Aquaponic Gardening

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I'm working on setting up a small system - my first system - in my English basement. So far all I have is a 55 gallon aquarium. I'm getting excited about getting it up and running so I'm making it a goal to have all the supplies and get it set up within a month. However, before I make any of my next purchases, I have some questions. First I'll give you some specs:

I'm setting it up in a little nook 56" wide; ceilings are 81" high

aquarium size: 48.5" x 13" x 21"h

The aquarium will sit on a desk: 46" x 20" x 30"h


My initial plan was to set the grow bed directly on the aquarium or make a stand for it so that it would hover directly above it. Now for my questions:

1) Grow bed size: Does 8 or 9 cubic ft make sense?

2) Grow bed container: there are luckily a couple hydroponic stores near me here in DC, but the grow beds they sell seem pretty expensive for what they are - $50-$80 for 2x2 to 2x4 sizes. Are there cheaper options? I checked Home Depot today and I wasn't able to find any containers that looked like they could be transformed into grow beds.

3) Since I'm making this in my living room, I'm trying to make it somewhat pretty, so I thought about making a custom grow bed out of plexiglass and nontoxic sealant. Has anyone tried this? Is it feasible or ridiculous? I'm tempted to just scrap the idea because I really don't want to have to deal with the mess that would result from a construction that couldn't take the pressure.

4) Plumbing: I was originally planning on making a bell siphon, mostly because that was the only method I knew about, but I've since learned about others: looped auto-siphon, flush, and a combo of a timing and draining straight out of the bottom. The looped siphon seems the most appealing now. Any reason to use one method over another? I happened to see Sylvia's article in Urban Garden today ( and was wondering if there was a reason she didn't mention the looped siphon.

5) Pump: what size do I need? The smallest one I saw at the hydroponic store here is 40 gal/hr (, but I'm curious if this could handle the effluent from the aquarium or if it's strictly for hydo use.


All input and criticism welcomed and appreciated! Thanks!



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Hi Cooper,

You'll have to find out what the other 90% contains. If you can't source 100% pure ammonia and you want to be sure what goes into your AP you can consider Urine. If the urine sourced has no antibiotics/steroids and the area where it is exposed to the atmosphere is cleaned before it is delivered, then this is a great source! You can read up on this yourself, but urine not only supplies ammonia, but also micro and macro elements which is 100% sterile, all of which is necessary for cycling.


Thanks, Harold. I've read up on that a bit and from what I gather the urine needs to sit for awhile before it can be used. Can fresh urine be added?


This project has been so long in the making that I'm just really anxious to get it started as quick as possible which might mean just ordering a bottle of pure ammonia.

Hi Coper,

Fresh urine to me is best as it has high ammonia and no harmful bacteria. Trick is not to overshoot the 4- 5ppm ammonia dosing mark( suggested for optimal cycling) and to maintain this dose through till the appearance of Nitrites. If you do go over this mark you can adjust by water change. If you measure the amount applied to get this reading you can formulate an measurement for additional dosing. Pure ammonia seem difficult to access in the USA while I can get it here from multiple sources. IMO urine is the best sustainable source of ammonia and we can help this planet by relying on its use. When we dispose of it carelessly it poses a nutrient hazard for us all.

Maybe I'll give this a try then. Whether I do ammonia or urine, how do I measure out 4-5 ppm for a 50 gallon system?


I realize this thread is now 5 pages of me asking rookie questions. I really appreciate anyone who has taken the time to answer the questions. I promise I'll make my own version of a beginners guide after I've had the system running for awhile so that all these simple questions I've been asking will be easily found in one place.

Hi Cooper,

You can start by adding in the case of pure ammonia 1/2 teaspoon immediately followed by testing with your API kit or similar. If say you get a reading of 2ppm ammonia simply double the dose. For Urine, it depends on the concentration specific to the individual, but the same approach above will work also.

The beauty of AP is that we are all rookies who freely share what we learn. The more we study the more we learn the more we share.

Wasn't sure if there was a formula to figure out exactly how much to add or if it was a guess and test sort of method. Seems like the latter.


I'll probably go with the urine since that will allow me to get this started sooner.  I'll give an update after I get it started.

When I add my initial dose of ammonia, how long do I need to let it cycle before taking the reading?

Hi Cooper,

To speed up cycling and to establish a strong bacterial colony in your AP you should run the pump continuously for the duration of the cycling period. If you're using a 50 gal/hr pump for example you should test after at least after 2 hours. This will ensure complete dilution of ammonia in the system, as this will turn over the volume of the FT twice. You can read more here

Yep, a through mixing before taking the first test reading.  Probably some where between 2-4 hours depending on your system design and how easy it is to make sure it all gets mixed really good.

Is there a rule or a science to how big the bell siphon can be in relation to the standpipe? I have a 1/2" standpipe and started with a 1" bell siphon, but want to upgrade to a 1.5" bell siphon.  


Here's why: I had a problem with some of the hydroton getting into the standpipe and clogging it and causing the growbed to overflow. To fix this, I added a platform to the guard around the drain so that the weight of the hydroton would keep the guard more steady. But just in case that didn't keep the hydroton out, I added a little wire guard on top of the standpipe just to be extra safe (I've just been been letting it overflow for the last week). However, the 1" guard doesn't fit now.


Also, is there a rule that dictates the max or min distance between the top of the standpipe and the top of the bell siphon? 

Well I would have a gravel guard in addition to the bell.  So the drain area would have a gravel guard like a mesh or a 6" pipe with slits sawed in it to let the water in to the drain area but to keep the media away.

This way you can access the drain area and bell and stand pipe without worry about media going down the drain or blocking anything since you need to clean this area regularly of roots when the plants really get going anyway.

I did have a gravel guard: PVC with holes drilled in it but it wasn't very sturdy; it didn't sit flush on the bottom very well. Hence the platform I added. My gravel guard is much sturdier now and I don't think the hydroton will get into it. I only added the wire guard on the standpipe as an extra precaution. Perhaps I don't need to upgrade to a 1.5" bell guard now that I have a sturdy gravel guard, but is there any reason it wouldn't work (going from 1" to 1.5")?

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