Aquaponics Adventure Mark II

Aquaponics March 26th, 2008

Firstly, lets make sure you all know what aquaponics is all about. I won’t explain it well enough, so I’m not going to try. Lets just say it’s a cycle where fish and plants thrive in a symbiotic relationship where the fish provide the plants with fertaliser, and the plants clean the water for the fish. If you want to know more see these sites:

  • Joel Malcom has headed the craze in Aus and his site contains plenty of info as well as a lively forum. He also wrote a book for beginners which you can buy.
  • This free magazine is a great publication from the forum members at BackyardAquaponics, and a great intro to Aquaponics .
  • This page contains a pretty good summary of the process.
  • This guy seems to summarise the pros fairly well.

Little do you bloggers know, but my first Aquaponics adventure was a bit of a failed attempt. I think the main problem was that I was living in a rental, and thus I’d set it up at my parents house. This created all sorts of difficulties to do with maintenance and monitoring. It didn’t help that it was my first system and was flawed by design. Basically, if the power went out, the pump in my sump wouldn’t turn on and I’d lose about 500L of water into the neighbours yard. The fish were fine with this, but when I topped up my fish tank with water from the rainwater tanks, it changed pH, temperature, water hardness and all sorts of other parameters which the fish really struggled to deal with, and died.

So we bought a house and I’ve started setting up the Mark II system at my house. It’s what the BackyardAquaponics crew call a CHIFT PIST system – Constant Height In Fish Tank, Pump In Sump Tank. Basically the concept is that you have a large sump, in my case, 500L, which is the lowest point in the system (the sump) and houses a pump which pumps water up to the main fish tank. The main fish tank (in my case 1000L) overflows and the water runs out into the grow beds. These drain back to the sump, closing the loop. With this system, if the power ever cuts out, there is no circulation, but there is also no loss of water. So essentially it is more robust.

Here is a photo blog of my work in progress:

This is the site of the system, it’s behind the shed and that might throw up a few problems of it’s own (it might not get enough light) which I’ll have to deal with later:

Below we have some stills showing the back breaking work of digging the sump into the ground. This provides insulation and ensures that it is below the drains of the growbeds.

Below is the sump and fishtank in place. The sump is the green thing, the fishtank the black thing.

Then we have the growbeds. These bathtubs are filled with rocks which act as the biological filter for the system. In the photo below I show how I’ve raised them off the ground so that I get a height difference between the sump and the growbeds and also raise them up to a comfortable height to work with.

For draining the bathtubs I use a regular ol’ bathtub drain with the center thingo popped out.

Then a 40mm PVC adapter freakishly slots in that and makes a great seal.

And then my standpipe will fit into that (although this picture just shows some uncut 40mm pipe and the bathtub with some water in it – proof of concept though).

Put on the plumbers hat, plumb the overflow from the fish tank to the grow beds, and the drains from the growbeds to the sump. I use T’s in most places instead of elbows as it provides a “view port” into the plumbing and prevents any siphon effect from forming.

Then you have to wash the rocks to get all the dust and crap off them.

And you end up with two filled grow beds!

This is the reason you wash your rocks: GUNK. Look at this stuff, you really don’t want that in the bottom of your growbeds.

The concept behind a standpipe is that it sits inside the grow bed and drains at a steady rate. So when you have water coming into the beds at a greater rate than it is draining, the grow beds fill with water. When you turn off the water, the grow beds slowly drain. So that you don’t overflow the beds, you make it so that if the water ever gets above the level of the rocks, it just overflows into the standpipe and thus the growbeds can never overflow.

My standpipes have two small holes drilled in the bottom of the 40mm PVC pipe connector, and a large section cut out of the top with a PVC “C” to provide an adjustable overflow level control. In the photo below, the bottom of the standpipe is on the left, the top on the right. The bottom of the standpipe (left) slots in the drain of the bathtubs as seen above.

Now we don’t want the standpipes getting all clogged up, and we want to be able to remove them for maintenance. So we put in some 90mm PVC to protect it. We need to drill holes in this so that water actually comes through to the standpipe. Below is a picture of this 90mm PVC pipe sitting over the drain of the growbed without the standpipe in place (but that’s where it would go).

This is showing the water returning from the growbeds to the sump.

This is a work in progress, and as such there are still a LOT of things I need to do to get this system up and running. I’ve actually got a fair bit of it done and just not taken any photos, so we’ll see. I might just update this article, or I might post it in another. Either way, you’ll hear more about this aquaponics adventure in the next couple of weeks.

3 Responses to “Aquaponics Adventure Mark II”

  1. A Thought Adrift » Blog Archive » Aquaponics Adventure Mark II part II Says:

    […] This is a continuation of my Aquaponics photo-journal, part I was here. […]

  2. clay Says:


    im looking at doing something similar with my aquaponics system. where did you get the sump tank and how much was it? thanks. clay.

  3. gemmell Says:

    Bunnings 500L – it cost me about $80 at the time, but I’ve seen them cheaper than that afterwards.

    Note that they say that they arn’t suitable for drinking water, however there has been some discussion on the backyardaquaponics about this, and we pretty much decided it was just to cover their arse.