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Karen Swanberg's aquaponics systems

Basement Barrelponics
Front porch summer system
Kitchen herb system
More info

I learned about aquaponics (AP) in December of 2007, from an article posted to treehugger.com It just struck me as an incredibly elegant system, and one worth trying. I had slowly been learning more about sustainability, and this looked like a great way to jump in with both feet.

I joined the Backyard Aquaponics forum, the Barrelponics yahoo group, and read and researched until about March, when I started to build a barrelponics system in my basement.

Barrelponics is an AP system designed by Travis W. Hughey to be built with plastic 55 gallon drums and potentially scrap lumber.It's a tested system easy for beginners to build and learn from. He has a step-by-step manual for building a barrelponics system free for downloading.

I started by building one of these in my basement in March 2008. This flickr stream has some detailed pictures and information.

It probably cost me a couple hundred bucks to build, because I bought all of the lumber and plumbing new, and paid for the blue barrels. I'm much better at scrounging now, and could now build this for maybe $50 + the pump. (Get good pumps, they're worth it).

I chose to use LED grow-lights for this system, because I wanted to save as much on electricity as I could. The LEDs were very expensive, and some of them are burning out much faster than they should. However, they've been replaced under warranty.

In this system, I have 5 goldfish, bought as feeder goldfish and used to start the system, and 9 bullhead catfish. Also a pleco and a crayfish, to help keep the tank clean.

Even with the LEDs, I've had the most luck growing low-light plants: cilantro, miner's lettuce (claytonia), kale and watercress are especially fond of this growing environment, but I have gotten some snow peas, and even a few red bell peppers.

Once I had a good feel for how the system worked, I started a second system on my south-facing front porch.

This one has the same growbed space that the basement system has: two 55 gallon halves. The fishtank is a bit bigger, and I have a sump tank, which adds about 30 gallons to the water volume of the system.

I started my tilapia, which I got from another person doing AP down in Iowa, in this system. However, I knew that this system wouldn't work in the winter, because the porch isn't heated.

So I started a third system in my kitchen.

Once the weather cooled, I moved the tilapia in here. This system started with some ornamental plants, but as those die (they don't like the low light) I've been replacing them with edibles. Watercress, and lettuce mixes seem to like this setup. I use florescent lights on this one, because my west-facing window wasn't providing enough light.

Now that I've proven to myself that this is something I can do, I'm planning on going bigger. I've purchased a 10'x12' greenhouse, and will put it up in the spring.

I'm hoping to start an urban CSA selling veggies and fish.

I don't currently give tours, however I will in the future, once I get the greenhouse set up. I presented "Aquaponics 101" March 28th, at the 2009 Community Garden Spring Resource Fair put on by Gardening Matters

I gave some aquaponics classes the the summer of '09 as well. The presentations are available here:
Aquaponics 101 and
Fish Stories: the aqua in aquaponics

Further information:
My livejournal posts
Backyard Aquaponics thread on the Basement Barrelponics system.
Backyard Aquaponics thread on the Front Porch system.
Backyard Aquaponics thread on the kitchen system.
The flickr stream (older pictures) has some notes on the building of the systems.
The google Picassa web album is my active storage site for AP pics.

Contact me at: swanberg -at- gmail -dot- com
Updated: 08/19/09
© 2009