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Frequently Asked Aquaponic Questions

Answers to the questions we get often, if you dont get your answer here please use the search feature or contact us


Q.

My water has gone green. What should I do?

Water going green is usually because of algae, and most of the time it happens during the start up phase because the algae grows faster than your plants so you have to give your plants some time to grow. Algae is a very small plant that floats in water so what is happening is that the algae is getting sunlight and the nutrients in the water before your plants in the grow bed therefore to fix the problem you must stop the sunlight from hitting the water to starve the algae from growing.

Q.

The sides and bottom of my tank is covered with slime, should I clean it off?

That slime is called the bio film and it should be a thing layer, it is home to plenty of beneficial bacteria that help your system to work, some of the fish also eat this bio film. It is an all around benefit to your system so leave it alone.

Q.

I have long strands of algae growing in my tank, what should I do?

Stringy or filamentous algae, does not look very nice and it can start to take over your fish tank with its long strands of algae. Try to keep the light off the water if you can by covering the tank. Remove what you can from the sides of the tank manually. Perhaps add some known algae eaters to the tank if you can.

Q.

How long can I leave my fish without feeding them?

Almost all species of fish will live happily for weeks without feeding. If you are going away on holiday for a week or two, we would recommend that you get a friend family member or neighbour to come around once or twice a week to check your system and feed your fish. If this is not possible, then leaving the fish without feed for a week or two will not cause any major problems. I would rather leave them without feed than have an automated feeding method because if they are off the feed for some reason, the automated feeder will keep dumping it into the system and it may foul the water.

Q.

My fish appear unwell, gasping at the surface or showing labouring breathing, or erratic behaviour, perhaps flashing?

In emergency situations when your fish are gasping for air at the surface you have to increases circulation of the water to get more oxygen into the water. Salt is used as a preventative measure for some as the salt encourages the fish to produce more slime on its body this really helps protect the fish. You can use sea salt at the rate of 3kg to 1000L. At this rate most plants will be safe but strawberries are very susceptible to salt poisoning.

Q.

My fish are off their feed, what should I do?

If it’s only been a day or two, don’t panic. Think about things: what sort of fish do you have? What are their ideal conditions and what are your water temperatures? How long have they been in the system? Fish can often take a few weeks to settle into a new home. Stand back and throw just a few pellets at a time, they might be shy, then come back in a while and check if they have eaten them.

Q.

How much should I feed my fish?

As much as they want to eat if your system is cycled and all is well. You will find that different species have different personalities. Some fish, like trout are eating machines, throw a handful of feed into your fish tank and they will go crazy leaping out of the water. They seem to have an almost insatiable appetite. Other species are shyer and will eat more cautiously. Once your system is established, the simple rule of thumb is to feed them as much as they want to eat within a few minutes. Throw a small handful of feed in, if they eat it all, throw some more in, and so on. When they start slowing down and don’t appear to be so hungry, stop feeding them. Some fish are happy to eat all day long, others may prefer to eat at certain times of the day. You can tend to train the fish, if you have been feeding them every day when you get home from work, then don’t be surprised if they don’t eat when you decide to feed them in the morning for a change.

Q.

What sized pump do I need for my system?

A question often asked! A general rule of thumb that can be applied is that you want to turn over the fish tank volume once an hour. So, say you have designed a system using a couple of IBC’s, you have a 1000L IBC fish tank and two growbeds above the fish tank made from the other IBC. Firstly you need to know roughly what head your pump will be pumping to, this is the height from the surface of the water where the pump is, up to the highest point it will be pushing the water. Say for this example it might be about 70cm from water surface in the fish tank to the top of the growbeds where the water inlet is. So you will want a pump that can pump at least 1000L litres/hour at a head of 70cm. If you check out pump boxes then you will notice that most of them have a graph comparing pumping rates at different heads. Personally I tend to go a little more because this allows for future expansion and changes, or extra plumbing if required at some stage. Remember that if a pump says it’s flow rate is say 2000L/h, that is at 0 head, with no restrictions from pipes and fittings.

Q.

What fish can I grow in my system?

If you can start with tilapia that’s should be your first choice because it’s a pretty hardy fish and can take the mistakes you will make as a first timer when most other fish will die. Two reasons that will guide your decision of fish type are one, if the government does not allow for tilapia fish (you can check with a fishing of agricultural department) and two, the environment; choose fish ideal for your location and temperature that way you don’t have to pay extra bills for heating or cooling. I recommend talking to your local pet shop about what fish are best if you want to go the ornamental route, the pet shop is also a good source for edible fish but they are usually sold under a different name for example, iridescent shark or the pacu fish.

Q.

My pH is high or low what should I do?

There are a few things you can do, however always remember little and often rather than large changes. After running aquaponic systems for well over 10 years, I have never adjusted my pH in any of my systems. Here at the display centre we recently tested some of our systems and found that a few of them had a pH down around 5.5 which is considered to be very low. In fact in a lot of literature may tell you that nitrification will stop at levels below 6, we’ve found this to not be true. Some fish species don’t like low pH, other species are quite happy at a low pH, it might be worth checking your own fish species to find out if they are ok. The plants are certainly happy at a lower pH and more elements are available at low pH. High pH is generally more of a problem than low, high pH means that ammonia is more toxic to fish and that many micronutrients are locked up and not available to plants. pH naturally comes down in an aquaponic system and generally people are trying to find ways of keeping the pH up. If your pH is high you need to look at a few things, check the water you are using to top up your system. If it has a high pH find another water source for a while. If it’s not your top up water perhaps it’s your media in the growbeds, test your media with the vinegar test. Whatever your pH reading is, remember “don’t panic”. This is especially true during the early stages of an aquaponic system, during cycling and for a while after, perhaps the first 6 months of operation, you can experience some swings in pH, just let the system settle and mature, if you have checked your media and top up water and they are fine, just leave your system to do its thing.

Q.

My ammonia/nitrites/nitrate levels are high, what should I do?

My ammonia/nitrites/nitrate levels are low or nonexistent, what should I do?

Be happy! Many of the systems we run at the display centre here show levels of 0 for all of the above, the systems are producing well, all nutrients are being converted, and also the plants aren’t being force fed to any extent by having constant levels of nitrates in the water.

Q.

Do fish need sunlight?

No not at all, or at least only in very small amounts, ultimately it’s great if you can keep the sun off your fish tank, fish are happy when they feel protected and in the shadows, there aren’t many fish that like sitting in the sunshine. This has come about through many generations of breeding, those sitting out in the sun would be picked off quickly by predators from in the water or the sky. Happy fish are fish that aren’t stressed so they will be less susceptible to disease and they will eat more and put on weight quicker.

Q.

Can I put plants and other features into my fish tank?

It’s recommended that you keep your tank as free as possible of objects if you want to keep maximum numbers of fish. The more things in your fish tank, the more places there are for solids to catch and build up. We sometimes put in a couple of short sections of pipe in the bottom of the fish tank for crustaceans to hide in to give them protection from the fish. Pot plants like water lilies, lotus plants, Chinese water chestnuts etc may be attacked by either fish or any crustaceans in your tank. If you have low stocking levels or the right species of fish you may be ok. Floating plants can work very well in a system but ma clog pumps but all so provide places for some fish to breed

Q.

Do I need an air pump for my system?

Probably not, this will depend on a number of aspects of your system. We have found that in all of our systems the water splashing back into the fish tank creates enough dissolved oxygen in the water for the fish of a fully stocked system at the recommended stocking levels. A little extra air certainly doesn’t go astray, but there is no reason to get a huge air pump with lots of air stones for your IBC system.

Q.

I have algae on my grow bed media, what should I do?

You need to look at a couple of things, do you have water going out over the top of your media where the sun can hit it? This will cause algae to grow. Best if you can try and make sure the water goes straight down into the media away from the sunlight. Another way to help this problem is to put some worms into your growbed, composting worms help consume uneaten food, algae and old dead root matter within the growbed.

Q.

What is aquaponics?

Aquaponics is technique that blends growing vegetables with fish. This closed-loop system is highly efficient, yields more food than traditional farming and has virtually no waste. The reason why aquaponics is super sustainable and highly efficient is because of the healthy symbiotic relationships that the plants, fish and nitrogen-fixing bacteria have with one another. As fish excrete into the water, the water is then pumped up to the plant beds. Here the bacteria help break down the fish excrement so the plants can absorb it. The water is naturally cleaned and returned to the fish tank. As a result, plants typically grow in half the time and a jam packed with nutrients that out perform most organic farms.

Q.

How is it different from hydroponics?

Hydroponics is the process of growing plants in a soil-less medium (such as gravel, pelletized clay, rock, etc.) where nutrients are added to the water for the plants to absorb. These systems are not as sustainable as aquaponics because they require the addition of fossil fertilizers or other supplemental nutrients so the plants can grow. Over time, the water quality will decline and will require it to be discharged. If the water is not properly disposed of, potential contamination of streams and other water sources can occur.

Aquaponics incorporates fish to provide the natural fertilizers and nutrients plants need. This simple addition, eliminates the need to add “food” for plants. Best of all, aquaponics has a built in self cleaning and filtration system that returns clean water to the fish. The only water you will be adding is to replace what the plants take up and from evaporation. There is never a need to discharge your water (with the exception of a major problem if your PH or ammonia levels are too toxic).

Q.

Why is aquaponics the best way to grow food?

There are many benefits to growing food using an aquaponics system. In addition to having continuous access to healthy, fresh, organic, GMO-free produce, you also have the added benefit of protein from fish. Food grows in half the time of traditional farming and you can grow year round.

In May, 2013, we had a researcher test the BRIX level of the produce grown at Ingenuity Innovation Center. This scale is commonly used in the food industry and measures the quality of food by assessing the carbohydrate and mineral value by using a refractometer. High BRIX foods have greater carbohydrate and mineral levels. This researcher discovered that traditionally grown organic farms produce he had tested scored out at a 4. Our produce scored over a 6! This means that produce grown in aquaponic systems is more nutritious and healthy than produce grown on organic farms.

Q.

What can you grow in aquaponics?

Really anything can be grown in aquaponics it depends on the method you chose, root crops will need wicking beds, and leafy green do best in deep water culture(DWC) . For every plant there is a method of growing to suit you just have to do the research.

Q.

Do the produce taste “fishy?”

Produce grown in the aquaponic system DOES NOT taste fishy. Plants are absorbing the vital minerals and nutrients that are broken down from fish waste not the fish themselves.

Q.

How much food can you produce in a year?

The answer to this question is not an easy pill to swallow, it really depends on the skill of the grower, what aquaponic does is to provide a constantly idea root zone for your plants to grow the rest is up to you. So in theory aquaponic provides the most you can get from out of a given space. What you grow is up to you.

Q.

What grows during different times of the year?

There are certain kinds of vegetables and fruits that do better during certain times of the year. However, with technological advancements of LED lighting and heating and cooling solutions, some aquaponic growers are pushing the limits of what can be grown regardless of the season. In our own experience, fruits such as melons, berries and tomatoes do better in the summer months. Whereas, lettuces and kale do not like the warmer months. Chard does well year round along with peppers, thyme, cilantro, sage, rosemary and green onion.

Q.

Where is the best place to put an aquaponics system?

Determining where the best place is for an aquaponic system starts with what size will work best for you. We have several choices and options that can fit any budget. After that is established, the next step is to consider if you would like a system to be indoors or outdoors. If you place your system outdoors, you will need to provide some sort of covering (greenhouse, lean to, shed) to put your system in. Covering is essential to prevent precipitation from ending up in your system that can alter the PH and symbiotic relationships of your microbes, fish and plants. We recommend choosing a place that is level and has easy access to power or other renewable energy solutions.

Q.

How expensive are aquaponic systems?

There are many different kinds of aquaponic systems out there to choose from that range from full turnkey systems to do-it-yourself plans you can build using repurposed materials. Ingenuity Innovation Center has done extensive research on what is available. With so many to choose from, we started to evaluate different systems using these criteria:

Total cost. We looked at what the total cost is to build a system and support it. We added up start up costs and examined what type of financial commitment would be required to maintenance the system.Failure points. We evaluated system designs based on the extra work you would have to do in order to ensure your system works properly (timers, filters, cleaning media, etc.). The more steps you have to take or remember to do, the more opportunities there are for things to go wrong and present major issues. We sought out system designs that were simple and easy to use and that naturally take care of problems.Maintenance Time. We evaluated different aquaponic systems based on how much maintenance time you spend per day, week, month, semi-annually and annually.Longevity & Efficiency. We looked at the quality of materials that are used in aquaponic systems. We evaluated materials based on UV resistance, durability and chemical composition (including off-gassing and leaching). For pumps, aerators and heaters, we examined components for longevity and energy efficiency.Quality of Symbiotic Life. We examined systems that provide a high quality of life for every living being in the aquaponic system.

Through our research, we have been able to bring about some very innovative solutions that will meet anyone’s budget and living situation. From mini kits you can build yourself for less than $100 or a full blown large system for $2,000 that will feed two people for life, we have worked to bring the designs forward while building community and knowledge around what you can do, build and grow using aquaponic systems.

Q.

How much space do I need to grow enough food to support myself?

A total of 25 square feet of grow space will support one person for life.

Q.

How efficient are aquaponic systems?

Aquaponics is highly efficient. Consider these areas:

Water. In aquaponics, there is only 7% water loss through evaporation and plant uptake versus 90% in traditional farming.Energy. We have designed our aquaponic solutions with energy efficient components (aerators, pumps, heaters and lighting) that can be also tied in with renewable and off grid solutions. In the Ingenuity Innovation Center greenhouse, we have one pump that runs an entire row (1, 300 gallon fish tank, 8, 100 gallon beds of aquaponics, and 1, 200 gallon sump tank) for the energy it takes to run a light bulb!Waste. There is virtually no waste from this system. Unlike hydroponics that requires the water be discharged from adding in nutrient again and again, aquaponics has a natural cleaning and filtration process using the rock media beds. Worms and microbes help break down nutrient rich fish waste so the plants can absorb the nutrients. Extra organic material from the plant beds can be composted.

Q.

Can you do aquaponics indoors?

Aquaponic systems can be done indoors. Placing systems near windows or adding in supplemental grow lighting make growing easy.

Q.

How easy is it to maintain an aquaponics system?

Depending on what type of aquaponic system you choose, the maintenance could be a lot or very little. Ingenuity Innovation Center has chosen a system that is very easy to maintain. For example, for general maintenance and fish feeding, we only spend about 15 minutes a day in our 1,500 square foot greenhouse that is full of aquaponics. For planting and harvesting, we may spend 2 hours a week.

Q.

What type of aquaponic system do you use at Aquaponic Machine?

Our aquaponic system is second to none, in fact it is a second generation aquaponic system witch is so much more advanced than all the rest of systems out there

Q.

What kind of grow lights do I need if I am growing vegetables indoors?

We recommend selecting lights that mimic the sun. Lights are categorized by their color temperature. Light spectrums starting at 5,500 to 6,500 will work for growing indoors.

Q.

How do I keep the water the right temperature for the fish?

There are several different types of solutions for keeping your water the right temperature. We recommend starting with the location of the fish tank. If the fish tank is going to be extreme conditions of heat or cold, consider looking at solutions that you can insulate the tank. This will help keep the water from fluctuating in large increments. Secondly, get an aquarium heater that will turn on and off when a certain temperature is established.

Q.

Do I have to heat my greenhouse in the winter time?

Depending on what type of produce and/or fruit you are growing, you may need to add in an additional envelope within your greenhouse to prevent loss. This extra barrier will help provided heated insulation for plants that need extra warmth. If you are partnering with a fish that thrives in warmer temperature conditions (such as tilapia), the water will act as a natural heat sink and provide a space for plants to stay warm. Since the plants are “hot tubbing,” you may not have to heat your greenhouse.

Q.

What other nutrients do I need to add in order to maintain the health of the system?

Aquaponic systems naturally lack certain minerals and require them to be added from time to time. They are potassium, calcium, iron and magnesium. Your plants will tell you when it is time to add these minerals into the system. Often times, they will turn colors on the edges of their leaves.

Yellow Coloring on the Leaves = Iron Deficiency. Since we are dealing with a constant influx of nitrogen within the system, this is not a nitrogen deficiency issue. This is usually tied to an iron deficiency. You will also be able to see this that the veins of the plant stay a darker green. To remedy this, simply add chelated iron into your growbeds in either the auto siphon or water spout that fills the growbed with water. We recommend that you watch for changes over the next few days. The new growth will be not be yellowed and will return to a darker green.Brown Coloring on the Leaves = Potassium Deficiency. For a potassium deficiency, you will notice a brown discoloration all the way around the leaf. To remedy this, add a small amount of cream of tartar to your system (the same way you address an iron deficiency).Spotting on the Leaves = Calcium Deficiency. For a calcium deficiency, you will notice spots on leafs and at times, rot on fruit. We use calcium to buffer the PH because the system is always trying to move toward a more acidic condition. Simply take egg shells and put them into the microwave and heat for 20 to 30 seconds to remove any life. Put them in an old nylon stocking and put them in plant beds under the water supply or put them in the sump. Over time, they will dissolve releasing the calcium into the system.Curling, Spotting and Browning of the Leaves = Magnesium Deficiency. For a magnesium deficiency, you will notice a combination of what may appear to be a calcium and potassium deficiency. The curling and spotting of the leaves along with brown coloring may indicate that there magnesium

Q.

Where can I source parts to make my own aquaponic system?

If you are a do-it-yourselfer, you can make you own aquaponic systems using a variety of parts found locally. Creating your own systems can save you a lot of money and provide a wonderful fun learning experience. When sourcing materials, we recommend building off of a solid aquaponic plan. (We have several that we can suggest.) Large intermittent bulk containers (IBC’s) are popular choices because of their size and accessibility. Many can be found on your local Craigslist or want ads. Other containers can be found by going to your local agriculture store and looking for feed and watering (stock) tanks for animals.

Regardless of where you get your parts from, take time to consider what they are made out of. Remember that you will be growing plants and fish in the system. Sourcing materials that will not leach into the water will help make sure your aquaponics system does not turn into a toxic waste site.

Q.

The following plastics are OK to use in aquaponic systems:

HDPE (high density polyethylene) and Vinyl (polyvinyl chloride, or PVC) They may be others but we have found that these two are mostly what is available and easy to work with.

Q.

What kind of aquaponic system is best for me?

And aquaponic machine of course!

Q.

What kind of training and support does Aquaponic machine provide?

We provide lots of help and support to ensure that you feel confident growing using our unique aquaponics system. you can also contact us directly to ask questions or even make comments to help us improve our tech or services.

Q.

Why aren’t we seeing more aquaponics being done?

Aquaponics is new we have to give it time to go global as people adapt the technology to their local environment.

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