Aquaponics 101 – The IBC Tote System
Now we get into the meat of this series of articles, the IBC Tote System. Many people ask why we prefer the IBC Tote System over the hundreds of other systems designs that are available on the internet. A Google search reveals thousands of possible design options ranging in size from a tabletop system built from plastic bins and an aquarium to a system built from multiple IBC totes. Probably the most prolific style of design is those built from 55-gallon blue poly-barrels.
Why not Blue Barrels
Blue barrels are easy to source and cheap to acquire. The systems built using blue barrels have several disadvantages, in our opinion. The biggest disadvantage that we have found in building and operating these blue barrel based systems is the stability of the system operations. One key rule in aquaponics is that the larger the volume of total water in the system, the easier it is to stabilize over time. We have built the single barrels styles and multiple barrel styles, and they will work, but for a beginner, they present challenges that can make the whole experience less than desirable.
The IBC Tote System offers a large enough volume of water to make a relatively stable system that is easy to build, inexpensive, and doesn’t require a large amount of floor space. The ease of use and the stability issues result in less frustration for new aquaponics operators and the chance to get a system up and running as quickly as possible with success.
A Note about IBC Totes
In West Texas, IBC Totes are almost as easy to source as blue poly-barrels. However, there are some issues in sourcing used IBC totes that everyone should understand.
First and foremost, make sure you know exactly what was in the IBC Tote. In West Texas, the vast majority of used IBC totes that we see available come our of the agriculture industry and were used to ship various agricultural chemicals, in particular herbicides and liquid fertilizers.
Remember, you are planning on growing vegetables that you will want to eat and raise fish. Most agricultural chemicals are not what you want in your system. It is hard to grow vegetables in a system that is constantly leaching some chemical poison into the water from the plastics. Just as a, your fish will probably appreciate not being exposed to these poisons.
If the person who is selling or giving you your IBC tote cannot or will not tell you the exact product that was in the tank, I would be hesitant to put it into a system in which I was planning on growing food and fish.
More about Totes
IBC Totes come in a wide variety of styles. However, they all conform to a set of international standards to ease shipping and handling. These tanks are used worldwide to move almost any product you can imagine.
Typically, IBC Totes come in two readily available sizes; 275 and 300-gallon models. Our design works with either size. The dimensions on these totes are identical from one manufacturer to another. The major differences are in the style of base that is on the tote and the way the cage ribs are arranged on the tote. Other than personal preference, any of these will work. We prefer the style with an integral metal base and not the ones that are attached to a wooden shipping pallet.
There are some things that need to be considered as you plan your aquaponics system. Number one on the list is weight. Am aquaponics system built from a 275-gallon tote can easily hold a total water volume of 200 gallons when operation. Water weighs 8.3 pounds per gallon. A 200-gallon system will impose a weight load of over 1600 pounds in a relatively concentrated footprint. If you live in a multistory apartment or condo, make sure that your floor or balcony can meet the structural requirements.
Of course, plants need some things as well. They must have light to grow. Your system will need to be located where your plants can get 6 to 9 hours of direct sunlight per day. Six to nine hours of sunlight is a minimum requirement for most vegetables, and without that kind of light, your plants will not perform.
You must also have a source of electricity and water. Moving 200 gallons of water in a 5-gallon bucket can be an arduous task. The electrical needs are minimal but must be met. You will need to operate a small water pump and a small air pump 24 hours a day once your system is operational.
Aquaponics 101 – The IBC Tote System Build Requirements
The build project requires a few basic handtools. While the project can be done using manual tools, there are some power tools that will make your job much easier. These include a reciprocating saw, a jigsaw, and drill.
You will also need a sharp utility knife, permanent marking pen, screwdrivers, sandpaper, and a few other basic items. A detailed list of tools required and suggestions on where to source them on a temporary basis if you don’t want to purchase them.
Aquaponics 101 – The IBC Tote System, Can you do it?
Of course, you can. It isn’t difficult and our step by step directions will take you from the first cut on the IBC tote to cycling the system for the first time.
Just be warned. We built our first system years ago from two blue poly-barrels. That system has long since been dismantled to make way for an IBS tote system which has now grown to inhabit a 10’ by 26’ greenhouse. You may find that once you have experienced building and operating an aquaponics system, you will find your interest leads to tinkering, adding, and innovating on your system.
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