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All of the hardware for the CELSS is complete and in place. It now time to start adding biology to the system to make the magic happen. Ironically most of the magic has happened. For the past 5 to 6 years, an Aquapoinics system in my backyard has been in place to cultivate the microbiology for an enclosed eco-system. In any bio-system all of the players need to have a role or a large enough population to create a living cycle. An eco-system does not appear overnight. The biggest mistake people make with new ecosystems is throw all of the critical pieces together and then expect the whole thing to work at once. Nothing is established to handle the volume of energy/material that moves around in an eco-system. An eco-system in not in our time frame, but on its own time.
Generating a new eco-system requires growth from small to large. Form Latin, the word ‘grow’ means to “change”. A new, young eco-system needs to start small and grow into the container/environment it is contained within. In the case below, we are starting an eco-system with pond water from an established Aquaponics system.
The main input to the system in ammonium and the output is NO3. The NO3 is consumed by a water plant(s). The ammonium is created from decomposed mouse and maggots placed in the water. Later, fish are introduced to replace the mouse body. Fish will eat the algae and produce poop to keep the cycle going.
When a good sized colony of algae and bacteria appears, no more dead organic materials will be put in. Instead fish will replace the dead mouse. The fist will eat the algae and poop. The poop turns into ammonia. The cycle is complete. The last and strangely enough, the first, is all of the anaerobic bacteria and their cycles. It needs to be added at the same time for start the cycle(s). Since most if not all the pieces are in place, I expect the system to start having enough algae to support fish in about a week.
Anaerobic cycles are an older form of micro-biology. They were here first, than aerobic bacteria appeared on the scene. When aerobic processes metabolizes nitrates, it tends to make the water/soil more alkaline. The byproducts of anaerobic processes produce acids maintaining the overall soil/water pH to around 7.0. If only aerobic cycles are cultivated, the pH will sky rocket up in no time. As much as we don’t like stinky compost piles and rotten smelling things, it is very much a part of our existence. Without those smelly processes we would have never been here to complain how smelly they are.
When building a system for the first time, the system environment needs to be cycled in. When biological systems are placed inside a new and fresh container, it is like placing them in a new environment . They will adapt to the new environment the best they can. When they can’t, they perish and/or some other balance is achieved. This occurs for long brew times for compost teas. Before experiments for totally closing the system start, we need to get an eco-system started and then close it off. Below is a description of the pieces to start an eco-system with water and some soil.
Pond Lettuce Plant – This plant grows in water. It’s used as a nitrate pick up only. At this point of cultivation, we don’t care what end product is consuming the nitrate. We are trying to get the cycle established. It floats at the top of the water surface with its roots hanging down in the water. It does not need soil. Fish don’t tend to eat the roots.
Glass plate – It’s a landing place for algae to grow. The system needs surface area to grow. Glass is a great media since it is clear and let light through. This means algae can grow on the top and bottom of the glass. Ultimately, fish will eat off this glass.
Graduated Cylinder - It measures the amount of water in the system. It is important to watch where water is going. If there is a leak in the system, we need to know about it. It is important to keep a balance sheet where water is consumed. Ultimately, the next step after this cycle is creating a water table. The plans are for the water table is at the plastic cutters at this time.
Dead Mouse with Maggots – This is a dead mouse one of the our cats gave us as a gift. It is full of maggots. When the mouse is dropped into the water, about two maggots wiggled out and drowned. Nice! More food for our micro-biology.
Water Plants – (Not pictured) – Soil is put into a “holy” pot where water can get in and out easily. Since no air is in the water, it is somewhat anaerobic. The water plants’ root system is used to colonize an anaerobic cycle. This cycle will produce methane. This will control the pH in the system. Later, algae will produce oxygen and releases it into the water. Fish will be able to breath from the algae oxygen production. There is no need to circulate the water.
Below is a layout of the cycle startup system:
Below is an outside picture of the system starting. It is cover in red and blue light. No green light is present. It’s not needed. The pond lettuce is in the upper left corner, the graduated cylinder is to the right and the glass plate is at the bottom. The red and blue dots are reflections of the LED lights.
This is a down view of the glass plate without the light on. Aquaponics water is already installed. It is really clear.
Pictured below is a plastic block used to hold up the glass plate off the bottom of the tank. There are four of them under each corner of the glass plate.
Below is a dead mouse the cat dragged in. It is exposed directly to the air for about a day or so. It started to really smelling bad. When dropped into the Aquaponics water, it stopped smelling right-a-way. Maggots started to swim out of the body and drown. Later, algae started to grow all over the mouse. I expect the bones, teeth and cartilage to be gone in 22 days. Pictured to the lower right are algae starts.
Almost 10 gallons of conditioned Aquaponics water is placed in the tank. (Conditioned means water that ran in an Aquaponics system for at least 3 weeks. There is a whole process how this water is cultivated); since the system is sealed, it is important to keep tabs where water is located. When things are growing in your system, it is important to keep tabs where water comes and goes. Water can be in plants, water ponds or in the air. Water needs to be traced and monitored. It’s something like a balance sheet for accounting. Water in, water out and what is left. This tells you if you have enough water to continue system cycles.
Below is a picture of a graduated cylinder showing the water height. It used only to measure the water height. It stays in the system for the entire time.
Algae are added to the system. It’s a sort of seed. This speeds the colonization of bacteria and algae. Below is some algae scrapings from an Aquaponics system, where fish eat this algae to stay alive.
There are two cameras in this system. One is pointing through the tank long ways. The other is on the back side pointing to the center. At this time there is a lot of humidity and condensation on the glass. With time and some practice the image quality will get better. Below is a picture of camera placement.
Lighting for the CELSS is Red/Blue LEDs. This upsets the color balance in the camera. Pictured below is the right side of the CELSS top panel removed. Further down between the tank and the plywood wall is the cool are return. The side camera is placed just above the cool air return.
Below is a graph of the chemical compounds in the water over the past 7 days. You can see the Nitrates are in high production. This is great for growing tomatoes in Aquaponics! The mouse is exhausting in energy. Fish will have to be put into this system in the next day or so. Algae are growing on both sides of the glass plate. Air bubbles are trapped in the underside of the glass plate. I don’t know if that is O2, methane of CO2.
Below is an image from Camera 1 & 2. This camera is placed at the end of the tank and monitors the tank lengthwise. If the images are dark, bookmark this site and return when the LED lights are on. Pictures are updated every hour 24/7. Lights are on for 12 hours per day. The LED lights are so bright; they blow out the exposure time for the cameras. It’s required to insert an 4.0 ND filter in front of the camera. Some of the pictures may seem dark; we are still adjusting the cameras to get the best exposure. (Lights turn on at 7:00 AM PST; lights turn off at 7:00 PM PST)