Aquaponic System Decoupling

posted Feb 10, 2015, 10:06 PM by Jd Sawyer   [ updated Feb 19, 2015, 10:43 AM ]

Aquaponics is the raising of fish and plants in recirculating systems whereby the fish provide nutrients to the plants and the beneficial bacteria and plants help to return the water clean to the fish. It’s a highly productive eco-system with many extraordinary benefits, most notably its ability to conserve water with minimal if any discharge.  While there is plenty of information out there about the benefits of aquaponics, let’s talk about some specifics regarding system design that could be particularly important for mitigating some of the risks and challenges often found with aquaponics. To provide some context and scale, I’m using my aquaponics facility, Flourish Farms which occupies a 3,200 sq ft greenhouse. However, these ideas are applicable to any scale system.

Our aquaponics farm is designed with the flexibility to run in a “de-coupled” mode whereby the fish system can be operated independently of the hydroponic plant system. In normal operation, the water from the fish tanks flows through a series of filtration tanks and then out into the hydroponic system. A single pump returns this filtered clean water back to the fish system. In de-coupled mode, water from the fish tanks flows through the filtration system as it does in normal operation but it does not pass into the hydroponic troughs, it returns via a separate line back to the fish tanks. The filtration or life support system (LSS) is designed to provide the proper mechanical and biological filtration necessary to support appropriate water quality for the fish.

When the fish system is running on its own loop, the hydroponic system can also continue flowing via its own pump. In our farm, water pumps from the last deep water culture trough back to the first trough maintaining continuous flow through all four troughs. This can also be run through a second sump. 

Why decouple the system? Having the capability to isolate systems is important for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I don’t know any fish farmer (amateur or experienced) who hasn’t lost a good majority of their fish population at one point or another. Reasons for catastrophic fish deaths or illness can often be attributed to:

·         Power failures and a lack of good backup, monitoring and alerting systems.

·         Loss of water due to a blockage, overflow, rupture or operator error.

·         Poor temperature control and water quality management. Variability in temperature can be highly stressful on fish and if you are not able to properly control temperature, fish may stop eating. If your fish stop eating this affects the nutrient dynamics in your system.

·         Fish disease can also creep up quickly if the temperature, water quality and health of the fish are not being regularly monitored or you are not quarantining fish upon arrival from other sources.

Other reasons for having a decoupled system can include the fact that you can cycle your fish system independently while having plants growing in your hydroponic system. Or perhaps you started as a hydroponic grower and you are adding on an aquaculture component later in the cycle. Another popular design is to have your fish system in a separate facility or “head house” and your plants in a greenhouse. The systems can still be hydraulically connected so that fish water can be delivered to the plant system but may not necessarily return to the fish house.

Another advantage is that the hydroponic troughs (DWC) can be run at their own flow rate if so desired. In other words, when the fish and plant system is running together in normal operating mode using a single pump, the hydroponic pump could be used to circulate water at a variable flow rate through the DWC troughs as well. This requires the running of two pumps, but if increasing flow rate in the hydroponic troughs is desirable than the separate DWC pump and plumbing gives the operator the ability to do so. This could be beneficial in case water flow rates are too low through the troughs. Water quality parameters can also be managed independently and optimized for each system. For example, fish tend to like a higher pH and plants like a lower pH. Temperature could also be managed independently depending on the location, environmental controls, fish species etc. 

As is often the case in commercial aquaponics, the majority of the revenue is in the plants so having your plant system entirely dependent on your fish system creates a single point of failure scenario which can be avoidable in a decoupled system.  If you have an issue with your fish system for any of the reasons cited above or more, you can still continue to run your hydroponic system on an organic nutrient solution so that you are able to maintain your production crop, your customers and your revenue stream.

When reconnecting the two systems, it will be important to ensure ammonia and nitrites have been fully oxidized and are at safe levels for the fish. Water temperature, pH, Alkalinity and other factors affecting water quality may not be properly aligned between the fish and plant system so adjustments to these levels may be necessary to make a seamless transition and minimize stress on your fish. There may also be other elements of the hydroponic nutrient solution that could be problematic for fish at certain levels. For example we raise hybrid striped bass which are sensitive to potassium.  It is always important to do your homework when you are considering adding something to your aquaponics environment. Thinning out the solution and exchanging with fresh water may be required to help reduce any potential toxicity and allow you to safely reconnect both environments. 

JD Sawyer, Colorado Aquaponics

The "New" Website

posted Jan 26, 2015, 11:24 PM by Jd Sawyer

Many of you who have been following us for a while may recognize this site as our very first website with some minor updates. If you were tired of the old website, well, we apologize because it's back. We tried a different web platform and design in 2014 and it just didn't click with us (no pun intended) and the functionality and "hominess" was just not there for us. When you invest time and energy into something it can be hard to make the decision to scrap it and move on. But we did and I'm personally very happy to have our old site up and running again. As always its a work in progress and we will do our best to make it as easy, informative and comfortable as possible. It's not so different with aquaponics systems either. Many of us who have built their own systems have continually made improvements, started over, made mistakes, made discoveries etc... That's what it's all about and will continue to be for everyone or at least should be. 

So stay in touch and we'll do the same. Come visit the farm and bring the kids. The GrowHaus and Flourish are looking awesome in 2015 and we're expecting to have our best year ever. 


Dreaming of Home Scale Aquaponics?

posted Oct 14, 2013, 9:30 AM by Holly White   [ updated Oct 14, 2013, 9:48 AM ]

You've discovered aquaponics, you're psyched about the possibilities, you want to take your knowledge and understanding to the next level...but where to start? It's easy to get overwhelmed with all of the components and science jargon when starting up your own home system. As a designer by trade, the part that I love most about building a home aquaponics system is the flexibility and customization options it affords; Go for an easy assembly kit or get down and dirty with the materials that you have around you! And that's exactly what Robert Eschbach of Denver did! We had been corresponding with Robert for several months over the summer with some water cycling questions before adding some of our Tilapia to his home system. He picked up 4 Blue Niles and 2 Rocky Mountain Whites in August. About a month later these photos arrived from Robert who thought they might be just the inspiration others need to get started.

CA: So Robert, how did you first learn about Aquaponics?

RE: One of my friends posted an article on Facebook several months ago. I've always been interested in sustainability and was fascinated with the concept. From there I started researching on my own, primarily through online forums on aquaponics.

CA: Describe your system for us.

RE: I have a 55 gallon fish tank set beneath my grow bed. There are two holes in the bottom of the growbed, one where the water is pumped in to the bed and the other for the bell siphon. About 1/3 of the fish tank water is pumped up to the growbed which fills about every 10 minutes. There's one fluorescent light on a pulley system over the growbed to provide supplementary light to the plants.

CA: How many fish do you have in there?

RE: Right now there are 5 fish total, one Rocky Mountain White juvenile and four Blue Nile fingerlings.

CA: What types of things are you growing?

RE: Lettuce, Mesclun greens, Peas, Basil, Wheat Grass. Everything is about two months old. I started them by simply broadcasting seeds straight into the media bed.

CA: How much money do you think you have put into building and maintaining your system?

RE: Probably about $500.

CA: What was your biggest obstacle/most frustrating moment?

RE: The Bell Siphon! Getting just the right amount of flow into the bed in order to start the siphon took a lot of trial and error. The water pump tube clogs up and slows the rate of flow. I recommend not gluing in any of the plumbing pipes so that you can easily make adjustments as needed. Don't get too anxious to get it started and know that it may take a lot of tweaking to get your system flowing just right.

CA: What was your best resource for aquaponic knowledge?

RE: I did all my research with free blogs and forums found on the internet. I can't remember the exact names of them, but there is a ton of free resources on the web.

CA: Any last thoughts you want to impart to those who are dreaming of having their own home aquaponics systems?

RE: It's important for people to be proactive about living more sustainably. Everyone needs realize that aquaponics is just a part of a bigger means toward eating healthier food and knowing where your food comes from.   

Big Thanks to Robert for sharing his experience, the system is looking great!  Don't forget that the Colorado Aquaponics team is a great resource for Aquaponics questions that you may be stuck on. We continuously offer one-day workshops each month that cover everything from fundamental concepts to pump sizing, plumbing, and construction!  Check out the Education tab of our website for upcoming class schedules and registration! See you there!

Colorado Aquaponics at Self Reliance Expo

posted Sep 13, 2013, 2:53 PM by Holly White   [ updated Feb 10, 2015, 10:16 AM by Jd Sawyer ]

Interested in food security, accessible technologies,  or just getting closer to moving "off the grid"?  Then come join us at the Self-Reliance Expo on October 4-5 at the National Western Complex.  Colorado Aquaponics will be featuring some home-scale systems, taking class registrations, and spreading aquaponic knowledge at our booth this year!  Keep an eye on the main stage schedule for an Aquaponics presentation by JD Sawyer, Founder and President of Colorado Aquaponics.

Colorado Aquaponics is Going to Pine Ridge, SD

posted Jul 30, 2013, 3:13 PM by Holly White   [ updated Aug 8, 2013, 7:05 AM by Tawnya Sawyer ]

Pine Ridge, SD July 26, 2013 – The American Open Currency Standard (AOCS) joins Colorado Aquaponics (CA) for the “Basics and Build Aquaponics Workshop” on August 10, 2013.

The workshop is part of an ongoing project to build a full-service aquaponic facility at the site of the new Lakota Dollar Store, to be managed by residents of Pine Ridge.

Aquaponicly grown organic food, together with the new Oglala Lakota Sioux tribal community currency, offers better choices than what central planning affords most Americans.

Monetarily, Americans are coerced to use central banking currency that constantly loses value due to inflation. This lowers the standard of living over time and erodes wealth that could be used for savings. AOCS encourages Americans to empower communities with local currency. They also help supply the minted coins to Indian Nations such as the Oglala Lakota.

The centrally planned food industry yields similar results in terms of the quality. While no one firm has a monopoly on food distribution, the regulatory structure favors large corporations, as the cost of compliance inhibits entry into the market. It also dictates the way food is grown and processed, steering the market towards an unhealthy diet. The system also creates hostility toward natural alternatives such as raw milk.
Results - central planning & factory farming has been as bad for health and nutrition as central banking has been for the monetary system & economy. Today, First Nations people suffer from higher rates of obesity, diabetes and chronic disease than any generation in history.

Organic alternatives can be expensive and difficult to access. Our message: Grow Your Own.

CA and AOCS are helping develop a facility in Pine Ridge to teach sustainable farming techniques within the Oglala Lakota Nation. This important outreach will empower Americans and Lakota Indians to enjoy optimum healthy organic foods through Aquaponic farming, as well as serve as a model for other tribes.

Self-reliance and independence are American ideals shared by both organizations within their respective disciplines. That makes AOCS and CA natural partners for a more free America.

The workshop will be held at Billy Mills Hall in Pine Ridge, SD 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM.  For more information please contact

Green Acre Aquaponics Introduces a Revolutionary Approach to Farm Education and Commercial Aquaponics

posted May 19, 2013, 11:07 AM by Tawnya Sawyer   [ updated Feb 10, 2015, 10:15 AM by Jd Sawyer ]

Farming methods have changed many times since man planted the first
seed in the ground 10,000 year
s ago. Most recently, the Green Revolution has transformed farming and dramatically increased farm productivity by using genetically engineered seeds and by applying chemical fertilizers and pesticides. But we are now seeing a backlash to these techniques due to the adverse environmental and health effects of these technologies and chemicals and a corresponding surge in interest in organic, sustainable farming practices and techniques. Enter the Aquaponic Farm Revolution. Aquaponics is a growing technique that takes advantage of the tremendous efficiency of hydroponics, but uses the waste product of fish as the organic source of plant fertilizer in a recirculating environment. The plants, in turn, filter the water in which the fish live.

Aquaponics uses 90% less water then is used in traditional soil-based agriculture, and aquaponic farms can be established anywhere there are people in need of fresh produce – even in parking lots and abandoned warehouses. And through aquaponics, farmers automatically have sustainably-raised fish that they can harvest and sell alongside their produce.Green Acre Aquaponics in Brooksville, FL has both pioneered this growing technique and has created a profitable aquaponics farm model that integrates six different growing techniques (deep water culture, media-based, nutrient film technique, vertical stackers, vertical towers, and wicking beds) in a single hybrid farm system to supply the demands of their ever-changing local market as efficiently as possible.

“Just because something can grow that way doesn’t mean it should grow that way” Gina Cavaliero, Managing Director, Green Acre Aquaponics

These techniques and the technology that underlies them, as well as farm business management and marketing concepts explicitly tailored for aquaponic farms, will be taught during two back-to-back, four-day courses June 15 - 18 and June 20 - 23. The hands-on, farm sessions will be held at the GrowHaus, a non-profit urban farm and market in the heart of a Denver food desert community known as Elyria-Swansea. Here the Green Acre’s Aquaponic Farming Course approaches aquaponic farming education from all angles with the hands-on approach at the farm and detailed aquaponics and business education in the classroom. The goal is to have course students walk away with all the knowledge they need to build, start, and run their own successful, profitable aquaponics farm.

The Green Acres teaching team is comprised of three aquaponics professionals with a unique blend of aquaponics farming experience, industry leadership, and business experience. The course is led by Gina Cavaliero, the Managing Director of Green Acre’s Aquaponics Farm and the current Chair of the Aquaponics Association. Prior to forming Green Acres, Gina was the founder and CEO of a highly successful construction firm in Florida. Gina is joined by JD Sawyer, founder of Colorado Aquaponics and the aquaponics farm at Denver’s GrowHaus, and the director of the 2012 Aquaponics Association Annual Conference in Denver. Prior to forming Colorado Aquaponics, JD spent eight years as the Director of Operations at Johnson & Wales University. The third member of the teaching team is Sylvia Bernstein, author of “Aquaponic Gardening: A Step by Step Guide to Growing Fish and Vegetables Together” and the founder of The Aquaponic Source. Sylvia is the former Vice President of Marketing and Product Development for AeroGrow International.

Media Contact: 
Gina Cavaliero, Managing Director 
Green Acre Aquaponics 

Announcing Aquaponics Tour de Tanks - Free Farm Tours

posted Mar 28, 2013, 7:58 AM by Tawnya Sawyer   [ updated Apr 11, 2013, 12:58 PM by Jd Sawyer ]

What: Aquaponics Association Tour de Tanks
When: April 21st 10:00am - 2:00pm (Tours will begin on the hour with the last one starting at 2:00pm)
Where: Flourish Farms at The GrowHaus, 4751 York St, Denver
Why: To get people interested and excited about aquaponics

The Aquaponics Association along with hobby, community and commercial aquaponics enthusiasts around the US are opening their doors during Earth Week to show people the exciting and innovative way that we love growing food. By combining fish and plants together we get more to eat, an excellent protein source, highly nutritious, chemical free foods, that produce zero waste and conserve natural resources. Come check out our home and community-scale aquaponics systems, growing food for our families, local restaurants, markets and providing some nutritious food options for a neighborhood considered a food desert. 

Colorado Aquaponics 2012 Recap

posted Jan 3, 2013, 12:28 PM by Tawnya Sawyer   [ updated Jan 3, 2013, 2:06 PM ]

So many exciting things happened in 2012. We started the year by acquiring a commercial aquaponics farm in Arvada that we called Flourish Farms. Throughout the year we grew tons of fantastic vegetables, culinary herbs and tasty tilapia which were sold to restaurants and farmer's markets as well as donated to enrich meals for children and elderly who wouldn't otherwise have much access to fresh produce. It was so great to meet our customers every week and hear about their special dinners prepared with our food. We even got to taste raw tilapia done ceviche style, served up at Harvest Week Dinner at GrowHaus by Brandon Foster from Vesta Dipping Grill. It was fantastically good (although I wouldn’t have ever tried making tilapia this way, they are super fresh and we know where they’ve been)…

The spring Koi sale, brought in a bunch of Koi enthusiasts who took home many bright and beautiful koi to make their ponds sparkle with color and character. These fish love people and put on a show every time someone walks near the tanks. We will have another Koi sale this spring for more opportunities for some really amazing premium quality fish.

Workshop, tours and special events at the farm brought visitors from down the street and around the world who enjoyed the beautiful colors of the greenhouse, the frantic feasting of the tilapia and koi, and the fresh flavor of just-harvested farm produce. Denver Botanic Gardens Urban Farm tour made a stop at Flourish Farms along with several school groups, and scouts meetings. The kids especially love to plant, harvest and try tasting things in the greenhouse. Kids seem far more likely to eat kale, chard, lettuce and even mustard greens when they get to pick it themselves. A group of African delegates also paid a visit to learn the innovative techniques of aquaponic food production with minimal water consumption.

In June we received news that GrowHaus would be completing renovations of the greenhouse over the summer, a dream almost three years in the making. We began planning and designing the commercial scale aquaponics system along with Gina Cavaliero of Green Acre Aquaponics. The GrowHaus completed its renovations in late August, and the Colorado Aquaponics team got to work in 100o temperatures, building out the new aquaponics system. We couldn’t have completed this project without the help of family, friends and the internet community through Kickstarter funding. Thank you all so much for making a difference.

September brought hundreds of aquaponics addicts (and we mean this in the nicest sense of the word), to Denver for the 2nd Annual Aquaponics Association Conference. Participants had the opportunity to tour Flourish Farms and the GrowHaus as well as Sustainability Park, then hear from experts and pioneers alike through the conference presentations. It was an informative, mind expanding weekend.

October brought Gina back to Denver for the Green Acre’s Aquaponics Farming Complete Course where over a hundred people joined JD, Gina and Sylvia in the Farm Revolution. It is rewarding to find so many people excited to help solve food quality, availability, localized production, greater self-reliance and environmental change through aquaponics.

November we completed production at Flourish Farms in Arvada, and moved out just after Thanksgiving. It was a whorl-wind weekend, of moving several hundred fish, but every one of them made the trip without casualty (except for the ones that became the celebration dinner, and man were they tasty).

December gave us a bit of pause to reflect on an amazing year, finish a wide variety of projects at GrowHaus, create schedules, procedures, cycle the system and get everything in place for an abundant and productive 2013. Our motto this year is Growing More Greens in 2013. Come check things out any Friday during the GrowHaus Farm Tours from 10am to noon, learn more about aquaponics at one of our many workshops or purchase some of the freshest, nutrient dense vegetables, tasty culinary herbs, or hand fed fish throughout the year at GrowHaus.


Denver Post Article on Colorado Aquaponics

posted Sep 19, 2012, 12:05 PM by Tawnya Sawyer


New aquaponics farming system helps cities and drought-stricken regions

POSTED:   09/19/2012 12:01:00 AM MDT
UPDATED:   09/19/2012 10:46:55 AM MDT
By Howard Pankratz
The Denver Post
JD Sawyer left, and his wife Tawnya Sawyer, of Colorado Aquaponics, harvest chard, Monday September 10, 2012, in Arvada. (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post)

Anurban farm aimed at providing food for an economically disadvantaged northwest Denver neighborhoodis drawing widespread interest because of its unique techniques.

GrowHaus — co-founded by Adam Brock who works in partnership with JD and Tawnya Sawyer of Colorado Aquaponics — uses an aquaponic growing system.

The basic components of the system are a greenhouse containing tubs of well-fed fish and a water-circulation system that runs under the plants or beds of produce. Fish waste is treated within the system and converted to nutrients, which feed the plants. The plants absorb the nutrients and purify the water, which is then recirculated

Bibb lettuce is harvested at GrowHaus. (Craig F. Walker, The Denver Post)
back to the fish tanks.

GrowHaus is using the method — which uses an estimated 10 percent of the water used by traditional agriculture — to produce chard, kale, mustard greens and basil, which are distributed within the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood where it is located.

Though the project initially started as a way for the neighborhood to get cheap, healthy food, it is drawing broad interest as a model for urban- and water-saving agriculture.

"I think one of the great things about GrowHaus is the fact that people come here from all over the world," said Tawnya Sawyer. "We are always impressed and amazed about the number of different nationalities that come to this location to understand what urban farming looks like and what water conservation looks like."

Sawyer said she is working with U.S. tribal nations interested in their farming techniques and has visited with many people from other nations who visit GrowHaus.

Additionally, the city of Denver has requested a feasibility study on setting up such a system at the county jail.

Steven Newman, a professor of Floriculture at the Colorado State University's Greenhouse and Floricuture Extension, said aquaponics combines two

Adam Brock is director of operations. (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post)
important elements for today's society and can conceivably expand into urban areas as well as American Indian lands and Third World countries.

Aquaponics, he said, is a great water-saving way to grow food locally — an increasingly important issue as people seek to reduce their carbon footprints by eating food grown closer to home and focus on bringing healthy food to struggling communities.

Equally important, Newman said, is the social aspect. Such operations have the potential to provide an important place for women in Third World countries to work and socialize while providing food for their communities, he said.

The Sawyers alternate between their urban greenhouse farm in Arvada and the GrowHaus, but say they

Waste from tilapia fish is used to feed plants in the aquaponic operation. (Craig F. Walker, The Denver Post)
will soon work completely from the GrowHaus, which is expanding.

Howard Pankratz: 303-954-1939or

Read more:New aquaponics farming system helps cities and drought-stricken regions - The Denver Post
Read The Denver Post's Terms of Use of its content:

Kickstarter Campaign Success

posted Sep 11, 2012, 9:05 PM by Tawnya Sawyer   [ updated Oct 9, 2012, 8:39 AM ]

Kickstarter Success
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! To all the wonderful people who contributed to this project. We couldn't have done this without the help of people like you interested in making a difference for people, food and the environment. 

We Appreciate Your Support

September 4th was a very exciting day for Colorado Aquaponics. It was a little over two weeks into the commercial construction project at the GrowHaus, and the day that so many people helped make our Kickstarter campaign a success (it was also JD's birthday). A good day to celebrate all around. So much work has happened to renovate GrowHaus, plan the system build, purchase materials from local merchants, gather resources, and construct the commercial aquaponics system. It is rewarding, humbling and incredibly exciting to have so many people engaged in this project to help build a model for sustainable urban food production. We want to THANK EVERYONE, whatever your contribution: money, time, well-wishes, shares and likes, blog posts and a wide variety of other expressions of support. There is still much to do, but easier to get the job with the help of community.

Many, many thanks to Gina Cavaliero of Green Acres Aquapoincs (and Tanya for handling the farm in her absence). We look forward to seeing this hybrid system design come to life with abundant fish and vegetables.

Special thanks for the efforts of the tireless team of staff, volunteers, interns, and work-study participants. This team has worked early mornings and long days, endured intense heat (greenhouse without environmental controls), and patiently completed tasks that required strength, endurance and complicated problem-solving. Thanks so much to Shawn, Rick, Terri, Avery, Holly, Clay, Byron, Thomas, Douglas, Justin, James, Steve, and so many more.

Thank you to the many Kickstarter contributors, who have helped make this project a reality. Your contribution is more than financial, it is social and environmental and something to feel very proud about. There were a total of 149  backers through Kickstarter and several dozen others who helped outside of the crowd-funding platform. A number of contributors have asked to remain anonymous. Click here for a complete list of contributors.

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