for greenhouses. This convergence of problems may soon be turned into a positive.

    I have full southern exposure on a gentle slope which would be much more suited to aquaponic research. So I'm going to make a proposal where I allow them to set up on my property. There could be several scenarios for this.      1. I could supply everything and they could simply monitor and advise.    2.They could supply everything and I would learn which methods work best without any personal experimentation      .3. Another proposal I may present would be for them to build a commercially viable sized enterprise which I would help manage. After a specified period of time all assets associated with the system would revert to me.

    Just about any proposal would be far cheaper for them than allocating expensive University land and resources so I'm bound to be in a good bargaining position.

      I've never done business with a university but assume the process to be far more complicated than signing a contract with private individuals.    Time will tell and in time, I will tell all of you.
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 5861
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
  88
Sounds like this could be a win/win for you, the University, and the community.

Many times, programs such as these have required projects that the students must complete for graduation.  If you let it be known that your property could be available for these projects, you might become swamped with proposals.  Tons of free labor and material input.

Once the University knows that you are devoting portions of your land for public access, they will certainly want to speak to you.  The noose is being drawn tighter and tighter on public funds, and the thought of local available land will be too much for them to ignore.

You need to approach them, and discuss this.  You may need to be a little flexible to make this a 'perfect fit'.

Go for it!
Dale Hodgins
pollinator

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 3511
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
    
  40
While my initial call was met with enthusiasm, no one has called back as of October 29. I suspect that I've been put in a pile with dozens of other people with dozens of other proposals. So it will be my job to rattle their chain occasionally so that I can make it to the top of the list for consideration.

    Most proposal to come from people within the university system, most of whom simply have an idea. My proposal offers them a valuable resource so this will be how I'll sell it.

     I imagine that once we reach a point of negotiation it will be a private matter until a deal is reached.

      Universities love to publicize any program which is of a positive environmental nature. I'm fairly well connected in this regard after having spent 16 years in recycling. I would hope to use media attention as a way to develop market and possibly as a means of securing money.

     Experience has taught me that media attention is fleeting no matter how important the story. Eventually you get bumped for the next new flavor. I'm in a fairly small media market where it's easy to drum up interest by making a few phone calls. Most weeks are slow news week's around here. So I'll wait until I actually have fish and vegetables for sale before going on any sort of media blitz. I've seen recycling centers and various other initiatives get large amounts of attention too early, before everything is built and operational. Then by the time it's done, it's an old story which doesn't rank as an important news item.

    From here forward I will post technical developments but nothing to do with negotiations with the University until we have a signed deal.
Pam Hatfield


Joined: Jul 07, 2010
Posts: 508
dale hodgins wrote:. I'll eventually look for a tenant who wants to raise dogs. Nothing dangerous, even little yap dogs will irritate raccoons and bears so they stay away. If I ever want bees, the hive would have to go inside some sort of bear cage.


Dogs won't chase away raccoons or cougars or bears if any of them want to come onto your land, unless perhaps you get the livestock  guard dogs.  My parents eventually gave up on chickens  because of the raccoons and the dog  (springer spaniel cross) we had used to chase them up trees on a regular basis before during and after. We also saw cougars cross the place at least once a year. The dog protested bitterly but knew enough to stay well away. This was near Yellow Point a bit south of Nanaimo, and some years ago when such animals weren't as pressured for living space and thus accustomed to humans and their accoutrements as much as now.

I knew an outfitter who got surprised by a bear when walking in the bush with his small dog..the dog took off after the bear and the bear decided to take exception to this and went after the dog, who suddenly realized he had lit a fire he couldn't deal with and came flying back to his owner with the bear in hot pursuit. Since the guy had only a very light rifle with him, nothing that would stop a bear, he had to shoot the dog to stop it from bringing the annoyed bear  back to him.

Also, camping  near Jasper. a ranger had a mastiff with him that took off after a bear and then came running back to him. :Luckilly there  he was near a cabin and the bear wasn't  ambitious enough to try and get in after the two of them,  he just wanted the dog to go away.

So a small yappy dog or even several likely won't be a big help in keeping your fish  or even you safe. The LDG dogs are usually a different story, they were bred to fight their own battles.

Sorry if a bit off topic but thought I'd mention it before you got a kennel in there
Dale Hodgins
pollinator

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 3511
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
    
  40
     Thank you Pam, I've given this predator issue quite a bit of thought and study which has included consulting wildlife management people.

    Encountering a wild animal in their own territory is a far different situation than having them approach the house and barn. If it's clear that other predators live there, and dogs are predators, then it only stands to reason that the likelihood of encounters would be reduced. My brother raises chihauhaus in a wild area near Lake Cowichan. They have run a cougar off several times. He could kill them but cougars are shy by nature and don't want to be discovered by humans. The dogs are simply an alarm system. There are raccoons in the area but the dogs keep them out of his plantings. He hasn't told me about any bear encounters but they exists in the area. I can only assume that the presence of 15 yip dogs would irritate a bear.

    A few years ago my Labrador always accompanied me on the property. She died and now I'm finding bear poop where there was none before.

    I suppose if I'm unable to deal with terrestrial predators by having yip dogs then I'll try something different. But I like the idea of irritating animals which wouldn't pose any serious threats to legitimate human visitors.

    My friend who raises Coi has had no trouble with large predators. Instead his were birds. He put up fishing line to interrupt the flight path of herons but one bold individual took to landing at a distance from the pond and walking in. This is unusual for large wild birds since they always want to have an escape route. By releasing a small dog in the area he was able to prevent further visits. Even an Eagle will not put himself in a position where he's unable to immediately take flight if there are dogs around.

    So I think the greatest risk of fish predation comes from birds, raccoons and other small furry creatures like mink and weasels. The stealthy nature of these creatures may require design modifications as I move forward.

    The number one creature which will steal from a well-planned system are Homo sapiens. Humans won't just take the amount they can eat right now, they'll take all they can carry and possibly cause much destruction along the way. A dozen yapping dogs would draw far more attention than this sort of predator wants.
 
 
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