Aquaponic Gardening

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Our “I’m in over my head” CHOP2 system. (long version) Do over

A little back ground and the construction:

Being that Jenny (wife) and I are both Vegetarians we decided to start a garden a few years ago. Just before we got started with the project along came TJ (son) who is 2 years old now and what started out to be a simple few plants in the dirt turned into a 2 year project of research, saving money and building what we have today.


Since we don’t trust what we’re buying in the market, we decided to grow all our own food and planted a bunch of fruit trees, blueberries, blackberries and avocado trees around the property. Next on the list… the Aquaponics system from hell.


 The Greenhouse is 16x24 and took me months to build. Between work and the kid, this thing dragged on forever. As I was building and researching I fell across and finally found the 8 grow beds I wanted. Not easy to find really nice ones in the USA!  Thank you to Sylvia and Alan for putting up with me until I finally placed my order. Of course if you’re going to do it… do it big… I ordered 4 more grow beds for a total of 12.


 That done (and not doing the proper research) I ordered a 700 gallon Fish Tank and a 300 gallon Sump for my CHOP2. The Tank is 6’ long, 5’ high and 40” wide. The size was due to the limited space I was trying to get it into. I cut a port hole into the side so TJ can see the fish and planned to bury the Tank ½ way into the ground. As it arrived I realized there was no way to get a 40” wide Tank through a 32” wide doorway! So tear out the front of the green house, stuff the tank in, rebuild, 2 more days gone. That seems SO FAR to be the only real issue we’ve had.


 Buried the sump and tank, built the stands, plumbed it all up and fired up the pump to marvel in what we built!


 Well….maybe not. I knew the (Bull Frog?) pump was oversized at 3000gph, but it only drew 130 watts and pretty much has a 99% non-failure rate running 24/7. Of course I got two just in case because I always get the 1% that fails. To make sure I was covered I ran 2, 2” drains back to the sump. Well that wasn’t enough. The water came over the top of the tank within minutes. Besides that, the Fish Tank is actually a HAZMAT containment tank so it couldn’t handle the weight of the water and the top bowed out 2 feet from where it started! So replaced all the 2” drains with 3”, built a bar to skirt around the tank and filled it all up again. Seemed to do the trick although its right there at the drain back capacity.


 So as of last night (05/26/11) the system up and running again. We are now letting the chlorine go away and this weekend we will start the fishless cycling with the starter kits we got from Sylvia. You can see by the pictures, we filled on the one side (7 beds) with Hydroton and the other side we will fill with ¾ River Rock as that is all our left over budget can handle. Going to run by the local nursery that has several huge Koi ponds and ask them for some rocks to put in our grow beds and see if that doesn’t speed up the process. Fish for now will be Red Comet Gold Fish when ready until we learn the system and we will replace them with Tilapia. Even though we wont eat them, I’m sure I’ll have no problem finding takers when they out grow the tank.


 Don’t think he’s on this Forum, but I do want to say a special thank you to Mike Shambarger for all his time answering my endless emails and putting up with my stupid questions. Seems like all the research in the world is nothing like doing it yourself and learning by doing. Like not needing an auto filler on a constant height Fish Tank. Shade cloth in So.California is a must after it hit 110 degrees (without the fans on) and it was only 90 outside. 


 Next comes the 5 strawberry/herb hanging towers (building the stand now) and about 4 wicking beds to grow potatoes, brown onions and such.


 Haven’t looked into it yet, but any thoughts on clams/mussels in the sump to help keep things clean? Alright, open minded for any criticism or help to make this a successful outcome for my family. Jeff

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Many thanks for sharing your photos, very helpful. DH and I are in the research stage for our setup, so I'll be reading your f/u's w/much interest.
We are finally closing in on the PH (7.6) but the Ammonia swings are crazy. In the morning before we go to work we get 2 to 3 and by evening we have 0, so we add another tablespoon? Nitrites and Nitrates still 0. We put in some pond rocks from the local nursery on Sunday, but nothing. Did we kill them?

do you have any plants in?  Or perhaps there is some algae somewhere using up the ammonia through the day?  Shade the tanks to protect the water from as much sun as possible through this beginning phase.  Having the ammonia get used up by evening is not a bad thing but I would have expected to see some nitrites if you have dosed more than once with the ammonia.


Of course if you already have a bunch of plants in, that might explain it all if you are dosing really heavily in the evening and then finding both ammonia and nitrite at 0 before the next dose the next evening and the plants are simply using up all the nitrates as the system converts them, well that is the desired situation in which case it would be time to get fish but some more detailed info about your dosing and the algae situation is in order.  (Algae can sometimes use up ammonia directly if you are having a big bloom and algae dieing off overnight could also explain strange ammonia fluctuations.)

Hi Jeff,

You can try upping the daily dose x 2. Could be your ratio of water/media for dosing is too low, or less than the ammonia that would be normally produced by the actual fish ratio for your components. You should try this before you add fish just to be certain.

Thank you for the reply!

 I did cover the tank and sump to prevent algee and that seems to have worked so far. No algee that I can see. I put ONE 4" lettuce plant in each bed on Sunday to see what would happen while we are waiting for our seeds to sprout. I have to admit, I swear they have grown already! The seeds are not in the grow beds altough I may plant the corn seed directly in the next day or two.

 As far as the dosing. Seems to be one tablespoon of powdered Ammonia (we got from Sylvia) every evening for the 1000 overall gallons we are dealing with. We have also added the seaweed that came with the kit on Sunday as well. We purchased two of these for the start up:

Good on ya! This is most impressive.

So while we are impatiently waiting for our system to cycle up and get our fish, Jenny has started the seeds. How big should we let the plants get before transplanting into the beds?

Just remember that they start needing nutrients when they get their SECOND set of TRUE leaves.  Until then, the seed has all the nutrient that your seedlings need.  So, at this point, the question you have your nutrient source (fish producing fish poo)?


Let them get to a size thats comfortable to transplant . As you are fishless cycling and you have added seaweed there should be enough to get things going till it's fish time . I know mine ran for a couple months pre fish and had no problems with growth .

Have A Kind Day


Nice looking system!  Very clean.

You could probably plant them whenever you want.  Some plants transplant best when they are very small and others you are more likely to kill just by handling them they are so small.


The cucs/squash/pumpkins or whatever the large leaved ones are you will probably need to transplant sooner than later since their roots will grow through the seed tray before you know it.  The others you can wait.

Thanks everyone!

 Also, PH is now 7.1, Ammonia is up to 8, my guess is the PH down stuff I'm using, Nitrites yesterday spiked off the chart and the Nitrates are FINALLY starting as of this morning! The Ammonia has me concerned, but it looks like we are on our way????

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