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Old 02-13-2014, 03:43 AM   #1
dubels
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Balcony Aquaponics


The combination of being impatient and spending too much time on this site has convinced me to start one last tank, an aquaponics setup on my balcony. Mainly inspired by DogFish's Aquaponics Setup and the AquaFarm, I decided I wanted to try my hand at gardening. But since I already have 6 tanks inside my condo already I could not start yet another inside. So it went from a late night idea of a 5 gallon fish tank and small herb grower on top into this setup on my balcony:

Equipment:
  • Sterilite 18 gallon storage container - might upgrade to a bigger size but its looking like its the biggest I can fit here.
  • Plasgad large mixing tub - wanted a medium one but couldn't find one in stock even though it said it was in stock so the manager gave me this one for the price of a medium one.
  • 3/4" bulk head
  • 3/4" PVC and connections
  • Harbor Freight 264 GPH pump
  • Large sponge filter powered by a Rio + 90
  • 17" x 14" Poret foam filter - on order
  • 45 Liters of expanded clay growing media
Fish:

  • Gold fish?
  • Shrimp culls?
Vegetables and Herbs:
  • Kale
  • ?


Here is a picture as it stands today. It is getting late so I am going to stop annoying my neighbors and continue tomorrow. Don't mind the mess I had to "clean up" the balcony to get this project to fit.


Last edited by dubels; 02-13-2014 at 04:19 AM.. Reason: adding comments
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Old 02-25-2014, 11:04 PM   #2
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Up and running.

Don't mind the wilting Kale. The kale was sitting on my coffee table for two weeks while I set this system up so it took a beating. Also the poret foam is just suspended there because I originally ordered it for a 18 gal container but ended up upgrading. Because of the plastic in this container, trying to restrain the foam has been impossible. Right now it just quiets the outflow. My only worry is that a fish might jump onto the foam and get stuck.

Current stock list:
-4 Comet gold fish
-13 Ghost shrimp

Water Parameters: Seeded with older sponge filter and Tetra Safe Start. I need to clean up the balcony you can still see the bottle from a week ago on the floor.
Ammonia: 0.25ppm
Nitrites: 0
Nitrates: 20ppm

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Old 02-26-2014, 08:38 PM   #3
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I've been wanting to set up an aquaponic system for a bit, mostly to use as a method to lower nitrates in my pleco's tank (sooo much poop), its great to see someone else doing it! be sure to keep your thread updated, I'd love to hear about your ups and downs (though hope you don't have any of the latter)!

I'd seen dogfish's set up before they removed all the info (still don't know why they did that :C). I already have the tank and pump/sump (for me its a canister filter), fully cycled, and fish living and growing and pooping in there... I just have to add the plant growing/plumbing end of it. Unfortunately mine is in a dark basement so i get to buy some lights to get things growing (and have to mod the tank a bit to prevent excess light from getting down to it and causing an algae explosion).

Originally I was going to do a grow bed/tub like you but decided to try an NFT (nutrient film technique) instead utilizing 4 inch pvc and "T"s to hold planters filled with media and a plants (1 plant per planter). It allows the adding and removing of plants as well as adjusting spacing easily and will be more light weight than a media bed on top of the tank.

Amusingly I'm not a huge fan of veggies (not ones that will be conducive for this system anyways) so I had my husband pick out what we're trying: Chives, oregano, cilantro, spinach, and lettuce (black seeded simpons and vakerie). Already bought seeds (organic seeds from Burpee) and am thinking 1 each of the herbs and 2-3 each of the leaf-y greens.

What brand of expanded clay did you get? Left over "hydroton" stock still flaoting around the market? "growIt!" or a different brand? I'm curious about the initial messy-ness of the clay and how long it takes to water log? Is you system a constant flow (goes in and out), constant flood (uses bell siphon to drain), on a timer for the wet/dry style, or different method? Are you using red wiggler worms in your grow bed?

I have no experience with shrimp but I thought they were a very sensitive species to water params (don't tolerate ammonia/nitrite)? Also... won't the gold fish try to eat the shrimp as they grow (thought gold fish will suck down anything they can manage to fit in their mouth)?

Hope your kale bounces back and your bacteria colony kicks into full gear nice and quick ^^
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Last edited by AquaAurora; 02-27-2014 at 12:53 AM.. Reason: added question
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Old 02-27-2014, 01:49 AM   #4
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It was actually Dogfish's thread that got me thinking about doing it. I will keep this thread updated with my ups and downs.

Current down: Using ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to declorinate both chlorine and chloramine has significantly decreased my PH. I tested the water with my new PH pen today and noticed the water is more than slightly acidic at 5.4. My tap water comes out at 7.6ph and the RO water I get comes out the same. I need to find a way to raise the PH, while a low PH would be great for some CRS and such its not that great for the comet gold fish. Time to add in some crushed coral slowly.

I guess I should consider using ascorbic acid in my shrimp tanks. The problem is that it produces Ammonium Chloride when it reacts with chloramine, which can be dangerous to fish and most likely to shrimp.

I would love to see your setup once you get up and running. I did the grow bed because it was an easy to install setup. The NFT method sounds like a much better method though.

The expanded clay is from a company called PlantIt! and was my single most expensive piece of this setup. I used all 45L and probably need more of it but it was $40 for the first 45L bag. The clay was messy at first, but then it cleared itself within 8 hours. The sediment from the clay is just sitting a nice pile on the bottom of the fish tub.

My system is a constant flood system with a bell siphon to drain. I am tempted to change it to a constant flow system for now to help with bacteria growth until everything is settled. I am thinking about using red wiggler worms in my grow bed but haven't had time to research more into them. I see others use them at the outlet in the filter floss.

Shrimps that would go in here would be low grade culls mostly from my hardy red shrimp stock. But seeing how low the PH is I doubt I would add them in. Right now there are some ghost shrimp hanging out in there and keeping things clean.

I hope the kale bounces back too. I have some spinach and radish seeds in a little grow out greenhouse getting ready to be planted.
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Old 02-27-2014, 09:21 AM   #5
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Congrats on your new Aquaponics system! Are you running this on a timer or does it flow throughout the night? I think the plants would like to get some air on their roots too.

I have a couple of concerns about your system. The first is the support for the grow bed. Do you have anything supporting it right now? It looks like the cement blocks are the only things holding it up. I've used the smaller version of that grow bed and it did sag in the middle over time. I currently have some 2x4s supporting mines.

The next concern is your tank. I've used those storage containers as fish tanks and had them deteriorate from direct sun exposure. I would say it lasted about 8 months before the plastic became brittle to the touch. I replaced it with a UV resistant tub.

My last concern is the placement of the pump on the bottom of the tank. I did the same thing too. One day the outflow into the grow bed decided to fall. All the water was pumped out of the tank and left the fish flopping around. After that incident I raised up the pump(by putting it on a brick) so it wouldn't drain all the water if it happened again.

Well, I hope this helps and Good Luck!
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Old 02-27-2014, 12:57 PM   #6
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+1 on your fish tank. Doesn't look like it will stand up to uv very long.

Wish I didn't have to take down my balcony aquaponics system. I grew more veggies in there then I could in any of my planters.
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Old 02-27-2014, 03:49 PM   #7
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Pretty cool set up. Its not pretty on the eyes but it works.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dubels View Post
My system is a constant flood system with a bell siphon to drain. I am tempted to change it to a constant flow system for now to help with bacteria growth until everything is settled. I.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kai808 View Post
Are you running this on a timer or does it flow throughout the night? I think the plants would like to get some air on their roots too.

I'm not sure but I think if he's using the Bell siphon correctly, he "is" getting air to the roots. The planter floods to the top and creates a siphon that breaks once it hits air at the bottom of the bell.
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Old 02-27-2014, 04:09 PM   #8
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Cool little system. I too was inspired by Dogfish's system. I had planned to build an aquaponics system this spring but I'm moving cross country in May so I am holding off. I'm subscribed to your thread & will be keeping an eye on this to see how it goes!
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Old 02-27-2014, 05:45 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AGUILAR3 View Post
Pretty cool set up. Its not pretty on the eyes but it works.






I'm not sure but I think if he's using the Bell siphon correctly, he "is" getting air to the roots. The planter floods to the top and creates a siphon that breaks once it hits air at the bottom of the bell.
haha... You're correct. Sorry, for some reason, I had NFT on my mind. That's what I get for posting late at night.
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Old 02-27-2014, 07:07 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dubels View Post
It was actually Dogfish's thread that got me thinking about doing it. I will keep this thread updated with my ups and downs.

Current down: Using ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to declorinate both chlorine and chloramine has significantly decreased my PH. I tested the water with my new PH pen today and noticed the water is more than slightly acidic at 5.4. My tap water comes out at 7.6ph and the RO water I get comes out the same. I need to find a way to raise the PH, while a low PH would be great for some CRS and such its not that great for the comet gold fish. Time to add in some crushed coral slowly.

I guess I should consider using ascorbic acid in my shrimp tanks. The problem is that it produces Ammonium Chloride when it reacts with chloramine, which can be dangerous to fish and most likely to shrimp.

I would love to see your setup once you get up and running. I did the grow bed because it was an easy to install setup. The NFT method sounds like a much better method though.

The expanded clay is from a company called PlantIt! and was my single most expensive piece of this setup. I used all 45L and probably need more of it but it was $40 for the first 45L bag. The clay was messy at first, but then it cleared itself within 8 hours. The sediment from the clay is just sitting a nice pile on the bottom of the fish tub.

My system is a constant flood system with a bell siphon to drain. I am tempted to change it to a constant flow system for now to help with bacteria growth until everything is settled. I am thinking about using red wiggler worms in my grow bed but haven't had time to research more into them. I see others use them at the outlet in the filter floss.

Shrimps that would go in here would be low grade culls mostly from my hardy red shrimp stock. But seeing how low the PH is I doubt I would add them in. Right now there are some ghost shrimp hanging out in there and keeping things clean.

I hope the kale bounces back too. I have some spinach and radish seeds in a little grow out greenhouse getting ready to be planted.
Yikes that's quite a swing in pH!! I have insanely hard water so I don't think my pH will ever change (gh and kh are in the 70s and 120s.. pH somewhere between 7.4-7.7.. api test kit color makes it hard to tell and does not cover some pH levels...). I asked dogfish about de-chlorinator (and light and media) a while before they cleared their thread. They'd suggested Seachem Prime, and after looking into the company and buying some of their Flourish products for aquatic plants I feel comfortable switching to Prime for a de-chlorinator. I had been using Tetra AquaSafe+ but after an issue and lack of decent customer support I won't buy any of their products again.

I have a journal for my 55 gallon which the system will be connecting to, so as we (my husband is a huge part in helping em get this going) start gathering more supplies and setting it up I'll be taking plenty of photos and putting updates in there ^^

PlantIt was what I was trying to think of (called it growit instead lol) yeh the high price of media was a factor in choosing to go with NFT.. small planters of media instead of a large bed=savings ^^



Quote:
Originally Posted by Kai808 View Post
Congrats on your new Aquaponics system! Are you running this on a timer or does it flow throughout the night? I think the plants would like to get some air on their roots too.

I have a couple of concerns about your system. The first is the support for the grow bed. Do you have anything supporting it right now? It looks like the cement blocks are the only things holding it up. I've used the smaller version of that grow bed and it did sag in the middle over time. I currently have some 2x4s supporting mines.

The next concern is your tank. I've used those storage containers as fish tanks and had them deteriorate from direct sun exposure. I would say it lasted about 8 months before the plastic became brittle to the touch. I replaced it with a UV resistant tub.

My last concern is the placement of the pump on the bottom of the tank. I did the same thing too. One day the outflow into the grow bed decided to fall. All the water was pumped out of the tank and left the fish flopping around. After that incident I raised up the pump(by putting it on a brick) so it wouldn't drain all the water if it happened again.

Well, I hope this helps and Good Luck!
Do you have a journal for your aquaponic system you can share? Is yours still running? What do/did you grow in it? I'm trying to grab bits and tips form anyone I can find on their systems to learn anything I might have missed in reading or from the many youtube videos watched.


Quote:
Originally Posted by johnson18 View Post
Cool little system. I too was inspired by Dogfish's system. I had planned to build an aquaponics system this spring but I'm moving cross country in May so I am holding off. I'm subscribed to your thread & will be keeping an eye on this to see how it goes!
Be sure to make a journal for yours so everyone can see what you do and grow too ^^
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Old 02-27-2014, 07:16 PM   #11
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Thanks for all the responses. Also here's a huge thing that has saved me, not gluing parts of the PVC system you know you might change or have to remove on a constant basis for maintenance. Not gluing the down pipe has saved me so much headache and now that I am going to be making changes I am glad most things besides those bearing some weight are not set in place yet.

@Kai808
It's using a bell siphon that starts once full and breaks once it reaches a predetermined water level height, which is 1.5 inches. Dogfish used a similar setup but removed the bell for constant flow for better growth. I am sticking with a constant flood bell siphon method for a bit. The green cup is actually in the debris guard to try and muffle the gurgle from the siphon as it breaks.

As for a brace, I originally thought of doing a brace but since it didn't sag when I first set it up I kind of just forgot about it. I will probably cut some 2x4 for braces this weekend.

Also there will be a shade/cover going around the entire bottom portion of the setup to hide the fish tank and blocks. Just need to find something I like that gives me the option to open it to see fish and feed them. The lower portion where the fish tank is doesn't actually get direct sunlight but I want a cover anyways to make it look better.

As for the pump, I never really thought about the siphon failing because even when the bell didn't work (I dropped a clay ball into the chamber blocking the bell) the stand pipe kept on going. Also my pump is too strong for the setup already so I have about 60% of the flow going through a bypass through a spray bar back into the main tank. I guess its time to raise up the pump a little. Thanks!

@AquaAurora: Be careful with what declorinator you use. I just checked my bottle of prime and noticed it didn't have the warning, but most declorinators state that they should not be used for fish intended for human consumption. I know the Tetra products come with such warning. It was the main reason why I went with vitamin c as a declorinator. Even though I don't intend to eat the fish I assumed that if it contaminated the fish it would also do so to the plants. Also the aquaponics kit they sell at Petco uses vitamin c as a declorinator.

I know prime is only active for at most 48 hours so you can use it to declorinate in a bucket for 48 hours before placing it into the tank. I think I am going to reach out to Seachem and see what they say about Prime's use in aquaponics, I would love to use Prime instead right now to avoid the ph problem.

With the NFT system you might be saving on media but those 4 inch PVC pieces get pricey quick. Shop around for the media and you can save some money. I just didn't want to drive around anymore that day, also I never intended to use such a large grow tub.

Thanks again for the advice. Time to get home and make some changes.

Last edited by dubels; 02-27-2014 at 07:46 PM.. Reason: Adding
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Old 02-27-2014, 08:55 PM   #12
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What are you going to change? Personally, I would get a 20g aquarium plumbed from behind instead of the container so you can enjoy your fish.

Having a safety for a clogged siphon is fairly easy. Just add a stand pipe 1" higher than the siphon. If the Bell clogs, the water will rise an additional inch and drain out.
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Old 02-27-2014, 09:22 PM   #13
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Here are the things I am going to change:
- add bracing for the grow bed
- add a cover to go around the front and sides
- move the piping and everything to the back now that it's working


In regards to the fish tub I am going to stick with the plastic container for now. I am much more worried about drunk feet kicking a glass aquarium than I am about seeing my feeder gold fish. Right next to those chairs is the doorway to the apartment and my friends smoke out there all the time. I actually want to figure out how to get the foam to stay where I want it to first so I can see them from the top. Sadly this tank was more about growing plants mainly for my consumption and DIY shrimp food than the fish. It's just a bonus I get to keep them in the system and an excuse to start one more tank. Once I get my foam situation fixed it will be like a balcony pond tub.

I might also add that backup stand pipe, but I have so many other projects spending $10 on another bulk head then taking everything out of the grow bed to add it is going to take a lot of motivation. I might find another way to do it maybe a drain on the side of the grow bed that activates once the water reaches a certain height and either drains off the balcony into the gutter or back into the tank. Kind of like the drain in a bathroom sink, the flow is so slow that it should be adequate.

I really need to time how long it takes to flood and clear.

@AquaAurora: check this link out: http://www.backyardaquaponics.com/fo...pic.php?t=1617

There is a 75 gallon with a NFT setup going. Also other cool NFT setups, like the one in Burbank that uses gutters on his balcony. If I were to do it again I would probably do a NFT setup along part of the railing of my balcony to get the plants closer to sunlight.

Last edited by dubels; 02-27-2014 at 09:51 PM.. Reason: I like to type too much
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Old 02-27-2014, 10:06 PM   #14
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I might also add that backup stand pipe, but I have so many other projects spending $10 on another bulk head then taking everything out of the grow bed to add it is going to take a lot of motivation. .
I refuse to pay big $$ for bulkheads.

Go to Home Depot and pick up a 1" male & female electrical conduit fittings ($.39 ea), an elbow ($.48) 1" pvc pipe ($1.67 1"x2ft) and an O-ring ($.49@Oreileys auto parts)
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Old 02-27-2014, 10:42 PM   #15
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@AquaAurora: Be careful with what declorinator you use. I just checked my bottle of prime and noticed it didn't have the warning, but most declorinators state that they should not be used for fish intended for human consumption. I know the Tetra products come with such warning. It was the main reason why I went with vitamin c as a declorinator. Even though I don't intend to eat the fish I assumed that if it contaminated the fish it would also do so to the plants. Also the aquaponics kit they sell at Petco uses vitamin c as a declorinator.

I know prime is only active for at most 48 hours so you can use it to declorinate in a bucket for 48 hours before placing it into the tank. I think I am going to reach out to Seachem and see what they say about Prime's use in aquaponics, I would love to use Prime instead right now to avoid the ph problem.

With the NFT system you might be saving on media but those 4 inch PVC pieces get pricey quick. Shop around for the media and you can save some money. I just didn't want to drive around anymore that day, also I never intended to use such a large grow tub.

Thanks again for the advice. Time to get home and make some changes.

@AquaAurora: check this link out: http://www.backyardaquaponics.com/fo...pic.php?t=1617

There is a 75 gallon with a NFT setup going. Also other cool NFT setups, like the one in Burbank that uses gutters on his balcony. If I were to do it again I would probably do a NFT setup along part of the railing of my balcony to get the plants closer to sunlight.[/QUOTE]

I assumed the one I had was bad, and planned to flush the system via several large water changes to remove the water de-chlorinatted by the old brand. I didn't think Prime would be a problem but I'll dig into that more and find but before I being "the purge" (probably contact Seachem directly, they're very good about quick and helpful responses). I've not looked into using vitam C, whats the general dosage ___ml per __gallon or simular ratio? Do you just buy simple vit c pills at a pharmacy or find a pure powder form some where to use? I'd be half tempted to try it (not in the tank but a bucket) simply to see if it could lower by pH (though I doubt it). If it means a 48 hour pre-sit time... I'm going to need a lot more buckets for this haha.

We have a hardware store that's got a decent price on 4 inch 10ft long pvc, since we'll be lopping it unto pieces for the "T"s 1x 10foot will be more than enough. The added plumbing that most systems have (caps, shut offs, adapters from tube to pvc, emergency drain method (what ever that ends up being), etc etc) will be the pricier part most likely ^^


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@AquaAurora: check this link out: http://www.backyardaquaponics.com/fo...pic.php?t=1617

There is a 75 gallon with a NFT setup going. Also other cool NFT setups, like the one in Burbank that uses gutters on his balcony. If I were to do it again I would probably do a NFT setup along part of the railing of my balcony to get the plants closer to sunlight.
Thank you for the link I will spend a bit fo time looking through those systems ^^ I'd seen a youtube vid for someone with square plastic deck railings that had been set up for an aquaponic NFT system (was attached to deck vertical rails), but the gutter material is most likely cheaper to buy and less fragile (prone to crack when cutting).
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