Aquaponic Gardening

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Hi guys,

Long time luker, first time posting.  I made a small 50 gallon system out of two large tupperware containers that worked great for about a year.  I've sinced moved homes and my system broke in the move.  I took this as a sign it was time to upgrade!  I've purchased 3 275Gal IBC totes to use in making a system.  I was looking to get two to follow this design:

But when I went to buy they offered me a great deal if I took a 3rd tote and I figured bigger is always better :) In looking around youtube I am having a harder time finding a 3 tote design.  Here are two that sparked my interest:

As well as

Does anyone have any experience with a 3+ tote system that could advise me as to the best layout?  I am stuck between the idea of 1 tote being fully for a fishtank (where you just cut a hole in the top to acces the fish, so you do not create a growbed from this tote) the 2nd tote you would cut a grow bed out of and the other side would be my sump tank.  And I am torn on what to do with the 3rd tank.  Do I make another fish tank? Another grow+fish? or cut it into two grow beds? 

Lastly - what size pipe should I expect to use with the IBCs to move enough water to the grow bed from the sumps? I see most people doing 1" to push water around and 2" for returns.  Any suggestions around pump size would be greatly appreciated as well.

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One more thing. I get rid of the pallet base and screw the cage right to the deck planks on top of the platform. Again that way the tops and bottoms come out pretty much the same.


Thanks for the reply and some additional ideas.  Can you perhaps help me clarify a couple quick questions -- 

  • Do you have any suggestion for pump size?  Any brand recommendations? I like the idea of adding a venturi to the FT and I would need a pretty strong pump from what I understand.
  • I have seen a number of designs for a solids filter - but I do not have the supplies to add one from the start, I am planning to add this at a later date - do you think I should go ahead and get it in before I start? Am I just asking for trouble?

I like the idea of the S&D pipe and in my tiny system I build I had used 90's but you make a good point about flow, I'll look for the sweeping 90s for this build :)

I used electrical PVC conduit for the sweeping 90s on my 2" feed line to the GBs. I glued them to the regular schedule 40 PVC and they work fine and I think are cheaper. They are available down to 1/2" but tend to exaggerate turns in smaller areas where you may not want to take up the space. They aren't however S&D diameter. You don't find many "bad" ideas on this forum but some are better than others depending on your situation. The best idea is to keep your plumbing routing "clean" and easy to access.

I'm using a DC pump  to give me enough height to pump the water up 10' to accommodate the in ground sump pumping up into the ceiling and over to the FT. There are 5 speeds and I only need to run it at 2. There are lesser options available. It also uses 50% less power.

Hey Jeff, the only caution with pvc electrical tubing is the chemical fire retardants. It is not for potable water so I would greatly limit it's use. So far I have only used it for the bottom bulkhead fittings on the BSs as the exposure is only about 1/16" in that case. Could be fine but we just don't know. DC pump is intriguing. I cked it out and the price is good but one review said it blew up at 9 mos and no help on it. That could be very costly all around. Otherwise I love it but it doesn't mention flow rate anywhere. I know it ain't anywhere near 12000gph and that is the only clue from the name.

Blake, I am running our 2500g system on a Little Giant (very old name) 1200g pump and I have plenty of flow and it has been online since day one startup (over 3 yrs) with no issues at all. A big pump will eat you up $ wise and you will be sending most of the water thru a bypass back to the pump chamber anyway, be that in the sump or whatever. It does allow for more expansion down the road. I got mine for 70.00 delivered from Overstock. A big air pump uses very little juice so I gave up on the venturies.

As to my solids filter I used a 15g drum (many motels get their laundry chems in 15s) and a few fittings and it is the last item in line before the water leaves the fish room and enters the GH side and of course the 5 GBs. It traps sinkers and floaters and can be of any size.

And DITTO to Jeff's "keep the plumbing clean" I bury as much as I can and none of my plumbing is in the way ever. I see so many nightmare plumbing jobs in AP. Just takes a little planning.

 Jim, on that link they give these #s.  DC24V, 85w Output, 3170 GPH, 15.7ft    I would rum mine at  higher than 2 but it would put the water in my IBC faster than it drains for some reason. I read the reviews too and if I remember correctly the reviews for the 9000 model which is the same style pump were good so I ordered it. It works flawlessly.

Blake, Jim is right about using the air pump. I use both pump and venturi because you can't have too much O2 but the pump acts as an air backup too in case of a pump failure. I actually have the water pump and air pump on different circuits just in case of a open breaker . This hobby is so damn much fun. No end to the imagination.

@Jeff - I just paid enough attention to your drawing to spot that from your FT --> Filter you then go down/under ground --> over --> Up to the grow beds.  I see your keep this below the water line - do you find there is enough pressure/water movement to run all the beds?  This is a much cleaner design then having a pipe come over from the FT through the air to the top of the GB's.

And a question that maybe Jeff/Jim/Anyone could help with -- I am having a hard time finding the part to connect a pipe to the IBC tote, I believe they are called bulkhead fittings, or sometimes I heard people say uni-seal.  On my last system that was tiny I had a rubber grommet to bridge the gap from the inside of the container to the outside and provide a water tight seal.  I was just at the hardware store and they seem to have nothing other then the rubber grommet.  Almost every video I have watched of an IBC Tote setup seems to have this black fitting that I think is called a bulkhead -- do I need to order these online? Can anyone send me a link/help educate me? :(

I've got all the cutting done on the totes (I get about 1 day a week to work on this right now) and will be painting them this weekend.  So its almost time for pipework.

Blake, I connected my lines to the outlet of the IBC and use the outlet pipe in my radial filter to regulate the water height. As long as the GBs are lower than your water level the water will flow, the bigger the differential the better the flow. If you don't use a filter you set the water height with the outlet height on the side of the tank. I used uniseals exclusively, mainly because they're cheap but have never had a leak.   Ships fast and no phony handling charges. My water height is 48" and my GBs are 32" if that gives you some idea where to start. Rob Bob has a good video on installing uniseals. Hell he has lots of good videos.

Blake, if you like Uniseals I suggest They have the best prices and are stateside. Now having said that I use the same type of plumbing and electrical fittings for my SLO that I use on the bell siphons and I wrote a blog on here as to how I make my SLO drains HERE.

I use Uniseals on bio filters and such but I like the stronger solid fit of BH fittings or the plumbing/electrical fittings anytime there is a need for support or where foot traffic might bump the plumbing. I place the O'rings behind the electrical fittings as there is a perfect grove on there but not on the plumbing fittings. This is cheaper than real BH fittings but Allied has those as well at great prices.

I would be cautious running any solids carrying pipe down under and then back up to your GBs as there will be clogs down the road I assure you. All my pipes flow down hill except the pump of course. My pump is in a clear water sump however. All waste pipes flow downhill only and at a pretty good clip. Mine run down along the back of the FTs, around the end of the GH and back along the GBs in the opposite direction and of course the GBs drain thru underground drains back to the sump. Never anything to step over anywhere and no solids ever going uphill. My layout is among my photos.


I know its been a few weeks since I've gotten a chance to post - MBA+Work is keepin me busy and from finishing this project.  I have everything laid out and just went to pick up all the piping today from the store.  I am down to just needing to buy a pump and I am thinking of going with the little giant like you recommended.  The more I read it seems going that route will be a more reliable solution. 

For only having 1 FT right now and 3 grow beds I am way over horsed looking at

I'll need to have a return section to cycle back most of whats getting pumped but I suppose im setup should I add another fish tank and set of grow beds.

Any last minute pump suggestions before I pull the trigger on this guy? Im looking at 6ft of lift being needed which leaves me at 1000gph with this guy.

Just found these adjustable pumps at good prices. I ordered a small one for an aquarium system I have.

This is the one I use on my big system

It has 5 settings and I run it on 2. Lifting the water 10 ft.

If you run a bypass on your regular pump you can use the excess water to aerate with a spray.

the only thing I didn't catch is what "rff" stands for

Jeff S said:

You have the right idea. One fish tank , 1 sump, but I'd do 3 grow beds. That's actually my system. The extra GBs will add filtration to your system and you will need it if you want to grow a lot of fish. You can use the top and bottom of the tanks for GBs, just silicone the large cap to insure no leaks. I would also make the GBs 12"-16" deep for  deeper medium. To cut cost and weight you can use lava rock in the bottom half of the GB and something like Hydroton on the top for planting. I went through the lava rock and took out the larger pieces the help promote more bacteria grow surface. 1" water lines in and out of the tanks and beds will work. You can make the return to the sump 2" if you want to, I didn't. This is my second IBC system and I'm still making upgrades as I have ideas. I attached a diagram of my system. Was going to go double but opted to take baby steps with a single system. I'd be happy to give you all the details if you like.


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