Keep Calm and Follow the Instructions!
How many PVC pipes do you need to make an aquaponics system?
How much food should you feed your fish?
Should you use ranch or Italian dressing on the lettuce you harvest?
The answers to all of these questions, well, most of them anyway, can be found in the free building and operations manuals of our open-source aquaponics system. You can find them HERE. And, did I mention they are free? So if you haven’t already you should probably just go ahead and download the plans. You never know when you might need to build a handy food system for yourself or others, and at the very least you can impress your friends with your knowledge of how to construct a Matala filter and how to identify plant nutrient deficiencies.
But if you want to know a little more about what to expect from constructing a system from some people who are actually doing it, read on.
This is a behind-the-scenes look at the construction of the reproducible model on Emerge’s property in Colorado. The team constructing the system is not the same one that designed it, which means they're able to provide real-world feedback on the system and suggest improvements.
Right now they are in the final stages of construction. The team is hoping to be done by the time this post is published and it will be used for several purposes. The primary purpose is gathering information on the build and looking for areas to improve the build instructions, processes, and parts list. Feedback is already honing the design and making it better. Once the system is operational it will continue to provide useful information for running and maintaining it.
Another purpose it's serving is as a testing ground for different types of materials. Three different Tee connectors have been used during construction to see which ones will last the longest. One type is easier to install, but not widely available. Since the availability of parts and materials was a key motivator of the design, the tee connector that is most common is included in the manual. This is just one of many examples of testing being done.
The final purpose of this system is for training. It will be extremely helpful to have the actual system available to train anyone who is interested in building one of their own. In the future, classes will be available for those that want hands-on experience using and understanding the reproducible model.
For now, here are some insights into what you can expect from building an aquaponics system.
One of the most important things to remember is that this is a sophisticated system. It was carefully designed by a group of engineers who understand the science of aquaponics. It's not a system you can throw together in a weekend in your backyard. If you want to have it in your backyard, that’s great, but it will require more time and energy than a couple of hours here and there to build and maintain it.
Since it is a sophisticated system you should also follow the manuals...Precisely.
Much effort has been made to make the assembly and running of this system as accessible as possible, but in order for your system to run well, it has to be built well. This means not taking short cuts or “eyeing” it. The measurements are intentional. Even if you are great at estimating, save that skill for the next time you are whipping up dinner for the neighbors.
Carefully following the manual is also important for the running of the system. Checklists are included for daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. Don’t get lazy and skip things. A small thing here and there can turn into a big problem down the road. Attention to detail is key for a successful system and business.
While it might seem overwhelming at first, the details are included to help you succeed. The people who developed these plans did not start out as aquaponics experts. It was through trial and error that they learned what works and what doesn’t. They could have made you go through all of that effort and discovery for yourself, but instead they just wrote down the best way to do everything. Wasn’t that nice of them?
Another thing to consider is the quality of your materials. Some parts will not have many options, but when options are available, consider long-term costs, not just building costs. For example, a UV-resistant pond liner is going to hold up much better in the long run than one that's not. Regular liners can start to crack after a couple of years and have to be replaced. Also, think about the quality of construction. If you are not skilled in construction, welding, plumbing, or electrical work, make sure you find someone who is to help with the assembly. Just like with most things in life- you get what you pay for. Cheap materials and unskilled labor are going to cause problems down the road.
The last area our team offers suggestions for is planning. Building an aquaponics system is going to take time and effort, but you can save yourself a lot of that time and effort by planning ahead. Make sure you have all of the materials and tools you need before you start a section. Our team has been working on assembling their system in bits and pieces as they have had time between other projects, but one of the key factors that slowed them down was not having all of the pieces when needed.
Don’t do that!
Also, make sure that you level the area accurately and do any other suggested prep work before starting any construction. It's a pain to have level things after you have started building. Again, take it from the team. Don’t do that either.
And finally, learn all you can about aquaponics. The manuals are great and provide a lot of information but you can’t stop there. The more that you learn, the more successful you can be. There are many great resources online. Emerge will also be offering classes and training opportunities in the future. If that is something you are interested in, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org with what you would like to see offered. This will help as the team is developing courses. Some of the classes will be available online and longer, more intensive workshops will take place on their property in Colorado.
Hopefully, you found these insights helpful. As the system gets up and running we will be posting more updates and advice on maintaining and operating it.
And when we find the perfect salad dressing, we’ll let you know!