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

theaquaponicstore.com 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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I'll probably have to go with the pool idea. The PH out of the tap is almost 9 and you can smell the chlorine (welcome to L.A.). I bought a couple hose filters (recommended here) to deal with the chlorine/chloramine issue and will put those in series. I'll also use muratic acid? this time to deal with the PH. My plants are doing so well I hate to kill them at this stage.

If you get a couple of those cheap k-mart kiddie pools that are like 18 inches high and 8' across you should be able to degass and adjust the pH on a nice amount of tap water and then when the tap water is ready to go into the system you could pump a bunch of system water out into another such pool which will likely turn to green water very quickly and I wouldn't be suprised if algae takes care of much of the ammonia in the water you take out. 

Anyway then you will have space in your system for the prepped top up water.  Biggest challenge will be a transfer pump and tubing for moving the water around.

Hi Jeff,

Are you going to discard all stock water? The plants won't die since you'll remove the chlorine/chloramine  with each hose filter(about 1000 gal each) then you'll begin a mini cycle( as there are bacteria still in the system and should establish themselves quickly) and by you dosing up with maxicorp it will keep the plants in great shape.

Sorry every one I think I would go about this a little differently. First the plants Look good There colour is good. They don't look to leggy. perhaps first take a sample of your water to a pool shop and get them to do a test to see if there readings are the same. It may be something as simple as a faulty batch of test solution. If something looks OK and most of all smell Ok then it is OK. The strawberrys look good and they do not like ammonia. To do a water change will not fix the problem it will only mask the problem. I would go down to the local aquarium shop and buy a few small cheap gold fish and see if they survive or not. Regards, Barry.
Jeff I am sure you and your misses are scratching your head on all this by now. For a good laugh search rookie mistakes you should avoid and read what we have all done and It will give you a chuckle . You need one.Keep your chin up.
Some great info here. Thank you all for the comments. I'll get the water checked by a 3rd party today and see where that leads. just wondering.... what is the ammonia level a gold fish can take?
I don't like to subject any fish to ammonia or nitrite over 1 ppm.  How toxic ammonia is will also be dependent on the pH and temperature.  The lower the pH and temperature the safer the ammonia is in general.  Don't put any goldfish in until you get results from a 3rd party.  I suspect your ammonia is still too high to keep fish alive.

Where did you get the stands for the beds? How did you clean the hydroton with such a big system? Great setup. Good-luck

Sherill



Sherill Colgin said:

Where did you get the stands for the beds? How did you clean the hydroton with such a big system? Great setup. Good-luck

Sherill

Thank you! I built the stands, you can see us welding them up in one of the pictures above. The hydroton I didn't clean. I tie wrapped a sock on the water outlets and the water cleared up in a couple days of turning the system on.

Good job. My husband is a welder. He isn't going to like another honey do. lol

Jeff Hess said:


Sherill Colgin said:

Where did you get the stands for the beds? How did you clean the hydroton with such a big system? Great setup. Good-luck

Sherill

Thank you! I built the stands, you can see us welding them up in one of the pictures above. The hydroton I didn't clean. I tie wrapped a sock on the water outlets and the water cleared up in a couple days of turning the system on.

Hi Jeff, Just a thought. I set up a system in Lebanon about 5 years ago for a friend. The hydrotons that were used had a High reading. It took me 2 weeks to find out why the reading was so high. What happened was the clay hydrotons in the garden shop,  had 3 cats in residence they some times where locked inside the shed, they used the hydrotons as a loo.

Since then I have always washed my media with plenty of water. Yes I know it waists lots of water and this I hate doing. Jeff try and take 2 buckets and 1/2 fill the buckets with hydrotones from your system. Give 1 bucket of the meadia a good wash. The second bucket a quick rince in fresh water. Fill the bucket with water and leave it sit for 2 days and do a full test on them. To see if the readings are the same or not. Give the buckets a shake up a few times in the 2 days. If you need to clean the media you can wash 1 grow tub at a time. That way you will not lose to much in the way of nitrifying bacteria. As I said before your plants look good.

 

I know it is frustrating However keep going with it. As when you tast the fresh veg's from your system you will not belive the tingles that it will give your tast buds. Regards, Barry.

 

P.S. Just a quick question I can't see the inlet pipe for your grow tubs? To see how much water is flowing into each tub.



Jeff Hess said:



Sherill Colgin said:

Where did you get the stands for the beds? How did you clean the hydroton with such a big system? Great setup. Good-luck

Sherill

Thank you! I built the stands, you can see us welding them up in one of the pictures above. The hydroton I didn't clean. I tie wrapped a sock on the water outlets and the water cleared up in a couple days of turning the system on.

P.S. Just a quick question I can't see the inlet pipe for your grow tubs? To see how much water is flowing into each tub.

 The tubs fill from below. They fill and drain about every 11 to 12 minutes.

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