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Our first outdoor aquaponics IBC system

I'm not sure where I first came about aquaponics, but the thought of being able to obtain lots of green veg and good quality protein appealed to me, so I have been doing a fair bit of research into it. However, most of the systems I have read about tend to be inside and use Tilapia in the UK. However, I wanted to try and outdoor system (and it would take some time to convince the wife to let me build an indoor system!). The benefit of an outdoor system that used fish more acclimatized to the UK whether (such as trout) would mean cheaper running costs of course.

For our first system, I wanted to keep it simple where we could add to it in the future if we wanted. For example, adding sump tanks, NFT systems, swirl filters further on down the line. I used a lot of information from the "IBC of Aquaponics" which you've probably come across if you have found this page.

So the first job was to flatten the ground and gravel in the location ready to house the aquaponics system. I decided this was to be at the rear of the garden near the vegetable patch. I cut down a lot of the bamboo that was just in front of the area so that light would be able to get to the patch. The bamboo sticks would also come in handy later on!

Then we had to find an IBC container that hadn't contained poisonous material. Luckily there was a local supplier only a few miles away, so off me and my son went to collect. They had a forklift truck to help us get it into the roof of the Q7. However, we hadn't quite thought the process through getting it back off when we arrived home! So we had to call on the help of our helpful neighbours to get it off!

IBC on it's way home

Once we had it in the backgarden, I cut the top of the IBC off (using my grinder). I wanted at least 20cm in depth (although some feedback on the forums has been that this could maybe have benefited from being deeper, but that would probably need 2 IBC containers which would also give 2 grow beds - 1 used solely for the fish).

Varying from the instructions in the IBC of Aquapoinics, I decided that I would batten the top of the IBC framework as pictured. This would also give a solid base to the framework for the fish tank. I used self tapping screws to do this which worked well.

Battoning the frame of the aquaponics IBC growbed.

The top of the bars were then filed down to be smooth and sprayed with anti-rust paint.

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I then decided to build a wooden structure to go round it. The aim here was that I didn't want to bury the IBC but I at least wanted some shade to stop the water getting too hot in the summer. Here is the cladding going on:

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We covered the front of the system with bamboo just to give it a nice look and make use of the bamboo we had cut down.

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Here is the bamboo finished!

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The next job was to start fitting the siphon system into the grow-bed. I decided to purchase a pre-built one off eBay for 35GBP. Although you can buy the bits cheaper yourself, I thought this would be quicker and easier as had already had quite a bit of difficultly with incorrectly labelled piping from B&Q and varying diameters (some internal dimensions, some external, etc.).

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Here is the standpipe fitted:

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I then used a larger cover to keep to gravel out as I wanted to be able to get my hands in easily. In hindsights I think the "slots" is more logical way to do it that the holes as pictured because in theory a stone could slot into each hole and block it (although that doesn't happen in practice).

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I didn't actually glue it in place, although this did mean I had to get stones out later, but (a) I didn't have any glue to hand, and (b) I figured it best to reduce the amount of glue in the system if not absolutely required. We then added the siphon and filled the bed with clay balls (I decided on these as they are lighter than gravel).

Aquaponics syphon

NB When we added the clay balls, we had to wash them quite a bit to get all the dust out. I purchased 5 bags of clay balls.

Siphon for the IBC fish tank

We then covered the top to stop leaves etc. falling in with an old flower pot.

Siphon complete for the IBC fish tank

I also extended the horizontal pipe on the return pipe after some reading (I had some difficulties getting the siphon to start/stop correctly), although to be fair this didn't seem to make much difference! I would consider trying an Affnan siphon next.

Return pipe of the siphon to the IBC fish tank

I then wired up our pump which was a Hozelock Cyprio medium pump that was 3000LV and can flow 3000 litres per hour which should be fine for our 700 litres. In the picture below I originally had the pipe going into the clay balls (with the intention to stop algae growing on the surface), however, some of the clay balls worked there way all the way back to the pump and stopped it working for a while.

Filling the IBC grow-bed

I also added a Hozelock 1758 Flow Control Valve. The connections were made with a black 25mm Hozelock pipe. In the summer I may look to move the piping to reduce heating from the sun that will occur with the use of black piping which I hadn't considered at the time.

Hozelock 1758 Flow Control Valve / Tap

When I get some time I will bolt this into place and put some markings where the tap needs to be (the siphon I have is very specific with the flow rates to siphon properly!).

We then added an overflow pipe to the grow-bed, so that if the siphon got blocked, overflowing water would run back into the fish tank.

Overflow pipe for the grow-bed

This time I kept the black piping as direct to the fish tank as possible (although I guess it doesn't matter if this pipe gets hot under normal conditions, i.e. shouldn't be overflowing unless there is a problem).

Overflow pipe for the IBC grow-bed returning water to the fish tank

I used a simple flow pot to stop the clay balls getting into the pipe. I shall look for a specific item to do this job.

Overflow complete for the IBC grow-bed

And here is out finished product!

Completed IBC aquaponics system

After all that, it was a well deserved rest for Grandma after all the help she gave!

Time for a rest!

Next will be to cycle the system to build up the bacteria to the right levels.

About the author

I am a nerd by trade, and run my own company (Webtechy Ltd) specializing in Microsoft technologies such as Azure, SharePoint and Office 365 as well as other content management systems. I also enjoy graphic design in PhotoShop and tinkering around with Arduino's and Raspberry Pi's. In my spare time I like to go to the gym, running (well, I say "enjoy"), and martial arts.

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