Aquaponic Gardening

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Hi all,

This is my first attempt at aquaponics. I used two IBC totes. One is cut to 12", leaving the bottom half to the fish tank. The other is cut to 18" and 20", using one as a media bed and one as a raft (with the option to switch to media if preferred). The media bed is up top, gravity draining to the two lower rafts and back to the fish tank.

The media bed is going to house lava rock and be a constant flow (no bell siphon). I put the drain pipe roughly 1/3 from the bottom of the tank to create a reservoir of water which has 2 airstones oxygenating that standing water. We built a 1/2" PVC frame, drilled with 1/8" holes to act as a drip system over the lava rock. We believe this will work like the Dutch Buckets or a recirculating deep water culture.

Each bed and the tank has 2 airstones (8 total) with an air pump that pushes roughly 4 cfm. I aerated water for 24 hours and added 11 goldfish to get the system cycling. The fish were a little stressed from a rough transport but they are doing much better this morning and even ate all of the duckweed that came with 5g of water from a friends aquarium. 

Please feel free to critique and leave suggestions as this is a learning experience for all. I will be added vertical growing space on the walls and a plant starts table after I get the rafts cut and painted. 


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Replies to This Discussion

Looks good, Adam. A few suggestions:
1- It looks as though you are top overflowing the FT, which is fine, just be sure to have enough water movement to prevent solids accumulation in the FT floor. Usually this is done with an air stone in each corner (suspended 1/2" above the floor)and an oversized air pump. A SLO (solids lift overflow) may be a more energy efficient road.
2- I assume your pump is located under the media IBC? If so, there is nothing to absorb water loss. Meaning your pump would run dry if the water level drops below the overflow (evaporation and transpiration can eat up 50 gallons a day in a system this size). Perhaps add a sump, or locate the pump inside the FT
3- You will want to build in gravel guards to maintain access to the airstones and drain of your media bed. They will plug up with roots and bioslime, guaranteed, and you won't want to excavate your whole system to fix it. Personally, I'd ditch the airstones in the media bed, and just let the bottom couple of inches go anaerobic. There are different opinions on this, and someone is likely to disagree with me on this, but anaerobic conditions are responsible for converting some minerals into plant-soluble forms (chiefly iron).
4- keep your media fill tubes under a few inches of media, so that the surface is dry. This will prevent algae and fungus gnats

My $.02, happy gardening.

Good stuff, thanks Adam- looks great, thanks for sharing and thanks Jon- now it's off to learn about SLO and gravel gaurds. Looks like a good place to start is:

Awesome suggestions Jon, thank you. I already had to lower the fish tank exit pipe for exactly the reason you mentioned. I may just put the pump in the FT. Now that the outflow is 4-6 inches lower, there is plenty of overflow capacity. I am picking up a 50g barrel to use as a sump because once I add vertical space on the walls, I'll need a place for that water to collect before being pumped up into the media bed. 

I've been playing with the idea of doing gravel guards, just haven't come up with the design yet and wasn't sure if it was necessary but sounds like something I should do!

Glad to help. The best way to make a gravel guard is to buy 4" corrugated black Flexible drain pipe from Home D, and chop it up into lengths an inch taller than your media depth. Then set your table saw rip fence 2" from the blade, and lower the blade down to 1/8", and make kerfs in the outermost corregation, but not the inner corrugation. This adds flow, and maintains strength. Email me and I'll send a video. I only have my phone for Internet, and haven't figured how to post vids and pics to this site from my phone.

Justin, good link. I'm actually building and external SLO as we speak.

Great "newby" set-up, Adam! I ran into David at the Fair (just before the belligerent family came by!), and he was excited about your system!! And thanks for posting here, and generating a nice discussion.

Jon, I was thinking about the best way to put in a self-filling sump on my way to work this AM. Any suggestions/visuals? This seems to be a critical piece missing from anything I've run across so far.

Also, would the French Drain corrugated from HD or other irrigation/farm supply stores work for the gravel guard, and preclude the need to cut perforations?

Hi Timothy. Yes the French-drain pipe works, and is the same stuff as I use. It comes both slotted and solid, but either way I kerf it to get more flow. Honestly I've never tried it without kerfing, because I know how roots and bioslime fill small spaces. If you try it without kerfing, drop me a line in a year to tell me how it went.

Hydro stores sell float-valve fillers, or feed stores sell horse-trough fillers. Either one will work, just fasten it to the inside of the sump, a couple inches higher than your minimum water level. When all pumps stop, the drain-down water should be contained in the sump, if possible.

I moved the pump to the FT, towards the floor, just seemed easiest at that point. It's working well and everything is moving as it should. I also raised the piping 2' to make it easier on the pump to move the water around the system. Using extra PVC and some window screen, I made a cover for the FT too. 

Great photos, Adam!

And thanks, Jon, for the feedback. Still unclear to me how on keeps the sump from filling while water has filled the grow beds, then not overflow when that water returns to the sump. Is it in part because the float valve filler simply takes some time to fill, and the return from grow beds can "catch up" before too much water is added.

Also, I had to ask myself a critical question when I heard that a system like Adam's can "lose" upwards of 50 gallons per day in a Sacto Summer: is the claim of water-use-efficiency for aquaponics as valid for such systems as for ones where the system is tightly controlled ("uses only 10% of water compared to commercial agriculture" is one common claim I see/hear).

Anyway, I'm convinced it's a worthwhile endeavor, just like truth in advertising.

Looks great, Adam.

Timothy, the float fill valve is placed down low in the sump tank, as in it is underwater most of the time. Suppose a 275 gallon IBC is used as the sump, and the pump needs at least 50 gallons in it to avoid running dry. The float-fill valve should be placed just a bit higher than the MIN amount of water required to flood pump, as in the 75 gallon mark or so. This frees up about 200 gallons of surge capacity in sump (275-75=200). So long as you don't need more than 200 gallons differenc between full flood and full drain, then all is good. The top-up water will not enter until the minimum level drops below the 75 gallon mark during full flood. And the whole valve is made of plastic, and doesn't mind being submerged. A toilet fill float works too, and is cheaper if you're crafty enough to modify it. If for some reason you don't want the whole mechanism at the bottom of your sump, then you can mount a float only down there and use a connecting rod to actuate a valve remotely. Clear as mud?

Jon, as always, this makes TOTAL sense! Thanx! Tim

Glad to help, Tim.

As far as water consumption being 10% for AP compared to "conventional" farming? In my opinion that is BS. Perhaps there is some data for some particular place with some particular crop that supports this. TC says that in Florida the ground is so porous that water (and nutrients) simply pours right thru the soil, and gardens must be continually watered. Same with Australia. But not here. I live in a mild climate, seldom over 90, and seldom under 40, pretty damned awesome. We didn't even get a frost last winter. I grow dirt produce all year long, and it only requires casual watering every few days in the 4-5 warmest months. My AP requires copious amounts of water everyday, all year long. Is it water efficient? Yes, especially considering I'm growing fish as well, but not 10%, not for my case.


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