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New Aquaponics System - Use of soil medium over hydroton with continuous flow

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Thanks Paul. This is even more reassuring since it seems from what you are saying that my system has some redundancies and perhaps some overkill, which should give me some wiggle room as I gain more experience. I like the idea of earthan beds so much than I go back and forth between making my second bed an earthan bed as well, or keeping with my original plan of one hyrdroton bed.

It would be nice to see a side by side comparison, and logic dictates that I should gain more experience with the earthan bed setup before expanding...but that soil does call to me. :biggrin:

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Thanks Paul.

Nor do they require any pH management or nutrient addition. This is done organically through the surface of the soil.

How does this work? Are saying that you sprinkle something on the surface......or that the nutrients are to be found in the growing mix? If the latter, how are they replenished?

Smaller systems will be a little more dynamic by nature but will perform the same. It is very important to not overcomplicate the process. So some trust is needed they will do what they need to with very little intervention from you. Young plants or seeds will require some surface watering to get them established. Other than that they will grow just like any soil raised garden bed if you treat them as such.

It's smaller systems that I'm most concerned about. I'm fine with trust but I feel much better with knowing how something works.

Am I to understand that the only solids removal that occurs in these systems, is effected by the gravel in the bottom of the earthan beds?

While both Earthan Bed and fish tanks are directly connected without filtration there are simple valves to isolate them should the need arise. To date that need has not surfaced outside of cleaning fish tanks from time to time. Neither system has had any water quality issues (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen) or otherwise.

So, how would the system function if you did have to isolate the beds for any extended period of time?

Paul, are the grow beds that are hooked up to your home system - earthan beds?

Thank you for your explanation.

Gary

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How does this work? Are saying that you sprinkle something on the surface......or that the nutrients are to be found in the growing mix? If the latter, how are they replenished?

You are constantly building the soil with organic mulch as you would with any garden.

Am I to understand that the only solids removal that occurs in these systems, is effected by the gravel in the bottom of the earthan beds?

Yes with the exclusion of the Basin View system as it has other beds that do filter solids at different degrees before the Earthan Beds. This is purely designed for that purpose, though the system would work well without it with such a low volume of fish tanks.

So, how would the system function if you did have to isolate the beds for any extended period of time?

Never had the need to isolate for extended periods. We have isolated the Basin View system for 8 or 9 hours during cleaning without issue. The school system has never been isolated in 2 years with the exeption of harvest period during a day where the tank was drained and refilled, though in that system, draining the tank below the level controls that feed the grow beds, isolates the grow beds. I will note that if the beds where isolated from fresh water flow for over a day or two, the water that would come out of them would not be suitable for fish.

Paul, are the grow beds that are hooked up to your home system - earthan beds?

No they are not. They are an experimental system. We originally ran them (as you saw) as an earthan bed without the media underneath and found they did not work as expected. It has since been changed.

Paul

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Thanks Paul,

quote_icon.png Originally Posted by GaryD viewpost-right.png

Paul, are the grow beds that are hooked up to your home system - earthan beds?

No they are not. They are an experimental system. We originally ran them (as you saw) as an earthan bed without the media underneath and found they did not work as expected. It has since been changed.

That's where much of my confusion stems from. I remember that there was filtration involved in that system......and some very smelly liquid coming back from the grow beds into a drum.

So, where to from here?

Do we abandon our use of mechanical and biological filtration in small backyard systems?

How will the beds stand up to the "vigorous" feeding regimes that you normally prefer?

What observations, using Earthan beds, have you made with respect to stocking densities?

Gary

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Hi ed/Gary/EG/all

Doesn't the oxidized layer section, as discussed in that white paper, refer to a layer of sediment maintained at a bottom of a pond?

Yes it does, and it explains the constant ongoing biologi in the layer (nitrogen circle)

and the importance of O2 presence to maintain the healthy environement to aquatic life.

By circulating the O2 rich water underneath the soil, you maintain the "healthy layer". The soil becomes part of the overall filter process and the water picks up the "deposits"

that would build the underlaying layer in a pond bottom.

In the earthan bed setup, there is no intended sediment layer and any solids should be removed by the solids filter and purged regularly.

I dissagree there is a layer ("The Oxidized Layer") but it's not on the bottom like in a pond, it's above the water level in the earathan bed.

The next layer(under "The Oxidized Layer") is the potentialy dangourous if stired up (poison like H2S etc) in a pond bottom and thats whats "missing" compared to a pond bottom.

The water flow is transporting away the sediments so you avoid the build up of any stagnant poisones layer(s).

I read that EG would not use/recomend geotextiles again, (on his webpage) do to clogging (build up of sediments) I gues if used, that could be a fallpit.

The E beds are "constantly" fed with new mulch, and the "flowing" water plays a significant role in picking up suspended solids to avoid the build up of the sediment layers, that would ocure naturaly, in a pond bottom.

This is how I'w come to understand the Earathan Beds,and the ongoing bio/eco-logy process within.

As I'w said earlyer I have yet to build and use one. But I have buildt what I consider simmilare in grey/black water systems, where the understanding of the bio/eco process in the water and soil interaction is of the same importanse, as the water is releesed in nature pure of any contaminants to aquatic life.

sytems like/simmilare to this

Center for Recirkulering

Not that exact design only used that because it explains well in inglish.

I do agree with Gary that there is a danger/risk, to throwing the water back to the fish, but if you can manage the water chemistry it's a benefit in my climate reusing the heat.

cheers

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Hi Paul,

Reading back over the preceding posts about Earthan beds, it's certainly this post that clarified things around how the beds work.....particularly having eliminated the confusion posed by the beds that I saw in your backyard.

Your combination of wicking beds and continuous flow beds is certainly innovative.....but, as is so often the case, answers to questions often pose more questions.

So, where to from here?

Do we abandon our use of mechanical and biological filtration in small backyard systems?

How will the beds stand up to the "vigorous" feeding regimes that you normally prefer?

What observations, using Earthan beds, have you made with respect to stocking densities?

Oh, and one more......what happens to the solids that are left in the system? They must build up over time.....so are they just removed as part of some sort of maintenance regime on the beds.

Your thoughts?

Gary

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Thanks for that explanation and link ande. That's way beyond my depth of knowledge in this area, but interesting and informative nonetheless.

As far as my system, here's an update:

03/11/13: started up system, temp 50F, water ph at 7.8 from tap, added General Hydroponics ph- to lower it to 7.0, added API Stress Coat to remove chlorine/chloramines, transplanted a few plants

03/12/13: temp 60F, ph at 7.2, all other readings at 0, added ammonium chloride to start cycling

03/13/13: temp 60F, ph at 7.4, all other readings at 0, added more ammonia

03/14/13: temp 60F, ph at 7.8 (guess there's a ton of buffer in the water), all other readings at 0

Looking for advice on how to proceed. I know that as the system matures and cycles, ph will come down naturally, but this does seem a bit high, and with all the alkalinity in the water, it may be a while before it stabalizes. I added plants to start since the earthan bed contains enough nutrients for the plants, and can sustain them for quite a while before the fish do their bit. I'd like to add fish once the water temp gets to right temp for tilapia, but wanted to ensure that I am not chasing ph/nitrates or conversely, missing necessary adjustments.

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Do we abandon our use of mechanical and biological filtration in small backyard systems?

That is for you to decide. Keep it perspective, one proven system has 10m3 of gravel running 4000 litres of aquaculture and the other has 90m3 of gravel running 6000 litres of aquaculture.

How will the beds stand up to the "vigorous" feeding regimes that you normally prefer?

As above. They both cope with normal stocking densities with applied adequate feed.

What observations, using Earthan beds, have you made with respect to stocking densities?

As above. 25kg/m3 has not presented any issues.

what happens to the solids that are left in the system?

I don't know. Never dug one out to find out, nor will I. The previous posts about oxydized layer is spot on. With only two years in, we will have to wait and see.

Paul

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my 2 cents worth

i find a large handful of red wigglers which can survive in well oxygenated water perfect for breaking down the big bits, and of coarse nothing like some worm pee to add to the cocktail, plants love it!

regards luke

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Hi Ande,

I dissagree there is a layer ("The Oxidized Layer") but it's not on the bottom like in a pond, it's above the water level in the earathan bed.

The next layer(under "The Oxidized Layer") is the potentialy dangourous if stired up (poison like H2S etc) in a pond bottom and thats whats "missing" compared to a pond bottom.

If you are not careful about feeding a wicking bed (particularly if you are using nutrient-rich water out of an AP system) things can get pretty smelly in the water reservoir.....so I can grasp the benefit of having an oxygenated water flow underneath the soil. The removal (and subsequent venting) of any gases is definitely a useful thing to do.

The water flow is transporting away the sediments so you avoid the build up of any stagnant poisones layer(s).

Transporting them to where? There is not only the sediment from the soil that gravitates into the water stream.....but there is also the solids from the fish. In the absence of filtration, where does all of this stuff go.

Personally, I think think Earthan beds probably have more in common, in terms of how they function, with the sub-surface septic system example that you provided than with pond bottoms. That makes the idea of a continuous flow of water under the growing mix no less innovative but it's probably a more accurate assessment of what is happening.

My concern is that, without filtration, how is the sludge (that is the inevitable result of continuous feeding of fish and the gravitation of fines) removed from the system. Even when completely oxidised, the fish solids leave some residue....and, if not removed, must eventually clog the system.

Gary

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My concern is that, without filtration, how is the sludge (that is the inevitable result of continuous feeding of fish and the gravitation of fines) removed from the system. Even when completely oxidised, the fish solids leave some residue....and, if not removed, must eventually clog the system.

How is this your concern Gary? Are you refering to the two systems I built or anyone building them?

As always I recommend prefiltration or capacity to settle out the solids somewhere, which happens in both the large systems passively. My personal hobby system has dedicated solids and bio filtration which both the fish and growbeds operate through, as I described in one of the comments on my site.

Paul

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Hi Paul,

How is this your concern Gary? Are you refering to the two systems I built or anyone building them?

I didn't suggest that it was my concern......I thought we were talking about Earthan beds in a general sense....but the questions are relevant regardless of which particular Earthan bed we happen to be discussing.

As always I recommend prefiltration or capacity to settle out the solids somewhere, which happens in both the large systems passively. My personal hobby system has dedicated solids and bio filtration which both the fish and growbeds operate through, as I described in one of the comments on my site.

The clear inference in this post was that no filtration was necessary......and, since you are obviously communicating with a whole lot of people who may be interested in building their own Earthan beds, can you see that not clearly letting them know (that filtration is still advisable) might be confusing?

Gary

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The clear inference in this post was that no filtration was necessary......and, since you are obviously communicating with a whole lot of people who may be interested in building their own Earthan beds, can you see that not clearly letting them know (that filtration is still advisable) might be confusing?

As I said in that post, perspective is needed. I doubt backyard systems are going to have 10m3 gravel : 100kg fish or 90m3 gravel : 150kg fish which was stated in that post. The smaller out of the two, as previously noted, has not required any specific prefiltration in two years and I doubt very much the larger one will either considering it has filtration built into it via the floating rafts and media beds prior to the Earthan Beds (also previously noted).

The two systems are configured very differently in terms of water flow. While the larger has the filtration built into the beds, the smaller one has prefiltration (by way of design) built into the inlets to the beds, however, those inlets have not required cleaning in two years.

I can only speak to what I know and what has been proven so far. In regards to cleaning the beds I also noted, time will tell.

If you plan to build one in your backyard, you will need to decide if you require pre-filtration or not. The information I have currently does not indicate filtration is or is not needed.

Like I said, that is for you to decide. I think I have been pretty clear.

Also, we are talking about the function of the grow beds and how they work, not any additional designs you might need to consider.

Paul

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Hi Paul,

I can only speak to what I know and what has been proven so far.

If you plan to build one in your backyard, you will need to decide if you require pre-filtration or not. The information I have currently does not indicate filtration is or is not needed.

Not knowing is no crime. That simple admission helps us to separate conjecture from fact.

I think I have been pretty clear.

Things started to get clear in your last post on Earthan beds on your site......and they've become ever clearer with each question that I've asked. Thank you!

Also, we are talking about the function of the grow beds and how they work, not any additional designs you might need to consider.

We're also talking about other people who have indicated that they want to build similar beds. Are they, like me, waiting for the next instalment?

Gary

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We're also talking about other people who have indicated that they want to build similar beds. Are they, like me, waiting for the next instalment?

I have also posted the ideal configuration of the Earthan Beds in response to one of the OP's questions. That clearly states the filtration. Further, when time permits, I have promised to draw the configuration for readers to get a better sense of a complete system. Which I expect will be the next installment.

Here is that response:

Ideally, a flow of fish tank -> gravity radial flow -> gravity bio filter – > gravity sump -> pump to fish tank from sump -> pump to grow bed from sump -> gravity from grow bed to radial flow -> then to bio -> into sump. Effectively two loops around the filtration. One loop for the fish through filters to sump and one for the grow beds through the same filters operating on one sump and one pump.

This will allow you to isolate either the fish or the growbeds at will and should you stir up the grow bed captured solids when harvesting, they are captured in the radial flow and any ammonia or nitrite release will be processed by the bio.

Paul

Edited by Earthan Group (see edit history)

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Hi Ed

I'd like to add fish once the water temp gets to right temp for tilapia, but wanted to ensure that I am not chasing ph/nitrates or conversely, missing necessary adjustments.

I think you are on track, tilapia is not my kind of fish,but I would ad them as soon as the day/night average temp. allows for it.

And go light/easy on the feeding.

cheers

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Hi Ande,

Transporting them to where? There is not only the sediment from the soil that gravitates into the water stream.....but there is also the solids from the fish. In the absence of filtration, where does all of this stuff go.

I am assuming there is a mech filtration in/out of the E beds, also I would prefere bio filtration so that the fish can be isolated from any kind of growbeds or dwc etc.

I think that is good rule of thumb in any RAS aplication.

In the absence of filtration, where does all of this stuff go.

Personally, I think think Earthan beds probably have more in common, in terms of how they function, with the sub-surface septic system example that you provided than with pond bottoms. That makes the idea of a continuous flow of water under the growing mix no less innovative but it's probably a more accurate assessment of what is happening.

My concern is that, without filtration, how is the sludge (that is the inevitable result of continuous feeding of fish and the gravitation of fines) removed from the system. Even when completely oxidised, the fish solids leave some residue....and, if not removed, must eventually clog the system.

Gary

Iff they are set up without filtration I agree they would eventualy clog

cheers

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Personally, I think think Earthan beds probably have more in common, in terms of how they function, with the sub-surface septic system example that you provided than with pond bottoms. Gary

Don't know what happen but part of my reply got lost in the previous post, so I try again.

Try to forget about a pond bottom, the point or essence is the description of the

eco/bio-system within the ox-layer in pond soil, it is wery much identical to the

eco/bio-system (environement) in the bottom of the "earathan bed" IMO that makes it a complimentary (positive) bio filter with a greater variety of bacteria to do the bio filtration.

I think the septic system link I provided have more simmilareties towards a wicking bed but thats irelevant ? I posted that link more to show what kind of system(s) I have hands on experience with. My primary pasion is restoring spawning creeks, and wetlands, part of that is providing a solution for septics (killing the polution source(s)).

cheers

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Hi Ed

I like the idea of earthan beds so much than I go back and forth between making my second bed an earthan bed as well, or keeping with my original plan of one hyrdroton bed.:biggrin:

What did you end up with ?

Did you go for hydroton or gravel in the bottom ?

And what soil mix ?

Also which final flow plan did you go for, filters etc. ?

Hope you don't mind the general discussion on soilbeds (Erathan Beds) in your thread, some of it should probbably been adressed in EG's differente threads but it's cool to keep it in one IMO

cheers

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Hi Ande,

I am assuming there is a mech filtration in/out of the E beds, also I would prefere bio filtration so that the fish can be isolated from any kind of growbeds or dwc etc.

I think that is good rule of thumb in any RAS aplication.

Paul has clarified that with the following.....

I have also posted the ideal configuration of the Earthan Beds in response to one of the OP's questions. That clearly states the filtration. Further, when time permits, I have promised to draw the configuration for readers to get a better sense of a complete system. Which I expect will be the next installment.

Here is that response:

Ideally, a flow of fish tank -> gravity radial flow -> gravity bio filter – > gravity sump -> pump to fish tank from sump -> pump to grow bed from sump -> gravity from grow bed to radial flow -> then to bio -> into sump. Effectively two loops around the filtration. One loop for the fish through filters to sump and one for the grow beds through the same filters operating on one sump and one pump.

This will allow you to isolate either the fish or the growbeds at will and should you stir up the grow bed captured solids when harvesting, they are captured in the radial flow and any ammonia or nitrite release will be processed by the bio.

It took a while for us to arrive at this point but, having done so, some of the more important questions around Earthan beds (for general use) are resolved.

Gary

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Iff they are set up without filtration I agree they would eventualy clog

I expect this is true. The size and volume of the gravel substrate along with filtration will dictate how long that will take, understanding the growbeds themselves generate substantial bio floc. As we have used such large volumes and larger (40mm) gravel, the surface area for bio is adequate and the porosity will keep the water flowing, even though over time they will channel to some extent.

I am not particularly concerned with them clogging, it only means you slow the flow rate down. Again with sufficient volume this is not going to present any problem.

The difficulty in deseminating information about something on a forum, is the info gets broken down into small peices and can make it difficult to understand the whole picture.

Due to that, I will explain (again) how the Earthan Beds operate in the three examples provided.

The Basin View project:

  1. Water flows by gravity from each 2000 litre fish tank ->
  2. to the 12m2 x 500mm deep floating rafts which act as a settling tank for the majority of larger solids to settle out ->
  3. then under gravity it flows through 2 x 12m2 x 500mm deep media beds that have 20mm gravel topped with 100mm of expanded clay, here most of the finer solids are filtered ->
  4. further under gravity it enters one end of the equivelent of 4 x 12m2 x 500mm deep 20mm gravel in the Earthan Beds ->
  5. water then by gravity flows to a 3000 litre sump tank with 300 litres of K1 bio media (for isolation of the fish system) - >
  6. then into another 3000 litre sump which some residual fines from the Earthan Beds settle out in before the water is pumped back to the 2000 litre fish tank.

  • Each 2000 litre fish tank can manage
  • 50kg of fish,
  • 600 grams of feed per day,
  • 180 grams of solids per day,
  • contributes to 84m2 of grow space,
  • 36m3 of gravel or media
  • 20,000 litres of water
  • excluding the 6000 litres of common sump, fish tank and pipe work.

  • There is 3 of these systems
  • 6000 litres of fish tank
  • up to 150kg of fish
  • 1800 grams of feed per day
  • 540 grams of solids per day
  • 252 m2 of grow space
  • 108m3 of gravel or media
  • 60,000 litres of water
  • excluding the 6000 litres of common sump, fish tanks and pipe work.

This project was serviced last week. All the fish are growing well (though the auto feeders were blocked) as are the yabbies. The fish tanks drained and scrubbed, the outlets to the grow beds cleaned (one had 1meter of tomato roots in it), algae removed from the floating rafts. There had been torrential rain for a week prior to the visit and the ground drains which is connected to the drain line of the grow beds was full and not coping with the excessive water. Overflow for the system itself was full of silt. That drain is part of the infrastructure of the village itself and had ground silt washed into it. Nothing to do with the system itself. Once the rain stopped the drain emptied

No flush of the lines was needed (due to the rain). The pump still running at 12,000 litres per hour at the fish tanks exchanging the tanks 1.5 times per hour. No overflows seen in the grow beds, though everything was wet. The managers have not reported any overflows nor was the water meter running which indicates the beds (after 12 months) are sill flowing well. Perhaps in another few years we will see how it is going.

The School System:

  1. Water flows by from the 4000 litre fish tank ->
  2. split into 3 sections flows through prefiltered grow bed inlets ->
  3. to a total of 60m2 grow space with 300mm of gravel ->
  4. then the water returns via gravity to a 300 litre sump in the fish tank ->
  5. pumped (12 volt) back to the fish tank (no specific aeration)

  • The 4000 litre fish tank
  • can manage 100kg of fish
  • up to 1200 grams of feed per day
  • 360 grams of solids per day
  • contributes to 60m2 of grow space
  • 18m3 of 40mm gravel
  • 7200 litre of water
  • excluding the 4000 litre fish tank and common sump

Yesterday we drained and cleaned the fish tank. The sump (600mm diameter) had 50mm of sediment in it after one year and the inlet filters did not need cleaning. I ran the hose down the outlets of the Earthan Beds to flush the lines. Another 20mm of sediment came out of the pipes to the sump. Which is not bad considering there is 180 lineal meters of pipe work.

We had not done the harvest for a year, and the system has been operating for just over two years (26 months). Water run directly into the inlets from the tap flowed through each inlet at 12 LPM each, there are 18 inlets gives us a total of 216 LPM or 13,000 litres per hour. I see no signs of the grow beds clogging at this stage in the project. Perhaps in another 3 years we will see how it is going.

Our home system:

  1. Water flows from each 1000 litre fish tank under gravity from top and bottom outlets ->
  2. the bottom outlets carry the solids to the 200 litre radial flow filter ->
  3. the radial flow filter flows to the 200 litre bio filter with 120 litres of K1 (currently running as a packed column) ->
  4. the bio filter runs by gravity to the sump ->
  5. Water is pumped back the fish tanks <----->
  6. Water is also pumped to 6 x 1.4m2 Earthan Beds with 200mm of gravel in each ->
  7. gravity flows back to the radial flow filter ->
  8. radial flow filter gravity to bio filter ->
  9. bio filter to the sump
  10. And around it goes in two loops. Call it the CHOP 5000 if you like....

  • 3000 litres of fish tanks
  • Currently running 50 juvenile Murray Cod and 37 x 850 gram+ Jade perch
  • Currently with about 35 kg of fish
  • Feeding 400 to 500 grams per day of 50% protein feed (dependant on temperature)
  • approximately 150 grams of solids per day
  • 600 litres of sump
  • 1.68m3 of gravel
  • 700 litres of water

We clean the radial flow filter once a week (to our fruit trees) along with the bio filter. At this stage we have constant ammonia at 0.25 to 0.50 whish is expected and we battle with nitrite at 0.5 constantly (it never gets to zero unless we stop feeding for a day). We have had issue with wet feet on the plants in the first experimental system without media underneath but since the change to media and no surface watering we no longer have this issue.

The pump is 150 watts at 6000 litres per hour with venturi on the fish tanks and to the grow beds as the only aeration. It has only been running in this configuration for a few months so time will tell how it responds to solids build up within the grow beds. One of the downsides to the Earthan Beds is you can not clean the gravel out under the soil unless you are willing to dig the soil layout out first.

As opposed to the suggestion that the Earthan Beds are just a marketing gimmick as compared to flowmedia (which was offensive to say the least), I don't promote the Earthan Beds as the next best thing since sliced bread and I have freely and extensively explained how they work across several mediums with the hope they are utilised as yet another option for growing organically at home. I don't have anything invested in them nor do I attempt to squeeze profits out of the idea.

As with all my system builds, we always have/recommend filtration, be it specific or dedicated filtration or built into the design. I have also, on many occasions recommended two separate loops for the fish and plants as exampled in my own system at home to give you the capacity to isolate each should the need arise.

That is about the short and tall of it. Take it or leave it, it makes no difference to me either way.

Paul

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Hi Ed

What did you end up with ?

Did you go for hydroton or gravel in the bottom ?

And what soil mix ?

Also which final flow plan did you go for, filters etc. ?

Hope you don't mind the general discussion on soilbeds (Erathan Beds) in your thread, some of it should probbably been adressed in EG's differente threads but it's cool to keep it in one IMO

cheers

Hey ande,

I have one earthan bed over hydroton, and the next bed will be only hydroton. It would have been more expensive to pay someone to haul gravel given the small volume.

Soil mix is 1/3 sand, 1/3 organic soil and 1/3 compost/vermiculite w/a little potash.

Flow is FT to solids filter (radial flow and matala) to bio filter/sump (moving K1) to GB/FT to solids filter.

The design mostly follows Paul's post and recommendations with some minor modifications.

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Update:

System has been cycling for eight days - temp 62F, pH 7.5. Ammonia 4.0ppm, nitrites and nitrates 0

Hydroton bed is not set up yet. Transplants are doing well, looking healthy, but growth for most is a bit slow - I'm assuming because the room temperature is in the 50-60F range. This weekend I'll put in a heater to raise the room temp.

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Hi Eddie,

When it's close, the ammonia drops to zero and the nitrites begin to rise......and then they'll drop suddenly, too.

Nitrates will start to build after that.......and that's when you know your system has finally cycled.

At those room temperatures, it may take a while for your system to cycle.

Be patient and avoid the temptation to play with it too much - that's the usual drama that accompanies cycling.

Gary

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