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My Aquaponics Efforts

Dawn T

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I've decided to try 2 different aquaponics approaches for my 2 different 29g aquariums.

#1 requires very little in the way of supplies and tools. I just need to gather the right plants. Plants that can grow terrestrially with their roots always in water. I don't keep uncovered tanks, so a fully aquascaped tank with plants coming out of the water surface (as much as I like the look) isn't something I want to contend with. I live in Southern Arizona, where the air is very dry most of the year, and evaporation from an open tank can be outright ridiculous. LOL But, I decided there had to be a way I could get the benefits of the terrestrial plants (more nitrate usage) without an open tank. Was watching a YouTube video (fully open tank, of course), and suddenly inspiration struck. Not rocket science after all! Last night after I went to bed (yes, I SHOULD have been sleeping), I figured out how to pull it off effectively and safely (for the fish AND plants), and cheaply, too. In fact, I already have everything (except the plants) on hand to do it because I'll be using supplies out of my crafting stash. As soon as I start doing that, I'll be sure to post photos to this thread.

#2 is a true aquaponics setup. Plumbing, equipment, planter box, and all. I had to do a boatload of research to understand the hows, whys, and whatfors of setting it up, which way I wanted to go about it, and what plants that means I can do. My final supplies for it arrived today. Unfortunately, I'm not feeling well, so I'm not up to doing anything with it. grumble, grumble, grumble Griping aside, I'll be sure to post photos to this thread as I go. Whether successful or not, it should be fun to do anyway. I've never done anything that needed plumbing before, though I've often studied things like sumps in the past (in case I ever do get that big oscar tank I want).

I'd love to hear from anyone who has done aquaponics or is thinking about doing it, what kind you're considering, that sort of thing. 🙂

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  • 3 weeks later...

Got the basics done for my first aquaponics setup. It was fun to do!

I used 36" plastic planter box. It's 8" deep and 5" tall. I chose black to help avoid algae issues.

For water flow, I'm using an AquaClear 70 powerhead. I decided to use a powerhead instead of a submerged pump as a safeguard against mishaps. If the plumbing for a fully submerged pump somehow disconnects, it can empty the tank all over the floor. I didn't want to risk that. If this powerhead somehow gets disconnected, it can only drop the water level about 2-3". Safer for the fish AND for our house. LOL I got an input filter for the powerhead and swapped out the media in it for a piece of coarse sponge as a simple prefilter.

The only actual plumbing I had to do is for the drain. I used a paddle bit to drill a hole in the bottom in one corner. I inserted a 3/4" slip bulkhead and tightened it until it stopped dripping/leaking. I decided to do the bottom instead of a side as further safeguard against leaks. If the bulkhead leaks, no problem. The water will drip right into the tank. To that, I added 3/4" PVC above and below, with a 90-elbow underneath to allow for control of water flow/direction. The PVC above is capped, then drilled on the sides and top. I found having no cap and just letting the water naturally overflow down the pipe created a really obnoxious drain sound. CONSTANTLY. LOL Drilling the holes in the side and adding the drilled cap allows for free flow of water and it's almost entirely silent. I used a piece of plastic canvas sown into a tube with 20# Fireline (fishing line I have on hand for crafting). I could've done that smaller, but I decided to leave the option open for a bell siphon, if I decide to add one later to change this to an Ebb & Flow (Flood & Drain) system. If I decide to add one, I can just drop it in there. For now, I've decided to stick with a Media setup.

The intake is actually an old filter intake tube. I drilled 2 small holes just under the rim of the planter box and secured the intake tube with a length of 20# Fireline. To filter water coming into the box, I put 2 layers of filter media, backed by a piece of plastic canvas to separate the filter media from the growing media (Hydroton clay pellets).

I've had it running the past couple of days to make sure everything is operating correctly and the water is flowing smoothly and consistently before I add any plants. Before I drilled the sides of the PVC pipe and had only the cap drilled, the water was draining fast enough and kept rising. Side drilling fixed that. I didn't do a great job with the cap drill, but hey, it works. LOL The holes drilled in the side are ~3/8". Most of the ones in the cap are the same. The water stays below the top of the cap, so I've got wiggle-room for overflow, should I ever need it.

As for plants, I've got a baby spider plant that will go in there, but otherwise, I'm looking to do some veggies that do well in Media and DWC systems. I have a small light I plan to mount to the wall above it all to provide consistent lighting to the plants.

Oh, the black sponge visible on top of the filter media in one of the photos? That's there temporarily to block light from getting to that filter media. I don't want algae growing on that white media.








Edited by Dawn T
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Yes. As long as no chemicals/medications are used in the tank, veggies grown in there will be perfectly healthy to eat. If you look at all the information available online about aquaponics, they explain about that sort of thing.

Needless to say, that's a REALLY good reason to properly quarantine new fish before adding them. If you have to medicate them in a quarantine tank, no problem. In an aquaponics setup, you either can't medicate or you can't eat what you've grown because you medicated. Incidentally, salt is an exception. Though different plants have different tolerance levels for plants, you CAN use it as a medicine for fish without it being an issue for edible vegetables. Salt is used in aquaponics setups all the time for that reason.

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BTW, don't discount the possibility of doing some sort of aquaponics with even nano tanks. People do this stuff in quart jars, so a nano tank, no problem. In fact, it's even easier to do that than what I've done so far. There are even aquaponics kits you can buy that are only like 1-3 gallons of water, so definitely doable.

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  • 10 months later...

I've made a few minor modifications to the aquaponics setup on this tank as the months have passed.

Latest change - 10/11/2021 - I put the pump that feeds the aquaponics basin on a timer - 30 minutes on, 1 hour off. The plants in the basin have grown so much that their roots prevented water from flowing and draining properly, which caused the water level to in the input end to rise too high. Water started dripping out of little holes I drilled just below the rim of the basin to secure the input tube. The addition of the timer and a slight modification to the filter media ensures that the water level goes down. So, a setup originally done as constant-flow is now ebb-and-flow. I monitored water quality extra closely for a couple of weeks after this change, since I had no idea how it would be affected. No change in the stability of the tank, and the plants are happy. Works for me! 😁

Latest photos are below. Ignore the extra light from the window. I only opened those curtains to take the photos of the aquaponics plants. Those curtains stay closed otherwise. I learned very quickly to keep those puppies closed, or I end up with an invasion of GSA.

The only plant not doing absolutely stellar is the spider plant. It's grown like a weed and is overall healthy, but the color is very pale. In investigating, I found out that's apparently the result of the roots being in water with no soil all the time. They only get their deep green color when their roots are in soil. So I might eventually move that guy into a soiled pot and replace it with something else that likes being waterlogged.

As you can see, the arrowhead vine is absolutely LOVING this. The mini arrowhead is, too, though it's not easily visible in this photo. It's in the foreground closer to the spider plant. You can spot it if you look closely. Wandering Jew cuttings are also very happy to be in water all the time, as is the miniature version of it I included. I've now got it in 2 other setups as well. Devil's ivy is also doing well. I started with only one cutting each of devil's ivy, arrowhead vine, and wandering Jew.



One thing that's been interesting to watch develop below the water line - a Crypt wendtii "bronze" that had accidentally been left free-floating when doing some plant trimming and thinning some months back decided to take up residence in the TOP opening on the big decoration inside the tank. It's growing well there, so I've left it alone and have enjoyed watching the color deepen to a beautiful bronze. I think the fact I keep duckweed in this tank helps to shade it enough for it not to grow algae while at the same it allowing enough light for it to bronze up nicely.


This tank has also become home to a squadron of assassin snails. I added 8 in there a couple or so weeks ago. I had them years ago and love those little guys. That means, of course, keeping them fed and happy. This tank already had ramshorn and pond snails, but I've been adding more from a friend's over-run (overfed) tank. Have quite the ecosystem going on in there.



Here's an overall view of just the tank. Water parameters couldn't be better. This tank requires weekly dosing with Easy Green. I probably should do it more often given the plant load above and below the water line, since I test weekly and always come up with zero nitrates. I thinned the submerged plants pretty drastically this morning, so it looks rather bare at the moment, especially along the back wall. Getting stem plants to establish back there has proven to be a challenge. Not enough light, I think, reaches that area due to the placing of the tank light due to the aquaponics setup AND the size of the decoration in the midground.


That's the latest on this build. 🙂

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  • 2 weeks later...

I raised the light above the aquaponics setup about a foot today. The arrowhead vine had gotten tall enough, it was getting too close to the light to suit me. Also, the Devil's Ivy climbing up the right side needed more space to stretch out. In doing that, I also moved the chicken on the wall about a foot higher so it was no longer hiding behind the arrowhead vine.



Interestingly, you can see how pale that spider plant is in the left side. I definitely need to move it into a different type of setup. It continues to grow large, but the color is severely anemic. It really needs substrate. The other plants are doing great though.

The little plants in the foreground that are barely visible are also doing well. Amazingly enough, given the lack of light from that arrowhead vine taking over. I'll be taking cuttings from one of them, and possibly breaking up the other, to include in a new terrarium I'm planning to do in the next week or two. (I have the jar for that. Just need a couple of supplies that are on order.)


You wouldn't guess from looking at it, but I actually did trim the arrowhead vine. If someone wants a houseplant that's super easy to grow in aquaponics setups, or even dropped directly into the back of a tank, Syngonium species are stellar growers. They truly can compete with Pothos in that. I see a LOT of folks on YouTube using Pothos, but that's all they seem to use. "Expand your horizons, folks!" I want to tell them. LOL

The wandering Jew also does very well in this type of setup. My only gripe about them is how easily their vines snap. I'm constantly breaking them. I just shove the broken end back into the box and move on, so it's constantly being cut back and made denser, whether I intend to do it or not.

What's going on below the water line? The Gambusia are continuing to do great. Increasing in numbers but not at a scary rate. I've found they're predatory, will hunt and eat their own babies. The tank has a good amount of plants in it, so some babies survive, but not enough to possibly overwhelm the system. Obviously, since it continues to test out at 0 nitrates week after week.

The last water change was in June (5th to be exact) when nitrate spiked over 25. I had lost a fish and couldn't find the body, so I did a 5% water change and simply monitored the tank after that. Nitrate came down and has remained at 0 ever since. I've been dosing weekly with Easy Green up until this past week, when I decided to increase to 2-3 times a week. Nitrates still tested at 0 today, so I think I need to use EG every day. I put a bottle on top to remind me to do that when I feed each morning.

Top offs are done with dechlorinated tap water. pH, GH, and KH remain stable.

Oh, almost forgot, thanks to help from members of this forum, I was able to find a timer that can do ON/OFF sequences in 15 minute increments. So I put the powerhead that feeds the aquaponics setup on that. The timer comes on for 15 minutes, off for 30, and repeats throughout the 24 hour period of each day. That's working perfectly, even better than the previous timer with 30 minute increments. It's an analog timer, so I don't have to worry about power outages requiring resets and whatnot. Since this use doesn't mean it MUST turn on a specific time and off at a specific time, I don't have to worry about it at all.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Yesterday, I removed the large spider plant visible in the left side of the images above. It grew BIG with wide leaves, but the leaves didn't grow in very dense, and they remained very anemic looking - pale green from tip to base. In nosing around online, I found out they only develop the deep green when planted in soil. So I pulled that one and replaced it with a baby parlor palm (Neanthe bella palm).


This morning, I removed the smaller spider plant. It was hidden in amongst all the devil's ivy and arrowhead vine, so I didn't replace it in the setup. I've given that arrowhead vine a trim, but as you can see, it's still VERY happy.



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  • 3 months later...

Did an overhaul on the aquaponics setup on top of this tank. I've been meaning to do it, but with everything going on in my life, it's been shelved. Finally got it done today. Here's how everything looked before I got started:


I removed all of the stuff on top, including the plants and box. I also removed the piece of black PVC that goes across the front of the box (blends in in this photo).

What I decided to do was eliminate the PLUMBING, so the emergent plants are no longer reliant on electricity to keep their roots moist. I removed the plumbing. Of course, that means the plants needed to go directly into the tank. The pump I was using to push water up into the box remains in the tank. I just changed its orientation so it now just pushes water around the tank along the back wall, which creates a nice circular flow in the tank. It's still attached to the sponge filter I was using on the original setup.

I moved plants AND a good portion of the media from the box (which I know contains good bacteria galore!) into shower caddy baskets that are now hanging on the rim and inside the back of the tank.


I still need to add one more basket in the right side of the tank, but it's working well. The tank is still murky from all the gunk I stirred up with such a dramatic overhaul.


This tank has mulm all along the bottom, which has been exacerbated by this overhaul (dumped quite a bit of mulm into the tank in the process of removing the box and placing the baskets). The pleco and cories in there will do a nice job of stirring a lot of that up and getting it into the filter, so I'm not concerned about it.

The emergent plants currently in the tank are Syngonium (arrowhead vine), Syngonium pixie (a dwarf variety of arrowhead vine that's only staying in here until I do another terrarium), Pothos, Wandering Jew, Bolivian Dwarf Wandering Jew, and Parlor Palm.

Needless to say, with this extreme of a makeover on what was essentially the tank's filter, I'll be monitoring water parameters for at least a few days to make sure I don't have any issues with the nitrate cycle.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Switched to a sponge filter for this tank, instead of running an air stone (on an AC nano USB air pump) and an internal filter (only coarse sponge media) for water circulation. While putting the sponge filter into place, it got caught on something behind the log decoration I shoved it behind. I leaned down to see what it was caught on and saw a long Anubias nana rhizome poking out.

I couldn't shove it back up, so I decided to pull it forward and just trim it off. It kept coming! By the time it stopped coming and I met resistance, it was over a foot long! I gave it a quick yank toward the base of it and it popped free. After I pulled it out, I looked at the rest of the tank. The Anubias in there didn't look like I'd touched it! This part was behind the decoration, hiding. I had NO idea it was back there! It wasn't there a year ago when I redid this tank.

For now, I dropped it into a 5g almost bare tank that I've been using as a QT. It covers the entire length of that tank, plus a bit more. I told my mom I need a bigger tank just for handling plant overflow. LOL

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It's been 2 weeks since the aquaponics overhaul. So far, the ammonia and nitrite remain at 0, and the nitrates only went up to 10 ppm the end of the first week but were back down by yesterday. So I'm back to using Easy Green regularly to fertilize the tank. I wasn't sure how much impact redoing the aquaponics on this would affect the nitrogen cycle, since that was the ONLY filter on the tank. Apparently, I did a good enough job getting the media out of the box into the baskets, though. Yay!

The Syngonium (both sizes) have gone through a melt of sorts, due to the root damage I couldn't avoid doing when I did the change. Both are showing signs of recovery, though, with new growth showing up.

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@modified lung The parlor palms are doing great. They actually seem to like this new setup even better than the previous one. Not surprising since I separated a clump to give each stem more space. They were doing fine before but I wasn't seeing much in the way of growth. They're already showing signs of new growth now. Here's how they look right now. I got baby babies, so they're little guys. They were all clustered tightly together in the previous setup, but like this you can see how many there are.


I was asked on another thread about the baskets I use for emergent plants. Here's the information:

The shower caddies I bought don't come in black. I had to spray paint them. I use Krylon Fusion All-In-One Paint & Primer in satin black. Once it's cured for 24 hours, it's totally fish safe. Works great on plastics. The larger baskets in my aquaponics setup are amazon.com/dp/B0986KSBGC spray-painted black. They were 3 for about $15. They worked great for plants with more roots, plus the media I had been using in the original aquaponics box. For this Endler tank, I used smaller drawer storage baskets from Walmart. They were 3 for less than $1. Work great for smaller cuttings.

Oh, and I used plastic s-hooks for hanging the larger baskets in this setup, also spray painted black. For the smaller baskets in the Endler tank, I made s-hooks by hand with simple plastic coated wire sold for garden use (those baskets don't have a lot of weight in them).

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@modified lungI only decided to try the neanthe a couple of months ago, after seeing it listed as one of the plants that's proven for this sort of setup on videos by Andrew / Plant Life Project. He has some great vids that show a HUGE array of houseplants that can be used in this sort of setup. Until I saw his videos, the only houseplants I KNEW were good for growing emergent in aquariums were pothos, Syngonium, and peace lily (as well as various vegetables and herbs, since I have books on home kitchen aquaponics). I'd tried a few others out myself with good results on some, not on others. I've let him be the guinea pig for a wide array of species I hadn't tried though. I've since integrated some of his suggestions into various tanks, like the parlor palm. I want to try more in my personal setups, but I'm out of room! For now. Looking to order another tank for a true riparian setup right now, using some plants I've currently got in small pots. I'm even worse with houseplants than I am about fish. Can't help myself! LOL

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