Sunday, August 28, 2011

Aquaponics during Emergencies

     When things are going well and there are no troubles on the horizon it is easy to take for granted the many luxuries in our lives.  Electricity is one of the easiest aspects of modern life that is taken for granted every day by many people.  When you're maintaining an aquaponic system you can't afford to take it for granted, though. 
     Once the power goes out key aspects of an aquaponic system's life force are cut off.  Without the air pumps no oxygen is being provided to the system.  The fish will soon deplete the oxygen left in the water and begin to die.  The amount of time this takes depends on how much oxygen was in the water and the ratio of fish to water.  The more fish in a system, the faster the oxygen will run out.  This isn't only a financial loss.  More importantly, it's a loss of nutrient for your plants.  If the fish in a system die and are not replaced quickly crop production will take a tremendous hit.  The fish aren't the only living organisms in the system that need oxygen.  Both the beneficial bacteria and plants need oxygen to survive, as well.  The loss of beneficial bacteria in a system is just as awful a loss as is the loss of fish.  The bacteria are needed for the conversion of toxic chemicals from the fish to useful nutrients for the plants.  Without the bacteria a system's water can become toxic quickly.  This is especially true in a system that has been running at the maximum stocking density of fish.  And, while plants may be cheaper and easier to replace than fish it does take time to propagate from seeds or cuttings.  If a crop dies then so does a large part of your filter.  Nitrates are much less toxic than ammonia and nitrites, but at high levels it can still kill your fish.  If you have to wait a couple of weeks to get plants back into a system it can cause a lot of trouble.
     So, how do you ensure that you won't run into these problems?  You need a plan for emergencies.  The best option is backup power.  A generator can run an aquaponic system easily.  However, in some emergencies getting the gas to run a generator can be almost impossible.  Having a store of gasoline for the generator can alleviate some of the pressure of going out to find gas.  Renewable energy is another fantastic option.  It is definitely a more expensive option than a generator, but the benefits may outweigh the cost in your situation.  Solar panels or wind turbines storing power in a battery bank can offer an endless supply of electricity for an aquaponic system.  And renewable energy isn't only going to work for you during emergencies.  It works all the time.  This technology can be used to take your system off the grid and save you a little money every month on the electric bill.  If you find yourself unprepared when the lights go off and your pumps stop pumping you can use a bucket to agitate the water by filling the bucket with water from the system and dumping it right back in.  This will add some oxygen back to the water, but it is in no way efficient.  It's also very tiring, especially considering how often you'd have to do it.
     Whatever your situation is it is always safer to have a backup plan for electricity to power your aquaponic system.  If you don't have a plan it can cost you your money, plants, fish and bacteria.  If you can afford solar panels and batteries for a battery bank it'd be my first choice.  If the weather in your area dictates, a wind turbine may be the better choice.  And if you'd rather just have an emergency plan a generator will keep things flowing smoothly, so long as you have the fuel for it.

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