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 Post subject: newb problems
PostPosted: Nov 4th, '18, 01:45 
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good day all, i have started an aquaponics system for the first time and i'm trying to get through some teething issues. The system is consists of a 275 gallon IBC tote that i use as a fish tank. So far i have attached 2 55 gallon drums one acts as a solid filter(radial flow) and another acts as a sump/biofilter for now. As i said i'm very new to this so i need some help getting it to the point where i can actually grow some plants. Connected to all that is a tower with two lengths of 4 inch PVC pipe being used as an NFT of sorts system. I have them drilled with holes for 2 inch net cups on the first length and slightly bigger on the second to hold those plastic part cups that i'll drill out. The problem im having is my pH is at 8.3 and i had most of my fish die off. the system was working well and the fish were thriving then all of a sudden they werent. i initially filled the IBC with rain water but as i live in Barbados when we get lots of sun year round i didnt have any more in reserve and had to top up with tap water which i know to be hard and since the island is made of limestone (calcium carbonate) im sure that had something to do with it as well. The most ive had in that system is 6 swordtail fish, now im down to 2. I dont want to add anymore fish to the system until i figure out what is causing the problems. The main prooblem though is the few plants i have floating on top the tank are withering which i thought could be a symptom of the pH being so high. Could it also be a lack of DO in the water since i havent received the air pump i ordered so i have only a little aquarium one. To combat this the return line from the sump to fish tank his high and the pvc has holes in it to really batter the surface of the water. the fish in the tank dont look as happy as they should and movement is on the low end.

nitrates a 5ppm
ammonia and nitrites 0ppm
system has been up for about 6 weeks
started with API quickstart

Plants not growing, fish not happy is the summary of all that above lol.

A lot to digest i know... but any help is welcome. It is a hobby system for now to provide some greens for the family but i may look to scale up later.


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 Post subject: Re: newb problems
PostPosted: Nov 4th, '18, 07:01 
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I think DO might have a bearing on this,but your spraying water across the surface, what are your water temps ? The higher they are the less DO the water can hold to begin with.
How big are the fish ?
Again,as I think your already aware your PH is high, what is the PH range for your chosen fish species ? And
actually thinking about it what is there ideal water temp ?
Any how your PH will have to come down if you want to grow anything treated top up water will gradually bring your PH down to the range you decide on,6.8-7.2 would be ideal.
What was in the tote when you got it ?
Your rain water, was it collect from a zinc covered roof ?

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 Post subject: Re: newb problems
PostPosted: Nov 4th, '18, 09:57 
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as above... plus very likely that you system hasn't cycled and lack of bio filter volume.
With high pH the risk to fish from cycling (ammonia and nitrites) is very high, particularly if temperatures are warm which presumably they are.

As a guess I suspect your wet media/bio filter volume is inadequate.
For a small system that is starting out you don't need mechanical filters.
If you intend to go with NFT you might be better off filling the drums with media.

Another option (if space permits) is to go with actual media beds.

You can do the emchanical filter and tuibes but you would need enough to balance your number fish & waste load.

You need to add some photos... how to: viewforum.php?f=4


Get the system sorted out before you add any more fish...else they will just die.

>> i live in Barbados when we get lots of sun year round i didnt have any more in reserve and had to top up with tap water which i know to be hard and since the island is made of limestone (calcium carbonate) im sure that had something to do with it as well.

this will be an ongoing issue. Better to treat down now without fish and then have a separate supply available for topping up. That enables you to treat it with hydrochloric acid to desired pH and let it stand for 24 hours or so before adding to fish tank.

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Last edited by dlf_perth on Nov 4th, '18, 10:02, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: newb problems
PostPosted: Nov 4th, '18, 10:02 
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The natural climate of this country is around 29C or 86F. in an entire year the lowest it will ever get to is 23C at night and the highest 34C during midday, but those are not common. it usually stays around 30C day time to about 27C night time.

The fish i have in right now are koi swordtails about 3-4 inches max. i have about 20 fingerlings in a 10 gallon aquarium that ill introduce to the system when i am confident the chemistry and other parameters are correct. only when they are big enough to not eaten as well.

i read that between pH 7-8 is what these are good with.

The tote contained a water based paint. I soaked and drained it repeatedly for 2 months then power washed it before using it.

Yes i believe the roof is zinc coated

thanks for the reply


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 Post subject: Re: newb problems
PostPosted: Nov 4th, '18, 10:06 
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>> Yes i believe the roof is zinc coated

That is definitely an issue. If collecting water it will need to be polycarbonate sheeting or something similar.
Or else a tarp or something.

The lack of DO will also exacerbate the cycling and/or limited biofiltration issues (if they are applicable).

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 Post subject: Re: newb problems
PostPosted: Nov 5th, '18, 00:59 
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Alright ill have to look into setting up a clean rain water collection system.

Should i use muriatic acid as suggested in other threads to lower the pH of the system?

I also have exactly the same pH in my aquarium which i used 100% tap water to fill. The 10 gallon aquarium which holds the 20 or so fingerlings has a pH of 8.2 and all the plants are dying as well even though nitrates are up to 30ppm

ill go take some pics of everything for my next reply


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 Post subject: Re: newb problems
PostPosted: Nov 5th, '18, 02:05 
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Some pics...
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 Post subject: Re: newb problems
PostPosted: Nov 5th, '18, 02:09 
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 Post subject: Re: newb problems
PostPosted: Nov 5th, '18, 18:26 
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You would probably benefit from increasing bio-filtration too. In the image above your bio-filter contains expanded clay pebbles in tights and dish-scrubbers. Both of those items might work, but water should be forced to flow through it; the bacteria lives on the surface of these things, but it will only convert the ammonia and nitrites in the water that comes into contact with it, if the water is able to flow around the clay balls and dish-scrubbers the bio-filter won't be as effective.


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 Post subject: Re: newb problems
PostPosted: Nov 5th, '18, 19:08 
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+1 to Danny above, there is no-where near enough biofilter in the drums, easiest would be to fill one drum completely up with either rock/clay media or some other bio-filter material...

If it were me I would have a pipe going to bottom and a false floor with an overflow at top.
Feed water to bottom and then have it rise up through rock media.
Put a tap in bottom of drum and simply open it up once a week and drain couple buckets full,
use the crud that comes out as fertilizer on you pot plants etc.
Very simple system and you don't lose any water head as it overflows at top.

Basically your volume of wet media and number of plants growing must be proportional to the number of fish.
Probably need at least a full drum of bio-media.


>> Should i use muriatic acid as suggested in other threads to lower the pH of the system?

Yes. Dont use pH Down or any pond/aquarium product.
You can use other acids but HCL is simplest as the by products are Chloride salts and H2O.
Chloride salts are generally ok for fish (unless you have something weird in your water).
It is also easy to buy in decent sizes (you will use a bit) and not too expensive.

Muriatic Acid is hydrochloric acid (HCL) - so doesn't matter which product name you use it is same stuff.
(proviso that it is not some obscure product that has other additives - you want 100% HCL)

note that you should not move fish from a high pH to a lower/higher pH water without acclimatization as it will kill them. Must be done very gradually.

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 Post subject: Re: newb problems
PostPosted: Nov 6th, '18, 00:35 
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Yeah I get what you guys are saying. That's how I had it in the beginning, I had all those things inside the 5 gal bucket and the lid was closed. The pump is wrapped in poly filler but I had a few problems with that. The pump would pump water faster than the water could reenter the bucket through the holes in the lid and it would rise and air would eventually fill it. At that point the pump would run out of water and the system would come to a complete halt. With that method though the water was forced to flow over the biomedia to be pumped back to the fish tank.

Expanded clay is ridiculously expensive down here. So I'm looking to find a substitute for biomedia. And for growbed media as well. There is another guy down here that uses a coconut husk based media that I'm going to look into. The plan is to switch the half barrels to that grow media and incorporate them into the system.

I've seen guys using cut up bottle caps as biomedia, what do you guys think about filling the entire drum with that and putting an air stone in there to keep it aerated? (when I finally get the air pump).


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 Post subject: Re: newb problems
PostPosted: Nov 6th, '18, 03:29 
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For bio-filtration anything that's inert, won't break down and provides a lot of surface should work. Old plastic bird netting has the advantage of being light, and is often used in the bio-filter. Ordinary gravel has the advantage of being heavy and so can sustain plants and is often used in the grow-bed. Both are normally cheap and sometimes free.

I wouldn't fancy chopping up all those plastic bottle-caps.

Coconut husk and wood chips and such will break down slowly of course. I suspect it might make pH drop faster and have other effects on the water chemistry. Not sure really... maybe some benefits?


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 Post subject: Re: newb problems
PostPosted: Nov 6th, '18, 06:25 
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As Danny says - but make sure any rock media you use is inert and doesn't change the pH

netting is OK but it would need to be regularly cleaned out.
Media drum as per earlier post seems to flush very well via a tap at bottom
and you can always hose down from top to give it a good flush.

Not sure what you call it but small railway ballast or road ballast (gravel) from granite is common option.
(but make sure granite and not dolomite etc). River gravel is another option provided it is inert.

Scoria (lava rock etc) is the other options provided it is not artificially coloured.

Take a look at you local landscape place and see what they have - that is usually an option for media.
Also many rock aggregate for cement. You just want something around 2" or so with a lot of surface area.

Can do the caps - but you need a lot.
take a look at Andreas thread for ideas there (Crappy Basil Growers R us).
he is also in a humid tropical area and uses various things for DWC - particularly in middle to end of thread.
Link here > viewtopic.php?f=18&t=16235 (page 5, then towards middle and around 80-110)


With you pump from photos guess you have the pump in the second drum to give yourself lift to the tubes.
first have the pump only in a drum full of water **remove all filters, sponges etc**

Fish Tank (overflow) -> Drum 1 -> Drum2 (biofilter) -> Drum 3 (PUMP) -> TUBES -> Fish Tank

For a small system with a few fish you don't need Drum 1 so that is optional.
(would be required in a larger system, dirty system or heavily stocked system)

Drum 2 must be full of media/biofilter material. You don't need an air pump in there as long as your water has enough DO.

It is simply convenient just to have the pump drum with water only (and sealed up to block light).
That maximises pump flow. This replaces the normal 'sump' in a media bed system.

To have a more classic sump setup (at end) your tubes would need to be at drum/fish tank level.
(in your case the rack of tubes needs to be fed from the pump to get it to required height).
Your setup is not bad because the individual tubes with run out and splash at end will help to add DO into the fish tank.

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