2013 Aquaponics System

As the previous blog post explains there were a number of improvements made to the Aquaponics system this season.  In addition to a new type of filtration system, an Ebb and Flow system, as well as an Aeroponics system was added.  It is currently the end of the season and while there are always adjustments that can be made I can confidently say all of the additions were successful.  You can see pictures in the previous post or you can watch this short video below for some additional images as well as a somewhat rambling explanation of what is going on.  Enjoy.

Summer of 2013 Garden and Aquaponics update

It has been a long time since there has been a blog post but there has been a lot of activity.  After another successful winter it was time to come outside again and to get to work. There were several things to work on, 1) To have another successful roof garden with some improvements. 2) To improve the outdoor aquaponics systems filters.  3) to improve the vertical aqua piping 3) To develop an Ebb and Flow system 4) To create an Aeroponic system on the 3rd floor.

Container Garden

Lets start with the container garden.  It is going great so far and this season has yielded quarts and quarts of Strawberries, pints of Blueberries, lots of lettuce, carrots, radishes and herbs as well as collards and beans.  We are moving into tomato and pepper time and that makes me very excited!









Im very happy to say that I put the abundance of Fruit to good use and made Strawberry, Blueberry and Mango (not from the garden) Sorbet, so I will be able to enjoy all summer.

Im also happy to report that there are 3 new ladies at the Urban Lab.

2013 Aquaponics system


Another year and more improvements to the outdoor Aquaponics system. This year I added a whole new level and some new ways of growing. As you will see the fish are still in a 275 gallon IBC tank under the stairs. That water now pumps up to the roof of the second level where it goes through a 2 stage filtering system (through a 30 and 20 gallon adapted garbage cans) at that point Half the water come out and flows into the system that runs along the side of the house. This continous flow of water also filters the water and helps re-oxygenate the water for  the fish before it goes back into the tank. In the second stage of the filter is a pump and every 7 minutes that pump comes on for 30 seconds and pumps water up to the 3rd floor deck where you can see I have built a new system. That system is an aeroponic system that is basically gutters with small pipes inside with sprayers, so it sprays the roots of the plants. That water all drains into one pipe which them comes down to a tub that you see next to the filters. That is an ebb and flow system. So essentially every 7 minutes that tub fills half way with water and waters the plants in there before draining back into the Fish tank. Last year I had about 50 grow holes or units, this year I have over 200! And these different types of growing are better for different types of plants. it is a lot of fun. In addition I have about 50 Tilapia that are over a pound now and will be 2 pounds each and perfect for eating in the next month. Come on down!!!



Fall 2012 Tilapia Harvest

Not only has Hurricane Sandy been through the area but Fall has arrived and with it are much colder temperatures. I still have fish outside and plants growing in the outdoor system but it is about time to shut things down in the next few days and focus on the indoor system.  The outdoor system was incredibly successful this year yielding nearly 100 pounds of fish and large amounts of veggies and herbs throughout the season.  A lot was learned as the system was expanded and the growing season was expanded to a 6 month period of time.  This will be a long post that will focus on harvesting the fish so that you can see the fruits of our labor.

I first want to make the point that in addition to this system providing food it is also a fun way to learn about some scientific concepts.  Part of the simple maintenance is that I regularly check the water for Ph levels, Nitrate levels and so on.  I keep tables of the results and make the necessary adjustments when change is needed. It is fun to see how minor changes in anything from water levels, to the number of fish or plants can have impact on the condition of the water.


These pictures and Video are actually from the end of September. I knew that cold days were coming and wanted to harvest a number of the Tilapia before it got too cold at night and I ran the risk of losing them.  I have worked with 55 degrees at night threshold being the temperature that I wanted to think hard about pulling the fish.  Of note is that I left about a half dozen fish in the tank over the past month and we experienced several nights below 40 degrees.  While I wouldnt suggest pushing your luck too much im happy to report that though the fish were lethargic all except one survived.

This first video is of catching and then killing a Tilapia.  While this is simply the process by which fish are harvested, this may be too graphic for some people so those of you who are a bit squeamish might choose not to watch this one.

After the Tilapia are caught and killed, I take a few minutes and I weigh and measure each fish and record that data. I am tracking growth rates of these fish starting from when they are 1/4 inch fry and ending with being 2 pound, 14 inch mature fish 18 months later.  This video shows several fish being weighed and measured.

One interesting thing that you witness when harvesting the fish is that there is a good chance that several of the fish either have recently laid eggs or are carrying fry.  Tilapia are mouth breeders so after they lay eggs that are then fertilized, the females then carry the eggs in their mouth until they hatch.  In this picture (again might be a bit graphic for some so I am making it small but you can expand) you see that after harvesting this fish I realized that its mouth had been full of eggs.





The other thing you might find is a female who is carrying a mouth full of fry.  In this video you see just that. After catching this female and discovering a mouth full of fry, instead of killing it, I moved it (and the fry) into the Indoor system.










After catching and killing the fish the next step is gutting and scaling. This can be a pretty quick process with the right tools.  These photos and the video show the end result of this process.


Harvest Meals and Caterpillars

Even though it was hot and dry at times, it has been a lovely summer, .  The Gardens and Aquaponics have all yielded much of their bounty at this point and have made their contribution to the great summer. As the temperatures drop it is time to think about pulling up and turning over the garden, as well as planting a few winter crops like garlic, onions and potatoes.  It is also time to close down the outdoor Aquaponics system and focus on the indoor system.  Much of those activities will be discussed in future posts but there is still plenty to talk about now.  This post is a long one so Im going to break it into three parts.



The rooftop garden at this point is an unruly beast but it continues to produce some items like grape tomatoes and lots and lots of cayenne peppers.  These pictures were taken during the first week of September 2012.  You can also see that the Outdoor Aquaponics system is going along quite well. Lots of Basil, Chives and Cilantro in the vertical section.  One pic also shows the amazing root growth the plants have in the vertical section.  In the horizontal section you can also see the abundance of Tomatoes, Eggplants (on top) as well as all sorts of lettuce





Someone like myself can be a bit simple minded at times.  So when I had some young visitors who wanted to see the garden, I mistakenly apologized and said there was very little to see as the growing season was over and the harvest had taken place. Within moments I was proven wrong when those that looked not through a narrow view but through wide eyes, found garden inhabitants that were just as exciting (if not more so) than any Tomato, Caterpillars!







Harvest Meals:

Finally I wanted to share a few summer harvest meals.  Im not sure if there is something that is better than a simple and fresh meal like we are able to produce ourselves. An appetizer of fresh carrots and celery; a lovely simple compound salad; a main course of grilled Fish, roasted peppers, onions, tomatoes.  Desert of Raspberry sorbet.  Good stuff.




Another favorite of mine once the peppers are ready is a simple meal of Fajitas, made with fresh herbs, bell and hot peppers, tomatoes and onions from the garden.



And as the weather changes and the cravings for heavier foods enter into my cravings I like to take advantage of the garden and make a large pot of Chili, filled with Tomatoes, and Peppers (bell, cayenne, habanero) from the garden.



Finally I love pizza and therefore I grow San Marzano tomatoes as well as basil, oregano, and garlic. When the tomatoes are ripe, I pick and prepare them (blanch, peel, core and chop) and freeze them in individual packages.  I simply thaw add fresh garlic, salt and pepper and my sauce is complete.


A Quick Plant Growth Update

A couple people requested that I share an update on the outdoor aquaponics plant growth, as well as the rooftop garden plant growth. These first pics show the plant growth of the outdoor aquaponics. You can see that the vertical pipes have worked very well and are chock full of Basil, Cilantro, Parsley and Chives. The rest of the system has an abundance of different types of lettuce as well as a top row of Tomatoes, Peppers and Eggplants which are beginning to flower now and should have ripened fruit as the in ground plants die off for the summer. You will also see that I have continued to stagger the age of the plants (especially lettuce) so that there is always both ready to eat lettuce as well as an adequate amount of root mass in the system to continue to filter the water for the fish



















Here are a few pics of what I call a “Compound Salad” It is a simple salad made up of Lettuce (Black Seed, Speckled, Summertime, and Esmeralda) Carrots, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, and some herbs, all from the Rooftop and Aquaponic Gardens. A perfect everyday treat.



Aquaponics Plant Growth

The following 2 videos show the plant growing sections of an Indoor and an Outdoor Aquaponics system.  As you will see the outdoor system has horizontal as well as vertical grow sections.  There are 50 grow spaces, growing, Tomatoes, Eggplants, several varieties of Lettuce, Basil, Cilantro, Chives and Parsley.  You will also see that the plant growth is all at different stages as the plants were planted in a staggered manner to insure a constant supply of fresh and ripe food. These plants are being supported by about 35 fish currently (they are being eaten on a regular basis) that weigh between approximately 20 and 28 ounces.


In this video you will see a variety of plants growing in an Indoor Aquaponics system. The plants are a variety of sizes as the plants were planted in a staggered manner to insure a constant supply of fresh and ripe food.  The plants are being fed by approximately 70 fish that are currently about 2 ounces in weight.


Tilapia Fry

The indoor Tilapia have recently done their jobs.  Both females carried eggs and hatched fry within days of each other.  Here are a series of short videos showing some of the results.

Tilapia are mouth breeders, so in addition to carrying their fertilized eggs in their mouths they will also carry their newly hatched fry in their mouths for several days to protect them.  In this short video you can see a Tilapia with a mouth full of newly hatched Fry.


The next 2 videos show the huge amount of fry that are produced of fish this size and age.  There are literally hundreds of fry that are produced at this point of the fishes development.



More Fish

Once again I was able to partake in a lovely meal centered on Tilapia from the outdoor aquaponics system.  The fish are now about 16/17 months old and as you can see the fish are about 14 inches long now and weigh about 26/28 ounces which is perfect for a grilled fish.  I have to stay it continues to be an amazing experience to walk outside pick a salad from the system, catch a couple of fish and be eating a lovely meal 30 minutes later.





Outdoor Aquaponics Update

So I decided to try and experiment. if you look at the current pictures and compare them to earlier pics, you will be able to see what I did. To the left along the stairway I have added approximately 16 linear feet of piping. This adds an additional 25 plant units to the system, doubling the previous amount. It was necessary to split the water flow from the first pipe coming from the Biofilter, this was a success. I was also able to incorporate a larger pump which is allowing me to circulate nearly twice as much water through the system which is good for the plants and fish.





What you can also see in this last post is that the growth in the vertical pipes has been a great success.  The basil, parsley, and chives are all thriving. I am utilizing most of the Horizontal pipes for a variety of different types of lettuce. It is all working quite well.