How much time does maintaining an indoor garden take? Check out this video to see some of the ways in which I have found to keep upkeep of the indoor aquaponics system to a minimum.
When I first started thinking about setting up an aquaponics system in our basement I had a few reservations. After all, this was kind of a big commitment! Once you have fish and plants growing you can't just decide that you don't have enough time to maintain it and let it all go to heck. So, when designing this system I had that thought in mind.
The first concern I had was leaks and preventing a catastrophe if something sprung a hole. The way that the system is setup no matter what happens the fish tanks can never drain of water. There is no chance of a siphon with the solids lifting overflows and the bulkhead adapter goes though the barrel just a few inches from the top making that the lowest point the water can drain if the rest of the system losses all water. The plants can survive for 24 hours or more with no water so no matter what I was safe from any unforeseen issues.
The next thing that I was not looking forward to was topping off the system with water all of the time. If you add too much it might overflow when all the beds drain at once, too little and the whole system stops functioning as the bell siphons can't start. The solution was the automatic top off system. I installed a small float valve in the bottom of the sump tank a few inches from the bottom. This float adds water only when the level drops below the float during the fill and drain cycles of the sump tank. This setup prevents me from ever having to worry about the water fill in the system, it is always at the correct level, automatically, with no intervention by me. This setup has worked flawlessly and saved me so much hassle!
The next thing was cleaning. I did not want to have to spend a whole lot of time each week or month cleaning tanks and grow beds. The first thing I knew I needed was a swirl filter. Once that was in place I also wanted an easy way to clean that! I added a "pool vacuum" inspired hose to the filter so that I can open a valve on the bottom and then siphon off the waste from the bottom of the filter ever couple of weeks. I can send it off a floor drain or save the fertilizer for the gardens or indoor plants. This setup has saved me so much time and made siphoning off some nutrients for the garden so easy!
When I first started I didn't know much about water quality and testing and wondered how often I would need to test the system. I have learned that once the system is setup there is not really much to do as far as testing for Ammonia, Nitrite, or Nitrates goes. I have barely ever used these tests at all since the first few weeks. I do use the pH test kit the most and the system does need to be checked every week or two. This only takes a few minutes and then if needed I can add some egg shells to adjust the pH up a bit when needed. This has proved to be very easy and does not consume much time at all.
At first I was manually turning on the grow lights in the morning and back off at night. I quickly realized that a timer was necessary after leaving the lights on over night and forgetting to turn them on a few times. Luckily I had an old lamp timer laying around and made quick work of settings this up to control all four grow lights. This automation has proved to be a requirement.
I added compost worms to the grow beds a few months back in the hopes that they will help take care of cleaning any organic matter that gets through the swirl filter into the grow beds as well as roots and other plant material. This should help increase the time between having to clean out the grow beds and I am hoping to be able to go a couple of years before that will be needed.
These are just a few of the everyday upkeep and maintenance tasks to think about when setting up a system. I hope that I have given you a few ideas to help make running your own setup easier so don't hesitate and get starting growing your own food today!
Float valve - http://amzn.to/1Ffpqj1
LED light bulbs - http://amzn.to/1FfpAXv
Light timer - http://amzn.to/1FfpDTi
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