3d printer ideas for custom aquaponics fittings

I am seriously excited about getting my 3d printer. It’s been a week since I ordered it, so 1-2 more weeks according to the confirmation email I got.

The printer can print in ABS. This can be a stinky plastic to print, but I’ve plans for making a fume hood for the printer that vents outside through the basement window. ABS is considered a food safe plastic, which means it should be safe to use in my aquariums.

I could do things like print out custom aquarium decorations, which I am likely to do. However, I am really excited about the prospects of printing out custom aquaponics fittings.

There are a couple of ‘fiddly bits’ in aquaponics, such as the bell siphon. When they work, they work great, but they can be a serious PITA to get that stage. There are people who have done a lot of original research on how to make the siphons start and stop easier such as Affnan. However, he has access to parts I can’t get locally. Now I will be able to print them out for myself!

Another item I would be able to print would be a tipper. It’s best explained in the video here.

I can print out a tipper that is shaped exactly to the space that is needed to fit into the grow bed. If I need a long, narrow unit, I can print that, a short squat one, I can do that too.

I can print out meshed safety cages to keep baby fishes out of the siphons at will. No more needing to attack PVC with a drill to poor effect!

I am terribly excited about all of this..

Aquaponics Store Idea

I’ve been looking at all the empty storefronts on main street Dundee on my way to work lately. I’ve been imagining having my own store front in one of those.

I’d sell Aquaponics stuff.

Ready made sets from tiny little things for apartment kitchens to fairly large backyard setups. I’d sell all the various parts, plumbing, bulkhead seals, containers, lights, whatnot. I’d carry some fish –  a few hardy ornimentals and some the pets stores don’t stock well locally and also the ‘eater’ fish such as tilapia, perch, etc. I’d also have a bunch of plants and seeds. Ones that grow well in AP systems that will give people the instant gratification of pretty plants now, and the economy of starting from seed.

I think a big thing I’d sell is pre-cycled media. One of the hardest parts of getting aquaponics up and running is getting the system ‘cycled’ – have the beneficial bacteria colonies all grown and doing their thing.

If people bought a ready to run kit from me, they’d get the booklet I’m writing, the tank(s), grow beds, cycled media, a few live plants, a dose of organic fertilizer to feed the cycled media, and a coupon for the balance of their plants and fish. The coupon effective date will be based on the system size so that the system will be correctly cycled when they go to add fish.

You see, I’d be setting people up for success, not to sell crap they don’t need (like 3-4 sets of fish). The only time I want to see them again is to redeem their fish/plant coupons, to get more parts for more systems (it’s addicting!) and when they bring their friends in to get their friends hooked on the hobby.

 

I’d make Aquaponics stuff.

I’d sell sets and kits that I’ve assembled. I’d make a bunch of the various bits and bobs that are needed, like the tank top stands to hold the grow beds, bell siphons, etc.. I’d give the plans away for free.

I’d have a 3d printer so I can make custom clips, fittings, and so forth.

I’d have a small ‘workshop’ with a few basic tools such as a PVC pipe cutter, reamers, drill press with bits, etc. so people who don’t have some of these specialty tools can use them at the store to make things they way they need them.

 

I’ve a few ideas on how I want to lay out the store.

The weirdest part will that I will have irregular hours. I’d have a rolling 4 day schedule where I stayed open late one night a week, and by late, I mean 10-12pm or something like that. By rolling the 4 day late nights over a 5 day week, I would be open late at least once a given named day per month. A HDTV with a calendar, answering machine auto-attendant, and website would show the hours.

I’d have a few interactive displays where people can get their hands wet. Bell siphons are one of those things that are really hard to understand in their simplicity. There would be a  set up where you can try different sizes of bell siphons with different amounts of water flow.

The fish would have a full data sheet printed out in large print for each species including details on picking fish in good health. With life sized photos. Attached to the tank that the fish are actually in. There would be a date as to when the last shipment came in.

I’d have half a dozen TVs hooked up to computers with proximity sensors that would turn on when you stood in front of a display with lots of options. It would explain your choices to you, and things to consider for your purchase. Maybe I would have a kinect and make the displays interactive so somebody could get to the details they are interested in.

  • Explain lighting options – HID, florescent, LED, incandescent
  • Explain the biological processes going on
  • Explain water parameters and how things like PH affect plant nutrient uptake
  • Explain how some plants may work well in some systems and not others
  • Explore the different options for grow beds
  • Explore the different options for siphons

I’d have bins of plumbing fittings and small sections of pipe. I’d sell pipe by the inch. A lot of stuff needs short pieces of pipe, and it’s really annoying to put a 10′ section of pipe into a compact car when you only needed a few 6″ pieces.

There would be QRcodes EVERYWHERE. They would also link to real information! Screw the marketing BS that the vendors give me, I’m writing my own datasheets, instructions, pros & cons, etc. People can come in and self help while in the store if they want, or they can get assistance, and the store employee can show them the details on the tablet they are carrying around.

 

I’d hire a few part time people.

Each employee is in charge of 1 running display in the store. They also are given a small kit to take home as a hiring bonus and are expected to run it while they are employed. They get annual bonuses in stuff and samples and new products are seeded out to them. It’s important that they know their stuff, and how else to do that then with experience.

I am thinking a couple of little old ladies and some codgers who know the local gardening. I’d let them pick their schedules, and hire in to fill in any gaps. The stuff these people know is invaluable. I want access to it!

I’d hire some high-schoolers.  The local schools FFA chapter would be a good place to start, maybe 4H too. The energy that they bring is great. They pick up on new stuff very fast. That and somebody needs to get the stuff off the top shelf so old-man-rivers doesn’t break a hip.

I won’t be open on the weekend unless the employees wanted the hours. 2 employees can schedule the hours they want to be open on the weekends.

 

I’d sell stuff online.

I am a web-geek. I will sell stuff online. I think the cool thing I would offer though would be in-store pickup, even after hours. I’d have a set of PO boxes with codeable punch-code locks. I can place an order into a box and ‘ship’ the box number and access code. The person can come anytime and pick up the order, even if the store is closed.

I like catalogs that actually have information in them and not just a list of product numbers and pricing. The website wouldn’t be a list of products, it would be a treasure trove of information, tutorials, options, comparison lists that all allow you to buy the things being talked about.

The site would be based on ‘here’s the things you need and here’s how to do it. You can get the stuff locally or buy it from me online.

 

Community

I’d work with the local schools to have an Aquaponics system in any classroom that wanted one. I’d work with the teachers & students on learning science and have them write ‘grant requests’, make/donate the parts that they need that they can’t otherwise source, and feature the results in the store. I’d totally love to see turtleponics!

I’d work with the local pet stores and plant nurseries to see if I can offer my customers coupons for their locations for stuff that I don’t carry.  The back of the couple would list a bunch of things that would work well in Aquaponics context, and the coupon is good for those items. Maybe I could get a display at their location and sell Ready-to-Run systems at their locations.

I’d be at the local ‘green’ expo and farmers markets.

 

Greenhouse

I’d want a location where I could have a greenhouse. Lots of big greenhouses would be great, because then I would sell plants and produce, but even a small greenhouse or two would be great. I would show that you can grow in the winter here in Chicagoland.

 

Dream

This is all a pipe dream at the moment.

I can’t transition from what I am doing today into a store – I’d loose the house in the time it took to get the store pulling in foot traffic.

 .

DIY Bell Siphon for Ebb and Flow Aquaponics with 75 gallon Aquarium

I had a rough week this last week, so I decided I needed to build something. So I built a bell siphon for an ebb and flow grow bed (also called Flood and Drain grow bed_ for the 75 gallon fish tank in the living room. This will allow me to grow plants using the fish water. This is pretty cool, as it means that the plants will remove the nitrate buildup which is the primary reason people need to do partial water changed in their aquariums.

My 75 gallon aquarium in the living room before I added the  aquaponics component to it.
My 75 gallon aquarium in the living room before I added the aquaponics component to it.

The whole thing will be completely automated and cost me less then $50 including buying tools and leaves me with lots of spare parts. 3 pieces of 4 foot PVC pipe with only about 6 inches cut off of each, so I have enough of this to make half a dozen more if I wanted.

A bell siphon is a passive autosiphon device that allows a continuous flow of water into a container to periodically be drained completely out of the container. This is good because it allows me to have my Eheim aquarium canister filter output into the grow bed, and the bell siphon will flush the bed regularly, aerating the plant roots.

To start, I assembled a drain out of plumbing PVC parts. This consists of a stand pipe to go inside the aquarium, 2 fittings to work as a bulkhead nipple, and an offset to route the water around the aquarium lid into the drain tube.

Showing where the tub will go.
Showing where the tub will go.

My wife let me buy the parts and take over the 75 gallon aquarium in the living room with my plants. She had it decorated really nicely, but my plant stand was evicted from its spot to make space in the baby room. They needed a place to go, and I used this as an excuse to work on the aquaponics setup.

Katie and Bella Supervising
Katie and Bella Supervising

I started fiddling with the pieces I had bought and realized that I didn’t get all the right pieces I wanted, but I had gotten enough to make it work.

The bottom half of the bulkhead and the 90 degree angle.
The bottom half of the bulkhead and the 90 degree angle. The angle will provide the offset to go around the tank lid.
A bit of glue oozing into the PVC joint.
A bit of glue oozing into the joint. This needs to be cleaned out to provide less water flow resistance.

I used an antique brace with an adjustable size bit to cut the hole in the plastic. Basically, the edge of the bit would score the plastic. It worked great, except for the plastic cracking.  I siliconed it up, but, to my great annoyance, the silicone was old and didn’t set. I had to clean it off and go get a new tube and try again.

Cracked grow bed bottom
Oohps! I cracked the bottom of the grow bed. No worries, a bit of silicone will fix it right up!

After two days of futzing with this thing, I finally got a dried silicone seal around the stand pipe and over the crack. The grow bed will sit on top of my 75 gallon aquarium so I designed the drain to offset around the aquarium lid. No drilling holes in the lid… yet…

The stand pipe drain for the ebb and flow hydroponics grow bed.
The stand pipe drain assembled and ready to seal in place with silicone

I then made the bell siphon which sets over the stand pipe. I again used my brace and a smaller bit to drill holes in the 3″ PVC pipe. This made it much easier to cut with the PVC cutters I had bought. The 3 inch was just to thick for me to cut otherwise.

PVC holes drilled with a brace and bit
Using a brace and bit to drill holes in the PVC where I will cut it to make the bell siphon.
The bottom of the bell siphon
The notches in the bottom of the bell siphon allows water to flow in easily.

A slight design flaw (um, the drain) left me with a grow bed that wouldn’t sit on the aquarium stand lid. A bit of scrounging around, and I found a plastic crate that I am using. The grow bed sits on the crate, which leaves enough room underneath for the drain to fit. It looks a little precarious, and I would like it to be the 4-5 inches lower, but it works for now.

The aquaponics ebb and flow growbed sitting on the aquarium light hood
The grow bed sitting on the aquarium light hood.
Aquarium filter filling the aquaponics ebb and flow growbed on top of the light hood
The canister filter has nearly filled the growbed. The water height is limited by the height of the stand pipe.
The bell siphon sitting on top of the stand pipe
The bell siphon sitting on top of the stand pipe. This is where the magic happens.
The bell siphon sitting on top of the stand pipe
Looking at the whole bell siphon drain.
Threaded drain gives me options in the future.
The threaded bottom allows me to potentially change how I drain this grow bed if I wanted to.

 

The growbed is continuously filled, and intermittently dumps into the aquarium below.

The drain in the aquarium
The water from the grow bed returns back to the aquarium here. The grow bed is still filling in this photo.
Bell Siphon draining into the aquarium
Bell Siphon draining into the aquarium. See all the water flowing out?

I placed my plants around the grow bed and the few items that where required to stay on the tank stand – family photos. I think it looks pretty good in the house! I hope to grow lettuces and herbs such as basil in it. Things that we eat regularly and are best fresh.

Indoor aquaponics setup on top of a fish tank
I only have desk lights with CFL bulbs right now. I think it looks pretty good!
Living Room Aquaponics in an aquarium
The tank looks good with the aquaponics on top!
I am pretty sure I can’t feed everybody in the photos… yet…

 

UPDATE:

You can visit http://mike.creuzer.com/2011/12/i-doubled-the-sump-space-in-my-aquaponics-rig-today.html to see this same siphon and growbed in use on an expanded system..

Taco Bell

It's pay day Friday. That means I take myself out to eat. Taco Bell. They have diet Mt Dew here. SWEET. Their prices aren't bad either. #3 $4.19.

Forke, Sporke, and KnifesA photo I took at a Taco Bell on the move..