Aquaponic Gardening

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Work Has Begun on First System, Plumbing Still in Question.

I've been hatching plans for my first aquaponic system over the past several weeks.  I am new to aquaponics, and very excited, as is my girlfriend, Molly! (she may turn up here from time to time).  We might be a little... overzealous: We have already covertly reinforced the living room floor in our not-quite-700-sq.ft. complex-apartment. We are officially invested!


We are currently fortunate enough to have my dad's backyard and garage to work in and are accumulating components. So far we have purchased and cut an IBC tote, and sanded and painted the (rusty) stand for the fiberglass sink. I plan to situate the IBC grow bed to cover half of the IBC fish tank.  I bought some 2x4's today and hope to tackle the stand for the IBC GB tomorrow (Memorial Day), provided the rain ever lets up.


Freshly painted sink stand and tote frame, cut in two:




Fiberglass sink (4'x2'x10") and IBC tote, cut and stacked. On top is the 4x4x1' deep GB, the remainder will be FT:


The system will be placed in front of a large E-facing window, and I'm planning to purchase three 4x4' T5 fixtures to hang over the grow beds.  Substrate I've picked out is lava rock with a layer of hydroton or turface, depending on how far the project budget goes.


For plumbing I have some thoughts but am very open to suggestions.  I do not have a sump tank, just a (roughly) 28 ft3 FT, a 16 ft3 GB, and a 6 ft3 GB. I was thinking of buying a pump and timer for each GB and running them each 15min/hr, with start times 30min apart.


This arrangement, I realize, relies on careful pump selection.  What factors need to be considered?  I can figure out the head and the volume that I want to move, but I don't know how to account for variables in pump efficiency, for example.


Also, where do folks purchase fittings - bulkheads, particularly - for their set-ups?  My sink has a 3" drain (okay, hole) with just a chrome drain cup sitting in it. It has a smaller (1/2"? 3/4"?) hole on the side about 4in up that has weathered-looking fittings from an eye-wash. I have zero experience in plumbing, so this is also a bit intimidating.


As far as stocking, our apartment maintains tropical temperatures year-round, so we are going with tilapia.  I plan to purchase live adults from a local asian grocery until I get a pair that breeds (then we eat the rest and raise the fry). I have bought a couple from them already (for dinner), and one was female, so I am optimistic that they may not be sex-reversed.


I also have a colony of marbled crayfish that I will be moving into the FT, with plenty of caves/tubes to hide in.  My hope is that the tilapia will eat the young but not the adults, providing a steady live food source.  I saw Chi Ma had done it, and I conveniently happen to have an established colony in a turtle rehab tank (to fatter up the turtles and give them something to hunt).  My other aquatic project for the summer is to release the turtles and convert the tank (6' 100g) for my botias, so the marmorkrebs need a place to go... what good fortune!


Other feed for the tilapia will include hornwort, which I have growing in my aquaria to take up nitrates, and kitchen scraps, along with a decent quality dry food.



Better ways to plumb the system?


Choosing the right pumps? and

Good GB overflow designs?


(PS: Thanks for reading all that!)


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Comment by TCLynx on May 31, 2011 at 8:34pm

hay Ellen, no siphons would not be needed for an indexing valve system.  It is run more like a timed flood and drain, just you sequence so not all beds need to flood at once.  I can help with pump choices and plumbing and which valve would be appropriate to a particular system of course.

My 300 gallon system has 6, 100 gallon grow beds and only a 300 gallon fish tank and the water level barely fluctuates at all in that system and the pump is on for 9 minutes out of every 10.  That system is only running on a 50 watt pump and the gravity modified 1 1/4" 6 way indexing valve.  (There are options to plum that valve for 3, 4, 5 or 6 outlets.)

Comment by Ellen Roelofs on May 31, 2011 at 8:25pm
Hmm, I am playing with a redesign...
Comment by Ellen Roelofs on May 31, 2011 at 12:20pm

Thanks for the ideas!


David, I thought the affnan's pump was really neat - I like that it has a weep hole that will slowly drain the GB if the timer stops while the bed is partially filled.  The problem with relying on random cycling to keep the level up in my fish tank is that I only have 2 grow beds.


TCLynx, I've read about the indexing valves on your site and am in your dealer area (MI).  This seems like an ideal solution, especially if I can change the cam in it for more GBs when I get room to expand. I need to read up on their application and requirements (flow, etc), but this looks very promising. I would have to use siphons to drain the GBs on an indexing valve, right?

Comment by TCLynx on May 30, 2011 at 8:08pm

Yea, ya can't trust mechanical timers to stay in sync or out of sync so if your system doesn't have enough tank to handle flooding all your grow beds at once, you might

1-add a sump tank

2-run some beds constant flood and other just siphons

3-get an indexing valve and repeat cycle timer and one pump big enough to run the indexing valve and then sequentially flood your grow beds.

Comment by David Waite on May 30, 2011 at 8:03pm
Ellen three pumps and timers are a complete waste of mula. Buy one pump big enough to pump your system and put a valve on each growbed. Use one supply line big enough to handle the volumn as well. Timer should kick on and fill each growbed and run for 15 min. Then shut off and drain. Convert your tank volume to gal by cubic foot x 7.5 gal and I can help with pump size. We need tank volumn as well. What we dont want is to drop water level in fish tank to far during pump on cycle. If you want another option you might consider affnan siphons and continously pump. Youtube affnan siphons for help. This way they will cycle at random so some will be filling  while others are draining. Bathtubs are tough to find a fitting for so what I did for a friend is used a rubber gasket under a 4in pvc cap and siliconed it down. I had a 1 inch hole in it to put a nipple in and used a electric lock nut on the bottom to pull it down tight. We then plumbed into it and used affnan siphons.
Comment by TCLynx on May 29, 2011 at 6:59pm

I use uniseals for plumbing through most things


Comment by Eric Warwick on May 29, 2011 at 6:28pm
The aquaponic source (the creator of this community) sells an IBC aquaponics kit at However the IBCs' which you bought are not included or, media. The kit costs $395. Good luck!

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