AutoMicroFarm Blog
Progress: April 2012
Here are some pictures of our prototype progress over the last few months . The pictures below show the plants at several stages.

Right before the second harvest.

First prototype of AutoMicroFarm. 

The purpose of our first prototype is to test our hypothesis that an aquaponics system can achieve a harvest yield of 50 ~ 100 kg/m^2 annually from the system. It was a relatively quick build, which we have a lot of learning experiences from. One of the biggest things we learned was that any changes to barrel-ponics proved to be more trouble than they were worth. Our next prototype will be modularized and built so we could make changes on the fly and test out different ideas without too much trouble. Below I wanted to summarize in a few points our progress and experiences (good and bad) of the first prototype. 

  • Infrequent water chemical measurements led to a false confidence that our system was cycled properly. (This paper talks about cycling the system, otherwise known as starting a biofilter). This wasn’t the case, and as the system cycled with the fish, it led to fishkill… typical newbie mistake, don’t do that at home kids!
  • Low temperatures made the first harvest very small: took 3 months to achieve 130g.
  • As soon as the temperatures went up, in two weeks, the harvest went up to 240g in just ONE vegetable bed.
  • After enjoying several high-yield weeks, the nitrates went down, as the now fishless system finished cycling and the plants took up the nitrates; and consequently the yield went down.
  • We bought  and caught more fish to get the cycle working again. We had a few more fish die; we’re working on figuring out what happened there (it wasn’t the nitrogen getting out of balance this time).
In conclusion, we learned some very important and fundamental facts from our experiences. Temperature and nutrients play a very important role in food production, and the two conditions must be right for a high yield outcome. When we had a lot of nitrates, but temperatures were low, we had a low yield harvest. As soon as the temperatures went up, our production rate exponentially increased. When our nitrates started running low, while the temperatures remained at optimum conditions, our yields fell back down. Armed with this information, we are now trying for find the right equilibrium between the amount of fish and vegetable production to keep AutoMicroFarm at an optimal production rate to  produce high yields from our plant (and eventually fish, as they mature).
We’ll be sharing more soon!
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