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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Hi again!

I told you I would get back to you with news! and since the rain does not quit... here I go:

less text more image:

now that is the final frame! I will bolt it down to the vertical poles just to be safer about it! :D I just want to get all the beds filled up first! when all the wood is set in place, with the weight of gravel & water and does not move anymore, I'll drill and bolt the frames :D

next: my near finished sump (insides only)

the parts missing there are the backup pumps, the moving bed bio-filter air supply and media itself. the automatic fill valve for when the level gets to low.

an automatic fill valve from a toilet flusher system - to set up this auto-filler I'll have to fill all the GB's to the top, then place the unit at the correct height inside the sump (just a tad bit under the level that I find normal when the GB's are filled).

I had to add a UV clarifier to the system since (even with little water exposed to light) I had an algae bloom... the place for it was there to be occupied anyway... I only plug it in when I start to see algae blooming.

and of course, the sump wood cover... I had little time and some details are still under construction...

now: the moving bed bio-filter barrel

since the pipe work actually was making a air-lock and then a siphon from the filter before, making some noise... I drilled a small hole on the pipe, inside the previous filter, added a breather tube and be the suction of the moving water down the drain, acts as a venturi, naturally adding some air to the moving bed bio-filter. even so, I placed 2 airstones inside that barrel (yet to be connected to the air line) so the moving bed could aerate and move away properly.

I've been checking the photos... I actually don't have an updated one... today I can't take any since the rain really does not stop :(

I could take some photos of the details on the pluming side of the GB's and some other details...

I'll see what I come by...

read you soon!

Hi again!

I got exited so here are the "final" photos of today!

the drain part of the GB's!

here we can see the 1" drain/overflow for the GB and the 16mm line with tap.

this line and tap is there to control the drain time and, by letting the 16mm tube up the GB a few cm's, have the minimal level on the GB warranted.

with this control I can make a GB to run like a constant flow, timed flow, DWC with just the turn of a tap :D

on the DWC and constant flow I just have to close this drain valve and the GB will drain from the 1" overflow.

(one of these days I found a snail trying to escape from this 1" overflow, blocking the water from draining. I could not pull it out so eventually he sliped and got sucked into the drains. I could not find him so it escaped or its still there :P)

the first row of GB's does not have the permanent pump line so I can't make DWC or constant flow/flood beds on that line.

now: a quick view

here we can see the only beds that I have finished... we can also see the yet to be used space between the to sets of beds... when I find the need, I'll install a 200/300mm PVC pipe with caps on the ends, holes on the top, gravel/leca on the inside and use it for more plants :D

that same pipe will go to the front of the system, for me to plant melon, pumpkin, watermelon, some others that I can't plant in the middle of this system.

since those are spring/summer plants, I have time to add that... and see if I can actually grow that many plants...

now: the new growth on the strawberry!

as we can see, that strawberry plant has all kind of deficiencies! I cannot even try to imagine how its keeps alive! but now on the AP (still with no fish yet) the new leaves are green, not showing any problems and the flower did not wilt or decay! its perfect :D and this is just one of them, all the other show new growth without any problems (yet and hopefully later to!)

when the time comes, I'll clip out all the ugly leaves out so the plant grows new and healty ones :D

its about all for now!please comment if you notice anything I should/could do to make this better :D

oh & BTW:

I wanted to make strawberry towers! but I did not find the time yet... and now the funds are limited so strawberry on the GB's it is! for now... I do have a lot more to place here...

please give me your opinion!

Hi all!

I've sorted my workplace issues for good! my boss decided to start a fight with me and attack me, more than once along the day so... the next day I tried to talk to him to find a way for me to quit without hassle for the company (and myself) and he started to make the situation worse with threats of a lawyer, court and (best of them all) mentioned physical attack that "could be" towards me. so, now we are most probably going to court because he wants to. somehow, he need to be told by a court house that he is wrong.

I'm having trouble sleeping and I'm kind of a mess because of all this, so I'm keeping busy running the system :D


ammonia = 0

Nitrites less than 5ppm

Nitrates: over 50ppm

some phosfate

no iron

no copper

KH of 7

PH was going at round 8.5 so I've added hydrochloric acid until I saw a 7.2 (round)

tomorrow I'll measure again and see if it went up of down... maybe some river rocks have traces of limestone or the leca is buffering the PH up...

if I see the system going for 8.5 again, I won't know how to "fix" it part from adding acid until the system does not need it anymore (if that ever happens... ) all the plants are going fine, except the lemon balm taken from the earth. somehow it started dieing and new shoots came out from the root at the same time. no problem there, I have quite some more that I can take and place on the system.

its been cold here...but now I have lots of sun again! I'm back at 20ºC during the night (23ºC on the water now) and I've started to notice some plants growing faster.

I'm washing  and selecting the river rock to fill the growbeds and I'm starting "some" plants from seed in order to place them in the system.

now that I have plenty of time, and need to occupy my mind I can see the system going better :D

I've been given 6 mosquito fish and 2 koi carp! I'm yet to put them in the system since I have high nitrites and the PH is not right down settled just yet :)

I have the fish in a 80Lt tub placed inside one of the system's tanks in order to keep the temperature "controlled" (higher inertia) and its running on the system's air line.

I have to make almost daily partial water changes to control the PH's and ammonia & nitrates... I've made a quick 1.5 Liter filter with a small pump and some bacteria populated bio-balls to try to keep the levels down a bit...

I'll wrap it up for tonight, tomorrow or something I might have something more to share :D

read you later ;)

Hi all!!

I've bumped into a "stone" wall! my PH was at about 8.5 so I've tried to correct it by adding some hydrochloric acid.

eventually I got it near 7.0 but is slowly went up to 8.23 in the morning. I've corrected it again and checked how quick or when did it rise again... so it steps up whenever the GB's fill up and drain but it goes up slowly even when the Gb's are drained.

so I made a decision and tested out the river rocks (again). took a larger sample and found some "other" stones that show some signs of reaction to vinegar... I've been flipping one GB at a time (did one today) in order to take the "bad" stones out of the system...

I still don't know if it will be enough but what can I do more?

after I'm finished checking the Gb's (6 more to go... some more to fill with selected pebbles...) I feel that I will have to add some acid every day to keep the PH in check... I don't feel like it... it does not seem right. I'm afraid I could miss some pebbles that react and see this problem recurring...

I noticed the PH rise after the ammonia got to 0... do the nitrites release acidity when get converted to nitrates?

I hope the nitrification process cuts down on the PH for me... right now I don't know where I could get "river rock" without the "bad" stones in it... and I can't afford a processed decorative stone... I'm kinda in a panic here. but that could be the tiredness and bad sleep lately...

please tell me what I should do more? thanks! :D

What a shame that your boss amped up the situation at work to such an explosive level. Sounds like you were left with few options there. Anyways, you've sure made a lot of progress with your Aquaponics project! Hope you can solve your stone issue soon.

Best of luck,



work problems are probably going to be sorted out. my boss freaked out and called me to find an agreement that suits us both (or at least part...)

so that is partially taken off my mind.

the stones are being sorted as well... it takes time but its better. also. the cycling is not over just yet. its going good :D

thank you for the support! :)

Reg. R. said:

What a shame that your boss amped up the situation at work to such an explosive level. Sounds like you were left with few options there. Anyways, you've sure made a lot of progress with your Aquaponics project! Hope you can solve your stone issue soon.

Best of luck,


Hi all!

measured the levels again and I was good to add the fish, balanced out the PH's of the fish temporary location and after the values were in check, I've added the fish.

I never thought they would be so calm in the new enviroment. and I did not see one thing coming... I wont need to clean um the bottom since they either do-it of lift the debris and gets caught on the SLO pipe.

since the plastic mesh I have in the bottom of the SLO is to wide gor the mosquito fish, I've added a finer netting (temporarily) to void having fish get suck and have a ride to the trickle filter were they could die...

so the tank clogged up the SLO input, overflow a little, and some mosquito fish got in the filters.

I captured 2 in one filter (safely swimming) and 3 in the trickle filter.

The smallest one did not make is. he got crushed by the weight of the water "raining" down on him...

all other seem to be fine! my brother in law brought me one more koi carp and 3 goldfish (he forgot the species...) and they do seem to get along pretty much fine, they started swimming packed together right after some minutes inside the water.

also did have to balance the PH since they came in a pretty acid water (5.5 to 6.0 water the goldfishes)

I've sorted some issues out. took the fine net from the SLO and placed it in the last water filled filter so now it does not overflow (still need to run it for another 3 to 4 year in order to be absolutely sure it wont overflow...

tomorrow my father is going to the doctor and afterwards we will probably bring a few more fish :D

the values seem to be keeping fine. Now I just have to wait and see :) more updates tomorrow (or so)


That's great things are working out with you & your boss. Ha, and despite a couple of fish casualties, it sounds like things are going 'swimmingly'. LOL.  Had no clue how truly complex setting up a system was. It's one thing to read instructions on building things...and quite another to actually implement it all!

Well, it looks like you're making great progress....  :~)



I've been adding some fish a day bought from a local pet store. some are gifts to me so I won't even complaint :)

now I know I don't have to clean out the bottom of the tank, the fish do it for me, they don't only clean but stir it up for the filters to catch :D

now I know that I only have to clean up the sump's bottom because I don't want to put fish there :P

I'll try some photos tomorrow. :)

Reg. R. said:


That's great things are working out with you & your boss. Ha, and despite a couple of fish casualties, it sounds like things are going 'swimmingly'. LOL.  Had no clue how truly complex setting up a system was. It's one thing to read instructions on building things...and quite another to actually implement it all!

Well, it looks like you're making great progress....  :~)


Hi all!

I've been kinda busy with all the things I have to do... now I just have some iron deficiency and I can't find DTPA iron chelate quickly. I have to get it from the US. I've tried Spain & Germany and got no luck... I'll have to go by with the worm compost tea until my order arrives (and it will be costly on shipping & customs...) since I'm on a tight budget, I will probably have to wait some more time until I buy the chelated iron... since the shipping is high, I'll add some uniseals that I need to finish the 2 GB's that are on hold, and some other uniseals to keep as spares (I'll need them later...)

so, I'll leave a photo of how the system is now:

It's hard to take a photo in this "large" system... I'm still filling the GB's up with river rocks and leca, going slowly...

by the way, despite the "high" phosphorous levels, I'm yet to see a algae bloom. I did not turn on the UV sterilizer in weeks :) saving power and the light :D when I need it, just plug it in. the last/first algae bloom was actually a mess to clean up

and a photo of the 30 koi, shubunkin and comet fish on the first (round) tank:

I had to cut the air supply to take this picture... and it is still hard to see clearly ... I've only noticed the water being really clear :D

it seems to be good to have a "proper" filtering ( and its not even finished yet)

some more updates and details on the system sometime soon...

Looking Good... You've got some serious time into this. I'd like to see some more pictures of this in operation... Take care

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