Aquaponic Gardening

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Hello folks,

I'm new here and just completed my first system below.  It's a barrel type system without the drain/sump tank.  Two 55 gallon blue barrels make up the system.  I tested a few siphons and enjoyed playing with different setups.  I tried a U siphon, bell siphon and a hose or loop siphon.  I got all three to work but decided to use a loop siphon.  I tried to take the least complex pieces possible.  It has a single 300 GPH pump connected to 1/2" PCV ringing the grow beds with ball values to fine tune the flow rate.  I had a heck of a time leveling the barrel halves and this was probably the hardest part of the project.  It seems rounded grow beds are efficient but I imagine a flat squared grow bed would be much easier to build.  I have a few extra pumps (1 DC) I plan to try out and I hope I can run it off of a 15watt solar panel I plan to setup near the bed.  So far it's been a fun project and I've learned a lot.  The wife insisted that the whole system look 'presentable' so I had to try to build a fairly form fitting frame for the system.  At one point I had pondered covering the sides with panels to more or less fully disguise the blue barrels.  The extent of my fish experience was with a goldfish I had when I was 6, I believe it died fairly quickly on me.  I'm also fairly new to gardening having only recently planted and grown my first tomatoes.  

I'm cycling water now and ordering some bacteria to kick start the system.  I'm hoping to start a few (maybe 20) Tilapia once I get the water and system in balance.

I had a few questions for the wise who've done this before:

Do you need a separate air line for oxygen?  I'm running a 300 GPH pump and drain/flooding fairly quickly (10 mins or so).  I do have an O2 meter I picked up so I plan to test the water but I wondered if I should plan to augment with additional O2.  My pump does have a small tube outlet that I believe is for oxygen but I wasn't entirely sure about that?

If I wanted to grow duck weed, I've read it's vital to have a separate tank as the fish will devour all the duck weed in short order.  Any suggestions for a duck weed addition to a system like mine?  I do have some space left and right of the lower tank.

Does anyone have any suggested food to start with?  Some worms, black flies or duck weed would be great, but I wanted a commercial food to get started with

Thanks for the help!

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Nice design! Regarding aeration you will want a separate air pump and air stone for you fish tank, more for redundancy than any other reason. If your water pump fails at least your fish can live until you fix it.

20 Tilapia is probably be more than you need for this set up. You don't need a lot of fish poo to grow plants. You would probably do fine with as few as 10-12 Tilapia. I have a system half your size with just a few gold fish. As for duckweed and BSF take your time and start with commercial fish food and learn the chemistry required to grow plants as you go along. Although It is possible to do with BSF, duckweed just doesn't have the complete nutrition - Tilapia will loose weight on a diet of 100% duckweed. Commercial fish foods provide nearly all the micro nutrients for fish and plant needs. If you want more a more sustainable fish food then get in line, many here are working on making that a reality and many more are waiting for that solution. Search around the forums and you will see many threads on that.

Lastly I don't see a overflow in the picture you uploaded. You will definitely need to add this to your grow beds to prevent a fish kill if your drain clogs and water overflows the sides.

Good luck on your new aquaponic life!

Nice Job Fred! You should be proud of your system.

I recently saw a system that had similar boards stained and urethaned, looks nice.

I do agree with Johnathon on the overflows, "plan for the worst, hope for the best"  You can expect to have system malfunctions from time to time, each is a learning experience for sure.

Regarding the bacteria: 

A bucket of local creek or pond water will do wonders to kick off a system...

Number of fish:

figure 1 for every 5-10 gallons of water when full grown. 

My goldfish and tilapia have gotten much bigger than I expected;

they would be pretty cramped in that little barrel, plan to scale up your system as they grow...

My personal thoughts on duckweed: If it doesn't grow well in your neighborhood it is not worth the trouble.

all the best!


wow, what a great looking set up.

I'm still working on my system but here's my 2 cents'

my tank is 150 gallons. I bought 25 fish, but counted almost 40 fingerlings in the container he gave me. I was worried it was way too much, but have already lost a bunch to bad chemistry and an inattentive house sitter..Interestingly, I discovered that some just don't grow too. I have some nice big ones in there and a bunch that seem to not have grown at all since I got them.

by winter you'll most likely need a tank heater. or even get one now just to stabilize the day/night temperature swings. I notice a big difference in activity levels between night and day temps, and yours doesn't look like it's in a greenhouse...

I also got a 15 watt solar set up and it's enough to run the bubblers, but the panel doesn't quite give enough juice for my pump and I run low on power after about a week (though mine is a much bigger pump so you might be ok).


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