Aquaponic Gardening

A Community and Forum For Aquaponic Gardeners



I stumbled upon the aquaponics community a few weeks ago and have become amazed at the variants of the system.  I have several friends whom are members of the Master Gardeners Association and after approaching one of them recently, I was the guest speaker at an event for them featuring the benefits of Aquaponics.  I have just started my system and will get pictures up soon and I have many questions that have come up since the project started.  I live in an area of Washington state that is known for wine and apple production but is a vast desert in itself. 


I attempted the barrel design by Travis Hughey and have completed it with a few hangups.  I have found that having an inline pump that is capable of 650gph with 115ft lift is NOT a good idea.  My top float barrel quickly overflowed as did my plant bed as the cycle would run every 2.45mins.  Is there a way I can control this water flow by not having to purchase another pump, or would I end up spending quite a bit in modifications that I should have purchased a lower per hour pump?


I am noticing that many of you are using tilapia as your fish.  I have checked on getting that breed of fish in and would be charged nearly 15.00 per fish.  I know I won't be able to eat goldfish, but is that viable alternative?  I have fantasised about a midnight run to the neighbor's koi pond that the birds are always flying off with.  Could just be a bad bird month for them.  :)


Also, I have read pros and cons to not having a green house for the barrelponics.  What is this community's thought on that.  Is there an evaporation issue or stunted growth concern with the plants?  I have noticed that many of the photos and systems in this community have used the expanded clay for media.  Was it because of availability over other media?




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to get your pump to play nice, simply plumb a bypass.  That is put a T in the line that goes from the pump up to the top tank.  send the offshoot of that T back into the fish tank, put a ball valve on that and the amount you open that line up will decrease the flow up to the top tank and you adjust from there.  You can even put a spray bar on after the ball valve to help provide aeration in the fish tank.


Tilapia require rather warm water.  and a barrel ponics system is rather small so maintaining a stable temperature out side is problematic in a cooler climate.  If you choose a fish that will handle cooler water then you just need to keep the water from freezing in the pipes to keep your system running over winter.  For a small system like that though I would say some goldfish or perhaps a few blue gill might be appropriate.


I use gravel, just got to ensure it is some quartz type of rock or something that won't affect system pH.  Limestone or marble would be bad on the pH.  I've never sprung for the clay balls.

Hi Jeremy.  I'll start the ball rolling and try to answer your questions with my opines, and I'm sure others will join in with their's as well.  First, congrats on the speaking engagement!  Keep up the good work spreading the word about aquaponics

Do you have a valve inline between your pump and the float barrel?  That will allow you to decrease the flow of your pump.

Any freshwater fish works in an aquaponic system.  As you've already noted, you first need to decide if you want to eat them or not (although in a past blog post I talked about how that line can be grey).  Make sure that the temperature they like to live at is the temperature you can keep you system at, and if you are going to mix fish make sure they don't eat other ;-)

Greenhouses to me are all about climate control, and if you are in a climate where you can't grow outside year-round (as I believe you are) I'd highly recommend a greenhouse if you can afford it.  The downsides are minor compared to the upside - year round growing and letting your bacteria biofilter mature over time rather than stop/start.

Expanded clay is nice because it is lightweight, easy on the hands, and you know exactly what you are getting.  3/4" gravel is another option, but it is twice as heavy and you need to be very careful that it is completely inert and won't affect your pH over time (no limestone!).  A third option that is emerging is Expanded Shale. Also lightweight and easy on the hands, but less expensive that expanded clay and US mined and made.


Hope this helps!

This morning I installed a T about 20" from the outlet of the pump.  One side of the T goes to the float barrel and the other goes to the fish tank. The amount of water coming off the line to the fish tank is immense.  It feels like a pressure washer.  I could of course drill larger holes to fix this problem but I am wondering how much flow is too much in the fish tank?  I don't want to look in some day to see fish in a whirlpool. :) I have considered using the Quiet One 4000 for a pump.  Still is an option as it is inexpensive.  Another option would be to add hydroponics to the system to make the water travel a greater distance before it hits the float barrel.  At the point the water level lin the float barrel is way above the drain pipe level and the inlet downspout.  Would installing a ball valve cause the pump stress and shorten its life span?  As far as media goes, I fell short on that field.  I went the pea gravel stage and are waiting for my water test kit to show up from fedex.  I know, I have read some of the horror stories on pea gravel and wait in anticipation to see my fate.

a quick test you might run with the pea gravel while you wait is to rinse some off and then drop it in a cup of vinegar.  If it foams up, well then you might have a problem.  If it bubbles strongly could still be a problem.  If just bubbles a tiny bit, you might get by with it.  No bubbling at all, should make sure it is actually vinegar and then do a little happy dance.

Now if the first round with the vinegar just gives a small amount of bubbling, you might let the media soak for a bit and then put it in a fresh cup of vinegar cause sometimes the media just has a coating of dust on it that might have more limestone than the actual rocks.  But if it foams up like a kids volcano, don't bother with it.  Use it on the ground or around plants that like alkali conditions.


If your 600gph pump is too strong for your barrel ponics, I thin the Quiet One 4000 will be too much too, go another size down on the quiet One pump.  I think I've run a barrel ponics with a little garden pump from harbor freight that was rated for less than 300 gph and was probably only managing 50 gph at the height needed for barrel ponics.  That pump costs probably $15 on sale but I think is usually about $23 or maybe $30.

Did the vinegar test and got nothing.. except a nasty film from the dust that was in the rocks.. which by the way is extremely difficult to get rid of.  I washed each bag of the gravel before dumping it in the flow beds and have cycled almost 80 gal of water through dumping it out and restarting and still the water is cloudy.  At the cost of dumping more water out and replacing it with fresh water, would I be better off getting a whole house water filter and setting it up to collect that sediment until the water is clear?  At this point there is no fish nor plant in the system. 


The vinegar test was done with 2 cups of gravel and 4 cups of vinegar.  I mixed it well together hoping to see some bubbles.  I let it sit for 10 mins and there are still no bubbles. so (happy dance)?



As to washing gravel.  I usually swish a basket (plastic water plant basket) of gravel in a bin of water and then in a second cleaner bin of water then I dump it in the grow bed.  The water in the system will still be cloudy for a while after filling a system.  This will settle out over time, you might put an old sock or rag or something to catch some of the sediment either at the inlet to the grow bed or where the water flows back to the fish tank, whatever is easiest.  Some people use an old cloth diaper for this.  But as your system starts building up a coating of bio-slime it will catch the sediment and clear the water.  Patience. 


Once you get your test kit I would recommend fishless cycling.

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