Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Building a Muffler for a Drain Pipe

This system is in my friend's bedroom, and he asked me to make the drain quieter.  Here's what I did, and it worked really well.  After building this muffler, you can't even tell when the water is draining unless you're watching the water level in the fish tank.

This was the sketch of my idea.  The drain pipe would point down into the fish tank, but would not be submerged in the water.  A larger diameter pipe would sit around the drain pipe, with the bottom end submerged.  The larger pipe would be held onto the drain pipe with a wooden dowel through both pipes.  The larger pipe will muffle the sound of the splashing water.  To reduce the noise further, you could plug the top of the larger diameter pipe with cloth, foam, saran wrap, etc.

 I ended up using saran wrap, and the larger diameter pvc pipe wanted to float, so it started leaning to the side.  This may help the muffler, because the water runs down the side of the pvc pipe rather than splashing into the tank.  I'm planning on replacing the saran wrap with something better looking, but I want to test some options.

Our tilapia Zeus seems to miss the splashing water, though.  He used to like being splashed with the draining water.  Oh well, it needed to be quieter.

And the garden is looking good.  The growth has been slow, because the water was pretty dirty.  I did a partial water change, and cleaned the filter and plumbing.  I hope that helps the plants a bit.  After the water change, the nitrates are still high, and the pH is about 7.5.  I added a little pH down to get the pH closer to 6.8.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Low pH in the apartment system, but growth is good

I checked out the system this week, and it seems to be doing well.  The brown algae in the water is slowly disappearing.  The veggies are growing well, though the strawberry seeds that I scattered in one pot don’t seem to be growing too quickly.  My friend hadn’t checked the chemicals recently, so I did while I was there.  The pH was very low (<6), but everything else looked ok.  The ammonia was 0.5ppm.  Nitrite was zero, and Nitrate was 160+ ppm.

I added 6 capfuls of API’s pH up.  I decided that I didn’t want to rely on my friend checking the pH and adjusting, so I added enough pH up to bump up the pH to around 7.  Normally I wouldn’t want to raise it more than 0.2 per day, but I didn’t want to risk losing the bacteria and have to re-cycle the system.  My friend added a little water the next day, and checked the pH.  It was about 7 – 7.2, which is ideal.  Hopefully this weekend I can visit for a few hours to clean the canister filter, and plan out new fish that we want to put in the fish tank.  We’d also like to mount some small lights that we have onto chains above the grow bed.  Another issue is that the water draining is somewhat loud, so I want to figure out a way to muffle the draining water.  Here’s some pictures and a video from my visit to the system.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

105 Gallon Apartment System Update

The system at my buddy Saqib's apartment is doing well.  Saqib was away for a week for work, so a roommate was feeding the fish.  We think that he overfed our tilapia, Zeus, because the water is filled with brown algae.  I've read online that this algae is not really caused by sunlight, but rather by overfeeding the fish.  High nitrates also lead to this type of algae.  We'll be feeding Zeus less from now on, and I plan to clean out the filter to make sure everything is nice and healthy.

Saqib added some small lights to the system, and the plants look to be doing well.  We'll get those lights up on chains soon.  In another 2 weeks, we'll be switching to some ornamental fish for the tank, and at that point we'll clean the tank and hang the lights.  Hopefully, that will help keep the algae in control, and help with the veggie growth.

Monday, September 30, 2013

IBC Tote!

A few weeks ago, I saw a post on where someone was offering to sell an aquaponics-ready IBC tote.  I had to drive down to Alexandria, VA, but it was worth it.  I was able to get this awesome 330 gallon tote, already cut in half, including plumbing and a pallet, for only $180.  I'm going to set it up at my parent's house in Wilmington, DE in the Spring.  It's pretty much ready to be set up, and just needs a pump.  This will be my biggest aquaponic system to date, and I'm excited to see how it turns out.  I have a few months to plan the system, but I'm thinking about building more grow beds to link into the large fish reservoir that we'll have.  I might even set up some strawberry towers.  Super exciting!

This is what it looks like now.

This is what it will look like in a few months, hopefully.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Brief Video Update

We have green life!  The system is cycled and growing small plants.  Zeus, our tilapia, is doing fine.  We're probably going to eat him soon, and put in some ornamental fish.  I'd like to have a bit more plant growth before making the switch.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Finally an Update!

It’s been quite a while since my last update, and I’ve had a lot of developments, so here we go!

The AquaFarm from Back to the Roots had been making a decent amount of noise as the air pump rattles against the plastic container.  I tried to adjust the foam insulation pad, but it was difficult to keep the thing quiet.  I was away from my apartment during my trip to Burning Man, so I moved the betta into a different tank and had a friend take care of him for me.  The wheatgrass grew well, but the basil and other herb didn’t grow very well.  Right now the system is empty, and I’m planning on starting it up again in the next few weeks.

The 105 gallon system at my friend’s apartment is still slowly moving forward.  My friend is taking a trip to Nepal, so his room got a new owner.  My buddy Saqib is going to look after the aquaponics system from now on, and I’m glad that he’s excited about it.  The seed plugs (coco coir, I think) started developing a white mold, so I broke off the plugs and planted the seedlings directly into my grow media.  I also installed a drain plug into my bell siphon to keep rocks from messing up the drainage cycle.  Pogo had bought 6 full grown tilapia for the fish tank before I left for Burning Man, but only one is still living.  I would have preferred to start with fingerlings, but one large tilapia will do fine for now.  His name is Hercules.  I think Saqib and I are on the same page, and want to eat Hercules and fill the tank with smaller, decorative fish.  I also want to cover the sides of the system’s frame with cloth to keep sunlight out of the filter and fish tank.  Some algae grew inside the filter, that I need to clean out, so hopefully the lack of sunlight will fix that in the future.  The pH seems to be slowly, but consistently dropping, so I’ve had to add pH up a few times.  I’m not sure what’s causing the pH drop, yet.  We’re working out the little kinks in the system, so I’m excited to see how it works out.  I’ll update when we have some new developments!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Aquafarm Review, Day 4

I recently received the AquaFarm that I had ordered from Back To the Roots.  It took quite a long time for this to be shipped out, but it finally arrived.  I set it up almost immediately, and then remembered that I wanted to do a "how to" video for setting it up.  I was too eager, and forgot!

Anyway, here's a quick review.  I've had it set up for 4 days.  The first beta fish that I put in the tank died after 2 days, so I got a second beta for the tank.  I can't say whether the first beta fish died because of the AquaFarm design, or if it was just an unhealthy fish.  We'll see how this fishy does.

AquaFarm Review

AquaFarm Packaging

Sorry about the dark photo, but here's the AquaFarm!

You can see where the airline tubing for the air lift goes down into the fish tank.

It came with Lettuce, Basil, and Wheat Grass

It also came with de-chlorinating chemicals, beneficial bacteria, a fish-cleaning solution, and a tank cleaning supplement called Tidy Tank.

Overall, I think this is a pretty cool system, and I can't wait to see what it grows!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Ordering another Water Test Kit and an Aquafarm Review to come!

I've been waiting to receive a replacement color chart for measuring pH, Ammonia, Nitrate, and Nitrite levels.  I sent API $2 for a replacement, but it's taking forever.  So, I ordered a new test kit from amazon.  They're marked down to ~$16 dollars from ~$20.  I can use this at home, since my other test kit is at Pogo's apartment with his 105 gallon system.

Also, I just received my pre-ordered AquaFarm from  This is the most hyped aquaponic kit that was on Kickstarter recently.  I'm excited to get a Betta fish tonight and get it set up.  I'll have an unboxing video, and a review of the system in the coming weeks.

I also recently read an article about Aqua Vita farms in upstate New York.  They're one of the only commercial Aquaponic farms on the east coast.  They're looking for a buyer or investor, otherwise they'll have to close up shop in about a week.  It's a shame to see that they couldn't see profitable margins in their venture.  The owner, Mark Doherty, claimed that they had to redesign their system to make it more efficient and profitable.  However, they ran out of capital because of the redesign, and now they don't have enough money to stay afloat.  I hope them all the best, and I hope that I can someday meet Mark and learn from their experiences.  Here's a link to the article:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

105 Gallon System Update coming soon

I've been slowly working on my friend's 105 gallon system.  We have the canister filter installed and pumping water.  We have our media in the grow bed.  We have the bell siphon installed and working.

Unfortunately, we lost the color code chart for testing pH and other chemical levels, so we're waiting on a replacement chart to balance our water chemistry before starting fishless cycling.  Hopefully in the next week, or less, we'll receive our replacement color chart, and we'll be cycling.

On a side note, I received an Arduino as a gift from a Reddit gift exchange.  I'm learning to use it, and will ideally be able to set it up to monitor the system.  I know it can monitor water temperature.  I'm hoping I can also set up sensors to trigger supplemental lighting when it is a gloomy day.  I'm also wondering whether I can use pH sensors and other chemical sensors to monitor everything about my system.  I'd love to also build an automatic fish feeder, but that's down the line a bit.

Anyway, keep a look out in the next week or two for an update with pictures and video.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Advice on Aquaponics from a Hydroponics Expert

Recently, I spoke with a hydroponics expert, Dan Sypolt from Garden Indoors, a hydroponics store in Bristol, PA.  I had come to the store to buy 190 liters of expanded clay grow medium for the 105 gallon aquaponic system for my friend's apartment.  Instead of just selling me their product, Dan really helped me decide upon the best way to approach the system that I'm working on (I ended up not buying anything at that time).  He brought up some great points that I don't hear being discussed very often in aquaponic forums that I read.  His advice has led me to re-planning the system I'm building, and I think it will be a more robust system with this new design.

First, Dan suggested that typically, hydroponic systems are only flooded with water around 4 times during daylight hours.  My windowfarm had been trickling water 24/7 which over-watered my strawberries.  I have read many suggestions for a 15 minute flood, every hour.  Dan suggested that this was probably too much (at least from a conventional hydroponics perspective).  I'm going to start the new system with a 15 minute flood every 3 hours, and see how it works out.  The less pumping, the more energy saved on electricity.

You might be thinking that flooding the system every 3 hours will not provide a moist environment for the bacteria to grow in my media beds.  This leads me to Dan's second suggestion.  In the store, there were several hydroponic setups that were similar to my aquaponic setup, except that instead of having one large grow bed filled with media, the grow beds were holding potted plants, and the grow pots were filled with media.  This used a lot less media than filling the entire grow bed, which will save you money.  The grow bed is essentially acting like a flood table.  This allows you to move the plants around easily without disturbing the roots.  You can also remove plants easily, and it also makes the grow bed much easier to clean.  All the solid waste that builds up in the bottom of a grow bed can be a smelly pain in the butt to clean.  This isn't a problem with this setup.  You don't have to worry about media guards for your plumbing, because the grow media never touches the plumbing.  The flood table would look something like this:

Now, you may be thinking, "What about filtering the water? What about the bacteria?"  The grow bed in a flood and drain system typically acts as a filter for solid waste, as well as the location for bacteria growth, essential to aquaponics.  If the water is not being pumped into the grow media, than where is the bacteria growing, and how is the solid waste filtered.  For this, Dan suggested using a typical aquarium filter.  There are several filter types available. If you're using an aquarium, a hang-on-back filter is fairly inexpensive, but may be less reliable than other filters.


A canister filter is usually a little more expensive, but more durable.  I've chosen to use a Canister Filter for the 105 gallon system that I'm building (pictured below).

Another filter type that Dan mentioned was a Wet/Dry Trickle Filter.  This is like having a separate, smaller media bed specifically for growing bacteria.  It can be attached to an aquarium, but they seem very bulky.

The filter that Dan suggested would work best is a Fluidized Bed Filter.  These are highly efficient biological filters that have enormous bio-load capacities and take up very little space.  They are similar to a wet/dry trickle filter with extremely small media (typically sand), but air is pumped into the media causing it to flow around.  This flow causes the bacteria to be "bumped off" the sand grains, and more bacteria grows in its place.  Bacteria can adapt very rapidly to increases or decreases in bio-load.  With such a small media, the surface area is huge, allowing for an enormous amount of beneficial bacteria.  Here's a cool video to demonstrate how it works.

So, with all this in mind, I think this is a better way of designing a flood and drain aquaponic system.  The canister filter cost me about $100, but I'm saving at least $80 that I would have spent on expanded clay pellets.  I haven't researched the other options extensively to write about all the pros/cons of different filters, but the canister filter seemed durable and efficient.  As for the system design change overall, I think that the pros outweigh the cons.  What do you think?

Aquaponic Windowfarm update 17 May 2013

So the windowfarm was not looking too great this morning.  My air tubing got clogged with solid waste, and stopped pumping water.  The parsley looks sad.

The garlic is hanging in there.

On the bright side, the mushroom farm that I ordered from Back to the Roots has started to show mushroom pins.  I've grown edible mushrooms before, but I had some problems with the first kit from Back to the Roots, it just didn't grow.  The replacement, however, has started to grow, and we should have some full-size mushrooms in a few days.  I'm still a bit skeptical about their aquaponic kit.  I'm worried that the 3 gallon tank is not enough for a betta fish (recommendations are for a 5 gallon tank minimum for happy fish).  It is a nice concept, though.  I'm expecting to receive mine sometime in the upcoming months.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Aquaponic Windowfarm Update 6 May 2013

Our windowfarm is having some ups and downs. The strawberries are growing and starting to turn red.

I planted some garlic and its sprouting.

The rosemary is great.

The parsley is great.

The basil isn't growing. Any suggestions on what I should try to replace it with?

I'm going to finally finish the plumbing for Pogo's 105 gallon system this week. By next weekend we should have it filled with media and water. We'll start fishless cycling, and hopefully be growing soon!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Windowfarm Update 3

The Basil doesn't seem to be doing too well.

The Parsley is thriving!

I've cut the rosemary a few times for tasty recipes.  It's still growing strong.

The strawberries are coming along, and we even have a few small berries.


However, I'm afraid that I may be overwatering the strawberry plant.  The leaves are turning yellow and brown, which may be a sign of overwatering.  I'm planning on getting a timer to stagger the water flow.

I planted some spare garlic that I didn't use for dinner!  It's sprouted and is doing well.

Our Venus Fly traps are open.

Parsley is doing well, lavender is not.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Beautiful Aquaponic Systems

One thing that's important for many potential aquaponic systems is beauty.  People don't necessarily want something in their yard or home that looks like a science project.  Here are some really beautiful systems.  I'm hoping to use these as inspiration for my future projects.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Pros and Cons of Different System Types

Commercial Aquaponics

I've been trying to compare the pros and cons of different types of aquaponic systems recently.  Right now, I'm working on constructing a 105 gallon setup at my friend's apartment.  We're making a simple flood and drain system, with a 50 gallon grow bed.  Filling that grow bed will require almost 200 Liters of expanded clay or some other media.  All that media is going to double the cost of our system.  We were thinking about alternative methods, such as expanded shale or even something like legos (but we don't have nearly 50 Gallons of legos).  The cost of buying a grow media for a large grow bed is so high, that it really got me thinking about alternative systems.  Here's a list of pros and cons of various aquaponic systems.  If you know anything that I haven't listed, please leave a comment and I'll add it to my list and credit you.

Media Bed Systems
Chift Pist, Simple Flood and Drain (Ebb and Flow), Constant Flood (Continuous Flow)
· Self Cleaning - The grow media filters out the fish waste
· A media bed performs three (3) filtering functions:
    · mechanical (solids removal)
    · mineralization (solids breakdown and return to the water) 
    · bio-filtration
· Media provides better plant support and is more closely related to traditional soil gardening because there is a media to plant into

· Expensive growing media

A Typical Media Bed

Chift Pist
· Pump is in sump tank away from fish and wastes
· Water level in fish tank remains constant
· Great if you have a tall fish tank
· Larger water volume because of sump
· Extra equipment required (sump tank)
· Must have tall fish tank or stand
· Can take up larger footprint

Chift Pist system

Simple Flood and Drain / Ebb and Flow
· The grow bed can be separated from the fish reservoir
· Simple design - Only two major system components - lower cost
· It is easy to understand and learn
· Great if you have a tall fish tank
· Requires a timer or bell syphon
· Pump is in fish tank, exposed to fish and waste
· Water level in tank fluctuates a little

Simple Flood and Drain system

Constant Flood / Continuous Flow
· Same as the Simple Flood and Drain, except when you remove the timer, the system is constantly flooding
· Pump is in fish tank
· Plant roots can become waterlogged, and areas of the grow bed can become stagnant and anaerobic as the flow of fresh water through the bed moves around any blockages

Constant Flood system

Deep Water Culture (DWC)
· Resistant against water temperature and pH fluctuations
· Excellent root development due to easy access to oxygen
· There is plenty of surface area for the beneficial bacteria to grow
· Very good for lettuces and leafy vegetables – used extensively by commercial farmers
· Requires additional filtration to remove solids
· Large plants such as tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. can be difficult, if not impossible, to support

Deep Water Culture system

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
· Both components (fish and plants) may be decoupled from each other whenever required and can/do operate independently of each other if required.  I believe this is important in a commercial situation because it allows fish or plant production to continue when and if there are any problems with the other component
· Water susceptible to temperature fluctuations
· Requires additional filtration to remove solids
· Roots that die and detach from plants can cause blockages in water flow
· NFT is only really suitable for certain types of plants, generally leafy green vegetables, larger plants will have root systems that are too big and invasive, or they become too heavy for the lightweight growing gutters

Nutrient Film Technique system