Our system has been running for a few months now, and I thought I’d share my maintenance schedule.
- Feeding – feed fish morning and night. Feed yabbies every second day after removing any uneaten food pieces.
- Check water temperature.
- Check pumps and plumbing. To conserve power, I use a timer on the pump to operate it during daylight, and a timer on the aerators during the night. Check them.
- Check that all siphons are operating correctly.
- Pick vegetables as needed, while checking for bugs and disease.
- Test water for pH, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates and dissolved oxygen.
- Check water level in sump tank and top up as required.
- Plant out new plants after removing spent plants. Plant need seeds as required for planting out in 2-3 weeks time.
It is important to monitor ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, temperature and the pH level of the water, to ensure that they are in ‘range’. If not, you need to take corrective action otherwise fish and plants may die or succumb to disease.
- Test kit. Most aquaponic gardeners use the Aquarium Pharmaceuticals Inc. API Freshwater Master Test Kit. This kit is inexpensive (about $AU47.00 at writing time) and is easy to use.
- Thermometer. Get a submersible one. Water temperature is important as it affects fish health and plant growth.
- Dissolved oxygen measurement. This can be done with a kit or a meter, and gives an indication of the aerobic activity in the system, which is important to the bacteria, the plants and the fish. The most accurate measure is obtained by using an electronic one, but remember that you get what you pay for.
- pH meter. Nice to have, as it speeds up the measurement of pH, which is very important.
Before starting to create your aquaponics system, you should give some thought as to where you are going to put it. In many cases, you may not have a choice of locations. If you do have a choice, it is important to consider that the chosen site will get 4-6 hours of sunlight on the grow beds and none at all on the fish tanks if possible.
Sun on the fish tanks helps algae to grow. Growing invasive plants on the top of the fish tank provides shade and shelter for the fish.
Some other factors to consider are:
Access to power. You need power to operate pumps and aerators, so they are best located near existing power sources. Running long extension leads is not the best because of voltage drops and the danger associated with them.
- Access for planting, harvesting and maintenance. When the growbeds are full of plants, it can be very hard to reach over to the back of them to harvest or replant. Many plants will hang over the growbeds, so it is a good idea to leave at least 750mm between the growbeds. Access to all sides of the fish tanks is also very important, as fish can be hard to catch. We’ve planned our system to allow wheelchair access, as well as skidsteer access for adding more components as we expand the system.
- Seasonal differences. There are large differences between the summer and winter sun tracks. Make sure your chosen site gets enough sun in winter.
- Existing vegetation. Don’t place your system under deciduous trees or plants that have a heavy blossom drop. Some of these plants are poisonous to fish and even affect plant growth.
- Children and pets (including chooks!). Make sure your system is child and pet friendly and safe. We’ve had issues with chooks eating all of our lettuce and salad greens – they weren’t happy with the leftovers!