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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Well a sudden drop in pH often accompanies the bacteria colony getting up to speed so I might suggest do a dilution test to see how high the ammonia really is.  You might not want to do much if things are getting going again.


I would say small water changes so you don't swing the pH too much.

Hi Jeff,

If you're going to exchange system water, it's a good idea to do so incrementally, testing along the way until the ammonia reading is less than 5ppm. The replacement water however, must be dechlorinated. I've done a 50% water replacement with chlorinated water at the rate of about 5%(total sys. volume) over 6-8 weeks without harming the bacterial colonies. That's the problem with new systems, Ph and other readings swing wildly before they stabilize. Normally, in this case, you can wait until the ammonia drops(4ppm) but there's no telling the state of your bacteria with that PH Down product and you could be waiting in vain.


So the start up issues continue. PH has dropped to 6.01 (on a digital meter) ammonia still at 8ppm (I've been doing 50 gallon water changes every other day). I want my fish!!!!!!!!!!!

But this is the latest. The seeds have been doing great and we have plants all over the place. This is a closed green house, but somehow it got invaded with something (see pix). I pulled the plants out and soaked them in the fish tank for a bit. Seemed to help, but I noticed they are coming back.

And then there are the leaf issues!


Patience !

Not the greatest bug picture but looks like you could have aphids and whitefly . Both tend to be greenhouse problems and will not just go away . They can come in from all sorts of places ,plants you bring from outside ,on you , from the intake air . So even though greenhouses are great in some aspect .They do tend to present a different set of problems . Since pesticides tend to be a no no for us the bug issues tend to be harder to deal with .

I will say get rid of them now as the bigger the plants get the harder it will be to control .There are several biologicals out there that appear to be useable with fish . I have also heard that for some reason they can not breed on leaves sprayed with a seaweed mixture . On that one I will have to get back after I see if my whitefly population goes away . Since the heat is causing bud drop at this point I am just going to trim things back before I spray to make it easier .

Have A Kind Day


Jeff I use botanigard es. It is a bacteria that will kill both the white fly and aphid. I have the same pests and 2 applications and it wacked em. I am not a guru on all the homebrews for bug control but this product is safe for organic operations and is used by Friendly aquaponics in their organic operation. It is pricey but worth it . In regards to leaf issues your system is still young and has alot of deficiencys. After you cycle completely and have fish in then start to tweek with Iron and supplements. I am at 16 weeks and still show deficiencys due to high ph. Cant stress enough hit the bugs hard and fast and wait on everything else till you cycle and run for a bit with fish. You can get botanigard on ebay or amazon.

I checked my organic chart or pesticides, Neem oil and 3% H2O2 are two of the better options. They are both safe for use in aquaponics if used properly. I know H2O2 is a contact killer only for pests. It works as a contact killer and preventative for bacteria and fungus. Spray the 3% solution you can get from your garden store or pharmacy directly on the plant with a spray bottle or pump sprayer. Its best to spray a test patch to make sure the plant species responds well before applying to to the entire crop. Some plant can stand stronger solutions. Personally I have used the 30% diluted available at garden stores for bad infections. Its amazing that it will bleach your skin and clothes, but many plants love it.

Have you tried Cycle? It's a product for fish aquariums to help establish the ammonia converting bacteria. It works wonders for speeding up your cycle. It also claims to introduce a beneficial type of bio floc to your system that is able to nourish other organism including fish fry and other hatchlings. It has worked in every fish tank I have setup. I used it with my first AP experiment, seemed to work great. But I never tested the ammonia since I knew the goldfish could stand it.


Jeff The second picture is definitely aphids.  Murray Hallum uses a mixture of dish soap, oil (olive), and molassis in a spray bottle.  i skip the molassas and just use a tbs of dish soap and olive oil or corn oil and put in a spray bottle filled with water.  This works well.  Always remember to spray under the leaf as this is where most of the bugs are.   It usually works. 

Hi Jeff,

You can find a lot of info here

Jeff, be on the lookout for black ants, next.  They like to 'farm' aphids.  You can control them with borax & sugar bait traps, that sit away from your plants.  I would recommend two (one each for opposing corners).  You can use recycled yogurt/cream cheese/salsa containers for the 'trap'.
Thanks everyone! I'll try some of these methods and get this under control. Even without the fish, it's amazing how well everything is doing.
Yes. Been following this saga and I'm uber impressed. Especially with the symetry and beauty of the system!

Hi, I 100% agree with you. I would say there is a lot more than 1000 gal's. of water Perhaps 850 gal's in fish tub, 150 gal's in sump tank and about another 500 gal's or more in the grow tubs. Barry.

Harold Sukhbir said:

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.

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