What Is A Media Based Aquaponics System?

One aquaponics growing method that is popular with home growers is the media-based aquaponics system. The media-based method system designs are simple, space-efficient, and inexpensive, making them a popular choice for do-it-yourself and aquaponics beginners. 

Media-based aquaponics offers a perfect harmony between fish and plants, creating a closed-loop ecosystem where waste from the fish becomes nutrients for the plants. It's a sustainable and efficient way to grow delicious and healthy vegetables and fish in your backyard, greenhouse, or indoors.

This article will discuss everything you need to know about a media-based aquaponics system. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced aquaponic gardener, this article offers insights and tips to help you embark on your media-based aquaponics journey with confidence and success. 

Understanding Media-Based Aquaponics Systems

The media-based aquaponics system is a type of aquaponics system where plants are grown in a grow bed filled with growing media, such as gravel, clay pellets, or lava rocks. The grow media provides physical support for the plant roots and aids in maintaining a healthy root environment. Media-based aquaponics systems are widely used due to their versatility, ease of setup and maintenance, and ability to support a wide variety of plant species.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Media-Based System


  • Relatively simple and inexpensive to set up and operate.
  • Suitable for all kinds of plants, from leafy greens to larger fruiting plants
  • Minimal cleaning is required.
  • The media-based setup can be customized to suit your needs.
  • Allows the use of recycled materials.
  • Suitable for hobby applications, home gardens, and as part of the commercial farm.


  • A good-quality medium can be relatively expensive.
  • The pore spaces in the medium may get clogged over time, causing poor plant anaerobic conditions.
  • This system style is not usually suitable for commercial purposes due to lower productivity and difficulty in large-scale implementation.
  • The media beds are heavy and need a robust and rigid structure.


Media Based Aquaponics System

Comparison to Other Aquaponics Systems

Media-based aquaponics differs from other aquaponics systems like the raft system or deep water culture (DWC) and nutrient film technique (NFT) primarily in the way plants are supported and grow.

  • Raft System:In the raft system or deep water cutlure (DWC) aquaponics system, plants are suspended directly in the nutrient-rich water of the fish tank, typically with their roots submerged. This system is excellent for fast-growing plants with small root systems, like lettuce, but it may not be ideal for larger plants or those with extensive root structures.
  • Nutrient Film Technique (NFT): NFT systems involve a continuous flow of a thin film of nutrient-rich water over the roots of plants, which are typically supported in sloping channels. This method is efficient for growing plants with shallow root systems, but it can be less forgiving if there are disruptions in the water flow.

While the raft and NFT systems have advantages, a media-based aquaponics system is favored by many home growers because of its versatility. It can accommodate a wider variety of plant types, including those with larger root systems, as the grow media provides excellent plant support.

Components of a Media-Based Aquaponics System

The components of a media-based aquaponics system include:

  1. Grow beds: These are containers or structures where plants are grown using a grow media. The grow beds can be made of various materials, such as plastic, wood, or concrete.
  2. Grow media: The grow media can be gravel, clay pellets, expanded shale, or lava rocks. It provides a stable structure for the roots and serves as a habitat for beneficial bacteria.
  3. Fish tanks: The fish tank hold the aquatic organisms, such as fish or other aquatic species, that produce waste. Fish waste is a vital source of nutrients for the plants in the system.
  4. Filtration system: The filtration system helps maintain water quality by removing solid waste and excess nutrients from the fish tank. It typically includes mechanical filters to remove solid particles and biological filters to support beneficial bacteria growth.
  5. Bell Siphon: A bell siphon is an essential component of a media based aquaponics system. It is responsible for regulating the entire system's water flow and efficiently helping move the water from the media bed into the fish tank.
  6. Water Pump: Having the right and efficient water pump will ensure that the water is continuously pushed throughout your aquaponics system to provide nutrients to the fish and the plants. If your water pump is not reliable enough to distribute the water in the system, the consequences could be a failure to maintain your aquaponics system.  

Key Principles and Concepts of Media Based Aquaponics Systems

1. The Nitrogen Cycle and Its Importance

Understanding the nitrogen cycle is vital in media-based aquaponics systems. The nitrogen cycle is the process by which toxic ammonia is converted into nitrite and then into nitrate by beneficial bacteria. Ammonia is excreted by fish as waste and can be harmful to both fish and plants. The presence of these bacteria helps detoxify the ammonia, creating a stable and healthy environment for the aquaponic system.

2. Balances Nutrient Ratios for Optimal Plant Growth

Maintaining balanced nutrient ratios is essential for maximizing plant growth and preventing deficiencies or toxicities. Plants require a combination of macronutrients (such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) and micronutrients (such as iron, manganese, and zinc). Monitoring and adjusting nutrient levels in the system is crucial to ensure healthy plant development and optimal crop yields.

3. pH and Temperature Considerations

pH levels and temperature play crucial roles in the success of a media-based aquaponics system. pH affects nutrient availability to plants and the activity of beneficial bacteria. Most plants thrive in a slightly acidic to neutral pH range (around 6.0-7.0). Temperature influences fish metabolism, plant growth rates, and microbial activity. Monitoring and maintaining suitable pH and temperature levels are necessary for the overall health and productivity of the aquaponic system.

Selecting the Right Grow Media for Your Aquaponics System

The common grow media options for media based aquaponics systems are:

1. Gravel

Gravel is a popular and widely used medium in aquaponics systems. It consists of small, smooth stones that provide excellent support for plant roots and offer ample surface area for beneficial bacteria colonization.

2. Expanded Clay Pellets

Expanded clay pellets, also known as hydroton or clay pebbles, are lightweight and porous balls made from heated clay. They are highly favored for their excellent drainage properties and ample surface area. Expanded clay pellets provide good aeration to the roots, promote microbial activity, and offer stability for plant growth.

3. Lava Rock

The naturally created lava rock cools rapidly, which gives no time for the air to escape, effectively trapping it. This trapped air creates a highly porous surface, increasing the area of the rock and creating plenty of openings for the nitrifying bacteria to live. Lava rock is light and has a neutral pH so that it won't affect the balance of your system. Lava rock can be sharp, though, so you will want to use it with caution.

Grow Media in Aquaponics

The Best Plants to Grow in Media Based Aquaponics Systems

In a media-based aquaponics system, several types of plants thrive and can be successfully grown. The best plants to grow depend on various factors such as climate, system size, available space, and personal preferences. However, here are some commonly grown plants in media-based aquaponics systems:

  1. Leafy Greens: Lettuce, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and other leafy greens are popular choices in aquaponics.
  2. Herbs: Basil, mint, cilantro, parsley, and other herbs thrive in media beds and can provide a range of flavors for culinary purposes.
  3. Fruit-Bearing Plants: Some fruiting plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and strawberries, can be successfully grown in media-based aquaponics systems.
  4. Root Vegetables: Certain root vegetables like radishes and carrots can be grown in media beds with sufficient depth and loose media. 
  5. Flowers and Ornamentals: Some growers also experiment with growing flowers and ornamental plantsin media-based aquaponics systems. Marigolds, nasturtiums, and pansies are a few examples that can add beauty to your aquaponic setup.

When selecting plants, consider their growth habits, light requirements, and water temperature preferences. It's also important to match the nutrient requirements of the plants with the fish stocking density and waste production in the system. 

The Best Fish to Raise in Media Based Aquaponics Systems

Several fish species can thrive in a media-based aquaponics system. Here are some commonly raised fish in media-based aquaponics systems:

  1. Tilapia: Tilapia is a popular choice for aquaponics due to its rapid growth rate, adaptability to various water conditions, and tolerance to a wide range of temperatures.
  2. Trout: Trout is another commonly raised fish in aquaponics systems, especially in cooler climates. They require well-oxygenated water and cooler temperatures compared to other species.
  3. Catfish: Catfish, such as channel catfish, are hardy and well-suited for aquaponics systems. They are tolerant of a wide range of water conditions, including fluctuating temperatures and varying water quality.
  4. Goldfish: Goldfish are popular for aquaponics growers as they are hardy and can thrive in various water conditions. 
  5. Perch: Perch, such as the yellow perch or the Nile perch, are cold-water fish that can thrive in media-based aquaponics systems. They are popular in regions with cooler climates and can provide a source of sustainable protein.

When selecting fish for your system, consider factors such as water temperature requirements, growth rates, market demand, and local regulations regarding the use of certain species. 

Media Based Aquaponics System

Setting Up Your Media-Based Aquaponics System

A. Designing the System Layout

1. Determining the number and size of grow beds

The first step in setting up a media-based aquaponics system is to design the system layout. Consider factors such as available space, desired plant production, and fish capacity. Determine the number and size of grow beds based on these considerations. Adequate space between the beds should be allocated for easy access and maintenance.

2. Locating the fish tank and filtration system

Choose a suitable location for the fish tank and filtration system. The fish tank should be placed in an area with stable temperatures and protected from direct sunlight. Ensure the tank is easily accessible for feeding and maintenance. Position the filtration system adjacent to the fish tank, allowing for efficient water flow and easy monitoring of filtration processes.

3. Planning for proper plumbing and water flow

Plan the plumbing and water circulation system carefully. Use pipes, valves, and fittings to create a closed-loop system that allows water to flow from the fish tank to the grow beds and back to the fish tank. Ensure proper sizing of pipes and appropriate positioning of valves to regulate water flow and maintain optimal conditions throughout the system.

B. Adding and Preparing the Grow Media

1. Preparing and cleaning the chosen grow media

Before installing the media, prepare and clean it as per the manufacturer's instructions. Some media, such as expanded clay pellets or gravel, may require rinsing to remove dust or debris. Follow recommended procedures to ensure the media is ready for use and free from contaminants.

2. Filling the grow beds

Fill the grow beds with the chosen media, ensuring an even and level surface. Distribute the media evenly, avoiding excessive compaction. Leave a space at the top of the grow bed to accommodate water circulation and prevent overflow. Level the media bed to allow uniform water distribution and avoid pooling in specific areas.

C. System Cycling

System cycling is the process of establishing a bacterial colony in new aquaponics systems. This process involves constantly introducing an ammonia source into the system, feeding the new bacterial colony, and creating a biofilter. The ammonia can be generated by the fish or can be added using other methods. Ammonia is required for the nitrifying bacteria to begin their work and reproduce. 

Managing and Maintaining Your Media-Based Aquaponics System

1. Monitoring Water Quality Parameters

  • Regular testing of pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels

Maintaining water quality is crucial for the health of both fish and plants in a media-based aquaponics system. Regularly test pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels using appropriate test kits. pH should be within the optimal range for plant growth (around 6.0-7.0), while ammonia and nitrite levels should be kept near zero. Nitrate levels, which serve as nutrients for plants, should be monitored to prevent excessive accumulation.

  • Adjusting nutrient levels and pH as needed

Based on the test results, adjust nutrient levels and pH as necessary. Nutrient deficiencies or excesses can be addressed by adding or reducing appropriate supplements or adjusting fish feeding rates. pH can be adjusted using pH up or pH down solutions, depending on the desired direction. Maintain a stable nutrient balance and pH level to optimize plant health and growth.

2. Fish Care and Feeding

  • Choosing compatible fish species

Select fish species that are compatible with the environmental conditions of your aquaponics system, such as water temperature, pH, and oxygen levels. Common fish species used in aquaponics include tilapia, trout, catfish, and koi. Consider factors like growth rate, temperature tolerance, and dietary requirements when choosing fish for your system.

  • Providing proper nutrition and monitoring fish health

Ensure that fish are provided with a balanced and appropriate diet. Feed them high-quality fish feed that meets their nutritional needs. Monitor fish behavior, appetite, and overall health regularly. Look out for signs of stress, disease, or poor water quality. Any abnormal behavior or symptoms should be addressed promptly to maintain the well-being of the fish.

3. Plant Care and Nutrient Management

  • Plant selection and spacing in the grow beds

Choose plant varieties suitable for the growing conditions of your aquaponics system. Leafy greens, herbs, and certain fruiting plants like tomatoes and peppers are commonly grown in media-based aquaponics systems. Consider the space requirements of each plant and provide sufficient spacing in the grow beds to ensure proper air circulation, light exposure, and room for growth.

  • Supplementing nutrient deficiencies and preventing excesses

Monitor plant health and growth regularly. Address nutrient deficiencies by supplementing with appropriate organic or hydroponic fertilizers as needed. Be cautious not to over-fertilize, as excessive nutrient levels can be detrimental to plant health and can lead to imbalances in the system. Maintain a careful nutrient management strategy to support optimal plant development.

4. Expanding and Scaling Your Media-Based Aquaponics System

  • Adding more grow beds or fish tanks

To expand your media-based aquaponics system, you can increase its size and capacity by adding more grow beds or fish tanks. Consider the available space and resources to determine how many additional components can be accommodated. Increase the number of grow beds to expand plant production or add more fish tanks to increase the fish population. Ensure that the system's water and nutrient circulation can handle the increased load.

  • Balancing fish-to-plant ratios

Maintaining a balanced fish-to-plant ratio is essential as you scale up your system. The amount of fish waste generated should align with the nutrient requirements of the plants. Adjust the number of fish and the size of the fish tanks accordingly to ensure sufficient nutrient supply for optimal plant growth. Regularly monitor water quality parameters to ensure that the system remains in balance and the fish-to-plant ratio is appropriate.

5. Exploring Other Aquaponics Systems and Variations

  • Nutrient film technique (NFT) in media-based systems

The nutrient film technique (NFT) is an advanced technique that can be incorporated into media-based aquaponics systems. In NFT, a thin film of nutrient-rich water flows over the roots of the plants, providing constant access to nutrients. By integrating NFT with media-based systems, you can enhance nutrient delivery to plants and potentially increase crop yields. Proper design and management of the NFT system, such as maintaining proper flow rates and preventing clogging, are crucial for success.

  • Incorporating vertical gardening or aquaponic towers

Vertical gardening or aquaponic towers can be utilized to maximize space and increase the plant capacity of your media-based aquaponics system. By utilizing vertical structures, such as stacked grow beds or towers, you can grow plants in a space-efficient manner. These systems allow for high-density planting and efficient use of resources while providing adequate light and airflow to the plants. Ensure proper water and nutrient distribution throughout the vertical setup for optimal plant growth.

As you expand and scale your media-based aquaponics system, it is important to carefully plan and consider factors such as space availability, resource capacity, and the system's ability to handle the increased load. By maintaining a balanced fish-to-plant ratio and exploring advanced techniques like NFT or vertical gardening, you can optimize your system's productivity and explore new possibilities in aquaponics farming.


The media-based aquaponics systems offer a sustainable and efficient method of food production that has the potential to revolutionize agriculture. By harnessing the power of beneficial bacteria, nutrient cycling, and careful system management, growers can enjoy year-round fresh produce and a harmonious ecosystem. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced grower, embracing media-based aquaponics opens the door to a greener and more sustainable future in farming.



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