Aquaponic Gardening

A Community and Forum For Aquaponic Gardeners

2015-04-04 I am changing the form of this blog to show the present state of my garden which is mostly Aquaponic.


2013-12-28 Changes to Water Temperature Monitoring, Controlling & Recording

Context 2015-04-04

Our home is in Phoenix AZ near the base of North mountain Our home is on a small hill and faces to the East. Our garden is on the top of the hill against the West wall and faces the early morning sun.

My objective from the start was /is to make my garden the landscape theme in the back yard.

For the past couple of years I have been absorbing Mel Bartholemew's Square Foot Gardening Paradigm and putting it into action.(Let me add, I am most comfortable wandering out of the box) .

I am using three types of gardening: Container,Round-Foot and Aquaponic, each where it serves best.

Container   I have been using mostly, used black plastic containers which I purchase from a local nursery.

I have recently started trying Hydro-Farm "dirt pots", which they claim can be reused year to year.

Round-Foot  I tried using the "Square Foot Gardening" paradigm presented by Mel Bartholomew I found the media beds were a problem with our very low humidity often 10 to 20%. I then purchased Schedule 40 PVC 12" diameter in 10 ft lengths and capped the ends with Home Depot 5 gallon bucket covers and drilled 4" holes every 13 inches. filling the pipes with "Mel's Mix" or equivalent. I am still using 2 of these pipes. The pipes require watering every 3-4 days but work well.


I am now expanding my efforts to include Aquaponics while retaining my Round Foot Garden.

Revised to this point 2015-04-04

On-going dialog - My intent is to journal my plans, efforts,successes & failures in this document and present photo details in my albums. My desire to meld my system into our landscape has made the AP design a challenge.


Fish Tank -  FT1 - My  220 gallon pond   The pond is a preformed plastic container which sits on a 12" bed of sand and is surrounded by a 12" sand wall,for the thermal mass benefits  . The sand is held in place by the Diamond wall block. The design limit for Diamond Wall is 4 foot height. The free form liner drove me to the wall shape. If I were to do it again I would make it round, which would have resulted in a more regular inside wall surface.

I keep the pond covered with garden cloth to keep the direct sun off the pond and to keep the pine needles and sap from an an adjacent alepo pine tree. I keep the cover about 2' above the water for maintenance purposes.

In the winter I replace the garden cloth with a frost blanket, which lets the infrared through heating the water, while minimizing any frost potential. I am now hoping that the low temperature will inhibit a Green Algae bloom, with the intense sun.

This tank was a first attempt, and is populated with red comet goldfish.

Fish Tank FT2 - For Tilapia, I purchased a 700 Gal. Round 8.2 Ft Dia. 26" deep Stock Tank.
The tank  sits on a 12" bed of sand.

2014-03-02 My new plan for FT2 water temperature control is a Round cover with 2" of foam insulation on the bottom side, with a reflective surface on the underside. The cover will fit like a bottle stopper into the top of the FT. My intent is to mount the cover in a hinged fashion allowing the cover to lift up to the North to a 45-80 degree angle. At the 80- degree angle the winter sun will reflect down to the water surface, and will provide maintenance access. At the 45 degree angle the sun in warmer months would not hit the water.

It would be great if I could automate the cover movement.

Geodesic Dome

2014-03-02 The Geodesic Dome to cover FT2

has not worked as expected. I only had 1 ft clearance between the FT and the Dome.

The Dome will be used elsewhere.

FT2  Fish management

In a 700 Gallon 8 Ft. Dia managing the fish presents a bunch of problems.

The following Paragraph turned out to be not so great. The 1" mesh was to large letting fingerlings hide under the net. The dark color of the net, made the fish hard to see. If I had a 1/4" mesh white nylon net it would possibly work. The net would probably interfere with the breeding process as well.

I have purchased military surplus fish net (1"  grid.)  200 square ft for approx $40.00 trans. included. I would have preferred a 1/4" - 1/2 " grid but got what was available. I have fabricated a custom net, form-fitted to the inside of the tank with a re-enforcement in the center with a pull loop, sewn in. I have a lifting eye at the apex of the dome, with a pulley and line arrangement to enable the net to be lifted from the center to enable access to those fish too big to escape through the 1 " grid. I am expecting fingerlings to have limited escape space. I was hoping to be able to manage fingerlings as well: maybe in the next generation. I expect, by raising the net part way the fry (if & when) to escape to the depths and still be fed from the center point. I have a pair of maintenance planks across the tank.

2014-03-02 Flying Tilapia. With the water level near full an occasional Tilapia will leave the FT. I added a fence to the top of the FT2 12 inches high made of vinyl coated hardware cloth.

Tilapia Winter Quarters and Nursery
2013-02-04  I have completed my new indoor FT3

This unit is constructed similar to my Media beds. I used stacked 2 x 10 lumber for the sides and ends and chip board for the bottom. The dimensions are 75" x 31" x 19" deep. I used a 10' x 7' pond liner. The box is elevated by three stacks of 8 x 8 x 16 Masonry blocks. The black pond liner makes observation of the fish difficult. I have moved the nursery to a 80 Gallon Aquarium using the same filters and one heater.

Filters AP System

Objective - To reduce turbidity as the water is pumped from the sump back to the FT's. The media bed returns are providing pretty clear water to the sumps. The 3 sump containers have about 1 " of water below the drains, where a final precipitation zone leaves the water clear of all but the finest particulates. I harvest whatever waste accumulates at these points to feed my worm farm.   

During the winter months in an attempt to keep the water warmer, I reduced the pump times to the media beds resulting in inadequate filtering and excessive turbidity. I reset the schedual to 15/45 24 & 7 and every thing cleared up.


Filters Aquarium

Fluval AquaClear – Most of the Aquarium customers, and I spoke with quite a few, recommended the AquaClear.

5 Models for 5-110 Gallon Aquariums

Model  Aquarium Size GPH

           U.S. Gallons

   20           5-20            100

   30         10-30            150

   50         20-50            200

  *70         40-70            300 Approx. $35.00

  110       60-110           500 Approx $89.00

Pros – Simple design

No Seals to fail

Hanger dimension 1.5 inch wall max. May need to trim wall side just a bit in two spots.This is important as my multi-purpose boxes; Raft,Media,Swirl Filter, Temp FT, work fine with the model 110.

Con – The sponge provided is ample in size but I would like, as an option, a finer sponge for water polishing.

If you like the thrill of an occasional flood in your home, buy a cartridge filter, especially, the Fluval 6 series. I brought a Model 406 at about $219.00 which had a non recoverable seal failure at both latches. I contacted Fluval and was provided with no solution.

I equipped the Tank with two Aqueon Submersible Aquarium heaters rate at 300 Watts each.
I am using a timer to allow the thermostat controlled heaters to turn on from 9:00 pm to 9:00 am, which the cheapest rate.

2013-04-01 Project in process. Aquarium filter-sponge/Worm Feeder

Preface- I have been experimenting with filtering my Nursery aquqrium and cleaning the dead algae out of my Tilapia grow-out tank. The sponges use in the qrow-out tank when filled are placed in my worm grow-beds where the worms clean of in a matter of a few hours. I also took the filled sponge out my Fluval AquaClear filters and the worms cleaned them as well.

My in-pond filter is constructed with 8" low cap PVC pipe with two perforated end caps. The water is pumped into the middle of the side a 4 ft length of pipe. and both ends of the pipe contain nylon bags filled with roughly 2 in cubed chunks of sponge. The bags of sponges are positioned in the pipe so as to minimize water flow from both ends. 

When the sponges become clogged, they will go to the worm box for cleaning and then back to the tank.

My Aquarium filters get clogged pretty fast with a fish load of 23 Juvenile Talipia. I have been cleaning and re-using them. My next step is to use the sponge chunk concept, using the nylon bags to fit the filter and will be processed in the same manner.

Materials used:

Home Depot - QEP XL All-Purpose Sponges $1.98/ea

Sports Authority -  Mesh carry bag 24 in x 36 in - chosen for the material I will make bags as required. $6.95/ea

Filters System

I am experimenting with a wet filter cartridge from Home Depot. I am using it to remove fish waste from the sump, which I then use as worm food.

I plan on incorporating 1 or more of these filters in my sump return to FT's Lines. My wish is to be able to do an exchange of filters when clogged and the letting the worms clean the filters. I have used this scheme in my big aquarium with success.


Water Plants

Water Hyacinth is on the Restricted plant list for Arizona and must be quarantined. I am using it but am responsible for controlling it.

Initially I had problems with the plants dieing off, I believe the PH was to high, It appears to be doing better this winter, and the fact that my PH has dropped to 7.0.

2013-04-05 The water Hyacinth provides useful service in removing trace mineralization, but also presents a plant load on the system that my fish population won't support. For that reason I am removing the plant from my system, for now.

Water Distribution

 My FT's 1&2 have passive runoff controlled by the height of the discharge point, as well as tank bottom maintenance ports. The pond water goes directly to the sump tanks. The 1st pump, pumps return water to the FT1&2. A 2nd Pump timed to discharge at the first of every hour for 15 minutes, to Three raft beds which are configured as swirl filters and overflow to three media beds, and then back to the sump tanks.

I added a valve which will allow me to select the alternate pump in case of pump failure.

Water quality

Fish waste is removed from the water as it is pumped from the FT to the Swirl Filter/raft beds. The pump cycle time is normally 15 min on 45 off, but as the fish mature, I have revised the cycle to 15 Min on 30 min off to increase filtering. I suspect 15 min on 15 off would still be viable. The fish waste is removed from the swirl filters when it get to about a 1" depth and is processed outside the system through my Vermiculture process.


Bio-Filter - The Bio-filter incorporates the nitrogen cycle through the swirl filter to drop out non dissolved solids and the media bed which are lava rock, surfaced with "hydroton" or "Plantit".


My 300 Gallon Sump is is made up of 3-100 gallon tanks in the ground below the garden area which receive the return flow from the grow beds and the FT's via a 2" PVC manifold, The manifold is also connected to my main (24 & 7)main pump. The entrance to the pump is at the same level as the bottom drains of the tanks, which allows the tanks to serve as surge tanks if the return flow exceeds the capacity of the pump. I also use corks to disable the tanks when needed. This allows me to use 1 tank to store new water while the chlorine boils off, I then pull the cork when I need to add water to the system. I have insulated covers for the sump tanks and leave the cover off the reserve water tank.

Water Pump(s)

2014-03-02 So far I have been satisfied with my PacificHydrostar 68422 Submersible Portable Utility pumps. Specs 1/6 Horsepower - 1350 GPH - 23 Ft Maximum head lift. I am lifting the water 8 ft, from the sump to the FT's.

I have one in each FT to pump to the media beds on a 15/45 schedule, one in the sump return on a 24 & schedule and a maintenance spare.

I have not had a failure so far

System Timers

 2014-03-02 I have replaced my media bed timers with one timer (Chicago Electric FD60-U2 E218111 Item 40148 from Harbor Freight. Two outputs)

System Chemistry

2012-08-01 12 Hrs after closing the loop and replacing 20 gallons of water lost during plumbing changes PH @ 7.4, NH3-4 <0.50 PPM, NO2 @ 2.0 PPM, NO3 @ 10 PPM.

I made a decision to quit chasing PH which has been pretty stable at 7.4 and to check the response time of my Bio-Filter. I added 5ml of Ammonia at the input of my Bio-Filter. Over the next 24 hours NH increased from 0.25 to 0.50, NO2 increased from 0 to <0.50 and NO3 increased from 5 to 5-10 ppm. I will recheck in 24 hours. Lost one fish. Is the ammonia that high? See Nitrite Poisoning

Fish Provisioning

2012-08-04 Bob's gone fishing. Test numbers PH 7.4 NH <0.25 NO2 0 NO3 30

Added 15 Goldfish to start, plan to add 15 in a week if no problems

I planned to add 2 Placostomas but supplier suggested waiting a month or so and informed me that the Plekies will not tolerate our winter water temperatures. I am thinking solar should be able to keep the water up to 80 60 degrees in the winter.

2012-09-15 I lost most of the original fish within a week, after dropping the water temperature, I added 50 fish in 3 steps and as of today I have 42 fish left, all Red Comets about 1" in length.

2012-10-19 Current population close to 30. I am still loosing an occasional fish and I am thinking the original pond liners to be the problem. Time will tell.   

2012-12-01 Tapia Intoduction

I obtained 30 Nile Tapia fry. The fry were housed in a 20 Gallon aquarium filled with water from my FT1. I equipped the tank with a 50 gallon capacity filter (API Nexx) e/w optional pre-filter sponges. I also placed  water hyacinth filling the surface. The prefilter sponges were of little value as they were to coarse, so I took them out. I also added 4 Plecostamas to the tank to help maintain a clean tank. The Placostams seem to be hiding from the Tilapia.

I re-purposed a 20 Gal. critter tank with a mirror bottom. I have a hunch the Talipia object to the mirror because they rarely eat off the bottom.

The fish for being so small (1/4 to 3/4 inch) challenge the big filter. I have had to replace the filters to often. I need a fine prefilter I believe.

2013-01-23 nearly 2 months have gone by and the Tilapia now range from 1" to 2.25" in length. March 1st is coming on fast and my 20 gallon tank is getting full of fish.

I started out feeding flakes and when they ran out I switched to Omega One Cichlid flakes, and then to Pellets - (small sinking Omega One Cichlid ) by the end of the month. I have been feeding 1/2 teaspoon of pellets 3 time/day resulting in some waste which gets lost in the poop. My aquarium is a re-purposed critter tank with a mirror bottom, and I swear those fish are scared of their reflection because they attack the pellets drifting down but don't like to eat them after they hit the bottom.

2012-12-30 I re-purposed a miniature submersible fountain pump as a vacuum cleaner for the bottom, cleaning up the left half of the aquarium, and replaced 2 gallons of water again from my FT1,which cleaned up the tank considerably.

2012-12-31 Aquarium chemistry PH = 7.6 NH 3-4 = 0.50 NO2 = 2.0 NO3 = 40

I vacuumed the right half of the aquarium, and replaced 2 gallons of water again from my FT1.

Rechecked Aquarium chemistry Aquarium chemistry PH = 7.6 NH 3-4 = 0.50 NO2 = 2.0 NO3 = 40 No Change!

will repeat in a few days replacing 5 gallons.

The fry at this point range from 3/ to 1.5 inches and are active healthy in appearance.

If and when I need to introduce small tilapia, I will strive for 1 1/2 in. or greater size

My new FT2 700 gallon has an area partioned, off to protect the fry.

Fish Feed

Purina Mills Aquamax Grower 600 50-lb Bag

I use a Sunbeam Little Osker blender to down size the feed as needed. I need a blend of sizes as I have different size fish in the same tank, so this lets me control what proportion is sized down so I get an appropriate size blend.

Water Temperature Monitoring, Controlling & Recording

Understanding "Thermal Mass" Ref HTM P. 114 might be a big help as will understanding the "BTU" (British thermal Unit).

Historical weather data is available by zip code or city at (The big picture on weather)

Daily data is available at (Dailey weather records By Zip Code)

Here is what I have done:

I reside in Phoenix, AZ, and the diurnal temperature fluctuations are 20 degrees or more and make the consideration of thermal mass beneficial

I am using Acu-Rite Wireless Pool and Spa thermometers. one in FT2, one in the dome to study the relationship of air temperature on water temperature and  a third thermometer hanging in the shade for the OAT (Outside Air Temperature) I maintain a dailey log of the temperatures.

I have been using the one in the FT2 for about a year with no problems. When I added the 2nd thermometer, I stumbled upon a quirk. Each thermometer and remote display has a 3 position switch (ABC) to allow use of up to 3 thermometers without wireless interference.It is necessary to change the switch setting with the batteries removed. Apparently the switch setting is only checked on power-up. If you change the settings with batteries in the display is confused. 

.I am taking a passive approach when practical, and proceeding as follows:

1.  My FT1, See Fish Tanks, is exposed to the elements with shade cloth covering most of the time and by frost cloth during the chilly season. This FT sits on a bed of sand and is surrounded by sand and enclosed within a wall of solid concrete wall blocks. The intent of the blocks was to increase the thermal mass, a whole nuther story for another time

     My FT2, see Fish Tanks, is centered within a,10ft Diam. geodeisic dome, uninsulated and covered by frost cloth (Plankit, a dark cloth sheeting available from Home Depot) I am covering the tank at night during the winter with 1" thick foam sheeting. On warmer days (70 degrees or higher, in the dome) I leave the foam off.

So far this winter (2013) I have been able to keep the water temperature in FT2 at 59 degrees or higher.

I reduce the watering of the grow beds during the night to avoid chilling the water with the return flow.


1. System design should take maximum advantage of thermal mass as well as insulation.

2. Heating will be solar based, and if necessary electrical  as a supplement.

My Solar Collector is under development (Design to follow)

   My FT2 is now equipped with 3 Aqueon Submersible Aquarium heaters 300 Watt which allow precise temperature setting to 1 degree (68-88 Degrees F) w/ automatic safety shutoff and overheat protection. I mounted the heaters inside a plastic milk crate, with the heaters as far apart as possible. The power cords are temporarily connected through a triplex connector to a kill A Watt EZ meter to monitor the heaters. My electric service plan has reduced rates from 9:00 pm till 9:00 am which is when the heaters will be turned on, as required. My first night had an OAT drop  from 82 to 53 degrees F and the tank temperature dropped from 62 to 60 Degrees F. Only 2 of the heaters were working and over 11 hours the heaters consumed 6.35 KWH. This arrangement will only be used when the solar heater is not sufficient(not in service at this time do to redesign).

3. Cooling for FT1 has been been primarily, by covering the FT with green garden cloth mounted about 2 ft above the surface. During very hot days, positioning a 16" fan so as to blow over the surface, has kept the water to below 85 degrees.  (Note, surface and bottom temperature variation can be important, check both)

   Cooling for FT2 is not expected to be necessary, because; it will be housing Tilapia, which prefer warmer temperature. My 10,000 gal. swimming pool rarely exceeds 94 degrees.

Containers multi-purposed for - Swirl Filters - AP Grow Beds Media and Raft - Temporary heated FT for my young Tilapia

I constructed containers, using 2 x 12 lumber for the sides with 3/4 inch press-board bottom. I used the stout sides so that the box would be stout enough to support trellises etc. as required.  I have extended the height by adding a 2 x 4 frame on top of the 2 x 12 frame and connected the two with 1/2" x 7" dowels. This gives me a deeper bed while utilizing all of my 80" x 80" pond line panel. This results in an inside depth of 15".

My container liners are cut from Smart Pond Pond Liner 13ft x 20 Ft This can be cut to 6 80" x80" panels. 

2013-01-23 The first bed in my current configuration is to be used as a raft bed/swirl filter. This bed sits top of the hill nearly as high as my pond and is fed via a 2nd pump from the sump and water distribution, is via the scheduled  water supply into this tank and out through a bulkhead fitting in the bottom center of the bed and to the top of the flood and drain bed. The water level in the raft bed is to be controlled by the height of the stand-pipe which also allow re-purposing the bed for flood and drain. Water distribution  adds water 15 minutes of each hour with overflow feeding the flood and drain bed. 

2013-01-23 The second bed type in my present configuration is Flood and drain,.utilizing my Mason Jar Bell Siphon (which is working well). Media is red lava stones on the bottom with Hydroton upper layer. Return flow is through a 1" tail pipe about 16 Inches' to the 2" return line to the sump. My experience to date prompts me to avoid a tight connection and use 2 90 deg elbows in the tail pipe. I then feed the last 1 inch elbow loosely into the 2 inch return line ( this line is descending so no water loss). I am not sure but it appears a secure  connection at this point inhibits the siphon action, and  tends to inhibit the vacuum break (which depends on air returning up the tail pipe to break the vacuum).

2013-01-23 The 3rd bed type will be  configured to serve as a heated nursery FT for my young Tilapia until they are ready to go to my FT2.


I plan to add  a Nutrient flow pipe.

Let me add that I am very open to suggestions, or pointers to get me on track and positively effect my outcome.

Flow control.

I constructed a workable "FAP" valve for flow control - This is a hose which has been permanently flattened at the end, which will allow water flow from the hose but not in reverse. Acts like an agua diode. I will have to make up a parts list an add a photo.



My worm farm, processes fish waste without adding solids to my media beds. 

My worm beds are about 12 " deep (for moisture retention) and I use compost from my compost tumbler as bedding. Mix is 1/3 vegetation, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 vermiculite (See Square Foot Gardening)

I am using measured amounts of fish waste covered by brown cardboard which has been soaked and crumbled for fresh bedding. I also keep the worm beds indoors to prevent drying(with temperatures sometimes in 3 digits and humidity most of the year below 12%).

I have just switched from vegetable matter to fish waste and don't have statistical data yet.

My current plan is to extract worm tea to use as a supplement for my Aquaponics system and use the remaining material as compost for my container plants.

Miscellaneous Topics

Algae-Green Pest or Treasure? 2013-03-11 Uncontrolled, Algae can plug up your system: but as food, Composting worms seem to thrive on it and it's a primary natural food for Tilapia.  I am not sure to what degree I should encourage limited growth as it would use up nutrition needed by my grow beds. I am thinking of using one of my Raft/swirl-filters trying to grow some Green Algae in semi isolation and see what happens.

A fiend has a in ground pond that was full of Green Alga. He left the Algae alone and added Tilapia, which cleaned out the Algae

Pest Control -  Mosquito's

Mosquito  fish are available no charge; from, Maricopa County Vector Control @ 3220 W. Gibson Lane, Phoenix AZ

Goe South of Buckeye Rd. on 35th Ave to Gibson Lane: which' is the Sheriffs complex entrance.

Office is on the East end of the Sheriffs building in the back. Contact via Maricopa County West Nile Virus Hotline 602-273-0895.

I think they usually only give out 4-8 fish, but if you let them know you have an involved AP System they might give you more, after all, left unchecked we could produce lots of mosquitoes.


Square Foot Gardening - Grow More in less space - by Mel Bartholomew

Aquaponic Gardening - A Step By Step Guide to Raising Vegetables and Fish Together By Silvia Bernstein

Southern Regional Aquaculture Center - SRAC

Recirculating Aquaculture Tank Production Systems: Aquaponics 

An Overview of Critical Considerations

Management of Recirculating Systems

A Review of Component Options

Integrating Fish and Plant Culture

A Spreadsheet for Individual Analysis

HTM Home Technical Manual 4th Ed.





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