Aquaponic Gardening

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I just got my first system built and up and running over the last several weeks.  I've got a 10-gallon white rubbermaid "garbage" can on the floor for my goldfish.  A mini-jet 404 pumps water up into 4 bus tubs (bought these and the can from a restaurant supply store) that are connected by 1/2 inch pvc pipe.  I have an adjustable stand-pipe in the fourth one that drains back into the fish barrel.


I bought lids for the bus tubs rather than construct rafts, and I'm glad I did.  It was super easy to drill 2 and 3 inch holes in the lids for my net pots.  I used half coir and half vermiculite for my medium.  The water in the tubs is about half an inch from the top, which allows the water to wick up into the pots nicely.


I had set up air stones in each of the four tubs, but quickly discovered that the net pots that were directly over the bubbles were empty!  The bubbles had washed the media and seeds away!  So, I shut off the bubbles to the tubs for now.  I might turn them back on once the plants are larger.  There is some air space between the water and the lid, so I don't think the plants will suffer from lack of oxygen for the roots.


Anyway...  So that's my system so far.  Currently I have several kinds of lettuce, braccias, and tomatoes started.  Most of them I will plant outside in my raised beds in a few weeks.  (Tomatoes must wait much longer here in PA.)

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If you adjust your stand pipe to be a bit lower (so the net post only just touch the water) you might be able to turn the bubbles back on without washing all the media out of the pots over the air stones.

I'm having cycling problems.  I think I have too many fish.  (I'm using goldfish, because it's a small indoor system and I'm not heating it.)


My only knowledge before I started was the guide I bought and downloaded from Friendly Aquaponics.  They recommended an innoculant from ProLine.  I wanted to buy all my stuff locally, so I bought some stuff from Top Fin that was at the pet store where I bought the fish.  Well...  It wasn't working.  My ammonia levels kept going up and up, but no nitrite was showing up.


I went back and re-read the guide and figured out that if the ammonia gets TOO high, it kills the bacteria.  So I filled a bunch of buckets to dechlorinate my tap water, then swapped out most of the water in my system to start over.  This time I ordered the stuff the guide recommended from the internet, hoping for better performance.


It's been six days now, and I still can't see nitrite showing up on my test strips.  The ammonia is climbing though, and I'm about ready to swap out the water again for the sake of the fish.


I'm 99% sure the store won't take fish back, since who knows what diseases fish might pick up from joe-schmo customer.  I researched euthenasia methods for fish, because I don't know anyone who wants a bunch of goldfish, and I'm not sure what else to do.


Any suggestions?  I feel extremely bad about what I've done, since the poor little goldfish certainly didn't ask for this.

How many goldfish are you using? I'm about to start a 10 gallon 'tomato' grower. I'll probably start it with one baby goldfish, then add only 1 or 2 more once it's cycled.


But if you have a lot of them in there, just keep doing 50% water changes, until the system starts cycling, they will die on their own if the water gets too bad.

Ugh.  Do you think the bacteria will ever catch up if I keep swapping out the water?


I've had some casualties already, which I feel bad about.  That's why I'm considering euthanizing some, just because it would be more humane.


I'm embarassed to say how many fish I have, because I think I have blundered so badly.  My system has about 40 gallons total, with 20 in the tank and 20 in the troughs.  According to aquarium websites, I should only have 3 or 4 fish.  But this is not meant to be an aquarium with clear, pretty water.  It is, after all, primarily a fish poop factory for fertilizer.


Anyone have any insights or recommendations on how many I should KEEP in a 40 gallon system?


Keep on doing water changes. Make sure your top off water is dechlorinated otherwise it will kill the bacteria. If you have a local pet/fish store ask them if you can have some seasoned filter media and hang that in the tank.

Seasoned filter media?  What exactly is that?


EDIT:  Ok, I just looked it up.  So, just haning some "seasoned" (meaning already full of nice bacteria?) media would speed things along?


I'm also wondering if I added a filter of some kind, would I not end up losing the nitrates that I want for my plants?

Old filter stuff :) it is full of bacteria that can jump start your cycle. 10 gallons is pretty small so your parameters are gunna swing wildly. Get the biggest container you can get the fish will be much happier and your water chemistry will be more stable. Get something like this Storage Tote but only fill it half way otherwise the sides will bulge.


Larry Hill said:

Seasoned filter media?  What exactly is that?

Don't worry, I've killed fish in every way possible. Most heartbreaking was a 10" Oscar I'd had for 3 years...all my own fault.

It wouldn't hurt asking the store if they'd take them back, especially if you don't want a refund. Maybe keep 8 or so.



I called the pet store, explained my mistake, and they said they will take them back.


Thank you all for your help with this.

Also check on your tap water.  What is used to treat it?  Chlorine can be outgassed in buckets with bubblers but chloramine takes weeks to go away.


Good deal that you can trade some fish back.  If you find later that you don't have enough nutrients, you might first look at using a higher protein fish feed since normal aquarium fish foods are designed to keep the water quality as good as possible while still keeping fish healthy but not to grow them quick.

It smells and taste like chlorine, that's for sure.  Would chloramine show on a chlorine test strip (I'm assuming they are similar chemicals?) ?


From my municipality's website:



Raw water enters facilities at the Lehigh River Intake where activated carbon is added to reduce color, taste and odors. The raw water is pumped via a 16-inch pipe to the Water Treatment Plant. Additional supply is available by gravity from the Spring Mill Reservoir. These supplies can be used independently or in combination.


At the treatment plant, which currently has a capacity of 8.0 million gallons per day, water flows by gravity through four treatment steps. First, chemicals are added to and mixed with the water as it enters the "rapid mix chamber." The chemicals condition the water to assist in the removal of iron, manganese and suspended solids in subsequent stages of treatment. Chlorine is used to disinfect the water. After rapid mixing, the water flows in "flocculators" where slow gentle mixing occurs for 20 minutes to form "floc," large particles suitable for removal by settling.


The water then flows through the "sedimentation basins" in which some of the "floc" settles to the bottom. Approximately 80% of the suspended solids are removed in these basins. The clearer water from the top of the basins flows to the filters where it is strained through a granular media bed consisting of 18 inches of anthracite and 12 inches of sand. Any suspended solids remaining in the water are removed as the water passes through the filters.


The water then enters the clearwell where post-chemicals including chlorine are added so that the water remains free from disease-producing organisms and other undesirable substances as it travels through the distribution system. This completes the treatment process."

chloramine is basically chlorine and ammonia (I'm not good at chemistry so hopefully Rupert will chime in here)  Anyway, any time you have chlorinated water with ammonia in it, some chloramine is formed I guess but it sounds like unless the source water for your municipality has a lot of ammonia in it, hopefully they are only using chlorine.  It still might be worth you calling to ask about chloramine (chloramine treated water will kill yeast for bread making even if it is heavy enough.)


I do believe chloramine treated water smells very similar to chlorine treated water.  I believe both will show on a chlorine test.  You might be able to do an ammonia test though to give you a tip off.  I know that when people use aquarium water conditioners to neutralize chloramine they will wind up with an ammonia reading right off.  So I suppose if you have chloramine treated water, you might not need an initial start up dose of ammonia if you use a water conditioner on your start up water.  Just beware that not all aquarium water conditioners are appropriate for a food system.

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