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Food Crisis

Well we all like Aquaponics, some of us love it, others depend on it. Soon we may be critically depending on it!

Get your garden knowledge up to speed and grow your own food. You will be thankful later. Perhaps sooner that later.

Take a look at these “ides of March” forecaster’s report.

The Global Food Crisis You Need To Prepare For


Think I’m “radical” ? read this

50 Telling Questions

OK, I’m bordering on being an alarmist, but government is giving me GOOD reason to be.

Starter System

One IBC tote AP System

One IBC tote AP System- Dave Pennington’s Design

What is a good way to get started in Aquaponics?

This is the question I am asked the most when I talk with people or groups. I have several answers to that, but here is my pragmatic answer.
A: Learn from someone else that has done it successfully and copy their first system.

Q2: So who should I learn from?

A2: Copy me because it seems like I made ALL the mistakes possible my first year. 🙂 I put up a website just for this reason, to journal my mistakes to make learning easier for others. Check out

A2b: Read Sylvia Bernstein’s book. It is a very good source of info.
Aquaponic Gardening: A Step by Step Guide to Growing Fish and Vegetables Together

Q3: Who’s system should I copy to get a successful start?

A: The best system I have seen to start with is a one IBC / Tote system that has a large fish tank and one grow bed on top, all made from the one IBC container. Dave Pennington first introduced me to this system and he has a unique low priced way to build it. You might contact him as I think he stills builds these. I build them as well, from time to time, for friends.

You can buy one from these people already assembled The Aquaponic Store .

One IBC Tote System at The Aquaponic Source

A2: I ve posted the parts list so you can build this type system it yourself. Be aware that with my “DIY” approach you don’t get access to the training videos, but I have included in the estimate price, some good video training DVDs and book. (i.e. Aquaponic Gardening Education Set ).

Also you will need some media like 1/2″-3/4″ clean gravel or clean expanded shell without limestone or Plant !T (Hydroton), etc.



Trellis Tips

Trellis for AP

My beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes refused to stop growing. When they produced many runners over 5 foot long, I decided I should have already had them “trained” on a safe grow path.


The result is four trellises. Three are basic 8 foot tall ladder trellis

One trellis is a 6’ diameter ½ circle arch.

All are made from ½” EMT galvanized conduit and 18 gauge galvanized wire. I used PVC “Tees” to join the horizontal pipe to the vertical up rights. The joints are secured by drilling a hole and using #8 ½” self tapping, hex head screws.

Trellis with Cucumbers

Trellis with Cucumbers

Also, the screws are placed along the pipes on a 5″ grid pattern. This works to weave the wire around to make 5” grids.

Trellis Wire Guide Screws

Trellis Wire Guide Screws

Tee Joints

I found two types of PVC “Tees” that worked well to support the right angle joints made from ½” conduit.

One is black PVC “Tee” used to join black sprinkler or drip irrigation plastic pipe. The second is white PVC “Tee” that has three ½” threaded connections.


Tee Black PVC

Tee Black PVC

Both required I use my ½” hole saw to drill the holes out for a good friction fit for the metal conduit.

Trellis PVC Reamer

Trellis PVC Reamer


To mount the conduit trellis to the grow bed IBC metal frames I used two 2” worm gear pipe clamps to attached the bottom horizontal bar to the top IBC grow bed horizontal bar. My design had the bottom pipe the same height as the top pipe on the IBC growbed frames, when the bottom end of the trellis conduit is on the ground.

Trellis Hose Clamp Mounting

Trellis Hose Clamp Mounting

The two bottom ends of the trellis set over two pieces of 1/4” rebar driven into the ground. This four point mounting is very sturdy.

Trellis Rebar

Trellis Rebar

Plant support

I just wove the long plant runners vertically, in and out of the 18 gauge wire grids on the trellis.


The trellis were fun to build, work well and should last for many years. Also, they are easy to move and reuse. I would advice smarter grouping of plants when planting in the grow beds. All of the tall winding plants should be on one side of the grow bed so you can use one trellis per grow bed for all the tall plants. Also, having the tall plants on the down side from the sun as it crosses the sky, would allow no shade to fall on the rest of the grow bed.


Height of Ladder Trellis 89”

Width 35”

Horizontal pipe heights 1st 29″ or 32″, 2nd 48”, 3rd 67.5”, 4th (top) 87’ center 89” top of top leg.

Trellis Raw Frame

Trellis Raw Frame

Parts List

5 each ½” EMT galvanized conduit.        $2.00 * 5 =             $10.00

6 each black or white PVC “Tees”.            $1.70 * 6 =             $10.20

1/2 box of 100 each #8 self taping hex head screws              $5.00

One drill bit                                                                                        $5.00

½ roll of 18 AWG galvanized wire              $10.00/2=            $5.00

2 each 1 foot ¼” rebar                                    $2.00*2=              $4.00

2 each 2” diameter hose clamps                  $3.00*2=              $6.00

Project total cost:                                                                         $45.20

Labor: about 3 hours

Tools: hacksaw, drill motor, hex head screwdriver, pliers, hammer

Best First Aquaponic System

CHOP Rock System

I hear this question being asked a lot, along with many different answers. Likely the best answer is to found by doing some research (Google), see several functional systems in your area (, Yahoo Groups, etc.), gatherer data, then decide which Aquaponics system you like the best.

I’ll get you started with your research by giving you my opinion.

A: The best aquaponics system to start with is the fill and drain system built in an IBC container. Also called an ebb and flow, CHOP (constant height one pump), Chit-Pist


This is what you use for the fish tank, one grow bed, and the stand and supports for both.

An IBC is short for an Intermediate Bulk Container. It is an about 4 foot square plastic jug in a metal cage on a pallet and with a lid on the top and a drain on the bottom front side.

These are used to transport and store liquids used commercially, like soap for car washers, Karo syrup, barbeque sauce, hydraulic oil, weed killer, etc. Obviously, you want a food quality container, which means it has only been used for storing foods.


You can build your system with the following:

  1. One IBC
  2. tools to cut it into two pieces
  3. wood as a support for the grow bed that will go on top of the fish tank
  4. small water pump
  5. PVC pipe for water flow, drain or siphon
  6. over flow stand pipe
  7. 2 bulkhead fittings
  8. media
  9. Fish
  10. Plants
  11. Water
  12. Electricity
  13. A place to put your system


The grow bed is where the plants grow. Most often this is gravel (rocks). Media sized three quarters of an inch to one half inch diameter smooth rocks work best, but no limestone or marble as they dissolve and affect the system pH.

Other media is commonly used as well; clay beads (Hydroton ), expanded shale, lava rock, and decorative stone like rainbow rock. The gravel is the cheapest but may require sorting  for size or sifting out the large dirt and debris, and washing out the dust and powered clay.

Why an IBC System

  1. Large enough water volume to make the biology easy to start up and  keep balanced
  2. Easy to build and use
  3. Reasonably easy to get the IBC
  4. Reasonably priced container
  5. Lasts a long time, durable
  6. Room for expansion, just add more grow beds and plumbing
  7. Often used so you will have access to feedback relevant to your system construction


This type system cost can vary widely and are available pre-built, as kits or as parts and pieces.

Expect to pay $150 for parts and $400 to $600 for assembled systems.

Example Systems

Commercially available home starter system example


Jerry Jones Builds

This system is a handmade system taught at the local meeting in the Dallas area by Dave Pennington.


Dave's Aquaponic Home System

My fill-and-drain system is shown below before any rocks (media). It was built following plans from Murray Hallam’s “DIY Aquaponics” DVD. It was later is painted with plastic primer and paint to avoid Algae, see first picture.

Bob's Basic CHOP System

Other type Systems

The fill and drain system is called a Constant Height One Pump (CHOP) system (also called Chift Pist). Another popular system is the deep water raft system. It is good for plants that are not tall or heavy and that do not grow large heavy crops like tomatoes, melons, etc.


I think the best aquaponics best system for use in Texas is the fill and drain system built in an IBC container. Be sure to do your research and leg work.


IBC container sources, people who sell them.
Dave Pennington sells them
Adam Cohen

Plans Murray Hallam’s DVD “DIY Aquaponics”

Example of a CHOP system operation  and

AP Meeting Hosted

We hosted an Aquaponics meeting for the North Texas Aquaponics Meetup  Group Sunday 11 Mar 12 2:00

Link to Meetup Announcement

Meetup Announcement

Meetup At Jordan’s 1

Meetup At Jordan's 2-Dave

Vibrating Rock Sorter Concept

Rock Sorter Shaker

Raft System and Shade Frame

Flood and Drain Grow Bed System

Fish Tanks

How Do I Get Started in Aquaponics?

You will get a variety of answers to this question. My advice is as follows:

Identify Your Why

What is your goal with your Aquaponics activity?

  • Just interested in learning?
  • Want to grow food in your backyard
  • Want to participate in Community supported agriculture (CSA) or other group grow goal?
  • Want to learn to make a small business income from growing ecologically sound organic produce.

Why AP Why Garden


Do your homework, research on Google and YouTube, learn about Aquaponics in general. Get a good book and read it. AP 101  AP Links


Attend local meetings and trainings, like those on or other local groups

Find and attend classes, especially those that provide hands-on experiences.

Learn how to operate an AP system


Ask questions and keep good notes of the answers you get.
Local systems likely operate just a little differently than those in “far away lands”. Example: It gets much hotter, for longer, here than other places. How does this effect the system design and operation.
It is much less painful to discover a common mistake by listening to and learning from others, than to make it yourself.

Aquaponic System Flowcharts Nitrogen Cycle

See Systems

See several Aquaponic systems that are functional in your local area

Volunteer at a community gardens, system construction events, etc.

Summary Year One FAP Fish Tank IBC

Choose your system

Identify the system you would like to have to start

Find a local or web hero to follow and learn specifics from.


Order the plans, read them all the way through twice, Gather materials and build the system you have researched and like.


Make regular measurements when you start. Keep good records so you can learn from them.

Start Your System

  • Start up your system by running it through the Nitrogen Cycle
  • Measure and maintain your system’s pH and chemical balance
  • Start or add plants
  • Get fish
  • Make sure you know the logical sequential steps for success and follow them.



Aquaponic Meetings & Groups

Dave Pennington

Adam Cohen

Example System types and designs

Travis W. Hughey, Barrel-Ponics

500 gallon System pictures
click photos tab

Aquaponics Book

Aquaponic Gardening, Sylvia Bernstein


Aquaponic Kits at the Aquaponics Store

Steps for Planning your System

good summary and rules of thumb regarding your Aquaponics system,

Alternative Housing Types

Papecrete Dome

Papecrete Dome

Picture: Dave Pennington,

I’ve become keenly aware of the cost to operate my house and pay utility costs! This has ushered in the topic of sustainability into my thinking. IE What is my alternative? Housing is a big area with which to lower my cost of living. So I stray from the purely Aquaponics topics on my website. Do forgive me.

There are two (2) types of alternative housing, expensive and inexpensive.

The expensive types are the conventional houses and the energy star green houses which cost more to build and less to operate. That’s about it.

Let’s talk about the inexpensive or at least less expensive housing options

  1. Trailers
  2. Manufactured housing
  3. Old homes, conventionally built
  4. Dome homes
  5. Bermed earth or underground homes
  6. Earthships

Number 1-3 cost too much to operate and tend to not last many years, requiring cash infusions

Number 4 is a good option but not much less in cost than a conventional home

Number 5 is more costly to build and less costly to operate

Number 6 is less cost to build and less cost to operate.

There is a caveat though. Any house that is self sufficient, i.e. off the grid pays a premium for the systems to do that. It is a long term investment that pays for itself in 7-10 years and offers bonuses of paying off quicker if utility prices rise, which is a good bet they will.

The good thing is you can go off grid with any of the houses. The pay back is just quicker with the more efficient houses like number 4-6.

Which House

So the question becomes which alternative inexpensive housing type is for you? My guess is most of us would prefer a dome, bermed house or and Earthship because they cost less to operate.

The house that is more conventional, and most widely accepted – think building codes- is the dome. It does suffer from poor coatings that don’t last well over years and are expensive to repair. They get moisture under their plastic coating and the heat makes it separate. This is a minor inconvenience as compared to the ease of getting a dome built and the low cost to heat and cool it. Pluses are wind resistant and fire proof, stands up well to hail, and is quick to build. Loans are even available for these type homes.

The house easiest to build yourself that can be built most inexpensively, that stands up well to weather, wind, and fire, and that can save you the most on heating, cooling, and living expenses is the Earthship. It can also be the most attractive if you like Adobe looking, curved walls and ceilings and bright open spaces. Also, if you want to go off grid there is no other house that can beat it for the operating cost. Plus it is easier on the earth to build and operate, than any other house. No loans available on these type houses, yet.

The optimal house would be an Earthship with an insulated concrete or Papercrete dome for the roof and an isolated and very well insulated and balanced thermal mass that includes the floor, walls, and cistern. Not hard to accomplish, just lots of labor and a considerable expense for materials.

Why Alternative Housing

What is your why? Why do you want alternative housing? Is it to build a house small enough that you can pay for quickly, to lower heating and cooling costs, to save money long term, and to live off grid?

An Earthship will do that for you. A well insulated dome with proper outside and inside coatings will do it as well. The dome is easier to get a building permit for, if you are building near or in a city. If you are building in an unregulated area, i.e. far away from a city without a HOA or at least with a co-operative HOA, then an Earthship can be your ticket.

Insulation vs. Thermal mass

Thermal mass, the earth and cistern water behind the main Earthship wal,l provides moderation of the change of temp in the house. It tries to keep the temp the same. The earth’ temp is about 58 degrees several feet below ground. If the goal is to keep a constant temp in the house this helps. The challenge becomes fighting that constant temp if it is too high or too low compared to what you want it to be.

Winter temp outdoors is cold; inside it is 58 to 68 degrees depending on the sun energy stored in the building over the day. Too cool for most in the winter, so you run a small heater, like a rocket stove burning wood.

Same thing happens in the summer in reverse. It is hot outside, 70-80 degrees inside depending on the sun energy stored in the building over the day. You get a breeze coming through and temp is better regulated. Challenge is that every day it is hot outside, you have less energy stored in the thermal mass, and its temp creeps upward during those hot summer days. At some point you need to add a little air conditioning or to just use fans and suffer higher than preferred temperatures.


So summary, the thermal mass concept works well for saving energy but still needs a small supplemental HVAC system, or you must tolerate a little imperfection.

A well insulated dome house also requires a small supplemental HVAC system, or you must tolerate a little imperfection. No thermal mass here, just a very low loss house, so you keep the heating or cooling you pay for indoors.

Either a thermal mass (Earthship) or a well insulated house (dome) will require a small HVAC system to keep most of us comfortable.

Thermal mass houses have over swing and under swing, but saves cost as it make thermal contributions much of the time.

A well insulate house has no thermal contribution, but also has no thermal mass over and under swings. I’d submit both would cost about the same to heat and cool for a year, everything else being the same.

A house with a thermal mass (Earthship or bermed) is usually underground and or bermed, risking water hydraulic issues. Most highly insulated houses, green start rated conventional or well insulated domes, do not suffer the water hydraulics challenges.

Best House

Which alternative inexpensive house is best? The one you like the most, that you can afford, and that building codes will allow you to build. Once you decide which type inexpensive alternative house to build, also plan on adding off-grid capabilities to it.

Aquaponic Do Not’s

Jaxon first planting

Look at the roots on that one!

Here is a list of things to Do Not do in Aquaponics. It is from my vast experience gained in the last 9 months. Actually the only part that is vast is the number of mistakes I have made. Surely I’ve made them all by now 🙂


  1. Build your system before researching and learning and getting some good advice
  2. Reinvent the wheel or redesigning the AP system before you learn what works
  3. Miss the chance to learn from others mistakes or to see others systems in operation
  4. Spend a lot of money or build commercial system when just starting
  5. Start with too small a system, more water = easier to balance nitrates and ammonia
  6. Add chemical to the plants or fish, like pesticides, etc.
  7. Add limestone or marble to your systems
  8. Add waste from animals – fish poo only – no dog, cow, horse, or other manure
  9. Under oxygenate the water, fish, and plants
  10. Start up your system without checking the ammonia, pH, nitrites, and nitrates. When the Nitrogen cycle has completed in 30-60 days, there is less to monitor
  11. Over feed the fish. Uneaten food is extra solids you have to clean out of the system. Also it is wasted money and resources
  12. Over estimate the amount of work required to operator the system
  13. Raise inappropriate fish like exotic or expensive species, or cold water fish in hot water climate, of big carnivorous fish with smaller “bite size” fish
  14. Imbalance the fish to plant optimum ratios. Few fish and lots of plants is easiest and cheapest. 10 pounds of a cheap fish like goldfish or catfish will feed about 128 typical garden plants. You can raise lots of fish if you will eat them often and have lots of plants and watch the system balance carefully. IE more work!
  15. Forget to “stop and smell the roses” or the carrots or the basil, or the rosemary, etc.
  16. Turn off the power to the pumps that circulate the water and go on vacation
  17. Get the fish or plants too hot or too cold. Tilapia swim upside down in 50 degree water. They were a warm water fish.
  18. Build your system so it is easy to accidentally drain the water out of the fish tank. Remember siphons suck!
  19. Allow your dogs and pets to swim in you fish tank or rafts
  20. Plant food that birds, dogs, or neighbors can reach easily when the plants are ripe.
  21. Eat (old) leaves from Karo, Polk, or other plants that are unpleasant or toxic when not prepared correctly.
  22. Plant plants that grow tall and heavy in a raft system, the plant will fall over, sometimes taking the raft with it 🙁
  23. Use rocks in you media based systems that are so small they get into the pump and cause it to emit smoke!
  24. Leave pipes unglued that are critical that they not leak, like the drain on the fish tank .
  25. Miss a chance to share your new found hobby

Bob Jordan

Aquaponic Links


1.      Barrel-ponics

Early system build details for using plastic barrels. Good for background, info and techniques is dated.
“build a small demonstration aquaponics system”
Barrel-ponics-Manual.pdf, by Travis Hughey

2.      Cost Analysis

Manufacturer specific info, good reference for cost to buy and operate a system.

3.      Karen Swanberg’s aquaponics systems

One ladies experiences, has pictures and links, some great info compiled into PowerPoints

4.      Aquaponics 101 PowerPoint

5.      Fish

Good info on the fish environment in Aquaponics

6.      Magazine

Backyard Aquaponics magazine. Good, well-written, thorough articles. First Edition is free.

7.      Forum

Useful Information, a cash of posts and questions on Aquaponics

8.      pH

Adjusting pH in Aquaponics system – How to..pdf

9.      Media Bed

Aquaponic media bed sizing model explanation – imperial.pdf
media bed sizing

10.  IBCofAquaponics1

A compilation of several members IBC systems, with instructions on how they built it!
Not only is it full of pictures and well laid out; its got links to videos and Google sketch up, as well as links to the original thread embedded in the PDF.

11.  New Domestic System Design Tool
Aquaponic media bed sizing model explanation – imperial.pdf

12.  Aquaponics and Food Safety.pdf

13.  Good Videos

14.  Data Tracking Worksheet

15.  Green Sky

Rooftop local market



16.  Best Book

Sylvia’s excellent book on Aquaponics Gardening
“do-it-yourself home manual, focused on giving you all the tools you need to create your own aquaponic system and enjoy healthy, safe, fresh, and delicious food all year round”

17.  Murray Hallam’s Toteponics build instructions

PDF for the IBC build instructions is on the blog but you have to be a silver member to get to it. Best way is to get DVD with video instructions that include printable Instructions DVD “Backyard Aquaponics”

18.  HDPE liner for Aquaponic Tanks

This is the reinforced pond liner that is white on the inside and black on the  back. This makes it much easier to look into a raft or growbed and see whats going on. Dura-Skrim Liner


“The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land.” Abraham Lincoln