Our brilliant sustainable food project campaign has now launched on Kickstarter.
The not-for-profit campaign aims to help people to grow sustainable food all year using Aquaponics.We want to raise awareness and get as many people as possible using our open source ‘WaterElf’ electronics kit to share knowledge and best practice.
Lots of people are behind us already, but we need more! Kickstarter is all-or-nothing, so we need to reach our funding target to continue our work.
The range of rewards for getting involved include:
A recipe for an aquaponics system
A funky fishy wegrow T-shirt
Aquaponics courses at TV presenter Kate Humble’s amazing aquaponics greenhouse
Aquaponics kits to grow your own food at anything from tabletop to greenhouse size
So even if you don’t want to grow food yourself, you could support us in trying to make the way we live just that little bit better for as little as £10.
You can read more about the project and find out how you can support it here:
One of the beauties of aquaponics systems is their flexibility and scalability – regardless of plot size or position, an aquaponics system can be designed to suit. As a result, there is growing interest in their use in urban areas, whether it’s a basement, attic, garage, cupboard or warehouse.
This is important because, apart from the sustainable production of food, there are many secondary benefits to urban aquaponics systems. Their presence could help combat the dietary health problems prevalent within many cities by giving citizens access to affordable local fresh fish and vegetables.
Local food production could also help to reconnect children and adults with the sources of their food and nature in general, and evidence is mounting that exposure to nature in this way can have positive mental and physical health effects.
There is also a fantastic fit between aquaponics and the requirements of the national curriculum for biology, chemistry, physics, maths, and business studies, meaning aquaponics systems could provide excellent practical teaching resources for schools, or even be located within the schools themselves to provide produce for the canteen.
Such local production could also help to reduce the transport related carbon emissions and air pollution that result from the daily transportation of goods into urban areas.
Another benefit that stems from outdoor aquaponics systems is the potential to combat the ‘heat island’ effect. This is where urban areas become much warmer than surrounding rural areas during summertime, due to hard surfaces like rooftops, concrete and tarmac absorbing solar energy and releasing it when the sun goes down to artificially elevate ambient temperatures. Aquaponic farms on urban rooftops or disused sites could offset this effect by preventing the hard surfaces absorbing the solar energy in the first place.
With many cities in the UK having gone through an industrial contraction, there are now many such unused industrial sites, often in inner city areas, that would provide perfect areas for farms, and could provide a catalyst for urban regeneration.
Taken together this means urban aquaponics is becoming an increasingly attractive alternative and an ever more important area of research.
WaterElf is a micro-controller with built-in wifi, a bunch of sensors, valve controls, electrical socket switching and data logging to the cloud. Here’s the last prototype to emerge from the lab into the wild:
Adding a WaterElf to aquaponics means you can ensure that the key water parameters such as pH and water temperature stay in the correct ranges. The WaterElf also senses the air temperature, humidity and light levels – so that you can match what you grow to your conditions. As well as all that, the Elf can also sense the water level in up to 3 grow beds – opening up the ability to set different flood-drain levels for each bed independently.
The WaterElf can control up to 16 electrical sockets by radio – so you can use this to control pumps, lights, fans etc. You can also control up to 3 of our water valves with the Elf, this is useful in larger systems such as those based on the FAO design.
We’ve been refining the design of our system since 2013 when our first prototype was installed at the Incredible AquaGarden in Todmorden. We’ve been on an incredible journey and learned a lot about what does and doesn’t work in a busy, challenging environment with lots going on.
Because the WaterElf sends the data it collects to our database in the cloud, you can see a summary dashboard on your phone or computer anywhere in the world. If you’ve got the Raspberry Pi control center with fish-cam (the Grow Hub) then you can also see the fish in real-time! And having the ability to share the current state of your system with other growers in our community means that if you need help then it’s only a click away. We’re excited about building a knowledge base of what grows well under which conditions – using the power of citizen science. Of course if you’d prefer not share your data then you can turn this off – but we hope you choose to contribute.
Like almost everything we do, the designs of the WaterElf are open source. We believe the problems facing our communities and our planet are too important, and too urgent, to avoid tackling right now. Open source allows us to be small and yet work collaboratively towards big solutions to big problems. It sidesteps all the barriers of licensing and patents. It means that we can work flexibly with others such as Open Source Ecology, Farm Urban and Aquaponics Labs – focusing on the engineering not the contracts. It gives us a curating rather than owning relationship with our technologies that keeps us centred on meeting the needs of the community.
We don’t see people using the WaterElf as passive consumers of a tech gadget – we’ve done everything we can with its design to try to make it a springboard into a community of growers. With every report of success or failure with one crop or another, the shared knowledge pool gets bigger and more valuable. Join in, grow some fresh food and find out just how much fun it can be.
Our friends at the Aquaponics Lab have done an interesting post last week describing the history of the Water Valve.
Lots of people were intrigued on exactly where the water valve is installed and how it’s operated. They’ve asked if we could help to clarify it by showing our FAO based system and how we operate the water valves in here using the Water Elf.
The water flow is simple, water moves by gravity as follows:
Fish Tank -> 3 Grow-beds -> Water Valve -> Sump
Finally from the sump the filtered water is pumped back to the fish tank.
The water valves can be controlled mainly by two ways: A time based strategy or a water level sensor.
For real time accuracy we decided to use a level sensor and we are testing ultra-sonic one. This device uses ultra-sonic sound-waves to measure the distance between the sensor and the water surface. It enables precise adjustments of the ebb-and-flow frequency and the maximum water height inside the grow-bed while giving the ability to easily change whenever desired.
Bellow you can see pictures of the ultra-sonic sensors in our grow-bed: