Aquaponic Gardening

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My experimental 10 gallon aquaponics tank - shooting for eventual organic indoor gardening

So I started this tank about a month ago.  I have a ton of experience with fish tanks and with houseplants (though this is my first attempt to combine the two) .  I'm a personal chef in the Seattle area, and have been thinking about where the food I'm teaching comes from.  I'm hoping this phase 1 experiment is a success by winter's end, then I can start phase 2 with a bigger tank and edible veggies - though still ornamental fish.

 This is a pic from when I first set up the tank.  I don't have much room - or experience with aquaponics.  Of all the systems I read about, I've read a lot that said there are many ways to set up.  I decided to use the lava rocks as my bio filter, solid filter, and growing medium.  I have a small tank with a larger pump, so lots of circulation and exposed surface area (with water streaming down sides of the central vase) so didn't feel the need for additional filtration.  In case anyone is wondering, this set up is meant to be more beautiful than anything else.  By the end of winter I want a lush, planted tank that is healthy with min upkeep - hence all the use of glass bricks & vases.  I'm also using as many recycled materials as I can.

To my surprise, the tank cycled faster than I thought it should.  It cycled without fish, just the two plants (a sickly ficus from a friend that I cured of spider mights and a schefflera in the same condition) that had some decaying organic matter still clinging on the roots.  About a week after starting, it seemed ready to go.  I'm not using any chemicals in the system, not even to get rid of chlorine (I let the water sit first) - even though I'm not eating the houseplants, I'm going for organic here.  Based on observation, plant reaction, and my prior knowledge of tanks & chemistry - I went for fish about a week later.

These are my first two fish.  One of them got damaged in the first couple days - then disappeared on his own - very odd.

  Since then, I've added two more goldfish, two more aux filters (I wanted max space in a 10 gallon for bacteria) and more plants.  I'm currently growing a ficus, schefflera, dieffenbachia, creeping ficus, ivy, spider plant, christmas cactus, java moss, and various terrestrial mosses on top of the filters.  The way the filters are set up is the pump directs water through hoses to the bottom of the containers.  The water flows up through the lava rocks & roots, then spills back out into the tank.  So far everything seems very healthy, the water is nice and clear, and the fish are growing and happy.  


  The water has remained clear, free of smells & I have seen other life start to flourish such as two types of snails, some baby slugs, and even a centipede (I welcome these critters as part of the natural cycle, plus there's not much room for a population to get out of control). Not just enormous root growth, but also full leaf production.  Most plants have shown a significant amount of growth in the past two to three weeks, much more than I would have expected.  No yellowing or small leaves, and reaching full maturity.  Old leaves also look very healthy.  The only thing I did notice was some, not all, of the leaves on the ficus have a warped, crumpled look.  They are not dry (it is planted in water, LOL) they are soft and green as a new leaf should be.  Then grow bigger into a mature leaf - but look weird.  Can't figure out why, its also not the whole plant, just some of the leaves.  

The only other thing I noticed (I'm doing a lot on observation and no test kits for this first one because I'm literally doing this on a dime) the other day was my goldfish gulping at the top and a bit of highly foamy water.  Wasn't a problem before, but I was thinking low O2.  In the pic above you can see a tan line looping down off the main filter vase.  That's some natural twine I added to divert some of the water flow away from the side of the vase to drip down on top of the water and break some surface tension and help with O2 exchange.  I added four such dripping pieces yesterday - and so far the fish seem happier (not gulping anymore and happily swimming near the bottom of tank now) plus zero foam.  Looks like I fixed the problem, I'm guessing as the O2 needs for fish, plants & bacteria went up, the initial agitation was no longer enough?

Anyway, this is my first aquaponics tank - any feedback or thoughts are quite welcome, and I'm new to this site so it would be nice to hear from some more experienced users :)

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This is very cool. My son just setup his very first fish tank. I like your idea of the vases and the pump going through the bottom and flowing over the top. I'm going to use your idea as a basis for him to start his own aquaponic project. This is very pretty too!
Thanks Hollie! It was fairly easy and cheap, lots of goodwill materials and things I already had lying around. If you have any questions let me know. I do recommend cycling the tank without fish first. Mine only took maybe a week, and to do it fishless (so the poor things don't suffer) I made sure there was some decaying matter on the plant roots to break down into ammonia and help the nitrifying bacteria start to grow. If you haven't seen this before, you can literally watch the water get cloudy & thick, then clear up as the bacteria grow. Anyway, I', rambling, good luck, would love to see some pics!
Ricky my sons tank has been cycling for 7 days now. Yesterday it turned cloudy, almost milky. I read this is normal for a new tank. After he put water in his tank he added those dechlorination drops. Last night he tested the PH at 7.5. So when the tank clears up, does that indicate that it's cycled?
Those are the steps I always follow - and yes, the milky look is normal. It's a build up of ammonia which triggers the growth of nitrifying bacteria. If he has a test kit he should test for nitrite levels as well. That is what you are looking for before you add fish - as long as the levels are within the range on the kit, it should be good. Don't add too many fish too fast, it will help teach your son patience, LOL.
OK Perfect then :) The one thing I did do was order live plants online. He picked them out, I paid LOL. Anyway they will be here in a matter of days. Probably Monday. Those can go into the tank immediately? or did we jump the gun?
There are varied opinions on that - and I am by far an expert - but I'm always good with plants before fish, especially if the tank had cycled already. Are they aquatic plants you ordered or are they plants to create the aquaponics system you talked about? Either kind should be fine to add - a word about fish though - until the the plants (if they are aquatic) are well established, goldfish are not a good idea (I don't know what kind your son wants) because they like to eat and will treat the plants as a salad buffet, LOL! older plants can usually endure it, but younger ones will get uprooted and eventually die from the chewing. I have goldfish in mine, and used to have a floating fern called azolla on top - it was all gone within a week because of my greedy little friends :)
They are aquatic plants, leafy looking. I'll have to look their names up. My son doesn't seem interested in goldfish(I love the fancy ones). He wants to start off with neon tetras and ONE red tail shark that he saw in the per store. We learned tetras are good beginner fish. He also researched the red tail and apparently they like plants and need to be solo.

I almost got some ferns! The plants I got were max 3.50$ free shipping! I got one as low as 2.00$ free shipping. :) on ebay!
Oh good, tetras are great fish - I believe they do best in shoals of 6 or more - it keeps them calm and more likely to survive. Love you got your plants for a good price and that your son did his research. Put some pics in our thread when you get everything,would love to see them! And, of course if you have anymore questions :-)
Absolutely I will and thanks for the help :) I'm also focusing on my aquaponic setup that is outside already and it has been cycling for two weeks. Still have no fish and dunno if I should plant in the grow bed yet or what? My tank doesn't have algae yet though. I only have duckweed growing in it.
I live in an apt and haven't gotten to do anything outside yet. As long as you've tested the water and all levels are good, I'd say start to plant/ad fish, slowly, and see where it goes. You'll never know if you don't try.

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