Fast forward – Aquaponics videos

The following series of videos are what I’ve posted on youtube to document my progress. They document everything from my first failed attempts at getting siphoning working properly to getting my first actual growth of plants.

Bell Siphon

The bell siphon is one of the more interesting parts of an aquaponics setup. I love it’s simplicity, and the fact that there are no moving parts. There are however a couple of gotchas which I’m afraid everyone trip over when trying to first build their system.
A bell siphon has essentially two phases in it’s operation:

  1. Initiation – This is when the water overflows the standpipe and causes a temporary water “plug” in the pipe which pulls down air and more water behind it.
  2. Termination – Once your growbed is drained, you want your siphon to “suck air” with a nice gurgling noise. This signals that the siphon has been broken ’cause it ran out of water. The problem you will face here is “siphon lock”.

The typical problem you will face with “Initiation” is that your rate of water flowing into the growbed is too slow. If you’re maxed out ’cause you have a weak pump, try adding a few “kinks”  into the downtube that comes out the bottom of your standpipe. Do this by introducing either a  PVC “reducer socket” to narrow the pipe, or by adding one or more 90degree elbows. This will help the water back up in the standpipe and initiate the siphon.

The typical problem with “Termination” is that your siphon won’t disengage, and the growbed will *not* fill with water anymore. Water will pour into the growbed and straight out the standpipe. No nutrients for your plants. Very dangerous.
I have found no clear solution to this problem. I have added a snorkel to my bell siphon, and played with the rate of water flow, and I *still* get the occasional siphon lock. Right now I’m thinking that my 6mm surgical tubing (snorkel) might be too small to affect a proper snorkel. I’ll update this post one I have a definitive solution.

Here’s my very first bell siphon test.

Botched CHOP2

Here’s a botched CHOP2 configuration. I put this in here to show a typical mistake in sizing your piping and volumes of containers. I ended up having to adjust my plumbing to work around the problem. It should be noted that some people *do* run CHOP2 systems where the growbeds dump into the fishtank, and the fishtank just has a *huge* overflow to accomodate the extra volume of water rushing in from the siphon action.

Fixed CHOP2

Here’s my CHOP2 system “fixed” with the new and improved plumbing.

Gravel Guards

I decided to experiment with two different sizes of hydroton. 8 to 16mm diameter size, and 4 to 8mm diameter size. I immediately ran into trouble with the smaller diameter clay which made it through my gravel guard and ended up clogging up my standpipe. Lesson learnt: “build a proper gravel guard around your standpipe”. Fixing a standpipe problem means completely dumping out your grow media and starting over !

Cycling your system

All aquaponics systems have to be “cycled”. Cycling is the process whereby you establish the bacterial colony for your growbeds. In an aquaponics system you don’t need a biofilter to remove the toxic ammonia produced by the fish. A bacterial colony will automatically establish itself in your growbed. These bacteria are specific to the nitrogen cycle, and will break down the ammonia into nitrites, and the nitrites into nitrates. It’s confusing. Just remember, nitrates are the good stuff. Everything else needs to be kept in check. There are test kits available for Nitrates, Nitrites, Ammonia/Ammonium and PH.
In my case I foolishly decided to cycle my system by using live fish (goldfish) to produce my required ammonia/ammonium. This is not a good idea. So many of the goldfish kept dying because there was just not enough bacteria yet to remove the toxins.

I would recommend that anyone doing this to:

  1. Find a commercial source of liquid ammonium
  2. Buy a Nitrate/Nitrite/Ammonium test kit. Once you see strong indications of Nitrates, your system is cycled and ready to accept fish.

Finally Nitrates!

The happiest day is when you see your first strong levels of nitrates. This means you are finally doing “aquaponics”. You now have a properly cycling system which can properly hold the fish and plants in a symbiotic relationship. But this is not the end. You’re just getting started. There is still much to learn to keep things on track :)

Hydroton sizing

My earlier decision to experiment with different sized hydroton has yielded some interesting results :

First Growth

One week after planting my first seeds I’m already seeing some very nice growth. How exciting!

- FIN -

6 Responses

  1. John says:

    Hi there,

    This is a wonderfully information website with videos! Thanks for the effort in putting this up! Definitely useful for newbies like me.

    I have been looking for hydroton around singapore but could not really find the original stuff. Where did you get yours from?


    • admin says:

      Hi John

      I bought mine from a nursery in Yishun called World Farm. By far the cheapest around. I paid SGD26 for a 50l bag of hydroton. Nurseries in Thompson road charge close to SGD50 for the same.


  2. shiawuen says:

    Hi Stephan,

    Love your setup, I just got my setup done few weeks ago.

    I have been looking for the test kit to test ammonium, nitrates, nitrites but have no luck getting it. Where do you get your kit from?

    Here is photo album I created to keep track of the progress

    — shiawuen

  3. Kim says:

    These are very nice pieces of information. Thank you for putting this blog up. I am planning to have my own aquaponic system somewhere in the near future and you just inspired me to have it done.

  4. Weiliang says:

    Hi, I have started a aquaponics system since january 19 this year. I have planted some beans and vegetables. For a 2 months old system, I think it is alright. However, my long beans are producing lots of leaves but no flowers. I have grown on soil before and typically the flowers and beans come withing 2 weeks. I tested my nitrites and ammonia levels but they seem negligible*. I have about 20 pink tilapia and they seem to be doing fine with a voracious appetite. Any clues? Thanks Wl

    * I bought the test kits from a aquarium shop in pasir Ris. Can you recommend a different test kits?

  5. Lawrence erfe says:

    Very nice setup! How did you manage to punch a hole in your glass tAnk. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>