This post might be the most comprehensive free guide to DIY aquaponics on the web today. Aquaponics is when you combine aquaculture, which is when you raise fish, snails, etc, and hydroponics, which is when you grow plants and in water.
When you use this type of system, when the fish have excretions, the water is fed through the aquaculture system into the hydroponic system and then everything is broken down into nitrates, which are used as nutrients for the plants.
This is great because the excretions are usually too toxic for the plants if they don’t go through both systems. This article is going to talk more about building your own home aquaponics system and talk about all of the important information you will need in order to make sure your system gets up and running efficiently.
Typical DIY Aquaponics Set Up And Items Needed
While there are many different ways to setup a home aquaponics system, there is a way that it’s specifically set up. You don’t have to do it this way but you will get the best results if you do. Another thing to remember is that, regardless of how you set it up, they all will use the same basic items.
The typical setup is having either the grow beds on the top or bottom of the tank. The style you choose will dictate where the pump needs to be. Each bed will need PVC pipes and each bed should be spaced about 12 inches apart. You want to make sure you put your system in an area that is flat and sunny.
One thing to keep in mind is if you aren’t building your system in a greenhouse, you’ll want to get all of your aquaponics supplies around early Spring so you can put the fish in as soon as the water reaches 70 degrees. You’ll want to plant the fingerlings in the pipes and plant the seedlings in pots at the same time.
By the time the seedlings are old enough to transplant, your fish should be making enough waste to give them the nutrients they need. Keep in mind that the water needs to continue circulating whether you have plants growing in the system or not.
Every system will use these items, but there are others that you can add depending on how you want to customize. As long as you have these, though, you should be able to have a nice set up going.
The first component of having a running aquaponics system is to have a tank. You need to be able to have somewhere where you can keep your fish. Most people start with a 55-gallon barrel or a 225-gallon square bin. While these are both easy to get, you want to make sure nothing toxic was stored in it.
Something else that is a popular choice is one of the above ground vinyl swimming pools. Another thing to keep in mind is that, even though you can have 1 pound of fish per gallon of water, you should start with 1 fish for every 10 gallons. This will help ensure that your system stays in balance.
The next item that you will need is a grow bed. This needs to be a water-resistant container that your plants can grow in. You can either buy something for this or build a wooden box that is 6-10 inches deep then line them with a pond liner.
Once you have your grow bed built, you’ll want to fill it with some kind of growing material. This can be anything from perlite to fine gravel to coco coir. You could even try a mixture of all 3 of these. Keep in mind that you’ll want a growing area that is about 10 times bigger than your tank.
Pumps and hardware
Next, we have the various pumps and hardware that you’re going to need. The reason you need a pump is to keep the water circulating because the plants help filter out the waste from the fish tank and the waste from the fish tank makes a great source of vitamins and nutrients for the plants. You want to make sure that the water doesn’t go stagnant and ruin everything.
When looking at the pipes and plumbing, things can get a little complicated. If you don’t have any plumbing or electrical experience, you might want to have someone who does to help you.
The pump can be set up 1 of 2 ways. The first is that it can be set up to collect the drain water from the bottom of the tank then cycle it back through. The other way is to put it in the bottom of the tank to keep the water flowing. The first way only works if the grow beds are below the tank while the second way only works if the grow beds are above.
When looking at the piping, each bed needs a network of PVC pipes. Every 6 inches on the pipe you should drill a hole that is 1/4 inch. Each bed should be spaced 12 inches apart. You’re then going to plant the seeds in these little holes. You’ll also want to make sure you have an aerator to make sure the fish get all of the oxygen it needs.
The next thing you need is the actual fish. The most common type of fish used for aquaponics is tilapia. Keep in mind that, since they are tropical fish, the water temperature needs to stay between 70 and 90 degrees.
The reason they are the most common is because they are used to high density, imperfect water conditions, and have a great growth rate. They reach a harvest weight of one pound in about 6 to 8 months.
Another type of popular fish used for these systems is catfish. While they only grow quite a bit in warm temperatures, they can survive just fine in colder ones. The third most common fish for these are the yellow perch. These are great because they can grow in warm and cold temperatures.
The final thing that you’ll need for your system is the plants. Keep in mind that some plants are much easier to grow in an aquaponics system than others.
Anything that grows as a leaf, such as kale, lettuce, basil, dill, etc, generally do extremely well in these types of systems. While some plants will require you to add extra fertilizers, they can be grown as well. Some of these are: strawberries, raspberries, cucumbers, and zucchini.
Types of Aquaponics Design
While there are quite a few different types of aquaponics designs, there are 3 that are the most common. These are just the ones that are the most common and the ones that you’re going to be able to find the most information on.
Design #1: Media Filled Beds
This design is the simplest form of an aquaponic system. These systems use containers that are filled with some type of medium, whether it be rocks, expanded clay, or something else that is similar.
The way this type of system works is by the fish tank pumping the water over the medium filler. These can work one of two ways. The first is by pumping a continuous flow of water over top of the medium or by flooding then draining the bottom of the container over and over.
Design #2: Nutrient Film Technique(NFT)
This next design is used more for hydroponics but has become more popular recently. The way this works is by putting the plants in plastic cups or holes in PVC pipe with their roots exposed and water that has many nutrients are pumped over the roots.
The water that is pumped through is a very thin stream. Keep in mind, this design isn’t suitable for all types of plants.
Design #3: Deep Water Culture(DWC)
The final design is one where the plants are essentially floating. The most common way to accomplish this is by putting a foam raft either on top of the fish tank or putting it where the water filters out. The plant roots will go down into the water and be able to soak up as much water as it needs.
Fish For Aquaponics
Before choosing which kinds of fish you’re going to put into your tank, there are a few things to consider. The first is whether you just want the fish for show or if you want to actually eat them. Some fish are great for aquaponics but aren’t great to eat.
The next is temperature. You want to make sure you can keep the water the correct temperature that the fish need to survive. Next has to do with actually purchasing the fish. You want to make sure that they are available around you and you don’t have to do a lot of searching or spend a whole lot of money just for a few fish.
The final thing you have to take into consideration is breeding. If you want your aquaponics fish to be able to breed, you need to find one that is able to do so inside and enclosed tank. The 9 most common fish used in aquaponics systems are listed below, as well as the temperature they need for survival and how long before they can be harvested for food, if they are usually eaten.
Water Temperature: 72°-86°
Harvest Time: 6-9 months
Water Temperature: 56°-68°
Harvest Time: 12-16 months
Water Temperature: 70°-82°
Harvest Time: 9-16 months
Water Temperature: 78°-86°
Harvest Time: 5-10 months
Water Temperature: 78°-83°
Harvest Time: 12 months
Water Temperature: 75°-85°
Harvest Time: 12-18 months
Water Temperature: 71°-88°
Harvest Time: 6-24 months
Water Temperature: 65°-75°
Harvest Time: Shouldn’t be eaten
Water Temperature: 68°-75°
Harvest Time: Shouldn’t be eaten
Where To Find Aquaponics Supplies
While there are many places to buy supplies for your system, you want to make sure they are made with high quality materials. You don’t want to spend all kinds of money just to find out that your equipment is trash or faulty.
If you can, you should inspect all the supplies before you buy them. This can help ensure that everything is in good shape and you should be able to see if there are any defects before purchasing. If you would rather buy online or if you don’t have a physical store close to you that sells the supplies you are looking for, then there are many sites to choose from.
Keep in mind, though, that some of these sites are going to charge high prices for equipment that isn’t very good. A helpful thing to do is look up reviews from past customers before making a commitment. This will give you a better idea of what kind of quality you can expect and what kinds of problems other people have. You could also call or email their customer service representatives with any questions you have.
You should also stay away from any website that isn’t well known or even has a shady looking website. By taking these steps, you can help reduce the risk of wasting your money and having to start all over from scratch. There are a few well known sites, such as ebay and Amazon, that have good quality hydroponics equipment so going through them should help put your mind at ease.
Remember, before making any purchases you should make sure you do all your research and try to get any and all of your questions answered.
This photo is courtesy of Cara Harpole on Flickr
Aquaponics Tank Description
When it comes to the tank for the fish, it can be pretty much anything that can hold water and fish. For instance, it could be a huge drum or even an above-ground vinyl pool.
The size of the aquaponics fish tank is going to depend on what type of fish you’re planning on using. If you are going to use fish that can grow to be a larger size, then you want to get a tank big enough for them to be able to swim comfortably. On the other hand, if you will only have fish that are going to be small, then you won’t have to get such a big tank.
Remember that the tank must be waterproof, sturdy, non-toxic, and must not contain materials that will throw off the balance of the water. Something else you want to make sure of is that the tank is big enough for all of your plants to grow.
As a rule of thumb, the total volume of all the connected grow beds should be AT LEAST the same volume as your fish tank. This will help ensure that all of the plants grow well and it can have added benefits to your fish as well.
The next thing to consider is the shape of the fish tank. While this isn’t a huge concern, you should go for a tank that is round or oval. The reason for this is because these shapes will have less dead zones. Dead zones are areas where the water is standing still and not being circulated. This could cause that area to go stagnant and end up harming your plants and/or fish.
The final thing to think about with your fish tank is where you’re going to put it. For starters, don’t put it on top of something that isn’t stable because that could cause everything to come crashing down and getting ruined. Another thing you don’t want to do is put it in an area that might have a lot of temperature changes. This can actually kill your fish and plants.
The final thing you should do is either make sure it’s not in an area where things can fall into the tank or be sure to cover it up so there’s less chance of any kind of contamination.
Aquaponics Grow Beds
It’s extremely important that you choose a good grow bed for you aquaponics system. With it being the foundation of the system, choosing one that isn’t good can actually cause the entire thing to fail. Keep in mind, the grow beds will make up most of the system but this is where you’ll get all your plants from.
If you’re a beginner, you should start off with a 1:1 ratio. What this means is that the volume of your grow beds should be the same volume as your fish tank. As you get more experience, though, you could move up to a 2:1 ratio, which means you can 2 times as much grow bed volume per fish tank.
When choosing an aquaponic grow bed, there are a few things to keep in mind. The first thing is sturdiness. You want to make sure that your grow bed will be able to take the weight of the water, fish, plants, and equipment. If it can’t, then everything can end up falling and getting destroyed.
The next thing is the material. You want to make sure the material is non-toxic and safe because you don’t want your plants or fish being poisoned as this can harm you in the long run. It’s also a good idea to find a grow bed that isn’t clear because these types can encourage algae growth since the light can shine in. You also want to make sure that the material you choose won’t change the pH balance of your water.
You should also stay away from metals since these materials can corrode over time. Another thing to make sure of is that it has a decent depth. The reason for this is because different types of plants have bigger and longer roots. There also needs to be enough room for proper filtration to take place.
Finally, you want to make sure the grow bed itself is waterproof. Not only do you want to make sure there aren’t any leaks that can let water out, but you also want to make sure that the grow bed isn’t going to wear down or get damaged from the water over time.
There are many benefits when it comes to having an aquaponics system. They definitely outweigh the disadvantages and, as long as you look up all the information and make sure you understand everything, you should be able to see the advantages in no time. Some of the benefits are listed below.
- Aquaponics uses the fish tank water that is high in nutrients when it would have just been thrown out otherwise.
- You don’t have to spend time and money on the supplies and work that goes into traditional hydroponic systems.
- These systems provide the plants with 100% organic nutrients
- Since you don’t use soil, you won’t have to worry about disease that grow and flourish in soil
- You’ll use less water than normal gardening
- Since you have to space the plants a certain way, you can actually grow more plants than tradition gardening
- Since the fish tank will have high stocking densities, the plants will grow quicker and become bigger
- Since there can’t be any type of pesticides or herbicides because of the fish, the plants you grow will be much more healthier for you
- If your climate is the same all the time or you’re using a greenhouse, you can grow by using aquaponics all year round
In conclusion, this type of system is great for the animals and the plants. Not only does it do great things for the plants, but it’s also better for the environment. Hopefully this article was a huge help and answered any questions you might have had about building and setting up your own aquaponics system. While it might take awhile to get the hang of things, once you do your system should be running efficiently in no time!
(The images on this page are republished under the creative commons license 2.0)