Aquaponic Filter Upgrade!

McFly

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I've been looking to spruce up the fish tank area, and thought a shelf over the
aquarium with plants with 'hanging' fauna would be nice. Well... I'm not one
to let the plants get off scott free... Everyone pulls their weight in the fish tank area.

My goal is to convert a 36 inch planter into an Aquaponic filter for the tank.
I've seen various Youtube vids explaining DIY systems, and started gathering
required parts, and re-engineering some aspects to make the system easier
to maintain. It also needs to keep some visual appeal because it is in plain
sight.

Auqaponic%20filter-L.jpg

Here's a rough sketch I made to figure out the basic design. I have (2) 17 inch LED aquarium
lights that I will mount over the planter to provide better light for the plants.

The planter will have a power head (Maxi-Jet 600) feeding water on the right side,
and a gravity drain on the left side. There will be a partition on either side, floss and filter sponge on the input,
on the right side I'll put a bag of biomedia to keep for quarantine filtration when I need it. Maybe a
coarse sponge over the exit bulk head.

The main compartment in the center will have 5/6 four inch hydroponic net pots filled with
clay bead media for the plants to grow in. I think I'm going to secure one set of net pots
to the planter bottom, and then nest (float) a second set of pots with the media and plants in them.
This will make it easier to lift plants to trI'm roots without moving the media around too much.

With the net pots in place, the rest of the center area will be filled with one inch bio-balls. So
in theory, the nitrifying bacteria will produce nitrates, and the plants will absorb some of the nitrate.
The return hose will feed back into the tank through a tee or an elbow to add what little water
movement it can.

This will be a secondary filtration system in addition to my Cascade 1200. The addition of
this aquaponic filter will hopefully reduce nitrate levels in the tank. Having 15ppm Nitrate
out of the tap should help keep nitrates even lower.

I currently have everything I need to plumb the system. I'm just waiting for the planter, aquaponic
media and net pots before I start assembly. I'll continue to post my progress throughout the project.

Should be interesting. :nailbiting:
 

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What kind of plants are you going to use?
 
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McFly

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Fish0n said:
What kind of plants are you going to use?
I think the middle plants will be Pothos (Devil's Ivy), and the outside plants I may plant some
herbs the wife uses frequently, maybe Basil, or Mint. I definitely want something that will crawl over
the front and hang down... after that it's a free for all!
 

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McFly said:
I think the middle plants will be Pothos (Devil's Ivy), and the outside plants I may plant some
herbs the wife uses frequently, maybe Basil, or Mint. I definitely want something that will crawl over
the front and hang down... after that it's a free for all!
Fresh herbs would be an extra bonus! Very curious to see how this turns out!!
 
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McFly

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I get the planter tomorrow, then I can start working on it. Should be a fun project.
I'll document my progress here. I've done aquarium builds and projects before,
but this is my 1st time delving into Aquaponics. I'm sure there will be hiccups!
 
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The Planter:

Most of the DIY examples are far from visually appealing, and usually
have a planter propped up on the back of the tank on a plank. The
planter is usually 'bulging' from the water and media pushing out on
the thinner plastic walls of the planter. I'm going to try and take this
up a few notches, because it won't be sitting in a fish room. It will
be on display in my living room. Making this filter quiet will also
be important. It's gotta be sexy and quiet...

The Aquaponics part of this will be the ability to grow plants in the planter.
To make this 'serviceable', the plants are going to be placed in "net pots".
They're popular in the hydroponics world, and it will allow me to use
clay pellet media in the net pots, keeping the plant and roots easy to remove
and replace for root trimming and planting new plants. This will also
limit the amount of heavy clay pellet media being used making the whole
planter considerably lighter. There will be net pots affixed to the bottom
of the planter for the planted net pots to sit in. Surrounding the
net pots will be bio-balls for added filtration for the tank.

The planter came today. It's very basic, and the wrong color, so I'm going to
have to paint it up a bit.

IMG_0549-M.jpg


The planter (36 inches long) will go on a shelf over the aquarium. I was fortunate
enough to have (3) studs to mount the shelf brackets into, so it will hold the weight.
I tested it with 30 lbs of lead and bricks and it didn't budge. Shelf is spot on level.

IMG_0548-M.jpg


IMG_0547-M.jpg


The shelf itself is over 5 ft. high, so this is really geared to me, standing at 6'4" tall,
I can still reach into the planter, and a step stool may be needed for any "big" jobs,
but I think once that Pothos starts hanging over the front it'll look great!

Back to making that planter an overhead sump...

It will need two dividers to make chambers on each end, I cut out a template from
cardboard, then transferred the shape onto some acrylic I had in the garage.

IMG_0550-S.jpg
IMG_0551-S.jpg


IMG_0553-M.jpg


After some cutting, and trimming I had a (3) chamber sump...

IMG_0554-M.jpg


These partitions will add ridigity to the walls, as well as provide a dedicated space for
filter medium at the entry and exit of the sump. I have to wait until the net pots arrive
to silicone them in, because they will also set the water height for the middle section.
I need everything here before I can proceed with setting them permanently in place.

I do have my bulk heads for either side of the sump, but once again, I need all my parts
here to measure things out... Here's one of the bulkheads pictured below.

IMG_0552-M.jpg


IMG_0547-S.jpg
So there's today's progress!!

Stay tuned!
 
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McFly

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Shipment 1 of 2 showed up today... Poly Filter, Bio balls and clay pebbles.

IMG_0555-M.jpg


Shipment 2 of 2 should be here tomorrow, then building/testing starts!!

Ok... that's a lie... Shipment 2 of 2 is now (2) shipments, soooo I'll
have everything on Thursday! Oh well!!
 
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Finally got the net pots, and now I can start working on this project.

With the floor of the planter uneven, my 1st job is to give the base net
pots a stable, level base to be affixed to. A half dozen pieces of acrylic
and silicone has taken care of that. I've also taken this opportunity to
seal the drain plugs.

IMG_0558-M.jpg


Here's the basic layout for the net pots:

IMG_0556-M.jpg


Going to let the silicone dry, then attach the net pots to the bottom.

Work is a terrible inconvenience, and I'm working tomorrow.... Baby steps...
 
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Long day at work, not much time to work on the sump.

I did manage to drill for the bulk heads and install them,
and drilled out holes in one of the dividers.

IMG_0559-L.jpg


IMG_0560-M.jpg


Hopefully I can sneak into the shop for a bit before
Easter company gets here tomorrow....
 
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Got right to it when I woke up, and got quite a bit done.

First I set a mock up with the sump, and a 5 gallon bucket to see if water
flow will work properly.... and it didn't. I had to install a second drain to
make things flow properly. Found out my powerhead was too powerful
so I've got a fountain pump (adjustable flow rate) on it's way. After some
feddling, I got the water flow going right... Yea! The adjustable fountain
pump will make things

Best guess is I'm running at about 140-160 gph. 2-3 times tank volume per hour.
(I also have a Cascade 1200 running as a primary filter) Hopefully it'll be enough
to get those nitrates to the plants!

IMG_0561-M.jpg


Now that I know it will work, it's it time to build up the planter section.

There are 6 net pots that are 'glued' to the floor with aquarium silicone, and 2
section walls for me to add a little pre/post mechanical filtration, and keep some
biomedia available for the quarantine tank when it's needed.

IMG_0566-M.jpg


IMG_0570-M.jpg


IMG_0567-M.jpg


The idea is a second set of net pots will rest inside the affixed pots. This way I can
lift each plant out to trI'm roots, and rinse the clay pebbles. I'll put a spacer on the
bottom of the affixed pots to raise the planted pots up, so water can circulate through.

That's all for today! It's starting to come together... It'll be 48 hrs before I can move on.
(Curing time for Silicone)
 
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Aquarium silicone has completely cured, and this project is starting to come together.

The 'base' net pots are set firmly, so the bio-ball medium went in, which really locked
In those net pots. I put some clay pellets in one of the top net pots to show how
the planters will look. The floss and sponge is on the input side (from the pump).
The output will likely get some sponge and floss to start out because the plant
roots will likely be dirty and I'd like to catch that 'stuff'.

IMG_0584-M.jpg


IMG_0585-M.jpg


Next a wet test, to preset pump power and re-leak check. I did have a drip from
one of the plugs on the bottom the first time, I (hopefully) resealed it properly.

Then, I need to prep the clay medium in a bucket of tank water with an airstone for
a full day (minimum) to clean and saturate it. I also have to go get some plants
to start growing. Lastly, I have to install an overflow so if the sump clogs, there's
a water outlet back to the tank.

I'm also thinking about a pump cut off switch (optical or float I'm not sure) so
the pump just shuts off if the water level gets too high.

An after thought might be a cover for the top, and just leave holes for the net pots.
 
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Work, work, work... Little time for this project unfortunately.

Yesterday I took the clay pebbles out for a bath. They're in a bucket
full of tank water with an air stone and a pond pump stirring them
around. I'd like them to be fully soaked before I start up the filter.

Going plant shopping tomorrow at the Garden Center. I want to run
The system with the new pump and leak check it one last time.
Busy day tomorrow, but I'm going to try to get a bunch more done.
 

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McFly said:
Work, work, work... Little time for this project unfortunately.

Yesterday I took the clay pebbles out for a bath. They're in a bucket
full of tank water with an air stone and a pond pump stirring them
around. I'd like them to be fully soaked before I start up the filter.

Going plant shopping tomorrow at the Garden Center. I want to run
The system with the new pump and leak check it one last time.
Busy day tomorrow, but I'm going to try to get a bunch more done.
Let me know how you like the clay pebbles. I have some media that never sank so I capped it with some gravel and it works but I wasn't impressed.
 
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Fish0n said:
Let me know how you like the clay pebbles. I have some media that never sank so I capped it with some gravel and it works but I wasn't impressed.
I have about a 75% sink rate. I knew it wouldn't all sink, so I got extra.
I've used it before in a drip hydroponic set up for herbs, and it worked
well for me. Of course it's apples and oranges when we compare it to
this set up.

I'll put some of the floating pebbles on the bottom of the net pot,
then cover them with sinking pebbles, as I set the plant. Then turn
the system on to fill up the planter. I have some gravel for weight
if needed. Having the base net pots to nestle the planted pots in
should make a floating pot little to worry about. (fingers crossed)

I'll be back to it this weekend, hopefully to finish up and get it running.
 
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Wish I could say I'm up snd running, but.... my pump died. I had a pond
pump, but at 400 gph, it's way too powerful. So, another delay.

A new pump will be here Tuesday, as Home Depot's mark up on pond pumps
is outrageous. No leaks, which is a good thing.

Delays, delays...
 
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The overhead sump is running. Not the "permanent" set up, but there's water
flowing through it, and aside from a noisy pond pump, I'm satisfied with its
function.

The pump is too powerful, so I set up a ball valve on the feed tube to slow the
water flow down.... I know, I know.... BAD Marty putting the valve after the pump,
but it's temporary, and I really need water moving through that sump.

The ball valve/flow control:
IMG_0601-M.jpg


The 'way to noisy' pond pump:
IMG_0602-M.jpg


The exit hoses:
IMG_0600-M.jpg


Water level is about half way up the lower bulk head, and
a quarter up the other bulkhead. Very consistent level that
I'm happy with.

The clay pellet media was put in a half full of tank water 5
gallon bucket. I put a powerhead in it, about mid way under
water, and pointed it up slightly. Agitating the surface and
creating a swirling current in the bucket. That ran for 5 days
to get 90% of the media to sink. I put the remaining floating
clay pellets on the bottom of the net pots and covered them
with sinking clay pellets.

Here's the 'feed side' of the overhead sump:
IMG_0598-M.jpg


And the drain side of the sump:
IMG_0603-M.jpg


The overflow can be seen on the back above the water line.
That will have a hose connected to it... before I go to bed tonite!

The clay pellets are all sunk in their net pots nicely, and ready
to receive some plants, which will be put in on Thursday.

The lower power pump will go in on Thursday too. Busy work week,
so once again... babysteps... Still, making progress!
 

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We think alike I had almost identical one about 6 months ago except I used lava rock and it sat on top of tank. Worked fine then became the forest I have today.
 
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By the way....

That green foam on the drain side is 2 pieces, each one will fit in my
OTB filter for my quarantine tank!
 
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Jack B Nimble said:
We think alike I had almost identical one about 6 months ago except I used lava rock and it sat on top of tank. Worked fine then became the forest I have today.
Awesome! I like to hear that! Clay pellets were a PITB, but I'm
glad they're working.

What did you plant?
 

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McFly said:
Awesome! I like to hear that! Clay pellets were a PITB, but I'm
glad they're working.

What did you plant?
Everything

20190502_172501.jpg


20190506_193052.jpg
 

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McFly said:
WOW! That's Awesome! Great job!
Ended up moving to bio falls in middle and water fall. The original system was like I said identical to yours I just found the plants as interesting as the fish tank so I came up with this second gen. I will say that it is always 0 0 0 readings unless I crank up the thrive. I like where yours is going I might suggest giant baby tears or creeping Jenny. Only thing with creeping Jenny is she will grow down your wall but looks good. Peace lily or any bog plants will work great.
 
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Jack B Nimble said:
Ended up moving to bio falls in middle and water fall. The original system was like I said identical to yours I just found the plants as interesting as the fish tank so I came up with this second gen. I will say that it is always 0 0 0 readings unless I crank up the thrive. I like where yours is going I might suggest giant baby tears or creeping Jenny. Only thing with creeping Jenny is she will grow down your wall but looks good. Peace lily or any bog plants will work great.
I have a very good garden center close by. They've got 3 varieties of Pothos in stock,
I'll definitely ask about giant baby tears. I was thinking about a mint plant too... And maybe
the Chinese money plant. Only six net pots... I'm starting to see where you went with yours!
 
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Got home from work (late)...(again) and that 400GPH pump got louder, so out it came.

During work, I was thinking about the project, and I realized a HUGE design flaw.
IF (a very big word) any of the hoses going to the overhead sump were to come off,
or leak in some magical way, the pump, being on the bottom of the tank would drain
the entire tank into the living room.

The new pump is positioned about 3 inches from the top of the tank, so IF there's
a catastrophic failure, only a few gallons drain from the tank. I may even make a
float switch for the pump... It'll make water changes easier, one less thing to unplug.

The new pump is MUCH quieter, and it doesn't need to be throttled back at all.
Peace of mind there, as I need not worry about an overfill as much.

I'll post some pics after dinner.
 

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McFly said:
Got home from work (late)...(again) and that 400GPH pump got louder, so out it came.

During work, I was thinking about the project, and I realized a HUGE design flaw.
IF (a very big word) any of the hoses going to the overhead sump were to come off,
or leak in some magical way, the pump, being on the bottom of the tank would drain
the entire tank into the living room.

The new pump is positioned about 3 inches from the top of the tank, so IF there's
a catastrophic failure, only a few gallons drain from the tank. I may even make a
float switch for the pump... It'll make water changes easier, one less thing to unplug.

The new pump is MUCH quieter, and it doesn't need to be throttled back at all.
Peace of mind there, as I need not worry about an overfill as much.

I'll post some pics after dinner.
Ya I was in same boat that's why mine sat on tank as then if any failure a quick drain into tank.
 
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Jack B Nimble said:
Ya I was in same boat that's why mine sat on tank as then if any failure a quick drain into tank.
I thought about on tank, but wanted the separation, and additional 'hang space' for
plants. Once the set up has the kinks worked out, I'll make hose connections less
unreliable. The worst case scenario at this point is less than 5 gallons, which I'll
confess, has happened during a water change once. Vinyl tile flooring helped tons!

Tomorrow is planting day!! It all comes together. I have a light set up I'm working on
for the plants. Getting excited...
 
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I'm planted! Probably the cheapest part of the build.
$4.99 for (1) Pothos plant
$2.49 for (1) Spearmint Plant

System is running at 100 GPH which should be adequate circulation.

I pulled the Pothos out of the pot it was purchased in. Pulled the plant
apart, flushed all the dirt out of the roots, and divided the individual
rooted stalks into 4 net pots.

Same for the spearmint plant, except that got divided into (2) net pots.

57911888443__17B74403-9773-487D-AD3D-42AECC439BCE-M.jpg


57911890245__CAF9B99A-A06E-47AB-894E-58B73BED0951-M.jpg


IMG_0606-M.jpg


IMG_0609-M.jpg


Now to see if it works... :nailbiting:

I'm going to find a 36" grow light to mount above the sump... My lighting idea
doesn't seem like it's going to work. Oh well.
 
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IMG_0612-XL.jpg


Tank lights on... Looks nice. I've ordered a timed clip on grow light from
Amazon for now... It should do the job until I figure out a more permanent solution.

(Still got some cleaning up to do on the right... pardon the pile!)
 
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So.... !!?

I've had the system running for just over 24 hours. I might add flawlessly.
My weekly water change is done on Saturday night or Sunday. It's Friday,
I decided to do a test on the water for giggles... just to see. I wasn't expecting
to see much, it's only a day, right?
pH: 7.6
Ammonia: 0 ppm
Nitrite: 0 ppm
Nitrate: 5-10 ppm.

Nitrate is NEVER that low in my tank. It tests higher than that after a water change. (~20 ppm)
It's usually about 40 ppm without the Aquaponic filter this time of the week.

So..... it works! Much better than I expected I might add.

I'm going to continue water changes, because nitrates aren't the ONLY reason
for water changes, and it this point, I'll bee feeding the plants with my nitrate
rich (treated) tap water.

Awesome.
 
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A temporary grow light (thanks Amazon) is now in place. My goal
is to put in a 36" ceiling fixture, but for now the plants will get the
light they need.
20190511_202544-L.jpg


I think this project has proved itself worth the design and work. Short term
it has literally 'Wowed' me with the effectiveness this set up has shown.
Adding the aquaponic filtration to the automated evaporative cooling system
has provided a very stable, healthy environment for my aquarium inhabitants.

I'm hoping the Mint plants aren't too aggressive... I'll have to watch them closely
in the beginning. I know they could quickly take over the whole sump. For now...
... I'm looking forward to a mint julip or two!
 

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This is awesome! Love the dedication and thorough updates you did! Did you install a third drain Incase your filter media gunks up and the water stops flowing? That would be my only concern with the way you have the filter media set up.
 
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DoughBoy93090 said:
This is awesome! Love the dedication and thorough updates you did! Did you install a third drain Incase your filter media gunks up and the water stops flowing? That would be my only concern with the way you have the filter media set up.
Thanks. Yes, there is a 3rd drain located in the middle of the back wall,
one inch from the top. It drains back into the tank.

The flow is pretty much unrestricted, took a few hours to get
it all right. I'm looking into a float kill switch as an added measure.
I'm stunned at how fast the system took effect.
 

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McFly said:
Thanks. Yes, there is a 3rd drain located in the middle of the back wall,
one inch from the top. It drains back into the tank.

The flow is pretty much unrestricted, took a few hours to get
it all right. I'm looking into a float kill switch as an added measure.
I'm stunned at how fast the system took effect.

Right! Same here! The plants I’m using are all clippings with very little root systems. I’m hoping once they establish more roots I will see the same effect you are!
 
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DoughBoy93090 said:
Right! Same here! The plants I’m using are all clippings with very little root systems. I’m hoping once they establish more roots I will see the same effect you are!
Pretty sure you will get similar results. A single 4 inch pot Pothos plant
was $5, and had about 12-15 rooted stalks... iffin' ya want to get faster
results. I wish I had the room for a larger set up like you're building.
 

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McFly said:
Pretty sure you will get similar results. A single 4 inch pot Pothos plant
was $5, and had about 12-15 rooted stalks... iffin' ya want to get faster
results. I wish I had the room for a larger set up like you're building.
I had bought an $8 pothos that had lots of cuttings in it, I than also made my own clippings. To fit the plants in the light diffuser I had to cut a lot of the roots down.
 
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DoughBoy93090 said:
I had bought an $8 pothos that had lots of cuttings in it, I than also made my own clippings. To fit the plants in the light diffuser I had to cut a lot of the roots down.
Gotcha. I would've cut the diffuser, only because the plant won't
get any smaller, and as the plant grows it will need room 'to grow'.
Just an idea, but if you stacked 2 diffusers you could cut bigger holes
and just slide them to open the holes bigger as needed. You should
only need one side to be adjustable, to keep the plant from falling in.

Anyway you bake it, it still ends up as bread... and I'm sure you'll
end up with an efficient system. You seem to have put a bunch
of design and effort into your project.
 

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McFly said:
Gotcha. I would've cut the diffuser, only because the plant won't
get any smaller, and as the plant grows it will need room 'to grow'.
Just an idea, but if you stacked 2 diffusers you could cut bigger holes
and just slide them to open the holes bigger as needed. You should
only need one side to be adjustable, to keep the plant from falling in.

Anyway you bake it, it still ends up as bread... and I'm sure you'll
end up with an efficient system. You seem to have put a bunch
of design and effort into your project.
I like it! Shutter design! Lol.

I’ve built a few Aquaponic s systems in the past and have learned from my mistakes. This is the easiest and cheapest design with my current set up.
 

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This was a great read all the way through! You should consider maybe making a more detailed breakdown on paper for anyone who may be interested in replicating!

I feel like Fishlore should have a saved section for projects like these if it doesn’t already. One day I will live somewhere permanently enough we’re I can construct something like this for now my plants will just hang inside the tank haha. I would be interested to see what a version of this for a much smaller tank could look like! Awesome job!
 
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Thanks!

I actually do have a "parts list", and I'd be happy to post it up.
A lot of the 'engineering' was done on the fly, and with materials
that were available. Sizing pump to drain and flow rate, is changed
by so many variables, that a set in stone blueprint wouldn't be possible.
Just raising or lowering the shelf height will change everything.

I would say that I've hopefully given enough insight to enable those
capable of building one to do so. I'll post some specs to further assist
prospective Overhead Aquaponic Sump designers.
 
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Parts:

(1) 36 inch window style planter without a drain tray.
(drain tray models are far more work to make watertight)
(1) 36 inch shelf with (3) shelf brackets
5 ft of 3/4 in I.D. vinyl hose (drain)
5 ft of 1/2 in I.D. vinyl hose (straight fit to feed pump)
(12) 3.75 inch heavy duty net pots
(1) 2 lb. bag of clay pebbles
200-300 1 inch bio balls
(3) 3/4 inch PVC pipe couplers w/ one inside threaded end
(3) 3/4 inch nylon elbows threaded end to barbed end
(1) package of 3/4 in I.D. o-rings
(1) 3/4 ID to 1/2 ID barbed reducer
(1) 1/2 in ID plastic ball valve w/ barbed ends
(1) tube of Aquarium Silicone Sealant
(2) fabricated dividing walls (acrylic/lexan)
(1) 120 GPH 6w pond pump (for ~18 inch head height)

Optional parts:
(1) 3/8 in nylon elbow w/ 5 ft vinyl hose (for overflow... your choice!)
Open cell foam filter media
Aquarium floss filter media
Grow light for plants

Tools that make life easier:
Stepped drill bit
A drill (had to mention it...)
rat tail file
utility knife
pipe cutter
 

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