A "bell siphon" is a device that automates the flooding and draining of an aquaponics grow bed, even though the pump is adding water to that grow bed constantly.
This post assumes you know lots about bell siphons. If you don't, you should start here on this post titled "bell siphon".
You probably should have already read this post titled calibrating a new bell siphon.
If you still don't feel you know enough, you might like to read this on flood and drain, look at this upgraded animation of a bell siphon working, watch this video of a glass bell siphon showing what's going on inside, or just skip this post and look at this youtube video of a panda cub sneezing. (personally I'd look at the panda)
It also assumes you don't mind reading something you think will eventually have an answer, but may disappoint.
Before you take anything I say to your design, you should know that my system is run with bits of string and bubblegum holding it together.
My pump looks like this. I love wire.
Yes, those two opposing loops of stainless wire are the front bearing for my pump. Wire is the only thing supporting the impeller. It's been running that way for 6 months or so, but the output of the pump isn't really enough to run my system. The impeller is the wrong one salvaged from another pump, and doesn't really fit.
There is no magic formula for weighing up the dimensions when designing or trouble-shooting a bell siphon, but there are some things you can do to make it a bit easier.
The problem, in a convoluted and sprawling nutshell, is this.
There are a huge number of variables in the way the water flows into and out of an aquaponics system. The type of pump you have is a big one, as is the length and width of your standpipe in the siphon itself. But there are other variables that can have dramatic effects.
So, things that vary input...
- pump output
- height the pump has to pump up to (most mumps are labelled as if the user is going to pump water to nowhere. A pump labelled "3500 litres per hour - Max height 5 metres" might pump 3500 litres if there is no hose attached to it, but add a 5 metre hose and it will only pump 1 drop per hour. The amount it will manage at any given height in between are anybody's guess unless it comes with a graph indicating approximate values at different heights.)
- restrictions to flow caused by corners and other bits that people use to distribute the water around their grow beds.
- total length and diameter of hose used (there is a surprising amount of friction in shifting water through pipes)
And things that change output from the siphon, and how the siphon triggers might be...
- width and height of bell
- width and length of standpipe
- freedom of water movement through the media and media screen (if you are drilling holes in the media screen, drill them all at the bottom - if the holes at the bottom cant drain enough, the ones at the top are not even going to be in play when the water level gets lower. The end result is that some kind of equilibrium can be reached where water coming in matches water going out through the siphon. In this case the siphon wont ever stop.
- any obstructions to the outlet (uphill sections that might trap air or water, end of pipe being submerged or anything else that might cause some back pressure)
- changes in width of the outlet. Things like a flange that your stand pipe crews into may well restrict otherwise change the flow. Sometimes a bit of chaos in the standpipe can help create the seal required to trigger the siphon.
The result of all this, is that it's very difficult to say "this size siphon will work with this pump".
Even if you set up two systems with the same components, it would be a good idea to have a tap that will allow you to divert some water so you can fine tune your system. The irregular flow of water can mean some very small changes can have some big effects.
So, the solution...
Of all these things, the easiest things to control, and thus the best things to start adjusting are...
- Inlet flow. By adding a tap, and diverting perhaps 20% of your water back into the fish tank rather than the grow beds, you have some room to play. ie you have some spare water flow in hand, you can adjust your flow UP as well as DOWN to tune your siphon.
- Outlet flow (Standpipe width) The standpipe is a very inexpensive component, and may even be sourced as an off-cut for free. This means it's easy enough to replace with a bigger one if need be, or filled with a smaller one.
My process for setting up a system would unfortunately involve a bit of essential trial and error.
- Buy a pump capable of turning over all the water in your fish tank ever hour plus 20% to divert. The diverted water aids in aeration so isn't wasted. (very important for your fish and filtration so pump selection should always be the starting point)
- Plug it in and look at the flow.
- Get hold of a tube for a standpipe that you think will be big enough to dump more water than the pump puts in. My pump runs constantly and takes around 20 minutes to fill and 20 minutes to drain. That means my siphon can dump water at around twice the speed that the pump can deliver it. (see photo's below)
- Adjust accordingly. Its easy enough to adjust upwards, just drill a new hole and put in a bigger pipe. Downwards is also easy because a large number of hoses and PVC tubes fit the next size down inside them (I presume so you can join them). If you add an inner tube to reduce the width, you don't need to silicone it in place, because it doesn't matter if it leaks. Any leakage is just going into the original pipe anyway. I made mine bigger than I thought I'd need with this in mind. If you really feel the need, it would be easy enough to test it in a bucket. Plug the standpipe and fill the bucket, then let the water flow. If the pump cant keep up with the draining, then you will have no problems as you can always reduce it if you need to.
That's the magic formula "Its easy to change the inflow and the outflow, so dont worry about it. Just have a go."
Just trust your judgement and as long as you have the tap between the pump and the grow bed, allowing adjustment, it will almost certainly work. If you are making your own system, you already trust yourself anyway, so just go that one step further, and do it. You'll be fine. And perhaps reread calibrating a new bell siphon.
Just out of something bordering on interest, my system runs like this.
My inflow is from my very sad pump, and flows at around 50 seconds to shift a litre to the grow bed.
So I think that means I'm pumping 72 litres per hour. Which isn't really enough but that's the pump I have.
I'm getting a new one.
My standpipe was originally 19mm poly pipe but is now restricted to what my trade quality fridge magnet tape measure tells me is roughly 12 mm internal diameter garden hose.
The rate of outflow is really difficult to see in my real world system, because it drops straight down and doesn't photograph well, so I faked the output in my kitchen sink for the photo. It would look a little like this if I pointed my standpipe outlet to the side.
I warned you it might disappoint.
If you are technically minded you might want to look at this
I'm not, but I'm told it might be useful.