Project #2 – Aquaponics

June 28, 2013 – Life Support Unplugged

Today is a sad day for my aquaponics system.  I’ve decided to remove the system, and unplugged the pump.  I explain the reasons for this decision and the lessons I’ve learned here:

Why I’ve Decided to Remove My Indoor Aquaponics System

I haven’t given up on the idea of aquaponics.  I hope to build another system in the near future using the lessons I’ve learned.

May 29, 2013 – Aphids and pH

I bought some pH Down to help control the pH levels in the fish tank.  The pH is still around the 8.0 range, which is a little too high for fish safety.  Luckily I haven’t had any more goldfish die lately.

The plants are growing nicely in the grow bed.  Here are some pictures:

The really tall plants are the broccoli that I transplanted from our garden.  Notice how everything is hugging the window.  I really need to get a grow light to help supplement the light from the window.

Speaking of transplanting the broccoli from the garden into the aquaponics grow bed….I’ve notices that I have been getting some aphids.  Getting rid of the aphids has been a little tricky since the grow bed is indoors.  Here is how I’m doing it: getting rid of aphids.

April 22, 2013 – Casualties

2 fish have died.  I suspect the combination of high pH and Ammonia with the rising temperature is to blame.  The Nitrite levels are still zero.  I’ll need to lower the pH.

April 15, 2013 – Water Test

We took a water quality test, and had the following results:

pH = 8.4, Ammonia = 0.25 ppm, Nitrite = 0 ppm, Nitrate = 40 ppm, Temperature = 70 F

The Nitrites are zero and that is a good thing.  I’m a little worried about the pH, and ammonia levels at this temperature.  Below is a table showing recommended safe levels for fish.

Max Ammonia (ppm) for pH and Temperature
pH20C (68F)25C (77F)

April 13, 2013 – More Fish

We put in some more gold fish.  We put in 6 large (2-inches long) and 6 small (1-inch long) goldfish.  We would like to put in some tilapia, but haven’t taken a trip to a fish farm to get them yet.  The total number of goldfish in the tank is now 13.

April 2nd, 2013 – Plant and Bacteria

Some more plants have been put into the growbed, and are doing just great.  The sprouts are lettuce and broccoli.  The two broccoli plants that were transplanted from the garden are getting larger and showing promise.  Here are some pictures:

I checked the water quality and the Nitrites were at Zero!  This is the first time I have had a zero reading since starting the system 6 weeks ago (4 weeks from having plants in the growbed).

This means that the bacteria for converting ammonia and nitrites are established.  I now need some more fish to keep the bacteria population from dying!  (I only have one little goldfish that survived the cycling up of the system).

March 22nd, 2013 – Less Fish & More Plants

Some more goldfish died.

I added some lettuce sprouts to the growbed.    Once these plants get a little larger, they should be able to help lower the nitrate levels in the water.

I removed the lettuce that I had transplanted from the garden earlier.  It wasn’t surviving, so I got rid of it.  I think it was already having trouble before I transplanted it.  The broccoli plants I transplanted seem to be doing okay.

March 20th, 2013 – A Moment of Silence Please

A moment of silence was held today for 3 goldfish that succumbed to the ill effects of poor water quality.

March 16th, 2013 – Goldfish not Looking Good

When I checked in on the fish, they looked real lathargic.  I think the water quality is taking its toll on the poor little creatures.  I dumped out about 15 gallons of the old water and added about 30 gallons of fresh water.  I’m hoping this will dilute the water enough to keep the fish going.

March 9th, 2013 – Added Some Plants

Since the Nitrates are so high in the water, I figured I needed to get some plants in the grow bed soon.  I planted some lettuce and broccoli seeds in a separate container to transplant into the growbed.  I also transplanted some medium sized lettuce and broccoli plants that were in the garden.  I go the soil off the roots by swishing them around in a bucket of water.

March 8th, 2013 – Testing the Water

I got my water testing equipment in the mail today and ran my first water quality test.  I’m surprised the fish are still alive.  You can read more about it here.


Feb 28th, 2013 – Emergency Overflows

I added some emergency overflows to both the growbed and the fish tank.  I think this is the last design step that I have planned…besides the fish and plants.  Just in time to…last day in February!

Instead of using the more expensive bulkheads, I tried using a male and female threaded adaptor with a rubber gasket.

Emergency Overflows

Emergency Overflows

Both overflows are with 3/4-inch PVC pipe.  The overflow drains to the sump.  These should only overflow if the siphon tube gets clogged or the fish tank outlet pipe gets clogged.

I have have the system running 24 hrs a day, so this gives me some piece of mind that I won’t be flooding the room when there is a malfunction.

Here is another shot of the overflow out of the growbed.  I only have a rubber gasket on the outside of the tank.  I had to cut the gasket to be the right size, since I couldn’t find one that would fit over the threaded 3/4″ adaptor.  I think it turned out looking pretty good.


Feb 27, 2013 – Modification to the Fish Tank Outlet

When I first started up the system i noticed that the fish tank outlet created a siphon.  This is a bad thing, since it could drain the entire fish tank!  To remedy this I drilled a hole on the top of the elbow out of the tank.  This allows air into the hole, which breaks the siphon.

I noticed that a lot of the fish food was being sucked out of the small hole I drilled into the elbow, so I modified the design slightly to correct this.

2013-02-27_18-00-58_290The outlet now has a tee with a small section of pipe that extends a few inches above the high water level in the fish tank.  This allows air into the pipe, but keeps the fish food out.

I think this is a much better design, and my fear of accidentally draining out the fish tank has ended.

Feb 23, 2013 – Fish and Distribution Pipe

Added some fish to the system.

2013-02-23_15-26-33_670Unfortunately these aren’t tilapia…there goldfish.  I’ve researched a few fish farms, and the minimum tilapia to purchase is 20.  Most have a minimum of 50.  I’m still in the hunt for a local source to get tilapia or some other food fish.

I decided to go ahead and get the system running with 10 goldfish.  I hope this will get the bacteria growing in the growbed, and I’ll be able to plant some vegetables soon.

I now have most of the gravel in the growbed.  Still need about an inch or so.  The siphon is running good.

I also added some distribution pipe on top of the growbed.

Distribution Pipe

Distribution Pipe

The pipe has small holes drilled in it to allow the water to come out.  The idea behind the distribution pipe is to allow the fish waste to be spread out across the growbed, and not just be concentrated in one spot.  This should allow for healthy bacteria growth and better Nitrogen conversion.

Feb 20, 2013 – The Siphon, Sump, and Fish Overflow

I dove into the design and have set up the sump, fish tank, pump system, and siphon.  I think the most difficult phase so far has been to get the materials for a siphon.  I’ve been known to stand with a blank stare in from of the pvc fittings section at Lowes or Home Depot before.  This was only compounded with me trying to find unusual items.  It definitely helps to have a design drawn out on paper before going to purchase materials.  However, I also needed to know what is available at the store so that I could design something using available materials.  It is a fine balance that resulted in me visiting the store more than once.  So far I’ve ended up going to 4 different stores (some of them multiple times) to buy the parts that I’ve needed.  So if you are building an aquaponics system, I recommend that you learn the principles behind the system, so that you can modify the design to suite your available materials.

Here are a few pictures of the system so far:

2013-02-16_14-10-48_900I made a stand for the blue fish tank (55 gal. barrel) from some scrap wood.  I raised the tank high enough so that the tank would overflow continuously onto the grow bed (gray bin).  The black garbage barrel is the sump.  Once the siphon is activated in the grow bed, it will empty into the sump.  A pump will continuously pump out of the sump and into the fish tank.

2013-02-15_15-42-25_652I used a 3/4-inch bulkhead fitting for the base of the siphon in the grow bed.  The fittings are somewhat pricy, but they were very easy to install.  I found that many other designs use a uniseal fitting which seem to work for others.  I couldn’t find any local stores that sale these.  I wouldn’t have saved much by ordering them on-line, and I would have had to wait for them to get here, so I just used a bulkhead fitting instead.


The barrel that I bought came with a 1/2″ spigot attached to the bottom.  I unscrewed it out to take a look at how it was attached.  It looks like they tapped the side of the barrel, and didn’t just drill a hole.  There are actual threads.  So, I’m not sure I could replicate this.


Here is the 1/2″ spigot.  I added some teflon tape to help seal the water in.

2013-02-16_14-10-55_494Here is my helper.

2013-02-16_14-16-12_644I drilled a hole for a 1/2″ bulkhead fitting that will serve as the overflow from the fish tank to the grow bed.  The hole is right at about the 50 gal level.  There should be enough room above the overflow to allow an emergency overflow back to the sump, and also some room for waves and splashing by large fat fish!  🙂2013-02-16_14-50-38_539

The overflow from the fish tank pulls water from the bottom of the tank.  The hope is that some of the larger particles of fish waste will be swept up from the bottom of the tank and deposited onto the grow bed.


This is the overflow from the fish tank.  The suction holes should be large enough to get some of the fish waste, but small enough to not suck in fish.  The design is set up to keep a constant water level in the fish tank.  I still need to drill a small hole in the 90-degree elbow at the top of the overflow.  When I tested the system, I noticed that it started to siphon out the fish tank.  I definitely don’t want that to happen.


This is the internal workings of the siphon.  From the bottom to the top it is the 3/4-inch bulkhead, 3/4-inch threaded to solvent weld transition fitting, 3/4-inch sch 40 pvc, another 3/4-inch threaded to solvent weld transition fitting, then a 3/4-inch threaded x 1.5-inch solvent fitting (this has a smooth transition from 1.5-inch to 3/4-inch).


the internal fittings of the siphon are covered by this 3-inch PVC pipe with a 3-inch cap.  There are holes along the bottom of the pipe.  When the water drops to this level, air is sucked in and breaks the siphon.

2013-02-16_15-39-27_413  Here is the siphon discharging water to the sump tank below the grow bed.  I can’t tell you how relieved I was to see it working properly.2013-02-16_16-30-31_960

This 4-inch PVC pipe was put over the 3-inch siphon.  The purpose of this is to hold the gravel in the grow bed away from the siphon.  This will allow me to inspect and modify the siphon.  The holes are to allow water to flow in.

2013-02-16_17-49-47_912 I added a string to the cap of the 4-inch pipe so that I could easily pull out the 3-inch siphon pipe. There isn’t much room between the outside of a 3-inch pipe and the inside of a 4-inch pipe.

2013-02-16_17-50-30_535Here is a top view of the system.  I still have a lot more gravel I need to add to fill up the gray bin.  I also plan on modifying the outlet from the blue fish tank to discharge the water evenly over the grow bed.  This will help a more even distribution of the fish waste over the gravel.

Feb 6, 2013 – Starting to Build the System

I’ve been reading up on different designs for aquaponics.  The best information that I have found so far is from Dr. Wilson Lennard.  He developed a spreadsheet that gives recommended fish tank size vs. grow bed size vs. fish densities vs. amount of daily fish food.  I wrote an explanation of Dr. Lennards recommendations and a link to his spreadsheet here.  I also included some graphs that I made that show some of the recommendation ratios at a glance.

Here is where I am setting up my system.


The storage container will be the grow bed.  I may cut off some of the top…or not.  It is a little smaller than I was hoping for, but it was the largest container I could find.  The blue barrel below is planned for the fish tank.  I haven’t bought the sump tank yet.
I should be able to grow about 2 lbs of fish in the tank.

Is this going to work?…stay tuned.

Jan 27, 2013 – Preliminary Design

Preliminary Aquaponics Design

Preliminary Aquaponics Design

This is a very rough sketch of the preliminary design.  Sorry it may be unreadable.  I plan to put this system inside next to a window.  Having the system inside will eliminate the challenge of heating/cooling the tank for the fish.  I think having the unit next to a window should provide enough sunlight for the plants to grow.

Keep in mind that none of this is to scale, but here is the basic structure:

  • Water pumps from the sump to the fish tank.  The pump will run continuously.
  • Water overflows from the fish tank to the grow bed.  The pipe will be pulling from the bottom of the fish tank.  This will be running constantly.
  • The grow bed will fill with water to a preset level on the bell siphon.  Once it reaches this level, the siphon will drain the water in the grow bed and into the sump.
  • The water level in the sump and grow bed will vary, but the water in the fish tank will always be the same.
  • I’ll also have an emergency overflow back into the sump in case the siphon or the pipe from the fish tank get clogged.

Jan 26, 2013 – Visit to the Hydroponics Store

This week I went to a hydroponics store located near my house.  Honestly, I hadn’t really noticed it before, but now that I’ve been looking into aquaponics it just jumped out.  Maybe this could be my place to get all of my equipment that I will need.

Good 2 Grow Hydroponics Store

Good 2 Grow Hydroponics Store

So, on Saturday I took my daughter and we went to the hydroponics store.  I found the owner to be friendly and helpful.  I explained that I was looking for equipment to start my aquaponics system.  He admitted that he had little knowledge about aquaponics but assured me that he could answer all my questions about the plant side of things.

After talking some more with him, I got the impression that he thought the addition of fish brought a lot more issues and potential problems that just running a plant system.  By this time, my daughter had found the expanded clay pellets…and found that they roll very nicely on the ground.

I knew my time was limited, so I grabbed his catalog and hit the road.  I happened to flip the pages of another magazine at the shop before I left.  It seemed to have some references to marijuana…. Is this why the store sign is in tie-die?

I looked at the catalog (the non-marijuana one), but things sure are expensive in there.  A small 2’x4’ plant tray cost $62.  I should be able to find a less expensive way to do this.