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Hey fellow AP fans!  I stumbled across this website a few weeks ago, and am already a week into cycling my system.  I just wanted to share a few of the stumbling blocks I've run across, that haven't seemed to come up on the forums and would have been helpful for me.  

This first system is small (30 gallons in total water volume), and will serve as a learning/jumping off point for Season 4 (Expanding your system).  Any comments are welcome!

My basement system:

15 gallon Sump Tank, ~300 gph Master Plumber pump (more on this disaster later), 1/2'' flexible tubing in Sump Tank with bypass that allows to regulate flow to my 10 gallon aquarium.

Aquarium drains to my homemade biofilter (which is filled loosely with screen material), which then drains to my grow bed.  

The pump runs off and on every 15 minutes.  My small grow bed fills and drains back into the sump tank using a bell siphon every 8 to 9 minutes when the pump is running.

I used 1/2 inch pvc piping throughout.  I made my own bulkhead fittings, basically male and female pvc slip fittings with a red plumbing washer on the inner side of each tank.  Some I added silicone to the washer before fitting (no problems with any of them yet).

The Grow Bed, Aquarium and Biofilter each have an overflow back into the Sump tank (all have been very necessary at least once).  Since I can't access the inside of my Biofilter, I built a drain pipe at the bottom, which is controlled by a ball valve.  The Grow bed also has a similar drain valve at the bottom.

First:  I'd use bigger size piping on the drain pipes.  I'd bump up to 3/4 inch aquarium and biofilter pvc and bulkhead fittings and pvc.  (sometimes when the pump comes on, there is a backup at the biofilter and the aquarium overflow is my savior).

Second:  Place filters on the water side of each bulkhead fitting!  Fish food/Hydroton have gummed some of my plumbing up.  I've fitted some screen material to some of the bulkhead fittings, but I'm still working on a better system.

Third: Buy enough hydroton/media material.  Rookie mistake, but it's causing me big time headaches while i wait for more in the mail.  

Fourth: Rinse your media well!  I thought I did, but there was sure a lot of red dust left.  Has anyone ever used their washing machine on a few rinse cycles for this procedure??

Fifth: Fill your grow bed with media when it's dry.  It turned into a soupy mess and lead to the next lesson.

Sixth:  Secure your bell siphon outer filter very well when adding media.  The second I added hydroton, it got up and into the bell siphon, which forced me to drain the grow bed and fix the problem.  A headache I'd like to avoid in the future, especially when plants are involved.  Does anyone permanently secure your bell siphon outer filter directly to the bottom of your grow bed??

Seven: Make sure your pump can handle a little junk in the water!  Mine shuts off constantly at the slightest piece of anything that gets in the way.  It has been a nightmare.  I have a new pump coming in today and can't wait to get it in there.  Don't buy a Master Plumber pump from Ace or True Value...

Also, I know the biofilter is an extra step, but it was easy to make and allows me to have 5 more gallons of water circulating in my system.  Any thoughts on taking it out or leaving it in?

PH is a bit high - 8.2 range.  Just building some Ammonia, nitrites are just starting to show up and no nitrates yet.  I live in Wyoming, and was able to catch about 30 trout fry from the creek behind my house using a minnow catcher that I made last weekend.  Depending on how things go, I may have some young native cutthroat trout on my hands in a few months!

Thanks for any comments or answers to some of these questions.


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i hope you can keep that tank cool..

you'll be happy if you upgrade your pipe to 3/4",, you'll always get a bio-slime buildup on piping, and 1/2" will just restrict too much

keep the filter.. and start building a bigger tank for any trout

Sixth:  Secure your bell siphon outer filter very well when adding media.

I cut 1/2" off of a slip repair fitting and epoxied it to the bottom of the bed. The outer bell shroud (filter) slips in and stays put but can be removed to clean if needed.


Add a gravel guard outside the bell of the siphon since you will occasionally need to access the siphon to clean out roots or whatever.  A gravel guard is either a mesh tube (plastic or stainless) or a larger PVC pipe with lots of little slits cut in it or tons and tons of holes drilled in it (slits are better if you can use a radial arm or chop saw to cut only part way through the PVC pipe.)

The outer filter for my bell siphon is a piece of 4"perf pipe with the female end down, This allows the media to rest on the shoulder of the pipe, holding it down. The size allows my hand to fit inside  in order to remove the overflow, allowing almost all of the water to drain so that I can get a near complete water change if I have to.

Well, I finally got through the cycle-up period.  I had an ammonia spike and high nitrites for a few days there. Yesterday the readings had definitely come down.  Now the nitrates are up.  I guess my question now:  are nitrates a by-product of the nitrogen production process?  Or are the nitrates just another name for the nitrogen that are going to be used by the plants?  

From a newbie, here's the bare bones: Ammonia, NH3 is oxidized by Nitrosomonas, yielding nitrites, NO2, which are oxidized by Nitrospira, yielding nitrates, NO3, which are readily consumed by your veggies. The presence of nitrates means you have both bacteria in your system.

Here's the bible on fishless cycling:

Ammonia and nitrites are both toxic to fish, Nitrates are the form of nitrogen that most plants use.

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