Welcome to part 2 in building an Arduino powered aquarium and aquaponics controller. In this post I will look at putting together and testing the hardware we discussed in part 1. Speaking of part 1, if you have not read it yet, I suggest you check it out.

The Equipment

Through this blog I will be using the following equipment:

  • Arduino Uno with USB cable
  • Adafruit CC3000 and Data Logging Shields
  • Waterproof DS18B20 temperature sensor x 2
  • 4.7k ohm resistor x 2
  • HC-SR04 Ultrasonic Ping sensor
  • 4 core cable
  • Soldering Iron and Solder
  • 3 and 4 segment plugs (Optional)
  • Pins for the end of the cables into the shields.

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Arduino Powered Aquarium Controller

I thought I would write a few blog posts on an Arduino powered aquarium and aquaponics controller that I have been planning for some time. I have tried to start this project a few times now with various micro controllers, but each time I reach a point where I had some sensors logging to a SD Card and then the project falls over. With my recent desire to learn more about the Arduino community, I figured why not try again but this time document my success (or failure) for the world to see.

To start off, I will take a look at the hardware options, the ones I have chosen and why. Bear in mind, especially if you are new to electronics, that there is no right or wrong way to do things. If you see merit in another way then do it. Make it your own project. You will learn far more than just copying me. If you do go another way, then let me know. I would love to hear why you went a different route and how successful you have been.

Initially I will just be looking at a simple system, looking at water and air temperature as well as the water level in the aquarium. I plan to add more to the system over time, but I wanted to start simple and actually get something working. With that in mind lets dive into the hardware.Continue reading

It has been about a three weeks now since I put the new plants in my aquaponics system and the new small dirt garden. It has been interesting to see the growth difference between the two. This has been the first time I have completed a side by side comparison myself.

Of course it should be noted that this is by no means a scientific comparison. The dirt garden and the aquaponics have both been getting regular doses of Seasol or Maxicrop (depending where you live), a little Charlie Carp and little Chelated Iron. I have also sprinkled some slow release fertiliser on the dirt garden. The aquaponics has been getting its regular dose of fish feed while the silver perch are still hitting the feed, although at a slower and slower rate.

So far the results have been surprising for me. While I expected the aquaponics system to outperform the dirt garden, I was expecting to see at least some growth in the dirt. There has been plenty of rain and watering in the dirt, so I don’t believe that lack of water is the culprit. I also think that the aquaponics system gets less sunlight, so I don’t think that is the cause. Thinking about the causes i have come up with some possibilities;

  • The potting mix used for the dirt garden was very cheap. You have to question the health and nutrient content of it.
  • It has been getting quite cool at night. The aquaponics plants will not be getting as cold due to the thermal mass of the water.
  • The dirt garden is definitely seeing some kind of deficiency. I suspect it is either nitrogen or iron, hence the Charlie Carp and Chelated Iron additions.

In the next few weeks I am hoping to make a small greenhouse for both systems in the hope that it will encourage growth. I expect that the tomato will be lying on the ground before I get a chance to string it up as well. It has been quite a while since I have seen such successful growth in my aquaponics system which has been most enjoyable. As always, stay tuned for more updates. Hopefully with more photos this time!

 

Finally a chance to update about my IBC system! It has been a long few months for the system including upsets, travelling, tragedy and no end in sight.

With the purchase of a new house taking up much of my time the system had been poorly neglected. The brahmi had taken over almost the entire grow bed, with the garlic chives and a few chilies being the only plants struggling to break through it. The silver perch were getting getting irregular feeding until I sorted out an auto feeder. It was a sorry state of affair for the entire system.

Finally it was time to move the system, so using another bulky, I cut out a section off the top for an access hatch to make a tank that wasn’t going to leak during transit. The idea was to put this tank on the back of a ute, fill it with water, add the fish and drive the 4.5 hours to the new home. I used a battery operated air pump that should last more than long enough for the trip down. Plans always work better before they are initiated… Unfortunately the ute that the fish were on had an overheating issue. It seemed that the IBC on the back, a furniture trailer and and Australian summer were all a bit too much for it. This resulted in a few hour long stop over half way and an air pump that run out of puff. The results? A lot of dead fish unfortunately.

Onward and upward. I roughly set up the system in a temporary location until I complete the earthworks for the new location. I filled the tank with water and put any fish that looked like they might survive the move in. At the end i had a total of six fish survive the move, so given what happened I am pleased to still have a few silvers in the tank. I suspect that the final COD for the silvers was a lack of oxygen given the elevated temp of the water, no air being pumped in and that all the survivors were the smallest of my silvers. The following day I threw in the plants that made the move and the system was left like this for a few weeks while I was away at work.

Around a week and a half ago I finally got the time to go and purchase some seedlings. The new plants include lettuce, english spinach, beetroot, capsicum, basil, tomato, rosemary and garlic. Just a few of the staples that we use regularly to help reduce the nitrates from my few silver perch. I expect that the tomato will use up any free nitrogen in the system before long, so I may need to start adding some additional ammonia to the system while the silvers slow down over winter. I am still hopeful of sourcing some Tandanus tandanus catfish this year. They will be much more active during the cooler winter months that the silver I hope, keeping the system powering over winter.

Yesterday I had 60 seconds spare so I grabbed a few quick photos. I have included a few from a small dirt garden that got the same seedlings at the same time to compare them. When I get a chance to go out and grab some decent photos I will, instead of these smartphone pictures.

 

Just a small update on the aquarium system, given it has been so long. I have put a plant growing fluro tube in the light above the grow bed. This has allowed me to have a bit more luck growing succulents. Everything has been ticking along ok, although the tank is not looking anywhere near its prime. Once I have moved house I am hoping that it will be getting back to its prime.

 

 

A few weeks ago I harvest a couple of rather large beetroot from my Aquaponics system. You can read about the harvest here. I decided the best way to make use of such a large amount of beetroot was to pickle it. A quick google search later and I had found a recipe I wanted to try. It took quite a few hours to boil the beetroot untill it was soft. Eventually it got there and I sliced it up, cooked up the pickling juice and threw it into some jars.

Now that I have tasted it, all I can say is that it is a fantastic recipe. It is not super sweet like the store purchased beetroot and has a beautiful flavor. Mildly acidic and full of flavors that come from boiling the spices in the vinegar. It is so good that it was enjoyed by non-beetroot fans! You cant get much better a recommendation that that!

 

Ingredients

  • 4 Large Beetroot
  • 3/4 Cup Water
  • 1 1/2 Cups White Vinegar
  • 3/4 Cup Sugar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Peppercorns
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 2 Cloves
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Mustard Seeds
  • 1/2 Cinnamon Stick
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt

 

Instructions

  1. Wash beetroot thoroughly and boil in water until tender.
  2. Cool and remove skin. (Either by hand or with a knife.)
  3. Cut beetroot into slices or julienne strips.
  4. Place all other ingredients into a saucepan and bring to the boil.
  5. Simmer for five minutes and then strain.
  6. Pack beetroot into hot sterilized jars and top up with vinegar mixture.
  7. Seal and store in a cool place.

 

That’s all there is too it! It’s that simple.

I found this recipe on the www.bestrecipes.com.au. If you enjoy the recipe please head over the website and give it a positive comment. A big thanks to Kaye for sharing such a great recipe. Finally, I am in no way affiliated with www.bestrecipes.com.au, nor do I know Kaye, I am just sharing a great recipe.

 

By Ryan Sevelj

Just a quick update on the IBC system. Unfortunately I didn’t have much time, so there are not too many photos. Just the end result 🙂

The brahmi had almost completely run over the IBC grow bed. It was out of control. Nothing a rather harsh cut back couldn’t solve though! I also figured that the garlic chives needed to be cut back a bit too, so I removed about half of them. I also removed the dead bean plants, which I had failed to string up in time before they got knocked over by the wind. The capsicum was also trimmed up, leaving it much more tidy and hopefully will be a stronger plant in the coming months.

A new Habanero chilli and a Bih Jolokia (also known as the Ghost Chilli) were added. Some more spinach seeds and some coriander seeds were sown into the peat balls that were left from the previous seeding attempt. I have also tried seeding a green and a gold zucchini directly into the grow media.

 

By Ryan Sevelj

 

Finally I got a chance to give some TLC to a rather neglected IBC system today. For the last few months it was getting nothing but fish food and water top ups. No new plants were added and nothing was really harvested. The time had come to try and get it back to its former glory.

Last week I took the time to plant a few seedlings into some coir peat pellets as a trial for growing my own seedlings in a controlled fashion. Often people will either sow their seeds directly into the grow media and hope for the best, or they start their seedlings in dirt and transplant them. I am hoping that using the coir peat pellets I will get greater control of plant location and remove the transplant stresses that can set a seedling back a week or more. Now that the seedlings are ready to put into the aquaponics system, it has forced me to tidy up the existing plants.

Some of the vegies like the beetroot and carrots just seemed to keep on growing, so rather than let them go for another 12 months, I decided it was time to harvest them and make the most of them. The largest of the two beetroot in the system was a monster, easily weighing in at 2 kg. The other beetroot was not far behind it. I also harvest all the garlic that was starting to show signs of being close to harvest time. Unfortunately one of the cloves had started to decompose but the rest were all harvested successfully. Finally the three carrots i put in there as a test were harvested. it looks like two of the carrots had grown so fat that they split up the sides and had started to get eaten by the worms. Straight into the worm farm they went. The third, which was the smallest appears to be OK.

I also had to wrangle the brahmi back under control after it tried to take over the grow bed again. The parsley was trimmed back a bit now it isn’t getting choked out by the monster beetroot and a few bits of dead wood were removed. This left the grow bed nice and empty and ready for the seedlings. The seedlings are as follows; 4 x English spinach, a mixed colour chilli, 3 x dwarf beans, a gold zucchini and a green zucchini. Unfortunately the chilli and green zucchini didnt germinate, so I will have to reseed those two at a later date. Now it is time to play the waiting game and see how these seedlings go in the coir peat.

Stay tuned for updates!

 

By Ryan Sevelj

 

Well finally a chance to update on the IBC again. It has been a bit hectic at work and i have barely had a chance to touch the system. As you can see in the plant conditions. The silvers are still healthy although their growth has slowed down due to the cold weather really coming in.

There really isn’t a huge amount to report, other than a few new herbs going in the side grow bed. You can see in the basil and english spinach that the iron levels are a little low. I have dosed it with a bit of seasol and iron chelate to try and help boost those levels.

When i got home from work the other day I could see that all of my plants had been eaten from the back patio. I will be honest, I did not even go down to assess the damage. I check that the fish were OK and left it for another day, feeling somewhat disheartened.

Well today I finally got out there and had a look to see how bad it was. Just about everything had been eaten or was dying. My capsicum plant is done for but there is home hope for the chocolate capsy, jalapeño and Habanero. The beetroot were trying to put on some new leaves too, so I left the smaller ones in there and harvested the larger ones.

I pulled out the cherry tomato as well. It had seen better days and I didn’t really get much fruit off it that could be bothered harvesting. The root mass that I found on it was huge. At the base of the bush it would have been over 1″ in diameter. I found that the root had grown up the valve to regulate the water and completely blocked off any path for water. It must have only recently stopped flowing fortunately as all the worms were still alive and wriggling like mad.

About the only plant that was powering along is the brahmi. That stuff is getting quite invasive, trying to take over the whole grow bed. I had to cut out almost another full shopping bag worth.

Here are the photos of how it looked before i started. Tomorrow i will take some photos of how it turned out.