Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Norm's Aquaponic system

The Background:

A few months ago Norm walked into my shop and expressed his interest in hydroponics, he told me he had a 6m x 1m grow bed custom made from sheet metal and he was now ready to get started in hydroponics.

A short conversation followed, in which I was able to convince Norm of the benefits of Aquaponics, after only a few minutes he was converted and ready to undertake his initiation into aquaponics.

We spent a few hours over the next few days designing and re-designing and came up with "Norm's System". Over the next few weeks we ordered in the components and made a start on Norm's system. The construction process took longer than we both anticipated. You can't rush these things, a shadehouse had to be ordered and erected, there were electricians involved, favours called in, machinery brought in to dig two x 2m deep holes (for the water cooling/heating system which we'll get back to later in the blog)... and there were also bevvie breaks to be had, you know!, where you rip the top off a froffy and stand back, admire your progress and dribble B.S.

At this point I've gotta be honest and declare that in no way, shape, or form, was I involved with any of the manual labour... my role as "Chief Consultant and Head Engineer" was to give instruction re the manual labour, draw doodles on bit's of scrap paper then breeze back in after all the hard work was done, point at things, look informed and all-knowing... and drink Norm's Crownies!... a job that, even if I must say so myself, I did well!

The Important Stuff:

Norm's system comprises:

6m x 1m sheet metal Grow Bed (GB), lined with pond liner, on a frame of galv box tubing, all mounted a number of jacks (the bases of Acro props cut down) for levelling the frame. The GB contains 1200 litres of expanded clay, an inlet a metre in from one end of the GB and a Bell type auto siphon a metre from the opposite end.

1000 litre Fish Tank (FT) below the auto siphon, with constant height, which overflows to the Sump Tank (ST) via a 6m length of 40mm PVC. The way it's been set up the FT has an effective capacity of roughly 750-800 litres. It also contains a 1200 Ltr/hr pump purely for aeration and circulation within the tank, via a recirc/spray bar set-up.

1000 litre Sump Tank which contains a 3500 Ltr/hr Dirty water pump as the main system pump. Although it has the capacity to hold 1000 litres, the ST is carrying around 750-800 litres.

Norm's system under construction:

Norm's system was completed just prior to Xmas 2010. At that stage it was suggested by the "Chief Consultant" that Norm put a few veg seedlings in the GB, add a few glugs of Seasol, and throw half a dozen goldfish in the FT... just to kick start the system, then in a few weeks add the Barramundi fingerlings, once the system had cycled and stabilised.

Norm being Norm, he wanted the Barramundi in "yesterday"... consequently, a few days before Xmas, 25 x 10cm Barra fingerlings were thrown in an old esky and transported across the city on one of the hottest days of the year. Once he got the fish home, Norm being Norm, all due care was taken during the acclimatisation and introduction process... not!

Fish... meet fish tank, fish tank... meet fish... SPLASH!!!

Shaking my head in disbelief, I disappeared up the coast for 10 days over the Xmas-New Year break. When I returned, I expected to find Norm distraught with dead, stressed out Barramundi everywhere... not so!... everyone of the little buggers survived?

I'm yet to see the system since returning from hol's, but photo updates will follow as soon as I get around for some more of Norm's free Crownies.

Looking for aquaponic equipment or advice?... please visit our website:

or for those on the East coast, Murray at Practical Aquaponics can help with all your aquaponic needs:

Update on Norm’s system 17/01/2011:

Stopped around Norm's today for a bit of a look at his system... I think Norm just went down to the seedlings section at the local nursery and picked up one punnet of everything, there's peas, capsicum, cucumbers, rockies, beans, celery, spinach, cauliflower, strawberries and lettuce.  The peas and spinach (or it may be silverbeet, I didn't ask him and I don't eat either) are booming, everything else is coming along nicely. The lettuce has some signs of leaf burn, but the new growth looks okay. The strawbs are looking "average" with slight leaf discolouration and burning around the leaf margins, but that's to be expected, the pH is up around 7.0 and strawbs prefer 5.5-6.0.

All-in-all the system's running great, the fish have already put on some size, actually I was amazed at how much they've grown in such a short period. This has just highlighted to me just how easy and forgiving aquaponics can be.

Norm is somewhat "agricultural" in his methods, conversely I'm somewhat fussy when setting up and maintaining an aquaponic or hydroponic system, yet I think Norm's fish may have already outgrown mine... and mine went in 3 weeks earlier.

I will post updated photo's of Norm's system as everything develops and will try and get a decent picture of the fish.  

Update on Norm’s system 27/02/2011:

Stopped in on Norm to have a quick squiz at his system. Norm was very proud of how things were going and led me out to his backyard to have a look.

When we got there all the plants were wilting and upon checking there was no water pumping from the ST into the GB, but there was still water coming out of the recirc/spray bar set-up on the ST... in other words... the feed line to the GB was blocked. I lifted the lid off the water inlet inspection pipe and it was packed full of roots.

Norm has been unwell recently and hasn't had time to do much more than feed the fish every day, understandably, routine maintenance, such as rotating the outer pipes/screens on the siphon, inlet and overflow, to break off any roots, has been put on the back burner. I rotated the pipe a few times to break the roots off and cleaned the roots out of the inspection pipe. We fired the pump back up... nothing but a trickle?

We turned the pump off again and removed the inlet screen pictured (below), and straight away the problem became obvious.

The screen was cleaned and replaced and everything ran beautifully.

I am going to redesign the water inlet into the GB and drop around and fit the new version for Norm on Monday, so that this won't happen again.

Yabby Handling Tip:

Tip: When handling yabbies it's advisable to pick them up by the blunt end... not the sharp end!!!

Norm's got some yabbies in his ST and he was having problems with them fighting and ripping each other claws and legs off, so I decided to sex them for him and separate the boys from the girls.

He's got short lengths of 40mm PVC for hides and I could see the blunt end of a yabby sticking out the end of one, so I covered that end with my fingers and quickly scooped the pipe out of the ST in the other direction... theory: the force of the water rushing into the pipe as you scoop it out keeps the yabby in the pipe.

It was all going good... except I didn't count on there being two yabbies in the one short pipe... the second one facing the opposite way, ie: sharp end towards my fingers that were covering the end of the pipe.

Here endeth the lesson.

Update on Norm's system - 28/02/11

Dropped around Norm's today and rigged up a new GB feed line inlet. No more fancy submerged inlet with sreen filter and PVC surround... Just a plain old open ended inlet pipe, with filter pad on the surface of the expanded clay grow media to catch any solids... The KISS principle!



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