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PostPosted: Mar 20th, '13, 15:44 
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Hi all,

Im new here but wanted to introduce myself and post some info about a system that I have built.

I first got interested in aquaponics about two years ago when a friend showed me Murray Hallems Aquaponics made easy dvd and since then I have been obsessed with building my own system to produce fresh fish and veg.

It took me two years to get myself ready to start building my small single IBC growbed/fishtank (FYI the system I finaly decided to build is based on the wonderfull system that was outlined in the IBC of Aquaponics pdf magazine) but I have finally done it.

Bare in mind that I live in Zambia which makes getting my hands on the right pump, plumbing and grow media a huge task but eventually I succeeded.

My first stumbling block was getting my hands on an IBC as the only place here in Lusaka that I was able to find them was one of the local paint dealers and the ibcs they were selling off often had all sorts of nasty chemicals in them, but eventually I bit the bullet and bought one that was used for what was labelled as a non toxic paint additive, after cutting it up and spending about a week pressure washing and scrubbing the tank out it was finally clean.

My second stumbling block was to find the right sizes of pvc pipe to make the auto siphon (I decided to go with a flood and drain system as I felt that it made more sense to me at the time)
After lots of shopping around to practically every hardware store in the city I had finally managed to get everything together to make the system I had been dreaming about a reality.

The third and most annoyingly difficult stumbling block was to get the right grow media, in my dream for the system I really wanted to use hydrotron gravel as it was so amazingly easy to use and plant into etc but that wasnt to be a reality as the only way I would be able to get it would be to order it and have it shipped here and that would have cost a fortune here in Zambia so I looked elsewhere for a different media, I looked into our locally produced 3/4" gravel but sadly it is literally all limestone here which mean there was no way I could use it. Eventually I found a garden shop that was selling riverbed pebbles and went with that after buying some and leaving it in a bucket of water for a week to see if it would bring to ph up, after a week the ph was still within acceptable ranges of about 7.2 so I was finally sorted!

In the end one sunny afternoon a month back I decided to get the system built and setup, since I had already done the cleaning it took only a few hours to have all the pipes and steel supports cut up and had the system built and ready to accept my grow media and some water another hour later I had my fish tank full and my growbed filled with river pebbles and the system was WORKING!!!!

On day one I ran into my fourth stumbling block which was my tap water was coming out of the tap at a ph of 8.7 which wasnt ideal at all so I used a bit of pool acid roughly a cap full to bring the ph down to around 7.2, once i had left that a few days I got to planting in my seedlings which had been sitting on standby for a few days, but I added some seaweed extract to the system to start things off and make sure the plants had at least something to soak up.

I hit yet another issue a few days later when the rainy season which had been holding off just untill i got my system setup it seems decided to open up the heavens, to my horror rather than the acid rain I was expecting the rain water that got into my system was showing a ph of 8.5 and my systems ph followed suit. In a bit of a panic I decided to do the typical thing and since I had no fish in the system yet I added a half cap full of acid to the fish tank to try and bring things back down although the next few days showed my ph holding steady at 8.5, after much research on the internet I was convinced not to worry too much as any new system will have a high ph compared to a well established mature system, So I continued to add my seasol hoping that the good bacteria would get to work and start helping to bring the ph down.

At this point i should let you all know that since this was my first system I was like A 4 year old in a toy shop and couldn't help fiddling constantly which never seems to help anything.

week number two into having the system live I went to my local government run fishery to see what they had fish wise, I ended up paying for 50 fingerlings (threespot tilapia, Oreochromis andersonii) but ended up actually getting about 100 as they way they do things in Zambia I was guarenteed to have at least 50% of the fish die due to their shody methods of catching and packaging the fish for transport.

The fish were acclimated in their bag for a couple of hours for temp and ph etc and eventually I released them into the system, being a little bit overzealous I ended up with most of the dead fingerlings in the tank as well :( but I had read somewhere that dead fish can also help your system to cycle so I didnt worry too much.

After a few more days more of the living fish started to die from what looked like some sort of fungal infection and there were still dead fish from when I introduced them into the system so I built myself a quick aquarium vacuum from some DIY plans on the internet and got to cleaning and vacuuming all the dead fish off the tank floor.

with the tank now clean I was still battling with what ever fungal infection was killing off my fish, eventually over the next week or so I would just pull the dead fish that had succumbed to the infection out and was left with give or take 50 perfectly healthy specimens YAY :)

With all the things going on in my fish tank I had been neglecting my grow bed sadly and had noticed too late that I had a red spider mite infestation on all of my egg plants and some serious nutrient deficiencies in my basil, lettuce and green peppers, mostly all of them have died and been replaced to date.

All of the above brings me to my system today, im still dealing with rain ruining my ph and have a system with a current PH of 8.5 still :( but all is not lost as the fish from lots of research on the interwebs seem to be happy in a ph ranging from as low as 5 to as high as 10, the fish that survived what ever infection killed off their brothers and sisters are all happy and healthy and feeding like crazy every morning and evening when I feed them.
My plants are still struggling sadly and more still are dying off, but to make sure that something is at least making use of what ever nutrient is in the water I planted in some chives leaks and spring onions into the system which are all doing very well (I was warned by a few sources on the internet that these plants will very quickly take over and possibly clog up my growbed) I also have some strawberries and some tomato vines planted in and they are slowly starting to pick up.

Which brings me to my questions:
1) Since we do not seem to have any proper aquarium shops here that have things like ph balance solutions etc etc what can I buy off the shelf at the supermarket or find at home to help safely bring down my ph without killing my plants and fish off?

2) I can't get an ammonia/nitrate/nitrite test kit here are there any signs I can look out for that can tell me the state of my system?

3)Are there any other members of Backyardaquaponics.com from Africa that have had similar issues to me and found ways of overcoming them?


Really sorry about the huge long description but I just wanted to make sure I put in as much background as I could.


Robin In Zambia


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PostPosted: Mar 20th, '13, 16:04 
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Great system there Robin, welcome to AP. Can't provide too much advice, but to let the system start working. It will take a while for the organisms to start doing what they do. Growth may be a bit disapointing, but then it should take off.

I started my system off with Seasol and humonia and no fish for about 6 months. It eventually got here. I don't go hard with feed and let time take ... time? I don't overload my system, and haven't pulled out the test kit for 2years now. My fish will grow (slowly), but I have a good supply of fresh straberries and tomatoes all summer long. Will try different varieties each year.

Lettuce and spinach have woked well for me, even better after I put up mesh to stop direct sun in summer. I see you have yours up already. Good one!

Good luck, have patience and perseverance.

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PostPosted: Mar 20th, '13, 17:37 
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Thanks dr beee

I keep telling myself to be patient but its all very exciting to me at this stage and a few fellow ap lovers here in zambia tell me that rhe novelty doesnt ware off anytime soon haha.

My fish are already growing at a rapid rate and have a few really big ones that have overtaken the rest. The threespot tilapia I am using have a great growth rate im told I could have a 1kg fish in about six months if the conditions are right, plus its a great bonus that they seem to be very hardy fish surviving and even thriving in a wide variety of ph and temperature. My tank being so small seems to bounce between 24-28 degrees C with hot days and cold nights and yet the growth I have noticed is amazing. Cant wait for my veg to follow suit :D going to try more leafy green veg as I go along though so hope to see great things in the coming months. :smile:

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PostPosted: Mar 20th, '13, 22:57 
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What a fantastic story. It makes me realise how easy things are here in Perth and the things that we take for granted ('B' has all the different plumbing sizes, including the ones you don't want).

Don't worry too much about the chemical conditions in your tank (pH, NO3 etc). It is nice to keep looking at them but in the end I have found that it is just a time killer.

A high pH is not a big problem. As your grow bed matures you will find (if you get a test kit) that you will be looking around to find out ways to raise the pH (shell grit is what is recommended here by BYAP). My pH was high for 10 weeks and then crashed. Nothing lost but it was interesting. I now have shell grit on the bottom of my fish tank (not much) to keep the pH up. I believe the fish prefer the higher pH.

Finally, your 50 fish will be too many for your system. With in excess of four times your filtration (grow bed) my system will handle (allegedly) 50 plate sized fish. It is currently chugging along with 29 (not yet plate size). I think you will need to find homes for around 40 of your fingerlings. Should you try to keep your fish too long you will run into problems with ammonia build up as the grow bed will not be able to convert the ammonia fast enough.

Keep us updated as to your trials and tribulations just to keep us outside Zambia grounded as to how easy we have it.


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PostPosted: Mar 21st, '13, 00:26 
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Yes I had worried about that and I have a 1000ltr IBC fish tank on standby when i need to move the larger ones out of the system, I still need to get around to building the rest of the system to go with the 1000ltr tank but I'm hoping to have less headaches sourcing the parts this time around.
For the time being though I should be okay with the general size of the fish in the current 700ltr system being 1".


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PostPosted: Mar 21st, '13, 08:09 
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Rob,

It will be a not enough grow bed issue. Fish will happily bump into each other, just need sufficient uptake of nutrients. Should help to get good growth though. My system was too slow at start, but I planted out for fully grown fish, so growth was close to zero.

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PostPosted: Mar 21st, '13, 14:05 
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Dr Bee,
Yeah On my 1000ltr system that I want to build I will have about 3-4 grow beds filtering the water plus maybe if i can get the right pump some strawberry towers etc, once the small system is working and producing lots of veg I can see the wife wanting us to produce almost all of our veg from the AP systems rather than the market so I am going to have to get a fair few more systems up and running.

Although I have been captivated by the simplicity of the single IBC 1/3 grow bed 2/3 fish tank so what I am wondering is whether I should just build a few more of those and just divide the fish between them?

A friend of mine has built a larger system with a 1000ltr tank and three grow beds and a sump but he has been plagued with leaks and siphons not starting/stopping whereas my simple small system has been super reliable with very little hardware maintenance required.


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PostPosted: Mar 21st, '13, 14:30 
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AR,

Thats the way I've gone. I have three boys who thunder around the back yard, so I am keeping my system simple and in a corner out of the way until they become too big and obnoxious, and don't want to play with each other or find it too dorky to play with dad anymore. Can still out run them, but they are starting to fire down those cricket balls at me now.

Would love a few more GB's and more fish, but have to settle with one simple system for the moment.

Simple does have its advantages though. I'm happy to go away for the weekend, and if power fails, I don't lose anything. Not even in middle of summer!

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PostPosted: Mar 21st, '13, 15:25 
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Power issues are a major thing here we can have up to 2 hr power cuts every day when its a bad week, but I guess that is the price we pay for having some of the cleanest power in the world.

I think I might just go with three more 1 third grow bed 2 thirds fish tank systems just to make sure that if something goes wrong with one I can quickly move things to another if the problem cant be fixed and I will just have 10-20 fish per tank, I think this is going to be my simplest option and most reliable despite the cost of an extra three pumps which are stupidly expensive here I mean my small 2700lph pump set me back about 100USD and its a cheap chinese pump.


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PostPosted: Mar 22nd, '13, 08:52 
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People around here complain when a swan flies into a power pole and the power goes off for an hour. Man that happens so frequently, not.

A quick look on Google. Looks like you have some great lakes near by. Man, you are isolated. I can understand why things are expensive to get. I was thinking Namibia when I saw your location, but realise I was a bit too far to the left. 3m population is a decent sized city. Looks like a good climate for growth year round, dry winters. What are the main industries around there?

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PostPosted: Mar 22nd, '13, 11:14 
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African-Rob wrote:
Dr Bee,
Yeah On my 1000ltr system that I want to build I will have about 3-4 grow beds filtering the water plus maybe if i can get the right pump some strawberry towers etc, once the small system is working and producing lots of veg I can see the wife wanting us to produce almost all of our veg from the AP systems rather than the market so I am going to have to get a fair few more systems up and running.

Although I have been captivated by the simplicity of the single IBC 1/3 grow bed 2/3 fish tank so what I am wondering is whether I should just build a few more of those and just divide the fish between them?

A friend of mine has built a larger system with a 1000ltr tank and three grow beds and a sump but he has been plagued with leaks and siphons not starting/stopping whereas my simple small system has been super reliable with very little hardware maintenance required.


Hi Rob,

Cool system! :wave1: I agree that the way you have yours setup is a good way to do it and results in the least issues. If you take a look at my system I have a 1000 L fish tank that feeds 3 ibc growbeds 30cm deep that sit on top of the 3 2/3 that all act as sumps and interconnected, the last sump pumps back to the fish tank... I found this works well because you dont need to build any supports for the growbeds just like you have done and you only need 1 pump ( if you made lots of little individual systems you would need a pump in each )
SO basically what I have done is connected 3 of your system to each other and then to a full 1000 l IBC as fish tank..
if that makes any sense :think:

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PostPosted: Mar 22nd, '13, 17:21 
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Dr Bee

Well copper is the big one. Canadian mines populated and run by aussies so lots of health and safety out in the mining areas. Not so much here in the city though lol. We also have numerous other mines around with other minerals but id be lying if I said I knew exactly what else we mine here, I know uranium is one of them though.

As for the climate here we have rediculusly hot summers often hitting the 35/36 degree c mark and then winter has hot days mostly hitting 28-30 degrees c during the day and then dropping at night to around about 10 degrees c when it gets really cold although in the more hilly parts of lusaka it can get much colder. But yeah I should be set to grow well all round the year and with a little heater in my tank my water stays around 24 degrees c when the nights get a bit fresh but we arent in winter just yet so will be able to see how much the temp varies in a couple of months

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Last edited by African-Rob on Mar 22nd, '13, 17:33, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Mar 22nd, '13, 17:25 
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tom77

Yeah actually I was thinking of having all the systems plumbed together so they at least share water but having it setup your way seems to make much more sense and I get the benefit of both a 1000litre tank and lots of sump space which in theory will help keep my ph and temperature much more stable.

I will have to bare that design in mind when I start my expansion. Thanks alot :)

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PostPosted: Mar 22nd, '13, 17:40 
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African-Rob wrote:
tom77

Yeah actually I was thinking of having all the systems plumbed together so they at least share water but having it setup your way seems to make much more sense and I get the benefit of both a 1000litre tank and lots of sump space which in theory will help keep my ph and temperature much more stable.

I will have to bare that design in mind when I start my expansion. Thanks alot :)

Sent from my GT-I9300 using Tapatalk 2


Yes it has worked well for me so far, and in that heat you have it means you won't have to top up the water level as often since you will have all that sump volume :thumbright: I also think the more water you have the less wild swings there would be in the system like you mentioned ph but also ammonia, nitrites and nitrates

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PostPosted: Mar 22nd, '13, 18:35 
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Tom77

I'd love to see some pictures of how you have all of your tanks and sumps plumbed together, just to give me a rough idea of what to look for, as I said in my first post things are pretty difficult to come by here in Zambia at times so for example if i can find an adaptor that will connect poly pipe direct to the IBC outlets as a way of sharing water that would be great, but sadly I havent seen such an adaptor around in any of the shops I have been through (Not that I was looking specifically for those parts when I was shopping lol).


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