Aquaponic Gardening

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I am Amy Lu, a biologist living in Southern California. I am trying to set up my first system. Anyone has used Inflatable backyard swimming pool as the fish tank? I plan to put the fish tank in the garage and all grow beds in the backyard close to the garage. Will it work? Is tilapia legal in CA? Any suggestions will be helpful! Many thank!

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Will it work? Well, that would depend on a lot of variables. But as for the concept of fish tank in the garage and growbeds in the backyard? Yeah, that's a viable option. Is this a kiddie pool or one of those full size inflatables?

Thanks! According to the bible (Sylvia's book), I want something bigger than 250 gallons. I am think of the full size inflatable one which holds 500-600 gallons. Is it durable enough?

Right now I have a debate where to set up the system. If set it up in the backyard, although I can enjoy the full sunshine of southern California, I worry the big temperature swing between day time and night time as well as potential insect problem. If set it up in the basement, although I can control temperature and light (less energy efficiency), I worry the ventilation, humidity control as well water spillage. what's your input?

Living where we do, we actually have the benefit of little swing in temps compared with most of the temperate world. That said, I think that at least where I live (less than 3 miles from the Pacific Ocean) it would be hard to keep water in the comfort range for tilapia outside, even during the summer, and this is one of the reasons I'm planning on using catfish in my new system. The other reason is that I find tilapia to be unpalatable--if I were going to the trouble and expense of heating the water I'd grow something tasty like pacu. I'm not crazy about catfish, either, but at least I can choke it down.

My original plan was to have a huge indoor aquarium with pacu and plumb that out to an outdoor garden. Problem there is that I'd be losing a lot of heat when the water is circulating out to the plants, and growing everything indoors under artificial light seemed just pointless and stupid, given our climate. I toyed around with designs for countercurrent heat exchangers, but effective heat transfer would require a good conductor like copper, which you absolutely don't want anywhere near your AP system. After many drafts of designs I went with one that minimized footprint, cost, and energy usage and was large enough to provide food as well as plenty of scraps for my chickens.

My advice is to plan, design, revise and consider several options for a while, and once you have your plan just go for it and make it happen.

Thanks Alex! I have decided to use swimming pool as the fish tank which could be about 600 gallons. Any suggestions what to use for grow bed? I saw a lot of people use barrels, but I prefer to get something with flat bottom. Thanks ahead!


Alex Veidel said:

Will it work? Well, that would depend on a lot of variables. But as for the concept of fish tank in the garage and growbeds in the backyard? Yeah, that's a viable option. Is this a kiddie pool or one of those full size inflatables?

The options are just about limitless. It would depend on what kind of media you are using though, as some are heavier than others. Whatever you end up using, make sure it can hold the combined weight of the media and the water. Yeah, some people use barrels, but it's gonna take ALOT of barrels to get enough plant space for a 600 gallon tank. Remember, you want to use a bare minimum of 1:1 (and I'm finding that's cuttin' it a little close), preferably 2:1 ratio of grow space water volume to fish tank water volume. So, if you use a 1 ft. deep grow bed, like Sylvia recommends in her book, and if you are planning on filling up all 600 gallons of that pool, than you are going to be looking at a minimum of 80 sq. ft. of grow space. Most human beings can comfortably reach across about 30-36 in., so you make your grow space that amount, then you will be looking at growbeds that need to total a length of 26ft for a 1:1 ratio. If you cut the 55 gallon barrels in half, each half is a dimension of about 2'x3' for a total of 6 sq. ft. So you would need 13 barrel halves for a 1:1 ratio. (I'm doing some rounding, and it's all off the top of my head, so pardon any mistakes) Or a total of 13 barrels cut in half for a 2:1 ratio. So, you would half  to cut all those barrels in half, connect them all, and build stands for them. Seems like a lot of work. Oh, and I'm talking about cutting them in half the long way, so that there is half a lid on each side, which is just the way I've seen them done.

If you take a look at my profile page, you can see some pics of my system. I just built the growbeds out of wood and lined them with some pond liner. That way, you can customize them to be whatever size you'd like. I think they turned out well, I've got about 42 sq. ft. of grow space. And they are pretty nice aesthetically :)

Amy Lu said:

Thanks Alex! I have decided to use swimming pool as the fish tank which could be about 600 gallons. Any suggestions what to use for grow bed? I saw a lot of people use barrels, but I prefer to get something with flat bottom. Thanks ahead!


Alex Veidel said:

Will it work? Well, that would depend on a lot of variables. But as for the concept of fish tank in the garage and growbeds in the backyard? Yeah, that's a viable option. Is this a kiddie pool or one of those full size inflatables?

Outside pools need cover to keep light out.

Thanks Jeffrey! I lives in Pasadena with a lot sunshine and a quite swing of temperature. I looked at your system and it looks very nice. Do you think the fish and vegetables will survive in the winter outside? Or you are planning to use heater in the winter?


Jeffrey Ihara said:

Living where we do, we actually have the benefit of little swing in temps compared with most of the temperate world. That said, I think that at least where I live (less than 3 miles from the Pacific Ocean) it would be hard to keep water in the comfort range for tilapia outside, even during the summer, and this is one of the reasons I'm planning on using catfish in my new system. The other reason is that I find tilapia to be unpalatable--if I were going to the trouble and expense of heating the water I'd grow something tasty like pacu. I'm not crazy about catfish, either, but at least I can choke it down.

My original plan was to have a huge indoor aquarium with pacu and plumb that out to an outdoor garden. Problem there is that I'd be losing a lot of heat when the water is circulating out to the plants, and growing everything indoors under artificial light seemed just pointless and stupid, given our climate. I toyed around with designs for countercurrent heat exchangers, but effective heat transfer would require a good conductor like copper, which you absolutely don't want anywhere near your AP system. After many drafts of designs I went with one that minimized footprint, cost, and energy usage and was large enough to provide food as well as plenty of scraps for my chickens.

My advice is to plan, design, revise and consider several options for a while, and once you have your plan just go for it and make it happen.

Thanks Alex! Thank you for spending time to give such detailed calculation. I agree with you that using barrel is not very practical and that is why I am looking for something more rectangular shape. Thanks for letting me know that I can check people's profile to get more ideas. Yours looks professional! If I decide to make my own grow beds similar as yours, I probably will shoot you more questions. Thanks ahead!


Alex Veidel said:

The options are just about limitless. It would depend on what kind of media you are using though, as some are heavier than others. Whatever you end up using, make sure it can hold the combined weight of the media and the water. Yeah, some people use barrels, but it's gonna take ALOT of barrels to get enough plant space for a 600 gallon tank. Remember, you want to use a bare minimum of 1:1 (and I'm finding that's cuttin' it a little close), preferably 2:1 ratio of grow space water volume to fish tank water volume. So, if you use a 1 ft. deep grow bed, like Sylvia recommends in her book, and if you are planning on filling up all 600 gallons of that pool, than you are going to be looking at a minimum of 80 sq. ft. of grow space. Most human beings can comfortably reach across about 30-36 in., so you make your grow space that amount, then you will be looking at growbeds that need to total a length of 26ft for a 1:1 ratio. If you cut the 55 gallon barrels in half, each half is a dimension of about 2'x3' for a total of 6 sq. ft. So you would need 13 barrel halves for a 1:1 ratio. (I'm doing some rounding, and it's all off the top of my head, so pardon any mistakes) Or a total of 13 barrels cut in half for a 2:1 ratio. So, you would half  to cut all those barrels in half, connect them all, and build stands for them. Seems like a lot of work. Oh, and I'm talking about cutting them in half the long way, so that there is half a lid on each side, which is just the way I've seen them done.

If you take a look at my profile page, you can see some pics of my system. I just built the growbeds out of wood and lined them with some pond liner. That way, you can customize them to be whatever size you'd like. I think they turned out well, I've got about 42 sq. ft. of grow space. And they are pretty nice aesthetically

Amy Lu said:

Thanks Alex! I have decided to use swimming pool as the fish tank which could be about 600 gallons. Any suggestions what to use for grow bed? I saw a lot of people use barrels, but I prefer to get something with flat bottom. Thanks ahead!


Alex Veidel said:

Will it work? Well, that would depend on a lot of variables. But as for the concept of fish tank in the garage and growbeds in the backyard? Yeah, that's a viable option. Is this a kiddie pool or one of those full size inflatables?

:D :) :D :D
Thanks George for the friendly reminder! I will keep that in mind. Every piece of information is important for the beginners like me. Thanks!



George said:

Outside pools need cover to keep light out.

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