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Construction of Automatic Bell Siphons for Backyard Aquaponic Systems

Construction of Automatic Bell Siphons for Backyard Aquaponic Systems

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Published by: Aquaponics on Dec 18, 2010
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Biotechnology June 2010BIO-10
Published by the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) and issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in coopera-tion with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Andrew G. Hashimoto, Director/Dean, Cooperative Extension Service/CTAHR, University of Hawai‘i at M
ā
noa, Honolulu, Hawai‘i 96822. An equal opportunity/afrmative action institution providing programs and services to the people of Hawai‘i without regard to race, sex, age, religion, color, national origin, ancestry,disability, marital status, arrest and court record, sexual orientation, or status as a covered veteran. CTAHR publications can be found on the websitewww.ctahr.hawaii.edu/freepubs.
Construction of Automatic Bell Siphonsfor Backyard Aquaponic Systems
Bradley K. Fox,
1
Robert Howerton,
2
and Clyde S. Tamaru
11
Department of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering
2
University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program
A
quaponics is a developing agricultural technologythat is rapidly gaining worldwide popularity, bothfor commercial production and small-scale, backyardsystems. The aquaponics concept involves integratingaquaculture and hydroponics, where sh wastewater isutilized as a nutrient source for plants grown in soillessculture. Publications describing a high-yield aquaponiclettuce production system and detailing on-farm food-safety practices for aquaponics have recently been is-sued by CTAHR.
1,2
These efforts are consistent withthe college’s 2010 Plan of Work
3
and Hawai‘i’s 2050Sustainability Plan,
4
which focus on decreasing the state’sreliance on food imports by producing more food locally.Alhough the integration of agriculture and aquaculturehas been practiced globally in one form or another bymany indigenous cultures for thousands of years, modernaquaponics (applying modern materials and tools such asmetals, plastics, and electricity) has been developing andpracticed for only about the last 40 years, beginning withexperiments at the New Alchemy Institute in the early1970s.
5
The two major types of modern aquaponics aredeep-water, or “raft,” aquaponics and reciprocating, or“ebb-and-ow,” aquaponics.
6
Ebb-and-ow aquaponics isbased on a “ood-and-drain” concept in which sh efu-ent water is pumped through a solid hydroponic supportmedium (e.g., gravel, expanded clay balls, or cinder rock;see Photo 1). As this nutrient-rich water is cycled throughthe system, the medium is completely ooded and thendrained at short intervals. The solid support mediumserves the dual purposes of providing structure for plantroots to grow in and surface area allowing proliferationof aerobic nitrifying bacteria, which are essential forconverting nitrogen in the efuent to forms suited to theplants’ nutrient uptake.Flood-and-drain cycling in ebb-and-flow aqua-ponic systems can be controlled by electronic timers,which regulate the activity of water pumps, or by non-mechanical devices called automatic siphons. These“autosiphons” start and stop on their own, dependingon the level of the water surrounding them.
7,8
One of thesimplest and most reliable types of autosiphon is calledthe bell siphon, and while many examples of these canbe found on the Internet, how they are made and oper-ated are among the questions most frequently asked of CTAHR’s aquaculture extension workers. This publica-tion describes how to construct, size, and troubleshoot anautomatic bell siphon for use in a small-scale backyardaquaponic system.
Bell siphon theory 
A bell siphon consists of several components, beginningwith a vertical standpipe (schedule 40 PVC) that projectsupward from a bulkhead tting in the bottom of the aqua-ponic grow-bed. The standpipe regulates the maximumwater level in the grow-bed. A drainpipe extends fromthe bottom of the bulkhead to the sh-rearing tank. Asthe water level in the grow-bed exceeds the height of the standpipe, the water overows through the insideof the standpipe and the drain directs the ow of waterto the sh-rearing tank. An additional pipe (the “bell”),which has a diameter twice that of the standpipe and isslightly longer than the standpipe, is tted and glued witha cap on one end. Notches, or “teeth,” are cut into thebottom end of the bell, and it is placed teeth-down over
 
UH–CTAHR Construction of Automatic Bell Siphons . . . BIO-10 June 20102
the standpipe. A hole is drilled in the capped end of thebell, and an air tube is inserted into the hole. This airtube, or “snorkel,” acts as a means to break the siphon;it extends down the length of the bell, ending just abovethe level of the teeth.
How a bell siphon works
As the water level rises in the grow-bed, water is forcedthrough the teeth on the bottom of the bell and upbetween the walls of the standpipe and bell.
As the water level exceeds the height of the standpipeand the drain begins to ll, a siphon is created.
Most of the water in the grow-bed is then drained bythe siphon until the water level reaches the height of the teeth and tip of the snorkel.
Air is then forced through the snorkel, and as a resultthe siphon is broken, resulting in the grow-bed begin-ning to ll again; the cycle then repeats itself.
Measurements of bell siphon components for tanks of various sizes
diameters (inside = ID, outside = OD) in inchesBell pipe diameter 1 2 3 4Standpipe/drain size (diameter)
1
 ⁄ 
2
1 1
1
 ⁄ 
2
2Snorkel tube size (diameter)
3
 ⁄ 
16
OD ×
1
 ⁄ 
8
ID
7
 ⁄ 
16
OD ×
5
 ⁄ 
16
ID
5
 ⁄ 
8
OD × ½ ID
7
 ⁄ 
8
OD ×
1
 ⁄ 
2
IDand material vinyl tubing vinyl tubing vinyl tubing PVC pipeDimensions of grow-bed 1 × 4 × 1 4 × 4 × 1 4 × 6 × 1 4 × 8 × 1 Approximate volume of grow-bed 4 ft
3
, 30 gal 16 ft
3
, 120 gal 24 ft
3
, 180 gal 32 ft
3
, 240 gal
1.
Three commonly used solid support media for ebb-and-ow aquaponic systems. Black cinder (left) and pea gravel (center)are produced in Hawai‘i; the expanded clay balls (right) typically are imported from Germany.
Sizing bell siphons and drains
Before constructing a bell siphon, you need to decidewhich size of drain is appropriate for your grow-bed.The appropriate size of the bell siphon depends on thesize of the individual grow-bed. In general, the larger thegrow-bed, the greater the volume of water it can hold, anda larger standpipe and bell siphon is necessary to drainit. The recommended ratio of bell siphon size to drain is2:1; that is, the diameter of the pipe used to build the bellsiphon should be twice that of the standpipe (e.g., if thestandpipe is
1
 ⁄ 
2
inch in diameter, the bell siphon shouldbe made using a 1-inch diameter pipe). The table belowshows some sizing parameters for square and rectangulartanks (all approximately 1 ft deep) used successfully byCTAHR researchers, and examples of bell siphons andaccompanying drains are shown in Photo 17.
 
3UH–CTAHR . . . for Backyard Aquaponic Systems BIO-10 June 2010
Installing the bulkhead tting and standpipe
Once you have decided on the appropriate drain size foryour grow-bed, proceed with the following steps:
Step 1
Install a bulkhead tting that will hold the standpipein the grow-bed and drain the water into the sh tank.Uniseal
®
ttings (PIPECONEX Universal Pipe Connec-tors, Uniseal Inc.) are suggested for use as the bulkheadin backyard aquaponic systems because of their low costand ease of use. As shown in photo series 2, above, usea hole-saw to drill a hole in the bottom of the grow-bedcontainer. A chart of tting sizes and their appropriatehole-saw dimensions is available from the manufac-turer
9
or xture distributors.
10
Next, push the tting intothe hole. Once the tting is secure, push the standpipethrough the tting far enough so that a portion of thestandpipe extends both above and below the plane of thebottom of the grow-bed.
Step 2
Adjust the height of the standpipe in the grow-bed to thedesired water level (Photo 3a). The height of the standpipedictates both the height of the water level and the heightof the bell siphon (Photo 3b). Keep in mind that whenthe grow-bed is lled with medium (Photo 3c,d), the
2.
Installing a Uniseal tting and standpipe in the grow-bed. Drill an appropriate size hole and insert the Uniseal in it; push thestandpipe into the tting and adjust the standpipe height to the desired level.
3a.
The standpipe height determines the maximum depth ofwater in the grow-bed.
a

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