So many of you have been asking about how the aquaponics project has been progressing....
I don't blame you. It is freaking fascinating if I do say so myself.
The fish seem to be healthy with a steady diet of Purina Game Fish feed with some white bread balls that I toss to them as a treat from time to time. One died early in the project, but it was the largest by far. The other sixteen are swimming around the 250 gallon plastic juice container and seem fine.
Sometimes they greet me in a friendly manner and look for some bread balls, and other times they seem to freak out and back into the far corner of the tank. I haven't figured out what sets off this behavior. Predators visit the site at night, probably raccoons, and maybe they terrorize the fish. That's just a supposition.
I have spread clay pellets over the bottom of the tank to simulate a gravel pond bed. Hopefully this will cause them to breed and make nests. 3" PVC Pipe pieces have also be laid on the bottom of the tank to give them a place to hide and feel safe and I have witnessed the fish going in an out of the pipes.
With the 1100 GPH pump water pump that connects the fish tank to the grow beds, the water circulates out of the tank every 15 minutes or so, and the one time that I emptied the swirl filter barrell, it had an inch layer of stinky fish poo solids at the bottom, so the fertilizing nutrients of the fish tank are definitely circulating through the system.
The water flow through the PVC pipes connecting the swirl filter to the three grow beds has needed frequent tweaking.... moving the pipes to get a constant flow to each of the tanks. If water is not agressively filling the grow beds, the bell siphons don't activate and drain all of the water from the beds. For the most part, the siphons have worked well and after a little leveling of the beds, there has been no issue with water returning to the fish tank.
The solar power system has proved inadequate to keep the 100 watt pump powered on a 24/7 basis, and it has only been used during times of direct sunlight to the two 100 watt panels. I have calculated that I will have to add eight additional panels to make up the balance, and it is not financially feasible to make that investment, so I have been content to power the system from my House supply.
As far as the actual plant production in the grow beds, this has been victimized by numerous attack by noctural predators.... probably raccoons or a woodchuck. At times, they ate all of the vegetation except the tomatoes. Zuchini, winter squash and cucumbers were annihilated. Kale and Sweet Potatoes leaves as well as spearmint plants rebounded well after every attack.
I think we'll have a tomato crop in a month or so, and I replanted rhubarb and kale.
But the larger response to this predator issue has been the decision to encompass the grow beds and the swirl filter with polycarbonate sheets to create a greenhouse and hopefully keep the system functional through the cold weather months.
This has been framed in pressure treated 2x4's and the sheets will be encased in cedar and placed in the frames with an access system that I haven't figured out yet. This will happen in October.
I still owe a striped bass fishing trip to Rich Mah, who helped me stock the tank in June.
All in all, the project has been enjoyable if not productive in terms of fresh vegetable produce. It will be interesting to keep the fish alive and the system circulating over the winter.