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Utah Aquaponics System

Utah Aquaponics System Part 3 - The Search for Fish Tanks and Grow Beds

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Next came the search for tanks. I looked at the few commercial systems available in the U.S. and as much as I liked the idea of getting a complete package, all were out of my price range and none were configured the way I wanted. From the forums I saw that IBC Totes (48” x 40” x 40”+ tall) (1200mm x 1000mm x1000mm) were a great choice. I began watching ebay and craigslist and found a few, most in the $75-$100 dollar range, and all out of state. Checking on shipping it would cost me over $100 each to get them shipped to Utah. Someone suggested calling bottling companies and other liquid products companies. I made probably 40 phone calls. Every company that used them in quantities had to return them to the supplier that sent them. Many calls yielded the name of a supplier (out of state). I called anyway.

The supplier said they use them until the plastic expires, then they dispose of them, BUT he made the brilliant suggestion to look in the Yellow Pages under “Barrels and Drums – Plastic.” These companies did not have “free” Totes, but I did find two that had uncleaned 275 gallon (1000 liters) or greater totes for $50 each and cleaned, nice used for $150, and new for $305. I hooked up my trailer and made the trip out. I found that the unclean were very clean. I picked through a pile and found 2 that came from a car wash and had minor soap residue. (Most of them you could not tell what was in them, I was trying to avoid anything toxic and knew that soap would clean up easy.) These two I brought home, just $100 poorer – I was happy.

These were two different styles, and next time I will look more carefully. One had a nice plastic pallet bottom, flat and easy to work with. It also had a full cage, including a top. The other had an open top and funky pipe bottom that is hard to work with. I used bolt cutters to cut the cage, and metal snips to cut the metal portion on one, the other I had to use a grinding wheel to cut the metal. As my greenhouse door is only 36” (900mm) wide. I cut the frame so it would fit, and cut the tank (removed from the frame) so it would fit. On a 275 gallon (1000 liter) tank, it was just the very top that had to come off, but I cut the top off the cage so would hold a 14” (355mm) deep tank. The second tank I cut so that I ended up with two 14” deep beds for gravel. Then washed them out carefully with detergent and water, rinsing thoroughly. I cut a piece of 2” (50mm) construction foam to fit in the bottom to insulate the tank, and cut out the tank contours in the foam so it would sit well and drain out the valve. I moved the pieces into the green house and assembled them.

Both had 2” shutoff valves. So now I have a 275-gallon (actually it goes to 300 gallon) tank, and two roughly 4’ x 4’ foot (1200mm x1200mm) gravel bed tanks.

I also spent a lot of time looking for plastic 55 gallon barrels, intending to use them for sumps, dump tanks and fingerling tanks. I made 30-40 calls, to food processing and beverage bottlers and distributors. Here I had more luck, several had barrels for free, but with waiting lists. Some would allow you to pick up 1-2 quickly.

I still needed a way to create a large 4’ x 8’ (1200mm x 2400mm) floating raft or DWC (deep water culture) tank. In asking questions on the barrelponics group, Travis suggested Dead Vinyl. Dead Vinyl? What was that? Come to find out, when sign companies take down the large roadside sign coverings, this is dead vinyl. I was talking to a neighbor about my project and he mentioned he had a friend from a sign company that got him a bunch of Vinyl to put under a playground this way. The next day he showed up with a large 18’ x 28’ ( 5.5meters x 8.5 meters) piece of dead vinyl for me to use. Turns out it is an old McDonald's sign (I hope the fish will be happy). So I bought a 4’ x 8’ foot (1200 x 2500mm) sheet of plywood, and 2” x 12” (50mm x 300mm) lumber and framed that into the sides, added an additional 4” (100mm) to get up past 14” (400mm) and now I have the DWC tank. I’m told you can patch and reinforce it using PVC glue and scraps, although I did not need to.

This Dead Vinyl is also very useful for lining galvanized tanks or other tanks that give off trace elements toxic to fish. I have even seen some people who just dug a pit in the ground and line it with Vinyl for their fish or sump tank. Now that’s Aquaculture on a shoestring!

One caution, I did look at steel and galvanized stock tanks. They were less money and I was attracted to them. However, research showed that without linings or coatings, I would have fish kills from elevated levels of toxic metals, stick with plastics, fiberglass, glass, or vinyl for tanks, pipes and fittings.

The vinyl looked a little worn and had creases where it was folded. We cut out one of the best sections and it held water fine. I also thought of wrapping the fish tank with flexible insulation and then with dead vinyl to protect it and block out the light.

I did break down and buy a plastic 110 gallon (400 liter) rubberized stock tank to use as a sump tank. It was the right size AND it was on sale, I paid $50 new for it. (I just had to dig the hole to put it in.)

IBC Tote Fish TankIBC Tote Cut as an Aquaponic Gravel Bed TankIBC Tote Cage
Next time I’ll report on my search for Gravel to fill the beds.

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