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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Oh my goodness - your set up looks GREAT! What a nice job you've done.(Even your colorful fish look happy!)  I'll bet your family can't wait to sample the future harvests.


I agree with Reg! Your AP system rocks! but what really got me hooked is the story behind it. "An Aquaponists journey" - can't wait for your next post.

Hi again!

I'm struggling to get chelated iron at fair prices + shipping. the last quote in the UK was 135€ just on shipping alone for 3Kg...

that should last for over one year but that is not tested out yet...

on the fish side: the mosquito fish I had did not survive. they started swimming slower and slower as soon as the water cleared up... they stopped feeding and eventually died one or 2. I've isolated them and try to feed them small mosquito larva with no luck. soon they were belly up... they were hard to keep with good quality water and maybe they did not adapt to the temperature (maybe some other causes).

one of my black comet goldfish started acting strange. swimming slowly, not feeding... I've isolated him but he is dieing.

it has fin rot clearly visible now. the other 2 black comets seem fine. one of them is less active than the other...

none of the other fishes seem to be ill and going their normal life.

I will check the black comets again along the day, if I find any problem I'll isolate them and keep them away from the others.

the ambient temperature dropped quickly... but the water slowly and consistently lowered the temperature being now at about 15ºC. most of the fish are less active but still swimming perfectly. the koi carps are calm as usual and the shubunkins merge with all the others like they were the very same species.

I'm a little worried about my fish but I can't do much more. the ammonia and nitrites are set at absolute 0 and the PH does not vary much along the day/night...

its still a little high and I'm not compensating it at all... as soon as I get the iron chelates I will need to correct it slightly in order to use the chelated iron properly...

I have 4 GB's that have some "bad stones" in them. I have plants on them so I don't want to go trough them and/or isolate and acidify them temporarly.

when I fill the other GB's I might go for the acidification (to burn the carbonates on those GB's) but one by one, waiting for the previous one to re-populate with the nitrifiing bacteria.

I'm in the way (study) of breeding live fish food for the fish: duckweed (not going very well right now), dirt worm/composting worm, mosquito larva (I have to study about them... they are not fattening up like the ones I find in the system), brine shrimp - still under study, and maybe some amphipod if I find it easy...

I'll report back with news and ore some photos when I find the time. this is my full time job right now... its going pretty well as far as I can tell :D

read you soon :)

Hi all!

unfortunately the black comet goldfish died over night... all the other are just fine... this one must have eaten something that he could not digest...

and peas are not their main dish (I have to make them hungry on order to make them eat peas :P )

I've been really busy around the house and aquaponics and some other issues, time runs away and I can't keep up with it...

I'm in the way of getting 20 Mozambique tilapias from a local breeder. not really cheap but its the lowest price I'm getting... (still under negotiation)

I've dragged the PH down to about 7.00 and added some "trace amounts" of iron chelates (near 0,5ppm of iron in the system) and I saw some plants jumping up! its not growing, is actually jumping :D

I've been catching some caterpillars on my lettuce a few every day... I have to use some aquaponics-safe/home-made spray to get rig of those critters... and I don't have the needed herbs to make it now... I'll just grab the bugs for now...

since the PH was (still is) rising slowly from traces of limestone in my Gb's, I've decided to burn them with acid! I add acid to the GB (isolated from the system) dilute it with water, add a small old aquarium pump to circulate the acid solution and wait. after a few minutes the foam stops and I manage to find the bigger and more problematic stones. I remove all the stones that are visibly reacting and let the GB rest overnight. the next day, if I can't see any bubbles. I check the PH of the solution (should be under 2 or even 1) and if its still a strong acid, means that the GB is now clean out of the annoying carbonates!

then I purge the acid solution into a barrel (to use the acid again) and flush the GB with new water. cleaning and flushing out the vestigial acids there.

I have one GB that I won't bathe with acid since I can't relocate the plants there...

I have 4 Gb's that all the stones were carefully selected, even so they might still have some "bad stones" but I will leave them as they are...

all the new filled GB's are going to be bathed with acid before getting connected to the system.

I have one "old" GB that has not been carefully selected but it has some plants that will be relocated ant then it will get a bath :D

I manage to keep the PH in check with one drop of diluted (16%) hydrochloric acid every 4 to 6 seconds (permanently dripping) that sums up to less than half a litter of 16% acid daily.

I still think that is to much and I rather need to buffer the PH up with eggshells or seashells than lowering it with acid...

hopefully I'll have the system cleaned up of "bad stones" soon enough. adding more fish will surely help out a little bit... but I can't use so much time selecting the stones and risking getting the PH to high so, I'll burn them before use!

This way I won't kill the beneficial bacteria on the GB's and when it is flushed out of acids I'll plug it to the system!

Ive installed a nylon trellis for the peas and beans to climb on! photos sometime later :D)

one of this (rainy) days I found a newt near the system. I did not take a picture since he was already to scared but I found a picture online for one just like him!

the only difference, "mine" was fatter :D

I manage to find new bugs and animals around the system every day :D

soon I'll report back with news :D

Hi all!

I just fount another newt around the system! this one was resting under a small compost bag I have here for brewing!

I've relocated him to another location but I've realized I made a mistake... she (actually a female) was completely full of eggs!

since they lay eggs in water I could have made her a quick bucket pond or something... in the sump I can't arrange a setup that could accommodate more wildlife... I don't really mind... I'm just afraid they mess up  the system... and its not a really safe zone, I have the pumps there... their larva could be sucked and get dumped in the fish-tanks... (or GB for that matter). if they survive the trip out of the pump, ending in a GB would be horrible... and on a fish tank... probably a quick death from the hungry fish...

are the newt larva toxic to fish? (did not remembered that until now...)

about the "more wildlife"... I found a frog in the sump tank today!

captured it, taken some pictures :D

she´s small! about 3 centimeters long ( around 7 end to end when stretched :D )

after the photo session. I placed it back in the sump... I don't know how far they can travel but the nearest water way is a "dead" river with little to no water flowing... almost 700 meter away from my house (& system)

I do have some more irrigation lakes "near" almost 4 kilometers away... since it is raining so much I understand they could appear... but I don't know from were... :P

would it be a problem to have a frog in the sump? and some newt? or both?

should I try to relocate the frog?

I know I'm going to put both pumps inside a paint strainer... it would be hard to clean up but I won't catch any debris or some wildlife that decides to take a plunge in my system...

I've managed to reduce the acid I need to add to control the PH down to a bit less than halve...the PH rises but slowly so I can control it with small amounts of acid (1 drop every 6 to 10 seconds).

isolating (and fixing) the problematic growbeds surely did help!

I'm getting 22 Mozambique Tilapias soon! (hopefully this week :D ) so I can reduce or cut the acid to control the PH! :D

I now have 4 GB's that I think I should burn the carbonates with acid and then reconnect them to the system...

one of them I know to cause problems. the other 3 are barely noticeable... unfortunately I can't treat them until the plants on it finish their purpose!

so I guess getting more fish is the way to go :D

little news I know... its been raining so hard the past week that I don't feel good to be outside... I still spend the time outside doing all kinds of stuff :D

I have to finish on the GB's filling in order to get to other details on the system... I need to start working on the back-up pumps and battery bank... I have one in the attic to power the well water control and some valves... I'm going to relocate it to use in the aquaponics along with other controls...  (and that other controls are not finished...)

for now its a 14Ah 12V bat. I'll only power some aerators and small pumps in the tanks, not the "main backup pump", it uses to much power and I want to have backup air for more time.

sometime "soon" I will work on solar panels to feed part of the system. connected to the battery bank...

I'll document all the details I can on the back-up and solar, bla bla bla bla :P when the time comes, I'll write it down :D

I have to get to bed. very tired and cold...

write you tomorrow!

Hi all!

one of my koi started to show dropsy! :S I've isolated him, gave him a salt bath, and it is now medicated and getting better, I just can hope he heals good!

some other fish seem to be slower than normal... but maybe I'm just too worried. if I find others with problems, I'll just do the same I did to the other one :D since he is now half the fish he was (half bloated) he only shown the problem on the back-side, near the tail fin... hard to notice since it was really in the beginning...

My tilapias are in the system! they seem to be fine, just a little scared when I get them. and I feel they need more heat... I'm at 18ºC on that water (as for now my temperature can swing from 16ºC to 27ºC. I'm yet to see with the full system running and with the lowest temperature I can get in a few months from now... and with the top peak of summer (I had hot days... even so the water did not raise more than 27ºC...)

I still feel I have so much to do and I'm scared if I can't keep the fish in good condition...

at the pet store they told me "that happens when they eat the same food for to long" meaning they either know its a fact... or they want me to buy more foods from them...

anyway, I'm trying home made foods soon enough! I could take some time getting it right but i guess its the way to go...

at least I can select what it has in it... I can even a little bit of garlic as a anti-parasitic medicine.

all the fish seem to be feeding alright. they don't eat much and not furiously as in the begining but, it is coulder now... and (just maybe) they are tired from that "same food" :P

I don't really know what to do on the fish side... I've been reading a lot on fish lately, and I can't find a pointer that tells me I'm doing something wrong... maybe overfeeding a little bit (that one I feel I'm guilty... I didn't find the right amount of food just yet...)

on the PH side, I've removed the acid yesterday morning. it slowly got up to 7.5 (from about 7) in 36H... so +0.5PH on 24/36H does not seem much... I'm afraid on the chelated iron side... they are about on the limit that its said to be stable...

and I don't know if the PH keeps on raising... I have "a few" untreated GB's that could have some traces of limestone that are pulling the PH up...

and as the fish are not pulling the PH down from the nitrification... I'm afraid I could need to use more acid to keep the values to be useful...

I guess its all for tonight... Have little news, if they confirm, I'll report tomorrow :D

good night!

it seems all my fish are fine!

even the dropsy one (isolated, under treatment) is almost fine now :D
I've captured, checked and gave a salt bath to some of them that I'm not fully relaxed about... one of the black comets (its actually bronze) if "fat"! as far as I can see he could be a little sick. if he does not seem to get better soon, I'll isolate him and control his feed for a while. for now, he seems fine :D

I'm mostly over-worried. one thing I know, home made foods are the way to go! all of them loved them!  the goldfish, the koi, the shubunkins and the tilapia! I've also hanged some cucumber in the tanks for a couple of hours. all the fish had go there to take a bite :D

I guess its going good! the PH is still a little bit higher... at least today, a while after feeding, I've noticed the PH lowering a little :D

not enough but better than noting! :D
more news tomorrow! (I guess)

Haha, well I'm glad to see you found a solution for the fish, with the homemade food and all. Funny, I like eating my seafood with a little garlic - and here you are feeding your fish the garlic! Those lucky critters. All kidding aside, you must be relieved that the fish are healthy and eating. Good job.


Hi all!

I've been busy, bad weather all around... and some other issues...

on the fish: some sick, treated and only one of them died since he was not swimming and got stuck on the aquarium heater on the hospital tank. its a low power heater but the fish was weak... it was hard to get this one healed right since he was in & out of sickness. one symptom out, another in...

I'm trying to find pool salt but nearly all the near swimming pool supply stores are closed down (bankrupt) I've found one with salt (not so near) but its "fine sea salt" with an anti-caking agent... the store does not know which anti-caking agent is there, and the manufacturer did not reply to me yet. on the information they have online, its NaCl, Mg and Ca (very little traces of calcium and magnesium. as for the anti-caking agent, it could be sodium bicarbonate but I'm waiting on the manufacturer details.

on the GB's its going slow. I've been working around other issues here... will star again with those next week!

the chelated iron has arrived! I still have a little from a aquarium store in Germany... maybe tomorrow I'll measure the iron present in the system and correct it if needed. (lost track of time on the iron in system... I have to start writing down...

the PH is still kinda high. 7.5 to 7.8...

the new air pump has arrived! its huge! really does the job! with very little heat! :D I've noticed some changes on the tilapia behavior on the next day I've installed the new pump :)

I laid out a few meters of black irrigation tubing to capture the sun's heat (when available) and it does help a little on heating the water temperature :)

I've also added the 2000W heater and I'm running it when the power cost is lower...

water temp now: 20ºC :)

I'm trying to find the time to build a solar collector for heating the water more efficiently with less money on the power bill... its not much more money but I want to reduce it to zero if possible.

solar panels and batteries are not possible just yet... no money for those, no structures either...

I've planted some brassicas and they are going really good! :D the beans and peas are god either :D

oh, the watercress is looking really good! I still have a few strawberry flowers and I have one strawberry gaining color! :D(maybe some photos tomorrow)

I have some string algae all around the salvinia water fern on a water GB (ornamental & experiment) I don't really know how to remove/reduce the algae and it looks ugly... not much worry there. I should have different setup for the aquatic plans by now...

I have little other news... I'm running after a job right now. I'm yet to find one but I'm working on it... so I have to spend a few hours searching for one every day...

oh, I just remembered. my daphnia starter culture died out... I might have overfeed it... the water started to smell and from night to day, all dapnias were dead... when I get the time/money/right conditions, I'll start again and try it out.

all the backup systems are undone... I'm starting to worry about all this but I'm late on other issues around the house... :(

I'll get it done soon :D

write you all more tomorrow! (I guess...)

Hi Xpim

You can also get aquarium salt from an aquarium store. That's where I get mine as it is closer to me. I probably pay more for it but I haven't needed it yet. We just went through a power outage for approx. 2 days and I was really concerned about losing my fish due to lack of oxygen but my aerator with Battery backup (built in) did the trick. The fish got abit sluggish but all survived. Take care...


Hi Xpim,

Sodium ferrocyanide (E535), and Potassium ferrocyanide (E536) are the most common anti-caking agents used by salt producers today. A looong time ago in the past Magnesium carbonate (E504) was used, but that has long since become 'too expensive' for salt producers. I'm not aware of Sodium bicarbonate being used in that capacity (at least certainly not as a common commercial/industrial anti-caking agent for use in salts)...

I've formulated, specifically for Aquaponics (not for aquaria, and not for hydroponics, but aquaponics) fish salts that are also plant beneficial, that Sylvia has shown interest in selling through her store. If you are interested, just let me know. Pool salt is mostly sodium salt (ok for aquariums, but isn't something you really need in aquaponics...not that it's necessarily bad for the fish, it is just not very helpful at all to the plants)...

Here are some of the things that my AP salts are designed to do...

- Promote healthy slime coat (glycocalyx) in fish

- Help mitigate nitrite poisoning in fish

- Aid in osmotic regulation in fish

 - Provides plant essential elements in good quantity...particularly essential for fruiting plants (both macro and secondary)

- Microbe friendly

- Can be a very good addition while cycling a new system

I know you are in Spain, but I ship things all over the world, and it's not really that expensive if you ship person to person (business to person is another story sometimes...with VAT and custom duties and all)...

It's good to see your system is progressing nicely btw...


in my local aquarium store, they don't know what aquarium salt is hahahaha :P

I've tried to contact a tropical fish store (tropical marine center iberia) and I got no response. I've tried more than once but they seem to just ignore. they surely just don't want to sell to me...

and I know they have lots of materials, medication, cheap and really expensive fish, aquariums and all sort of supplies... I've done some work there with my last job... I'll see what I can find later on...

Jack Dunbar said:

Hi Xpim

You can also get aquarium salt from an aquarium store. That's where I get mine as it is closer to me. I probably pay more for it but I haven't needed it yet. We just went through a power outage for approx. 2 days and I was really concerned about losing my fish due to lack of oxygen but my aerator with Battery backup (built in) did the trick. The fish got abit sluggish but all survived. Take care...


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