System Catastrophes And Recovery Techniques
This section covers bad things that can happen in your system, how to prevent them, and how to recover from them if they do happen.
1. Water Loss or Water Circulation Loss
A big earthquake could crack water and air piping underground but would probably leave most of the water in the tanks and troughs, leaving the fish and plants OK for various lengths of time (IF you have TOP DRAINS on your tanks). The danger from a water circulation loss would be that wastes would build up in the fish tank without circulation and stress and eventually poison the fish. In this event, stop feeding the fish immediately. They can handle two or three weeks without food just fine. They won’t like it, but this gives you time to get the piping repaired and circulation restored. If you stop feeding the fish right away, and your water quality was good when the loss occurred, you will probably have a couple of weeks at least before you need to get the fish water cleaned out. If you lose all your water out of the rearing tank for some reason, all your fish will die within fifteen minutes or so. Get the fish out of there and into some water fast, even if it’s just a folded-up piece of black plastic or kids swimming pool with hose water in it. It’s a good idea to have an extra, uninhabited tank full of water (the biggest you can afford) around your farm with aeration already installed, just for this possibility. We have one and it’s useful for all kinds of other stuff too.
If you lose water out of your hydroponics troughs, find the leak, dry it off, (you need to drain the trough with the leak in it by pumping the water into that extra tank we just said was useful), slap a piece of sticky ridge tape onto it, and refill by pumping the water back from into that extra tank we just said was useful. This ridge tape is available at building supply places; it has sticky black on one side and aluminum foil on the other side. A good duct tape would probably work OK for a temporary repair. The plants are OK for a long time as long as you keep their roots wet, so just stick the rafts on the side and spray them fairly often while the repair proceeds.
2. Air Supply Loss
WARNING! A total air supply loss is a critical event. If you are carrying near the maximum fish capacity in your fish tank, they will start to stress a half hour after an air loss, and start to die within 3 to 6 hours. If you go 12 hours without air with a maximum biomass load in the tank, figure you’ll lose 60-90% of the fish. If you have a lighter biomass loading in the fishs tank, you will have a proportionately longer time in which to do something. This is why you should have an electrically starting backup generator, preferably with an autoswitch and a fully charged battery (covered next).
(Below) 240 lbs of dead fish; there are more below the floaters. This was the result of a total air supply loss after an employee “turned off a valve” just before leaving work Friday. Without telling anyone else. This was what we saw Monday morning:
If you experience a total air supply loss as the result of an earthquake, hurricane, or some other disaster that wrecks your piping or destroys power lines, what you can do is: get the fish out of the system and put them in any other water you have that you will be able to get them back out of later; as mentioned, an extra uninhabited tank full of water is great to have standing by. The purpose is to get the fish into other water at a lower density than possible in your (now) un-aerated tank so they can get some air. Or just repair what is broken as fast as possible while fish are dying, or a combination of the two. Worst case scenario is that you come back from the beach to find a bunch of dead fish, get a cooler or two full of ice, scoop up the fish and sell them at bargain prices. You can use the money to buy more fish and restock when the system is repaired, unless everyone lost their fish in the same event. But really, you want to take every step you can afford to keep your fish safe. They are the motor of your system.
3. Power Loss
You should have an electrically starting backup generator, preferably with an autoswitch and a fully charged battery, to supply electricity in case your utility goes down. A generator with four gallons of gas may be OK in a four-hour power outage, but if a hurricane caused the power outage, it may be down for days. You should have enough fuel storage capacity CONNECTED DIRECTLY TO THE GENERATOR, i.e., a bigger tank, to take you through whatever comes down the road. You may not feel like going outside in 120 mph winds to refill the generator’s peewee gas tank.
If you depend blindly on this generator setup you can be badly fooled. A lot of people have. The best way is to have someone there. We still have a generator with electric start and autoswitch, a battery-powered alarm system that rings in our bedroom when the power goes off, and are thinking of getting a battery-powered autodialer also.
An autodialer is a device with several event inputs that wire into air pressure, electric power, or waterline pressure that calls one or several numbers in the order you request it to, then plays a prerecorded message: “Event Number Three has occurred”, or “Event Number One and Number Four have occurred”, even when the power has gone off and the generator has failed to start. This can tell you, even if you’re at the beach, that a pump has failed, that the power has gone off, or that a valve was left open, etc.
The only thing that’s guaranteed though, is when you are there and notice when something happens, then go fix it. In traditional farming, this is euphemistically referred to as the “farmer’s shadow” and is the best guarantee of success with these systems as well. Nothing is better than simply being there.