Challenges with Aquaponics

It has been a very sad few weeks. If you’re just tuning in, I’m no expert with Aquaponic. It is about a year and half old, so this will only be my second winter with the system.

But first, I want to remember how great the system was back in May. The squash, cucumbers and lettuce were of plenty.

The system is an IBC tote, and it’s just been a hard few weeks. Understand I’m not here to complain. Since aquaponics is still new, I hope there are people out there wanting to learn from my mistakes and maybe teach me a thing or two in return. Learning from different systems really helped me understand, so I’m partly here to return the favor. I’m not a teacher, but prefer a show and tell type posting. 

ROOTS CLOGGING THE PLUMBING:
Rewind a few months ago:  I noticed the tank wasn’t draining and my plants we dying (sitting in water will do that). I’m not sure how long. It was long enough to drown any remaining red wigglers and all of my plants. The root system had completely clogged the in take pipe to the grow bed. This left me with a lovely amount of sludge at the bottom of the grow bed. I had to completely empty the grow bed, take out the media, wipe it down, clean the grow media and start all over. I was so worried about the fish, but everyone survived the ordeal.

Solution(?): Maybe more accessible plumbing on the side or closer to the top. The in-take plumbing is attached on the underside of the grow bed. It was constructed this way so if there were leaks, the water would fall back in the tank. It’s a great theory, but I would tweak the location if I had to do it again.

WORM BEDDING CHANGING THE PH OF THE WATER:
About two weeks ago: I was starting to feel positive again. I knew it was long past due to add more red wigglers to grow bed. I purchased them again at the same place as last time and added lots of greens. I tried to separate the worms as much as I could from their bedding but it’s just impossible to get it all. Two days later I was showing off my system, and as I’m opening the tank, I was asked if I had lost any tilapia. As the words “no” are coming out of my mouth, I looked in the tank to see my first loss.

Solution(?): I wish I spent more time picking out the worms. Honestly, I have not checked the PH of the water in fear of the worst. Instead, every two to three days, I’ve emptied about 2/3’s of the water and add tap water back (and the de-chlorination solution I purchased at the pet store). No matter what, this should slowly fix any problems with the water.

NOT BEING PREPARED FOR WINTER:
About one week ago: I felt like hell broke loose after I added the worms. After an almost freezing night, I head to the tank (still loosing about 1 fish a day) I find about 10 floating fish and a broken heater at the bottom of the tank. The water was so cold, I couldn’t keep my hands in the water longer than a few seconds. Here I am getting ready for vacation…

Solution(?): Not only should I be checking the PH of the water more often, I should be checking the temps. I have a thermostat in the greenhouse, but not in the water. That day, I added two new heaters in fish tank I bought at the pet store. I wish I did this sooner, because maybe I might have more than 5 fish left. Last year was so much easier.

Present Day: Today is the 4th day I’ve come into the green house with 5 swimming tilapia. Interesting enough, the small ones were the survivors. I have warm water, the fish are happily eating, and the greens seem to be thriving. I even found a few worms mating. Aquaponics is not the easiest.

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