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For most of us, providing fresh food for the entire family has always been the grocery store’s responsibility. However, with more of our food becoming rich in GMO’s, and as prices for fresh produce at the supermarket continue to skyrocket, both farmers and families alike have decided to start a commercial aquaponics system to detach from the traditional agricultural industry. But once the project is off the ground, the next logical question on the mind of newbies is, “how do I manage a commercial aquaponics system?”
In this article, we will discuss, specifically, how beginners can effectively manage and care for this popular system. Here are the 7 Methods to Manage a Commercial Aquaponics System:
- Evaluate your aquaponics commercial water tanks
- Ensure proper tank nutrient flow
- Provide safe and quality water
- Maintain appropriate stocking density
- Refrain from fish overfeeding
- Select and distance plants smartly
- Observe fish and plant symmetry
- Sunlight and shade
Evaluate your aquaponics commercial water tanks
In terms of importance, managing your aquaponics commercial water tanks should be high on your priority list. These tanks provide all of the elements needed to house your aquaponics fish, as well as provide the base infrastructure for the entire ecosystem. Let’s evaluate some of the options when choosing the physical water tank.
Using Commercial Grade Fiberglass Water Tanks
Commercial grade fiberglass tanks are a common setup for aquaponics farms and gardens. Fiberglass is inherently strong and resistant to most types of bacteria, making it a go-to solution for a commercial grade system.
While brand new fiberglass fish tanks can be costly compared to plastic, you can also find used ones online. You don’t need to break the bank when purchasing fish tanks. Another good thing about fiberglass is that you can customize it to the shape that you prefer. As mentioned earlier, fiberglass is a great choice, so when you get hold of a decent second-hand fiberglass tank, make sure to buy it!
Using Durable Plastic Water Tanks
Plastic water tanks are a great alternative for your commercial aquaponics tank needs. Though they may not be as sturdy as fiberglass, they are often significantly cheaper and can still provide all the necessary functions.
In contrast, see to it that you buy brand new plastic water tanks. The reason for this is that you never know what’s been inside a second-hand plastic tank. It could have previously held harmful chemicals, and transferring your aquatic animals in it can kill them. So, when buying plastic water tanks, make sure you get brand new ones or items endorsed as food safe.
Tanks You Should Avoid – Things You Should Know
Again to be safe, when opting for plastic water tanks, it is better to buy brand new ones. Unless you are getting a used tank from a store or individual you truly trust and who will assure you that the tank didn’t hold any toxic chemicals. If you decide to go with the fiberglass variety, consider getting an education on how to repair or customize fiberglass yourself, which could save you a ton of time and money down the road.
Regardless of which tank system you choose, you want to make sure you know what you are getting into. The system could be running for manyr years, and it is better to choose quality materials from the start then be sorry in the end.
Ensure Proper Tank Nutrient Flow
Now that you have chosen the best water tank, the next step is to ensure your aquaponics ecosystems have proper nutrient flow. Here are some of the key nutrient considerations when designing your commercial setup for the first time.
Air and Water Pumps
Air and water pumps are essential to your commercial systems because they will ensure the water in your tank will have rich levels of oxygen and steady water flow. Monitoring your oxygen levels and ensuring you have healthy water flow is vital for the nitrifying bacteria, which turns fish residues into components that plants can consume. On the other hand, stagnant water is detrimental to your system because it can result in bacteria growth, ineffective filtration, and poor oxygen levels.
Needless to say, for you to sustain an efficient system, decide on a power supply and pump that will fit your budget. Also, remember that utility expenses can add up quickly, so make sure to choose a product that is energy efficient.
Ways Oxygen Dissolves in your Water Tank
Oxygen from our atmosphere dissolves straight into the water. In a natural setting, aquatic animals can exist in such conditions. However, in a production system like commercial aquaponics, the requirement for dissolved oxygen is higher to ensure the plants, fish, and bacteria survive.
This is where the importance of air and water pumps lies. The water pump produces water movement, which is a significant factor that allows organisms to live in aquaponics. If the water flow stops, it will lead to a decrease in dissolved oxygen and stagnant water.
Meanwhile, there are air stones and pipes within the water tank itself that help generate oxygen into the water, resulting in increased dissolved oxygen levels in the system.
Limiting Bacteria Build-up
In a commercial aquaponics system, it is critical that you not only monitor the balance between the number of plants and fish but also the number of bacteria in the water. An unbalanced system will bring about nutritional problems, disease, and worse death to your fish and plants. To avoid these issues, see to it you keep bacterias healthy by managing key parameters such as pH, dissolved oxygen, water temperature, and decent surface area. You can measure these factors by conducting weekly water testing. Key parameters and water testing are further discussed in the following section.
As mentioned earlier, nitrifying bacteria play a crucial role in aquaponics. It transforms fish residues into components that plants consume. Having said that, its integral health should be monitored to make sure it is still present and performing efficiently. If there is a bacteria build-up or an imbalance occurs, it can harm and cause problems in the system.
Provide Safe and Quality Water
Water quality is the life of commercial aquaponic systems. It is the means which transfers every vital nutrient to the plants and makes sure the fish survive. To achieve quality water, consider implementing the following parameters:
PH evaluates how basic or acidic a specific solution is ranging from 1 to 14. A rate of pH 7 means neutral, and a rate below 7 is acidic. A pH rate above seven means basic. For plants, a pH level of 6 to 7 means they should be able to acquire required nutrients contained inside the water. On the one hand, a high pH level can lead to fish toxicity.
Water Temperature: 18-30⁰C
Water temperature affects dissolved oxygen. High water temperature has low dissolved oxygen. It also has more harmful ammonia.
Dissolved Oxygen: 5-8mg/liter
Dissolved oxygen is important in the water to maintain healthy plants, fish, and maintain production levels in the system. A dropping rate in this parameter will lessen nitrification.
Ammonia: 0 mg/litre
High levels of ammonia can be disastrous to your system. Long term exposure to this chemical can cause weakened respiration, loss of balance, and deterioration to the central nervous system of the fish.
Nitrite: 0 mg/litre
Like ammonia, nitrite is harmful to fish. High levels of this chemical can result in an increasing fish mortality rate. Exposure to low levels of it on an extended duration can lead to disease, fish stress, and death.
Nitrate: 5-150 mg/litre
A high amount of nitrate will trigger the dangerous build-up of nitrates in the leaves of plants, which is lethal to an individual’s health. It can likewise result in massive non-productive vegetative growth, which can hurt your system’s balance.
KH: 60-140 mg/litre
KH means Carbonate Hardness. Its presence in water is necessary since it works to neutralize acids and maintain a steady pH level.
If you are new to aquaponics, it can be daunting at first to monitor and manage the water. However, test kits, test strips, or digital meters are commonly available online or in your local stores. These products or devices are simple to use, cost-effective, and can help in managing your water chemistry. Take note, though, to verify the expiration date of the test kit before buying. In case you choose digital meters to evaluate nitrate or pH, do not forget to calibrate it based on the supplier’s directions.
Maintain Appropriate Stocking Density
Understand that when fish breathe, they expel Carbon Dioxide (CO₂) in the water. When this happens, it will reduce the pH level because CO₂ naturally transforms into Carbonic Acid (H₂CO₃) upon touching the water. A stocking density of 20kg of fish per 1000 liters of water is advisable since a full fish stocking density will release more carbon dioxide and reduce the total pH level of the system. Starting your system with a low fish stocking density is simpler to construct, easier to manage, and has a lower initial start-up cost A high stocking density may give you greater plant yield, but also will require more aggressive management.
Refrain From Fish Overfeeding
Unconsumed food and waste left in the tank are hazardous to your fish. Thus, keep in mind to feed the fishes daily, but do not forget to take out leftover fish feed thirty minutes after feeding them. Overfeeding and leaving fish feed in the water will allow, among others, gathering of waste in the system, turbid zones, stress among plants and fish, and abysmal growing environment. If possible, adjust the food portion the following day. See this helpful information.
Select and Distance Plants Smartly
As a whole, leafy green plants are best for commercial aquaponic systems. You can place crops with short grow-out periods in between crops with longer grow-out terms. When placing delicate vegetables like lettuce among large flowering plants, it gives them natural shade. Other vegetables you can add in your system are peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers.
Observe Fish and Plant Symmetry
Following a batch cropping system will aid you in maintaining a constant harvest of vegetables and fishes. Take into account that pursuing a cropping system will help you observe plant and fish symmetry. Keep in mind also that in commercial aquaponics systems, you must have a guaranteed source of fresh fish and plants. Hence, during your planning stage, see to it you establish your supply.
Sunlight and Shade
Sunlight is valuable in the growth of your plants. It needs reasonable amounts of it throughout the day. However, be careful in exposing plants to extreme sun conditions because it will cause leaf burn, but a deficiency in sunlight will lead to growth delay. On the contrary, it is imperative that fish be kept in the shade and not be exposed to intense direct sunlight. This arrangement will discourage algae growth and will assist in keeping a steady water temperature throughout the day.