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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Nice people will love looking through the pictures this way.

Thanks to you for teaching me how to do that!

TCLynx said:

Nice people will love looking through the pictures this way.

Hi Jeff,

If I'm allowed only one comment for you............. WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 Beautiful system Jeff.  Hope all goes well through the cycling and fish introductions.
VERY impressive, and clean.  It looks really sharp, and I can't wait to see your production.  Well done, team.


Figured I lurked here long enough so just signed up .

Glad to you you are getting it almost there .

I am only glad I could help in what ever way ,and thank you for the the thanks !

Stupid questions and emails ,,,, naw  little hard headed ,well !!!!!!!!!!

Have A Kind Day



Thanks for letting me take a peek in person...very impressive set up!  When you get a chance, I'd love to read an After Action Report about what was good/bad about your construction project (ex. placement of the float valve for top-offs).  It was cool to talk through it in person, but would likely be very helpful to the community.  It's those little things that set us all back.


You have a wonderful family and I appreciated your time and hospitality.  I wish you the best, and I'll get you those contacts, shortly.


Be well,


Hey Matt! Thanks for coming by and letting me show off a bit. Too bad I have no idea what I'm doing... YET.

So now starts the battle of the PH. First reading was 8.8. Checked with a meter and test kit both to verify the readings (Welcome to tap water in Los Angeles). Having almost 1000 gallons of water in the system, we (slowly) added some PH down every hour until the bottle was empty. The PH finally came down to 8.3 by last night. We tested again this morning... 8.3. So off to the store today to buy PH down by the truck load! Well maybe not that much. Today I hope to work on the Strawberry towers a bit and repiping the auto-filler from my tank to my sump. Since our store is open this holiday day I have to work... progress will be slowed down a bit. I'll throw some pix up in the next couple days as I get time, right now the PH fight continues! Jeff

Don't stress too much about the pH, moving it slowly is the proper way to do it and once you get down into the mid 7 range.  Like 7.6, you could probably go ahead and start the fishless cycling process.  Once the system cycles up, it will naturally bring pH down provided you can pre-prep your tap water for future top-ups (deal with chlorine/chloramine and pH before putting it in the system.)

Wow that is a really nice looking system! I don't know about being over your head. It looks like your doing pretty well to me.

Great looking system Jeff! I will be anxious to see your system in production. I think the payoff will be well worth the wait.



Finished up the strawberry towers last night. How much water is supposed to flow through them? Not sure to set it from a trickle to a flood? Also put in a manual transfer switch to hook up my generator in case of power outage. PH is finally below 8 (7.8), we still need a little more adjustment before it's perfect. Ammonia is at 2ppm. We also added the seaweed mix and the water turned a lovely shade of black. A few plants are next on the list.

Thanks! Jeff

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