Aquaponic Gardening

A Community and Forum For Aquaponic Gardeners

Hello Everyone,

I was first exposed to aquaponics a couple of years ago while scouting sites to teach a class. We were staying at The Island School on the southern tip of the island of Eleuthera. At their Cape Eleuthera Institute, they have a cobia-based aquaculture program and a tilapia-based aquaponics system to provide food for the school meals as well as developing more sustainable practices to feed the residents of the Bahamas. I was very impressed.

Due to employment issues and life, it has taken me a while to really start my own research into developing my personal interest in starting an aquaponics culture at home. By chance, I came across this site a few weeks ago, starting reading, ordered Sylvia's book and now I'm obsessed....

As my wife and I will be travelling for a year starting in June 2014, I have until then to design, build and begin to understand how to incorporate aquaponics into a small family setting.  At that point, I'll probably be putting everything in storage until we return. Upon our return, if all goes well, I'm hoping to build a substantially bigger system(s) based on a greenhouse model.

After all is what I'm thinking to start with...

Location - We live in the Jory clay hills of the north Willamette Valley, about an hour southwest of Portland, OR. Everything grows here with little effort. We have a very moderate climate with temperatures only occasionally below freezing and only a dozen or so days above 90F each year. We have our own well water supply and backup power.

Fish - There is a local source of tilapia within 30 miles, NW Tilapia

Tank - 100-200 gallons or so, with a stocking density around 1/10 gal

Grow media - expanded shale, Plant It or a combination of the two

At the smaller size, the system could be placed indoors although I'm not sure how the dogs would handle having fish splashing around??? At the larger size, we have plenty of room in an unheated pole barn/shop. Heating the tanks through the winter would be needed for this.

Again, this will likely only be running for the next year or so with the intention or restarting when we return. Although my wife will love all the fresh veggies, she will likely not do much with the operation of the system. 

Thoughts or ideas?

Enjoy the ride and thanks,


Peterberger Bike Adventures

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Replies to This Discussion

While the Willamette has a great climate for gardening, It is probably not a good climate for tilapia.  Even here in Central Florida, Keeping tilapia outdoors requires heating at least part of the year.

Doing an indoor system negates any of the benefit of your climate and you would then need to provide lighting to grow the veggies.

In my climate (sub-tropical central FL) I like to recommend at least 300 gallons of fish tank for an outdoor flood and drain system to help keep temperatures stable.  I don't know what day to night temp swings you get there but a fish tank of less than 300 gallons during one of our warm days in winter to a rare freeze night can swing fast enough to kill fish (even fish that can survive 32 F water don't handle swinging from 64 F one afternoon to 34 F before the next morning.)

So if you are building an outdoor system to take advantage of a pretty good outdoor growing climate, you will probably need to have some means to keep the fish tank warm during the extreme season.  (Fish sweaters can be run on multiple different fuels.)

If you grow tilapia, keep in mind that they are not really interested in eating/growing much if the water temperature is much below 70 F.  That means even at indoor temperatures, you probably still need to heat their water to keep them very happy since the water in a fish tank in a 70 F room is likely to be about 67 F in my experience.  If the water temp gets below about 53 F you are definitely in the danger zone for most species of tilapia (that is just below the temperature I quit feeding my catfish and bluegill at.)

I would recommend growing a more climate and temperature appropriate fish.  Trout or catfish or bluegill or perhaps even just goldfish for your first year.


I personally would start small as with barrels.  Travis Hughley has a fantastic barrel ponic system that he designed and is offering the instruction manuel for free.  Here is the link for you to download the PDF.  If you want to go a bit bigger, you may want to build a system from IBC totes.  I am in the process of installing a 16 unit IBC aquaponics system in a heated barn, I am very pleased with the results so far.  the PDF link is  I hope this helps you out somewhat.

White Bear

 Living in the Willamette Valley you have access to all sorts of ways to heat a greenhouse and fish tanks to raise tilapia.  Get some manure from the dairies and cattle ranches and /or spent grain from the many breweries and get a thermophylic compost pile going.  Run water filled PVC pipe through it and into the tank...heated! ( you do have to keep replacing the pile matter as it gets dome with its heating process) Or get a Wiseway pellet stove and there you go!  You can use solar on the clearer days (yes, I know this is the PNW - but it is an option)..But raising tilapia year-round here  IS a LOT of work and worry, if not in a house.

   You can raise trout instead of tilapia...or carp, or yellow perch.  All like cooler water, and not even heat it. and it can be outdoors.  You'll find that the water in the tanks will act as a heat sink, and your greenhouse will grow things year-round that might not otherwise.  This is the case at our place in the Columbia Gorge.

    You'll find that with the smaller tank it is more difficult to keep temperatures steady .. If you had a 250 - 300 gal. tank or larger, things become more easily regulated.


   Best of luck to you with this project!


 - Converse

I have a wiseway pellet stove which heats a small amount of water in an insulated tank and then runs through PVC in my fish tank.  I am changing it out for a fish sweater which is more efficient and a lot less expensive.  So I don't recommend the pellet stove option.  I also wouldn't do a compost pile as a lot of work with varying results.  I'm pretty sold on the fish sweater especially if you can run part solar and natural gas or propane.  Pick a fish like bluegill, goldfish, catfish etc that don't need really warm water.

I agree about growing in a barn as the supplemental light will be a high cost input.  You might do an outdoor system for the summer on a small scale with a hoop house.  Talk with Jason Garvey PurpeWater PDX about F-Clean a great covering from Germany with better than glass light transmission.  Don Stark in WA can tell you about hoop houses as he has a successful AP system with one.

I'm in Portland, come visit.


Thanks for the suggestions. Since this system will only be active until May 2014 at the most, I'm going to keep it simple. I think I'll use 3 blue barrels, fish tank, sump tank and 2 grow beds, and use some hardy, not necessarily eating fish (goldfish?). I plan to have the grow beds along the west side of the pole barn and the fish tank wrapped around the north side to reduce sun exposure. I can install a dryer vent in the pole barn wall to run a power cables. Since we get power restored late following an outage, I'll be running the system off of a battery bank and an inverter located inside the barn. There will be enough capacity to run the pump and heater for a day or two. 

I decided to give Sketchup a try. I've never done any 2D or 3D design before so this is my first attempt. Here is the 2D output of my 3D design. It seems to have taken longer to sketch the design than I think I can build it...

Suggestions? Ideas?



Hi Jay- I am also in Portland and have made three simple systems using the 55 gallon barrels you show in your sketch. Including a sump pump is good, but I would have the water pump out of the sump into a fish tank that has a water level that is above the grow beds. This way, you have one pump in your sump that delivers water to the fish tank, then the water can flow out from your fish tanks in an overflow pipe to your grow beds. The water would then flow from the grow beds into the sump, either using a standpipe and timer to control your flow or an autosiphon. That is what I will do when I build a larger system. Just a thought! Good luck with your systems!


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