I established the goldfish in their tank first. They were there for four of five weeks before I got around to making the grow bed. The bed is a simple flood and drain set-up with about 3 1/2 inches of expanded clay pellets. The bed is lined with poly. I had some issues with leaks because I was trying to use silicone to seal the overflow pipe to the poly. The silicone didn't really want to bind to the poly. I finally ripped out the first poly, added some new stuff and clamped it around the pipe. This works reasonably well. Pellets were falling down the overflow pipe and clogging it so I added some screen which stands vertically around the pipe, under the clamp and above the level of the clay.
I added some plants directly from my garden. I added chard in various stages of growth. Some small beets, green beans, celery (which wasn't doing much outside), a basil plant and a few small lettuce plants. I also started some watercress, kale, mustard and chard in vermiculite to transplant in later, as I assumed some of the transplants from the garden might not do well (I have found that beans in particular are not fond of transplanting).
I tested my water for the first time on the same day and found everything to be off the charts. My PH was around 8.4, ammonia levels were 8 or more and the nitrite and nitrate levels were way up as well. I did a 1/3 water change and added some PH down. I checked the next day and not much had changed. I did another 1/3 water change. Things did settle down after that. I cut back on the fish food and have been paying closer attention to how much they eat. I'm really amazed the fish were not dead. I guess it was a good idea to cut my teeth on goldfish. I really dug into the literature to find some info during the week. I read Backyard Aquaponics from cover to cover and will pay closer attention to proper cycling with my larger system.
It's been a week since I added plants and the grow bed. I am wondering if it is beneficial to have the gravel in the tank once the grow bed is established. My PH remains consistently high (around 8) even after adding PH down a number of times. I also squeezed in a lemon. The PH will stay down for a day and climbs right back up again. I can't think of what might be keeping it up. The water, which is from a small well in my backyard seems to have a PH of around 8 but I figured it could be adjusted. I assume the fish tank gravel would be inert but I'm really not sure. The expanded clay is supposed to lower the ph as far as I know. Besides the ph issues, everything else seems to be fine. After a week, most of the plants are showing greening and growth. The chard is very green with a beautiful shine and the beans are really growing well. The larger leaves on the beets drooped but there are new growth leaves popping up. I added a few peas for fun and some of the seedlings.
I have photos to upload but it doesn't seen to be working for me.