Aquaponic Gardening

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Hi all! I'm from Portugal (not intending to going anywhere :P )

I'm starting out with "sorry!" big post... and it will grow as long as I have time and questions...

I live in the country side, I have some land to plant and grow all kind of vegetables, cereals, fruits,etc
but I came across a back problem on my payed job and I struggle to use the soil (and a good one it is...)

most of the vegetables that I want to grow (and eat) are hard to maintain since the weeds are strong here... I don't like to use any herbicides of pesticides but weeds are a pain to control...
my payed job does not leave much time to take care of the land everyday so I'm turning to aquaponics as a backup. I will still use the soil for bigger things but I won't need to care as much for the weeds on those crops.

I'm in the way of starting a small/medium aquaponics system (hopefully a modular one).

I need some information from more experienced aquaponists from around the world in order to reduce the problems, fish kills and so on.

I'm yet to add the sizes and pipes but I have a layout ready:

the growbeds are cut in half blue barrels (100Lt each 16 on a first phase - not all of them planted as the system needs to grow the bacteria and so on)

for a sump its a 1000Lt IBC
as for fish tanks I have more than one since adding them later would make have to change to many things around, so I'm starting with more fish tanks than I need (later on I will need only another sump to add more growbeds)

I'm going to make a radial flow filter with a 160Lt barrel

then a bio-filter with a 200LT barrel (since I'm not able to find a commercial bio-filter media locally. I'm going to fill it with leca (same as the grow beds)

since the leca won't swirl around much in the filter, I may have to add a couple of aquarium wave makers in order to force the leca around (plus some air stones in the filter)

for pumps: I want a 2 pump system (if one fails... the system goes on until replacement) and the DC backup water and air pumps (for the fish to survive :D)

at this stage I'm calculating a minimal 3300Lt/h pump about 4600Lt/h ideal (with extra oomph for system evolution)

the pumps would be in the sump tank (lower one on the system) as the example:

the fish tanks will drain to the radial filter then bio-filter then sump (all from gravity I hope)

I'm planning to have a bell siphon (with breather tube) for each growbed (I know it will be a pain to have them all working right but... its truly simpler on the build)

the outlets from the growbeds will be 1" draining into a half-cut pipe and then either directly to the sump or to the fish-tanks (actually, its a ready made rainfall collector for catching rainwater from the roofs) 

- could anyone tell me, is it better to drain into the fish tanks or to the sump? on the build side is just about the same maybe some differences but noting much)

the fish tanks drain/radial flow/bio-filter are 1-1/2" pipe (50mm) is is to little? 2" seems a bit to much and the uniseals I could get were 1-1/2" ones.

I'm hoping I can avoid 90º curves on all the pipes (except the siphons) in order to reduce the friction and optimize the flow.

for the output from the pumps I'm planning to use 1" poly tubing for the fish tanks and the main line of the grow beds (with all the valves needed)
then for the growbeds I will take taps for every growbed with a valve on each to control the flow on every growbed.

the media for the growbeds would be Leca also...
and I have the Sera aqua test kit on the way to me.

for fish I will be starting out with goldfish right after my system cycles and stabilizes but I would like to have some tilapia, wide mouth sea bass. maybe trout (depending on the temperature I get in the water since tilapia and trout are just about in the opposite temperature ranges...)

the space I have for the the system is not a greenhouse. its cosy and comfortable but it lacks some shelter (being planned at the same time as the system since the wood comes from the same place)
I still need to clean it out since its been storage for roof tiles and some bricks, etc.

I need opinions on what I'm planning wrong in order to correct it before its to late.

I have a "stupid" budget since I want this made and I like doing it. tools are not a problem (some parts are) money could be a issue... I'm about to loose my job since my back does not let me work like my boss wants (and I can't do more than I'm doing now, and even sometimes I get worse because I did something I should not have done at work...)

I'm tired of heavily poisoned (pesticides) vegetables from the supermarket and I'm hopping to be able to have some fresh vegetables all year long (maybe some artificial lighting later on)...

for now this is just about what I have. I'm trying to plan all parts of the system in a way that I could share and re-use on other systems later so as I go along I'll try to post the most information I could to help others (I don't care if the information is not perfect. that is a problem we all have to figure out by ourselves and adapt to our circumstances.)

I car get water hyacinths, 'salvinia' and duckweed.

I want to grow the fish food since the commercial ones have fish flour, chicken and some other stuff that I don't want to remotely be near... I might have "some" commercial feeding around for the start and the panic times but... not the main diet.

btw, if anyone feels that can help. hop on! you can reply to "just one" of my questions. all information is a must at any time :D

until my next 200 page post, see you around :D

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thank you for your input! :D the "sand" I'm talking about is graded from 3 to 6mm in size. I've tested it in vinegar - no visible reaction, then I've washed some more "sand" placed with distilled water and took pH measurements - no change over time.

is this to fine of a "sand" to use?

as for filtering (from the fish tanks) I'm up to:

radial flow filter > settlement tank (maybe with some media to) > trickle filter (with static bio-bals, bath puffs, pvc shavings - all or at least some of these) > moving bed bio-filter (placed inside the sump - saving space on top of the system.

the radial flow filter has 125Lt, a plastic funnel on the inside/bottom, gonna build it tomorrow (I guess)

all the other filters are 160Lt (and I only need to but another barrel since I did not buy it from the start)

from the GB's drain I will have a paint strainer, capturing any debris, trickling into a plastic box with sponge/filter on the surrounding and any bio-media/PVC shavings, bath puffs, depending on what I can find.

I guess I'm done on filtering... I can't filter anything more from the drains, If I need any more filtering I could add a rock/sand filter (coarse sand) right after the pump, flowing to the GB's. but that is another issue for quite some time later...

I'll be adding some photos of the finished sump (with water) later tonight (if I find the energy)

any more input is really appreciated :D tomorrow I'll have some water recirculating from the FT's to the sump, then I'll be working on the filters until I get to the end of them and start on the GB's.

read you later :D

Vlad Jovanovic said:

Hi might want to forgo the sand. The International Organization for Standards (ISO 14688) grades sand into fine, medium, and coarse (coarse being 0.64mm to 2mm). In the US they sub-divide these 3 grades into 5 grades (the largest particle still not being over 2mm.

Sand, although having a wonderfully tremendous SSA (Specific Surface Area) which is great for providing our microbes surfaces to colonize...totally sucks in terms of percolation. Since the sand particles are small, there is very little void space between the individual particles of that media (the sand). This forces the water to 'trickle through it much slower than hydrocorn (or any other LECA [Light Expanded Clay Aggregate] materials), or common AP medias...expanded shale, quartz based rock etc...Most of the above people shoot for 12mm to 20mm particle sizes. There is much more void space in those other subrate medias. And since AP water is full of solids and fines you'll kinda appreciate (and eventually a few months or so) that bigger void space/percolation.

Sand while having a great SSA, makes a very poor mechanical filter. Clogs very easily and tends to make a "mess", both physically and biologically, of things. 

Hydrocorn, while not as uniform and 'pretty' has been in my experience lighter, with more wicking capacity as hydroton'. I'mm betting it even has a slightly hihger SSA than hydroton (besides, they don't make hydroton anymore as far as I'm aware...your US alternative is 'Plant !t' brand LECA. (They also use the non-uniform spherical LECA in many lightweight concrete applications (the BMW Tower in Munich built in 1970 for example) well as drilling...Anyways...

You might do yourself good to stay away from sand (or any other media with a small particle size and poor percolation) as an AP media. I know 'sand culture' make have it's place and all, but if your intent on using it because it's cheap and readily prepared to have extra stages of filtration and both solids and fines removal.

Also, if your sand is coral based sand, (Calcium Carbonate) and you have a water source from a limestone aquafer (also Calcium Carbonate) you may very likely (read: certainly) run into 'water quality management' issues that will not be good for the plants...nothing a pre-treating $3000Euro Reverse Osmosis filter couldn't take care of though (still they are very inefficient and not very water-wise

Again, many additional water quality management issues to deal with if you are set on using sand. 

Xpim said:


hydrocorn is just ugly hydroton. Nice! I did not know this thing... I'll try to find it... nearly half the growbeds are going to be a coarse sand/pebbles that are used on water well drilling... clay aggregate are still on the list...

Jack Dunbar said:

Looking good. Have you tried to find Hydrocorn?  It's very similar to hydroton but cheaper.Nice looking system. Good Luck and keep us posted

It sounds like the composition of the sand is good (your vinegar test). 2-6mm seems a bit small to me, but you'll have to try it out and see what happens over time. It's good that your thinking so much about pre-filtering.

With all that filtering, Is there a reason you aren't wanting to use DWC troughs instead of media beds?


I've been busy actually building the system. I had a problem (air lock on the first section of the pipe) so "noting worked" until I sorted that out.

I have a few photos, some more details to share... but little time since I'm tired and way pass my bed time...

the thing about DWC is that I don't feel the same about it...

I did not only thought about it. I'm actually having some DWC beds for duckweed, water hyacinths and some other.

there I could add some fresh water shrimp and crayfish. I might try some letuce on DWC and then decide if I get more DWC beds. my design should let me use a GB as DWC, media bed. the first round of GB's won't have the permanent pump supply so I could only do DWC with the time control pump on those... and I don't like the lack of oxigen on the DWC so having them flowing "once in a while" won't suit me...

final notes: I'll have DWC (at least for some fish food production) and will try out some other things there.

by the way, my filtering now is : 3x 50mm SLO on the FT's > radial flow filter > settling tank/swirl filter (still could have some adjustments) > trickling filter > moving bed bio-filter.

- the last one is not made yet. I don't have the K1 media to place there (yet)

- the trickling filter is half full with PVC shavings, home made shading cloth puffs, some "bio-sponge" and bio-balls, one bag of ceramic bio-rings and some more bio-stars (some of them will go out of this filter, I just want them populated with bacteria :D );

the other half of this filter will have some bath-puffs or more PVC shavings, brushes or other.

sleep time (2 hours ago...)!

Vlad Jovanovic said:

It sounds like the composition of the sand is good (your vinegar test). 2-6mm seems a bit small to me, but you'll have to try it out and see what happens over time. It's good that your thinking so much about pre-filtering.

With all that filtering, Is there a reason you aren't wanting to use DWC troughs instead of media beds?


it turns out the 50mm pipe are suitable, but I could have stepped up on some parts of the line... ( but did not have the uniseals for 2" and 3" is way to big...

on the other hand, the 63mm (2") line does not have most of the parts I need so 50 "had to work"

I have lots of photos some details to share & ask but I'm currently really busy actually building the system.

the FT's and filters (part of the filters that is) are running, I'm doing a fishless cycle by adding household ammonia (the non-foaming type) and I've managed to get it about 4mg/L

after 2/3 days, I got an algae problem. they sure are quick to bloom... I know I have some phosphate but I never thought it could feed the algae so quick... (my water well has some phosphate...).

as soon as I can. I'll post the pictures, details and some questions :D

Hope all is going well for you!


Sorry I've been silent all this time. lots of work (system, workplace, house), little time left to get the things here...

Plus, I'm pretty sure I won't withstand another week at my current workplace, somehow my co-workers decided to blame me for their errors, even when I'm on vacation.

The really good part is the boss that buys their story and places others blame on me.

now the interesting part:

I've got almost everything build and plumed! I still have to work on air-lines filters and back-ups (but I don't have fish yet so I have some time)

1st image: the "final" layout with the feed and drain lines drawn.

on blue: drains

on orange: feed lines

the second and third rows of GB's have 2 lines, one is the permanent pump feed and the other is the timer pump.

if i have problems on one pump I could temporarily use the other just by flipping some taps. the detail of being on a timer or permanent has to be taken into account...

I have a pumps manifold to connect the main and backup pumps, plus a tap to "bypass" if one main pump fails


unfortunately I could not afford to use PVC non-return valves so brass they are. this assembly cost me 4 times less than PVC and it is a size I could use on other projects so if I ever change to PVC non-return valves and fittings I won't loose much money.

this "simple" unit only has 4 non-return valves for my main and backup pumps. if the main fails, the backup turns on just to keep the water flowing. the backup pumps are 12VDC so they will have dual purpose, when the power goes out, they could be powered from the battery bank (hopefully feed from solar - someday I'll afford solar :) )the tap in the middle is just a last resort if a pump fails...

its been raining for quite some time now... its not normal for this amount of rain at this time of the year but I've managed to keep on working.

the lights under the roof and the roof itself made this possible :) one little detail that I had... dirt toads out of everywhere!

they are harmless, they do eat some bugs so I eventually stopped trying to relocate them.

here is a picture of 5 of them (the small ones):

hopefully soon I'll post some more pictures and details on how my system is going (construction at least)

read you soon! :D

Hi again!

bad weather coming up so I'll post some more :D

about the backup pumps, I'll need sensors to know when they fail... for that I could use expensive flow switch that cut the flow of water and are hard to get working properly with little flow... plus, they are often copper, stainless steel, and some other metals that could corrode or cause problems... so I came up with an cheap ans simple Idea. and I tested it on my lowest flow pump (the permanent one for the FT's)

it is simply a pressure switch from washing machines! its about 10$ when bought new! and I have a bunch around. I often scrap them from broken machines and keep them for projects :)


to use this I just have to take a tap on the main pump line (with micro-irrigation accessories) install a "long" 6mm tube and plug the pressure switch! then its testing time.

I have to get some pressure on the feed line in order for this unit to work. I can have that by simply slightly close the taps for the FT's and GB's. actually, in fact, I managed to successfully trigger this switch without cutting off the flow on any tap. depends on the pump and line friction (and some other details)

this switch has normally closed and normally open contacts so I can use it directly to turn on a back pump.

I'm going to install this switches on both main water pumps and later on on the air pumps as well.

I intend to have a small water and air pumps on the FT's. dedicated only for each FT. whenever the power goes out, the back-up pumps kick in, but if the power loss is to long, I can stop the "main" back-up pumps and use just the individual pumps on the FT's. this is simple enough with a multi-functions timer (sorry, I'm an electrician... and I have a degree in electronics)

drawings, details and schematics for my back-up systems will be posted upon testing/approving by myself :P

just a quick pick on the air-line control over one of my fish tanks:

here we can see the main water feed line and tap to control the flow, the air line valves manifold and the SLO breather tube that breaks the airlock that locks the flow of water...

this solution was simple, drill a tap hole, add a grommet and a rigid tube. the air leaks out, the water flows down to the RFF.

finally, I'll leave a picture on how the system is now:

the drains are not all fitted. I still have some details to get done right

but some beds are working as DWC beds just to have some water flowing and see if I can withstand the noises :)

I'll post the system details as soon as I find the time. I'll go around the FT's and filters before jumping on the GB's.

its one step at a time :D

feel free to comment and leave any idea! we never know what we can use...

later! :D


I'ts going :) I'm a few "days" away from getting some fish in the tanks :D I just need "some" bacteria to colonize the system :)

thank you for your interest :)

Reg. R. said:

Hope all is going well for you!

Love all the pix - it sure helps to better understand what you're doing. It looks like you're making a lot of progress. Wise move to use parts that can be shifted to other potential projects later, if need be. 

Btw, that's a shame to hear about your dicey work environment.

About those toads -- I'd not want to run into ones any larger than those in your pix! lol

Anyway, thanks for sharing your updates with all of us.... :~)

Hi all!

I know I'm skipping some photos for now but I feel like I'm going to have lots of time until the bacteria builds up so I will upload photos from when I was building the GB's stands and some other details on the structures...

I have a few details to share about the feed and drain lines. some details on the filtering and air supply... (list goes on)

I currently have 3 media filled beds filtering water (continuously) and 2 DWC beds just flowing water.

since I don't have any nutrients flowing (no bacteria :( ) I had to take the duckweed out of a DWC bed and placed it on a tray with just a little liquid fertilizer. the duckweed were yellowing with low nitrogen levels (actually: 0 level :P )

I'm currently devouring any information I can find about microbes/bacteria and cycling the system, adding & controlling ammonia.

now one question:

how can I rush the bacteria development in my system?

- my PH is set at 8, I did not made any change to it.

- my nutrients (all) nitrides and iron are exactly 0 right now.

- ammonia is about 5ppm.

- GH from the start was 3 or 4

- KH from the start was 15

I have 1 filter with almost 120Lt of nylon mesh of area to populate with bacteria.

air supply is running on 1 38Lt/H piston air pump second pump is to loud so I'm not using it right now.

when the time comes, I'll divert the air to the tank using the fish, reducing or cutting the other tanks air supply.

Its on the list: order better piston pump. I was wondering on 1 or 2 60Lt piston pump. feeding air to the 3 fishtanks. moving bed bio-filter & compost/worm/fish solids brewer/digester/processor/mineralization.

I was actually testing with refrigerator air compressors since they have a good flow, loads of pressure and are really easy to find.

the hard part is keeping them lubricated, lowering the heat and finding one unit that does not blast 400W from the outlet...

adding filters and oilers the keep the motor/compressor running good... its a hard work to get done... I tested but left the idea for other projects.

I'm yet to test with an car AC compressor! those units could do the work, supplying loads of air with enough pressure fight the height of the water (my piston pump has some trouble with the pressure...)

back to the bacteria, can anyone help me out? how can I get the bacteria going faster?

write to you soon :D

I've got "some" Nitrites! about 0.5mg/L (really near 5ppm)! adding some plants and water from my uncle's careless pond seem to helped out a bit!

that or the water lettuce that my mom gave me... of the salvinia, or duckweed, or just the time I've been cycling the system :D

since I've added some plants "to test out" I've added a quick compost tea from my really good ready compost (made here)
I came to 25ppm of nitrate, some potassium and about 5ppm of phosphorous! I'm brewing some worm compost/castings and "soon" I'll use some on the system.

in a week or 2 I'll start getting fish there :D I just have to see the ammonia lowering down a few more days and hope for the PH to lower itself to about 7. if not, I'll correct the PH and then, add fish :D

I've found some leaks on the air control valves... I'm a little worried but I can't find a replacement part that seems better than the one I got... I don't know for now. these are Chinese. not made to hold this pressure...n almost 1 meter of water in a air line and these leak...

I have photos and details to share... little time though... maybe sometime this week...

read you all soon! thanks for the support :D

I would love to add an updates picture on how the system is now but :D I'm going to nag about it and post pictures from when I was building it. I'll comment them and soon enough we will see "how the system is now" :)

anyway, I've been having personal problems: my back got to me at work (something I should not have done) and I had a fight with my boss. I'm quitting that workplace and I don't know when or how I will find another work. I had an interview and all was going well until I had to mention my back problem. I won't probably be called again from there. I feel better now that I'm out of that workplace, some friends noticed that I'm "lighter" and "brighter" so it must be good right? at least I can keep my mind in one piece :D

back to the aquaponics, I've measured the water again: still have some ammonia, nitrites are decaying, the PH is still high (about 8.0) and the nitrates are somehow higher than 25ppm.

I have some plants: a few strawberry, 4 lettuce, 2 purple cabbage, a shoot of lemmon balm (pulled out from my terrain), some Chard (pulled from the terrain). plus some water plants: water lillys, water letuce, salvinia, duckweed.

I'm starting some plants from seed: parsley, sweet red peppers, mung beans, purple lettuce, water cress.

I will start some more and buy some more plants (they are cheap and its quick... I want to populate the system with plants and see their demand...

until now, all the plants I've placed in the system didn't even wilt a bit!

example: the strawberries, I've been keeping them in small containers with compost (completely worn out now) for almost and year...I taken them out, washed the compost out, did quite some root pruning and placed them on a GB. I never even remotely thought they would adapt instantly and start new growth! the new leaves are perfect! one of the plants had flowers and I did not cut them to see... the flower keep going beautifully!

the mother plants were forgotten along the time and 2 of them are still alive, I'll try to dig them out and replant to the aquaponics system (I have to respect them since they are really strong :D!

I'm now starting a diary on the system. anything I plant, seed or add I'll write down in order to keep track. I've been kinda out of myself for the last few weeks... little to no sleep, work stress, pain, a tad bit of depression (after quitting the job I took care of the dreadful depression :D the first step is to cut the problems down, my workplace was the biggest one so...)

since I cannot trust on my memory for the time being: writen information is a must :D

I'll keep a record on every plant I put on the AP system with all the info I can get there in order to replicate or improve results with that species.

how I jump started the system could not have been the best or the most correct way but "I'm in a hurry" so getting the plants from my uncle's pond (actually, its a swamp right now...) some water with all the decaying matter, dirt, bacteria, worms on the root systems of the water lillys, etc etc helped out to start seeing some nitrites production. I've measured my systems water before adding the plants/water, I've measured the water from the pond and both had no nitrites on them :D 3 days after, I was seeing slowly lowering on the ammonia, and nitrites going up!

then, I had to feed the plants I had on the system so I started brewing some worm compost tea with some finished compost from my pile. I've done a quick "wash" of compost and "dumped" the nutrient rich water to the system. since my compost got really strong I've stepped the nitrates to about 25ppm and got some phosphate, probably some potash (but I don't have way to measure the potassium just yet)

I've notice some improvements on the the duckweed looks and other plants, and when I felt the worm compost was finished, added a little bit to the system, keept is running a few days more and added the rest.

since I don't have the filters (about 190 microns) I got some debris on the water... I now have to scrub the sump and fishtanks (but I don't mind since now I can have plants! and in some days I could add fish :D

I have "all" the GB's plummed (2 of them I don't have the uniseals yet. I can't get them from the UK so they will come from the America! they should take about 60 days to get here... I only have 3 GB's filled with leca/river stones and all the others are on hold... the rain and the cold has set in and I can't do practically anything its very windy also...

now, after almost 300 pages of text (that I doubt anyone would read) I'll place some photos :D

first: my compost area:

I have those 4 boxes made from pallets. I'm yet to finish some details to help out the use of them but they are fine for now, If I need to move them, I only have to ask my "front" neighbor to bring the forklift "tool" on his tractor and up they go to the new place :D

and my finished compost:

if you could only touch it! this one composted for about 1 year. I have it shaded on order to keep the weeds on it to grow to big. they get there with the wildlife and wind. the ones that germinate I pull out and place on the other composting box.

now: I was building the first GB stand and noticed some details I could correct and improve! when in place, me and my mom came to the conclusion that we could change the side so the frame would fit inside the 2 poles intended to support the beans of peas (or others) so here it is the original stand:

it took me some more time but I changed the stand to fit "better" in place (wait for the next post and you'll see :) )

I know, I know: I'm keeping the best for the last :D hang on! you will see and in some time, you will be really tired of me :D

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