Aquaponic Gardening

A Community and Forum For Aquaponic Gardeners

I am very very new to the aquaponics world but wanted to say hi to everyone.   I hope to meet as many of you as possible on the upcoming Tour.  

I am really looking forward to it since I have just started and am limited success.   


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Welcome aboard Sunset! 

So what do we call you?

I'll be sure to put you on the tour list.

All the best,


Hi, and welcome.

All of us here have been where you're at, so we understand.

There's a lot of very knowledgeable and helpful people on this forum, so don't feel shy in asking questions.

AP takes a bit to get going, but it's a whole bunch of fun.



Hi, Sunset. I'm a little slow here...Look forward to meeting you on the tour!

So I have a number of items on my shopping list and I was wondering if people had suggestions on particular products in the category or a good source to buy them..

I think I need to find a water oxygenator for the fish tank (I did not think this was necessary but I noticed almost everyone had them on the tour).

I think I will try to find some shells or limestone chips in case my pH drops again but I am not sure where to get this.

I think I should get some tillappia to add to the system.  I will probably be a repeat customer for quite a while until I get the hang of this, particularly given my proven ability poor track record with raising fish so far, lol.

Good fish food?  I know Sheri mentioned some stuff she likes to use but I forgot to make notes.  Sheri, I seem to recall you saying that you can sell us some?  

I am just using the test strips to check my water.  Are you all using the API Freshwater test kits?

Another newbie question:  The goldfish are creating quite a large amount of solid waste that remains in the tank.  Should I get rid of some of it?   What is the best way to get it out?   Do I just use a fine net or something?

Hi Sunset,  I wouldn't worry about the shells or limestone just yet, get your system up and running first, the PH will naturally drop down just from the plants from what I've noticed.  For my fish food, I'm currently just using a combination of small chiclid (spelling?) pellets that some of my larger fish that can eat, then I use flakes for the smaller ones.  As soon as all the fish are big enough I will be going full pellets or what Sheri suggests.  I like using the API fresh water kit, I'm just biased to it, and I have heard people who use the strips who have had success, If you have the strips just use them until they run out and get the API kit then (then you can say you put on your "big boy pants"   I should mention you need ammonia, PH, Nitrite and Nitrate testing, so if you don't have strips for those, I would suggest getting the API kit then.

About the waste - I've been thinking of buying a Channel Catfish as they are bottom dwellers and help to stir the bottom of the tank which may help to naturally move the waste into my drain, on that note - anyone know where I can get a catfish? 

Hello Sunset,

I had to smile when I read your post.  Not that long ago I was in your position with a whole swarm of questions swirling around my head.  My advice: take it as it comes.   Sure, there's a basic set of things you need to get right, but not as much as you'd think.   And gardening and fish growing is a relatively slow experience that gives you time to learn, particularly with the plants.

Your first goal is to not kill your fish.  Everything else you can work out over time.

So, how do we not kill fish?  Keep the water quality good and feed them.  

Water Quality

As Matt said the basics are ammonia, nitrites and pH.  Keep these within acceptable limits and the fish will be OK.  The API Freshwater Master Test Kit is all I've ever used.  

Fish Food

I've found that fish food isn't as difficult a problem as the rows upon rows of choices that are offered at the pet shop would suggest.   I started off with cichlid flakes from the pet shop when the tilapia were just fingerlings.  i.e. 1" or less.   In retrospect, I probably wouldn't do that again.   Those flakes are expensive.   When the flakes ran out I grabbed a 10lb bag of "pond pellets" from Walmart, because I didn't know any better.  Since the fish were still small, I ground up the large pellets to crumbs and they loved it.  When that bag ran out, I bought a 50lb bag of tilapia food from The Western Ranchman, and split it with a friend.   It's a lot of food, but it's cheaper in bulk.   I've attached the brochure from Star Milling.  You can order it from almost any feed shop.  Not many have it in stock but will back-order it for you.

Air Pump / Bubbler

There's a lot of debate as to whether this is necessary or not.  If you've got a lot of water splashing around your system, and a large surface area on the fish tank, then probably not.  If it's a small system with gentle water, then an air pump is probably a good idea.

I have an air pump and it runs continuously, but it's mostly for backup purposes.  I have an old computer UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) from which the air pump is powered.   I tested it and it will keep pumping air for over 13 hours if the power goes out.  This gives me peace of mind while I'm not at home.   If something goes wrong with the water pump, the fish will be OK until I get home, notice the problem, and have time to fix it.

Shells / Limestone / ph Buffering

Don't worry about this, at all, until the water pH falls below 6.8, which, in a new system, you're not going to see for a long, long time. The town water in Phoenix has a pH in the 8s, so your initial problem isn't raising the pH (which is what a carbonate source such as shells, limestone will do) but it getting it down to a point where the plants are happy.   For many months I was treating my top-up water with muriatic acid (pool acid) so that I could keep the overall water pH below 8.

When the pH gets to the mid 6s there's multiple options to buffer it up, but don't worry about that yet.  With the Phoenix heat and water evaporation, just adding high pH top-up water is all I need to do.   In fact, I have a small issue of trying to lower the pH, not raise it.

Solids Waste

This is a water quality issue, but I've found it isn't as big a problem as it looks.  As the fish get bigger, their natural swimming patterns will disturb the waste and it will get sucked into the pump and be filtered out by the grow bed.  If it builds up too much, then removing it manually is a good idea.  A fine net works, sort-of.   I tried a suction system with mixed results.  In the end, I let it be and the pump and grow-bed filter it out.   Adding a solids filter to your system is something that you can think about down the track.

I hope this helps.   In summary, take it one step at a time.   There's always something that can be improved on an AP system, which is one of the many reasons it's so much fun, but, at the beginning, keep it as simple as possible, and you'll be just fine.


I'd suggest being positive on your media and it's pH impact before loading up your grow beds.  You didn't mention here what media you're going with, but I went with granite gravel when I set my beds up and figured I'd be safe with it since I tested a handful from the rock yard I purchased it at and didn't see any pH buffering.  The actual shipment had a lot of limestone in there, and my pH was a mess.  Some plants did grow OK (Cilantro, Green Onions, Mint), but most did poorly.

I finished replacing my media with expanded clay a couple of weeks ago, and my pH dropped from 8.2 to 6.4 in 10 days.  Now I'm getting 6.0 on my pH readings.  The fish never seemed to be wanting for oxygen with the siphon return chopping up the tank water, but I've installed an air pump to add additional O2 and hopefully get the pH up just a hair.

I do use a broom to stir up the sediment every once in a while.  The pump sucks most of it up and puts in the grow beds.

@John - really thorough post, great information.

@Matt - I saw this posted on the wall here before, ad is still up:


Did you say you live here in the East Valley, or was that someone else? My memory is great, but very short. :)  Anyway, here's my'll find it's redundant from what others have already said. :)

Our system doesn't need the aerators, but we have them as a backup just in case the pump stops working or the fish tank is drained of water (most likely caused by our additional aquariums...something most people don't have). Fish can handle nasty conditions as long as there is oxygen, but, particularly in our heat, the oxygen can be depleted in a heartbeat. 

We've since hard-plumbed the system, so the aerators are even less likely to be needed, but because of our high density of fish, we keep them going. So...depending on your design, you may or may not need them. Oxygen enters through surface turbulence, so as long as your water is churning somewhere in the system, you should be OK.


Our system dropped to 6.2-6.4 after it matured...we'd prefer it to be at 6.8. But, the fish have been happy and the plants, and the biofiltering is doing well. So, we're not fixing what ain't broke.  :) Don't worry about the PH.

That said, if ANYONE wants to try shells in their system, we have a couple 5 gallon buckets full of crushed abalone shell.  :) 


I would move to the API as soon as reasonable. The test strips are easy, but not nearly as reliable or precise as the liquid. (We sell the kits, too, for $25, which is far less than the pet/aquarium shops, but a little more than online.)


Nile Tilapia are commonly used here because they're adaptable, handle our heat, and are edible. We do sell them for $1/ea and have some on hand right now. I'm in Gilbert, but if you live in the northlands, I believe Jim Troyer is selling them now, too. Other fish you can use include catfish, goldfish, koi, and bluegill.

Fish food

Yes, we do sell Rangen fish food for $2/lb (about a quart) or $65/50lb bag. Again, you can get cheaper food, but it's good quality and it's much cheaper than the stores, and as close to organic as we can find. We're rather particular to and we feed to our own fish.


Depending on your design, you can vacuum (siphon) the waste out or change plumbing so that it pumps it through a solids filter or your growbeds. Feel free to contact me and we can talk about best options. Don't waste the waste, though. If you siphon it, put it on potted plants or in a soil garden. They'll love you for it!

Some pics of my starter system.....a work in progress


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