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Bonuses of an Urban and Suburban Aquponics System intergration into your permaculture design.
I had always blown off the idea of even looking into Aquaponics up until now. Simply from reading many years ago of how folks were doing their Hydroponics systems up with chemicals and using what seems like massive amounts of unatural energies through lights... five thousand water and air pumps... heating in the greenhouse... etc. Now I am looking at this stuff in new light.

Aquaponics is in it's very nature an organic growing method since the fish are sensitive to chemicals. After reading into this stuff I am now discovering that folks are creating entire ecosystems with many types of fish... worms... micro-organisms... fungi... crayfish... snails... aquatic plants... etc. They end up essentially growing thier plants in a highly aerobic environment... in a solution of Compost Tea.

There are two designs I favor. The CHOP and CHOP2 methods. They require only one small single water pump to do all of the work. In fact it is the only moving part in the whole system. A 15W pump requires much less energy than trucking something across town... or even the country.

No more tilling, weeding, bringing in massive amounts of fertilizer, washing away of fertilizer, and all on 1/10th the amount of water as normal gardening. The claims are 4 to 10 times more food per square foot as well. A 6'x8' area can allegedly raise about 400lbs of veggies per year once the system gets to max production... which does take time. Since there is sooooo much less fertilizer required. I should be able to provide all of the fertilizer for myself once my trees get up and going.

No more ground pests to deal with like rabbits, squirrels, deer, nematodes, and well... all of the trees I am planting. (their roots)

I think this might be a great way to get my delicate and shallow rooted veggies I desire into my stomach in the easiest manner... while taking up the least amount of energy, time, and space so I can keep planting the forest of food on the rest of my .37 acre property. I could litterally grow all of my food with the water off of my roof!

More to come later. I need to get ready for work...


What functions would a aquaculture system perform for your permaculture yard besides saving space, money, time, work, water, fertilizer, preventing fertilizer leaching/run off, and growing food/fish?

Well there are a great number of things you can use a system like this for. It is literally only limited to your imagination. If you are not interested in growing fish or plants for food... you can grow fish and plants for profit.
- A flood/drain pebble bed can be used to clone all of those permaculture plants you have been planting. At 1" spacing you could cram sooooo many plants into a single bed! Enabling you to either further advance your permaculture empire at a much faster rate at almost no cost... or to plant out those permaculture plants into 4" pots and sell them for such cheap prices that nobody will be able to refuse. Turning your urban area into a more resilient system and getting your community involved. You can tell them about permaculture later on. lol

A 55 gallon food barrel cut in half has a surface area of about 24" x 36". So you could grow say 864 plants in that tiny space. If you sold them in 4" pots for $5 each that equals $4,320 grown in 6 square feet. Minus cost of overhead of course. If you have issues selling them to neighbors there is always Craigslist, E-bay, and Amazon. (and Permies)

For the fish you could grow out $20 electric blue crayfish by the hundreds... or $3 guppies by the thousands... or $15 6" koi by the dozen. Or; since your a permaculturalist and see variety as being the spice of life/adding resiliency and strength to a system. Why not do all three at the same time.

I am personally going to focus on comet goldfish for the kids, bullhead minnows, worms, and crayfish. I love to fish and already have a string of ponds through my neighborhood. Might as well grow my own fish bait. If my minnow or crayfish population grows too large... I can release them back into their natural environment... or give them to my neighbors who also love to fish.

I live in Frost Zone 7B. So the added thermal mass of this system into my poorly designed greenhouse should regulate the temps massively in there. We usually only get down to the single deg F weather one or two times a year. (except last year which was record cold) So I am going to be taking my Lemon tree out of it's pot and planting it permanently into the ground. No need to heat. It is good down to 25degF.

How cheap can a system be built for? I will talk about that next. It isn't permaculture if it isn't affordable. Then nobody could have one.
I've been looking at vertical aquaponics, or layered aquaponics. Better use of cubic footage vs square footage in my 12x16 foot greenhouse. I was trying to design something and about the time I figured it out I discovered Nate Story's PhD work. He had the same concept I did, but now that others have been using it and finding the pros and cons, I can tweek my ideas and try for something that plays up the pros and eliminates or bypasses some of the cons.

Using different UV resistant structures to hold my fiber grow media, and the 40 watt air pump to get my water to a height that allow gravity to take over I can grow hundreds of strawberries, lettuces, greens, flowers, fish, crawfish, worms, and others without the strain of pushing and pulling on heavy media (severely injured neck, back and shoulders from collision with a drunk driver). All of the water eventually ends up in a sump tank and there will be a small solar charging system for my batteries to power it all.

I'll probably use aeroponics for cloning since it seems to have a higher success rate. We're also putting in a RMH to supplement the passive heating design to keep things warm in the winter (and cool in the summer).

Thanks for the thread and much luck for your plans.
That is funny! I am on episode 11 of Dr. Nate Storey's 20 episode YouTube podcast on aquaponics right now. I was just watching it before reading your post.

I am thinking of placing a say 5 to 15 gallon reservoir up several feet above my fish tank and using my single sump pump to fill that instead of the tank. Then having three separate levers separating three different sections of the system. I will use the levers to control how much water goes to the fish tank.... my media beds... and a couple of towers. All of which drain back to the sump on their own ways.
How much does it cost

I think I have a few minutes to attempt to answer this. Or at least make an attempt. Here goes...

It Depends.

I for one am all about DIY. You can pay someone $1,500 for a kit that will only grow a few sq/ft of food. However, for a DIY person it can in deed be done on the cheap. How cheap depends on how far you are willing to go and how hard you look. I have seen pics of folks using free old bathtubs, kiddie pools, large swimming pools, fish tanks, 5 gallon buckets, and even shoebox sized tuber ware.

I think that I will just break a simple CHOP system down to it's core components and then discuss potential cost. For the time being I am going to not mention Greenhouse and such since plenty of systems exist outside(I will talk about how that can be done on the cheap too later on). I will not mention heating the water or using extra lighting either since those things are going to drive up costs and a system can totally work without them. Just grow cool weather crops when it's cool... and warm crops when it's warm. Grow fish from your region... or can at least handle the weather from your region without needing their water heated.

Sump Tank
Fish Tank
Fish Food
Media Bed(at lease a minimum size to house the bacteria that break down the nutrients to make them plant available.)
Power Type (AC/DC) vs./and Annual Power Usage

I will be back when I get a chance. Got to get the kids to bed.

I just build myself a system BTW! Well... half way built now. Got some fish in there already!

@ Raine Hogan

I have looked into the airlift pumps now. I need to read into it more but I definately like what I see so far!

I already have a 15W DC powered pump with a max of 120 psi and 15.8ft head height. Only 3 gallons a minute/180 gallons an hour flow rate is the down side. However, it does flow more than much larger pumps/higher Watt pumps at 6ft of head height though. I will read up on air pumps and may incorporate it into future designs.

I am currently in the middle of podcast episode #10 of "Visionary Aquaponics" with Maribou Latour. It is an interesting podcast (The Lazy Gardener's Way of Growing Food). The person being interviewed is discussing how their outdoor system waters their newly planted trees. Because of this... their 3yr old trees are about the size of 10yr old trees. They take their excess poo-water from their swirl filters and feed it to the trees too. This plants seeds from things everywhere and now they have lettuce under their trees that they didn't plant. The excess poo collected in swirl filters tends to be heavy in the stuff that is needed for flowering and fruiting plants. So it works out well. Also, there is discussion of how things/food scraps and such are put back into the system... aka "return of surplus".


So this is something that could turn into a massive discussion that would last weeks. I am no expert on the subject at all. But there are a few things to think about when considering a pump and designing your own system.

1. AC (Alternating Current) or DC (Direct Current) power for the pump.
2. What is the max head height for the particular pump and will it work with your design?
3. What is the flow rate and the head height you want.
3. What is the life expectancy of the pump?
4. How easy is maintenance on the pump and is it rebuildable.
5. What kind of Watts does the pump draw?
6. What style of pump is best for you?

AC power is cheap. So are AC pumps. The opposite seems to go for DC pumps and DC power. So you will have to weigh in on the pros and cons for each.

I personally went with a 12V DC pump. Mainly because I already had one and it did not cost me anything further. Secondly, I wanted to set up at least a micro Solar System for backup for my home as a way to build resiliency into my life. I can run that pump directly off of the 12V solar system. It laughs at the 6ft head height I ask of it since it can handle 15.8ft. Where most 40W pumps with much higher flow ratings cannot pump water higher than 4 - 6ft it seems (many will though I am sure). Now I can later come back and build towers on top of my grow beds to better make use of my 6ft x 8ft space. So the height capabilities of the pump enable me to further maximize use of space and resources.

My first system is small. Everyone everywhere says to start small and work your way up into larger systems. So my main fish tank is only a food grade 55gal drum I got for $10. They recommend a water exchange rate of at least one per hour. So my pump can handle that pretty easily at 180 gallons per hour at 9.8ft(what it is rated for). So I can upsize my system later on without having to upsize the pump... and even move into a taller space to make a living wall or something cool like that.

My pump is rated for a 30,000 hour life expectancy. That is 3.425 years continuous... or doubles that if you turn it off every night. There are MANY pumps out there that are rated to last much longer than this. Some... like air pumps... can last MUCH longer. I have heard on a few occasions that life expectancy and quality of pump are more important than Watts rating. Because a pump going bad all the time will add up in costs quite quickly through new pump money... lost fish(if stocked densely and no backup air pump is there to switch on) and possibly lost crops that slowly bake to death in the hot sun.

Having a pump that is rebuildable is a good thing. Having one set to the side so you can swap them out for maintenance... or during failure... is a good thing too. I need to get a backup someday. lol Anyways, having the pump in an easily accessible place is a good thing too. Even most sump pumps/submerged pumps can be mounted in-line and taken out of the sump. Since the sump is best placed below ground level (so you can place your growing beds on the ground and have them gravity feed back to the sump). This can come in very handy.

Watts rating and pump style - Now I just recently listened to podcast #6 of "Aquaponics For Everyone" that was an interview with Glen Martinez "About Aquaponics-Permaculture & Airlift Pumps". What an inspiring thought to hear him speak about an 1 acre sized aquaponics system that can be run entirely off of a single 40W air pump pumping water up to a tower that distributes water out everywhere. Does anyone know how much food can be grown off of 40W of air-lift power? I don't... but it has to be a lot if using 6ft food towers and such. Can you imagine? The less energy a system consumes... the more sustainable and profitable it is. Since money is nothing more than the "representation of units of energy". Compare the 40W of energy to the tractor, irrigation, chem. fertilizer, and trucking of food across country (or even just across town). If you really can grow 10 times the food per acre then the tractor and such has to cover ten acres to your one. Every acre of food we grow ourselves is 10 acres somewhere else that gets to go back to it's natural state. I personally will not be going for max production. Mainly because I am lazy... and want my system to be more self balancing/low maintenance. Even if I only get 3 times as much food. It is still a good thing. Not to forget to mention how many folks will be drawn to build their own system if they see mine working well.
The air pump systems seem to make my 15W old school pump look worthless. However, I am new. I need something easy and reliable off of the bat that I can wrap my head around easily. I still have the whole system to figure out. Later on down the road I can experiment with airlift once I get settled in. Just changing one thing at a time.
I have seen videos of guys online daisy-chaining pump pressure together. They will do things like stack 2 or 3 pumps with the 3ft or 4ft lift capabilities to get the water up where they want it. Doing this can quickly add up in costs for both Watts used and Dollars for the pumps. Not to mention that a well designed system will only have the pump as the sole moving part to increase reliabily. Adding 2 pumps will double your chances for failure.

The pump is the heart of the system. It can make work on a whole different level if done right. It can make it fail often if done wrong.


EDIT: I need to make a couple EDITs to my above statements. Due to having time to do more research today.
1. Air pumps - Can have a rated life expectancy of up to 15 years and some are rebuildable on the cheap since there are no moving parts.
2. A 40W air pump cannot alone lift water up to a tower to supply a one acre operation. Either I miss heard during my commute... or it was miss spoken during the podcast. I am likely at fault. Sorry. It must get water fed into it from one pump with whatever rate of flow is required. Say something like a 246W ecoplus pump rated to flow 2166 gallons of water an hour (on Amazon for cheap). The airlift will lift that max head height up to great reaches. Essentially lifting the weight of the water off of the pump. Enabling a grower to go vertical and save money on land/build costs... and have a more reliable and economical system.
3. You can use a super small air lift pump to both create a current in the main fish tank of a system and oxygenate the water at the same time. I just may do that when my system gets mature because the fish poop will pile up in the middle of the tank. The solids lift overflow pipe can pick it up easily then. I already have a 1.5W air pump for making compost tea in 5 gallon buckets.
Wicking Bed De-coupled

Today I am starting off an install of a wicking bed onto the greenhouse floor. It will not be tied into the aquaponics system... but will be getting it's reservoir filled with aquaponics water from time to time. It is as water wise and nutrient wise as an aquaponics system... but growing in actual soil. I think of them as a chinampas with a modern day twist. Chinampas are possibly the most productive growing system ever devised.

So I will be able to grow root crops really well. As well as make use of an area that is too low to return water back to the sump tank since my sump tank will also be a raft bed and is above ground. More thermal mass is another plus in my micro 6' x 8' greenhouse. There will eventually be a row of vertical towers spaced out above the wicking bed. There will also be a "worm feeding station" inside the wicking bed! Why not make your worm compost right there in the bed... building up the worm population so they do the fertilizing and tilling for you! Picks and videos to come... eventually. lol

The bed is just a heavy duty 55gal container I bought at Home Depot for $22 yesterday. I will be using scrap drainage pipe... and some PVC pieces for the overflow drains. I will be using sand for the subsoil, used/old straw for the wicking layer on top of that... and worm compost/soil/etc for the last layer. If we don't have to move next year I will use the scrap plywood in the garage to build a cover for the box. Just to make it look nice and give it a long life.

The worm feeding station will be a 4" piece of pvc with lots of skinny slots sawed into it on a level that will be below the surface of the soil so the worms can enter and exit freely. Then I will use a cap/lid to keep flies/rodents and such out.

Here is a video of a wicking bed followed up by an explanation of how it works.
Here is an example video of a worm composting tower for the garden.
Cost of Electricity

Out of the last two weeks... today is the first time I have seen the sun for more than a few minutes. It really has tried out my solar aquaponics setup! I ended up having to hook up a trickle charger to the battery after about the thrid day... and leave it on there for about four more days before decidng to drop $24 on a "Ponics Pump" from Amazon that runs on AC power. I have now spent an additional $16 on a 50ft long extension cord that is permanently stationed inside the greenhouse from the outside electrical connector on the porch. So for $40 total I have unlimited power to the greenhouse (with a cord rated for 1680W) and a new pump. I am going to keep the DC pump as backup. So my fish can live at ease knowing that they will live if the power should fail.

How much money does AC power cost? It is different from location to location. My area is cheap. I just found a calculator on my local power companies website to help figure out how much money something costs per year to run. Here is the link...

The new Ponics Pump I just got uses 25W and is rated at 400 gallons per hour with no head height. At 6ft head hieght where I will be using it... it is rated at 220 gallons per hour(with no airlift). I have now added a second 55gal fish tank that is still within the same system. So I still have room to grow another 100 fish tank gallons or so before adding an air lift to that pump... or getting a bigger pump.

Anyways, at 25W my new pump will cost me about $1.83 a month to run!!! ($21.96 a year!) That is almost nothing. If I were to set everything up on a light sensor/relay system so that the pump turns off at night (and power outages) then that cost would be about cut in half. I would have to turn on some bubblers that use 1.5W each to do that though(off of the solar system). Now I see what Nate Story meant when I heard him say he usually spends more money on pumps than power.

I have a plan in mind how I can make the solar battery last an incredibly long time. Possibly allowing the system to go indefinately in low light conditions or power outages.
This video I just made and posted on YouTube barely even covers what I am doing but it is a start. If I get the time I will try to make a mini video series on my progress. Just lettuce, peas, carrots, chives, kale, and strawberries starting in the system for now. Still need to populate the highest tank with fish. Want to get some Hybrid bluegill sometime soon if I can figure out where to get them from.

Marty Mitchell wrote:Wicking Bed De-coupled

Here is a video of a wicking bed followed up by an explanation of how it works.

Thank you for posting this video. I'm in the process of creating a wicking bed, and the instructions are very helpful.
(1 like)
Will Moraes wrote:
Marty Mitchell wrote:Wicking Bed De-coupled

Here is a video of a wicking bed followed up by an explanation of how it works.

Thank you for posting this video. I'm in the process of creating a wicking bed, and the instructions are very helpful.

You are welcome. Just posted the link because it helped me too.

My wicking bed is tucked into a protected corner of the greenhouse. I am thinking that I may be able to get a large bell pepper plant to stay alive in there for several years possibly(gets me excited thinking about it). I am excited to see how well it supports life. I want to grow cucumbers, melons, raddish, carrots, etc. in there.

These things have to be about as close as you can get to a chinampa without actually having a chinampa... aside from the huglekulture mounds that seem to attract mice in my yard.

I am thinking that when I build a set of wicking beds in the future(out in the yard) I will throw some wood in the bottom along with the sand and reservoir. Also, might leave some logs sticking out of the top that are inoculated with mushrooms. They can live and pop shrooms out under the plant canopy. Wicking water up while they do. Creating carbon pathways for the top plants to follow.

(1 like)
Made another video about the Fish and Tanks in my Aquaponics system. If you want further updates then just subscribe. So I don't feel the urge to clog the thread up with links to my own videos. lol

Two pics to show the progress of one grow bed in 10 days. It has been cold... and cloudy mostly.

Feb 6th
Followed by...
Feb 17th

Over half of the lettuce was transplanted into another bed. Other wise it would be a matt of butter crunch lettuce. In the bed there is lettuce, carrots, chives, garlic chives, strawberries, oregano, lemon balm, cilantro/coriander, sage, and a citrus tree seed that had germinated in the compost.
Feb 6th 2016
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Feb 17th 2016
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The last pic was from Feb 17th. This one is from last night... the 23rd.

Thinned off some of the larger leaves on the Butter Crunch Lettuce. It was starting to smother everything in the bed. Not to shabby for only taking the largest couple of leaves off of each plant. I hear these plants can last up to 3 months harvesting in this manner. looking forward to another one in a week or two!

The permaculture playing cards make great stocking stuffers: http://richsoil.com/cards

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