An aquaponics system can be expensive to buy or build, depending on your design. However, if you are a do-it-yourself person, there are plenty of options to create your own aquaponics system at a lesser price. DIYing your aquaponics systems is a bit more involved than a ready-to-use system, but anyone with creative ingenuity and determination can make it happen.
So if you’re inspired to try out a new aquaponics system instead of a traditional vegetable garden, this guide to DIY aquaponics system will give you all the necessary information you need to get started.
How to Choose an Aquaponics System
Choosing the right aquaponics system to implement is very important for your success. So select an aquaponics system that will fit your budget, space, and needs. Below are some tips and guides on how you can choose an aquaponics system that is suited to your needs and purpose.
1. What are Your Goals?
Before setting up your aquaponics system, you must consider your goals and purpose. Your goals will be your ultimate guide to building your own aquaponics system. Although aquaponics is easy and efficient, it still needs maintenance and can be challenging and time-consuming. So having a definite goal and purpose can get you a long way.
Try asking yourself these questions:
- Is your aquaponics system for home use, or is it for commercial purposes?
- What methods of aquaponics system will you use?
2. Size and Shape of Your Fish Tank
The fish tank is where your fish live, and it will affect the yield of your aquaponics system. So it would be best if you chose the right fish tank for your aquaponics system. The fish tank must be proportioned with the grow bed. The recommended fish-to-tank ratio is 1:1, meaning the fish tank's volume must equal the grow bed's volume.
Aside from the size, tank shape also plays a crucial role in your system. Many prefer the oval or round fish tanks over the square and rectangular tanks. This is because round tanks allow even water circulation and good water movement and help prevent solid waste from sticking into the corners of the fish tank.
You must also choose sturdy, waterproof, toxic-free fish tanks. The most common fish tank used by DIY aquaponics growers is the IBC tote and barrels, and other food-grade containers.
3. Water Source
The source water you will use in your aquaponics system will significantly impact your system's water quality. As a general rule, it is recommended to test water for chemicals and contaminants before using it in your system. Once your system is up and running, only small amounts of water are added to your system to make up for the water lost through evaporation and transpiration.
4. Location of Your Aquaponics System
The location of your aquaponics setup matters because its success depends on this. Whether it's an indoor or outdoor system, it will significantly affect the well-being of the entire system, which is why you need to pick the best setup that is suitable for your needs. Select an area that is safe and suitable for growing fish and plants. If you’re planning an outdoor system, ensure that your chosen area gets a lot of sun exposure but is safe from harsh weather conditions.
5, Plant and Fish Choice
Choosing the best plant to grow in your aquaponics system is essential for your system's overall success. Plants play a crucial role in cleaning and oxygenating the water. Plants also filter the water and absorb the nitrates, thus cleaning it before recirculating back to the fish. So select plants that are easy to grow and well suited to your location for the success of your aquaponics system.
Fish also plays a vital role because their waste becomes the natural fertilizer for the plants. To achieve a maximum growth output from your fish, select a hardy fish best suited to your location, climate, and needs.
The most common fish raised in aquaponics systems are:
- Edible fish: tilapia, carp, catfish, trout, largemouth bass, salmon, yellow perch, bluegill, jade perch, barramundi
- Ornamental fish: goldfish, koi, tetras, guppies
- Other aquatic animals such as shrimps
Your budget will probably decide what type of aquaponics system you'll want to set up. An aquaponics garden can be done on a shoestring budget or an expensive work of art. Home aquaponics systems can range from $100 to a few thousand, depending on your budget.
However, if you are resourceful and love DIYs, you can create your own system using recyclable materials. Many free resources are available online, and you will not have difficulty setting up your own aquaponics system. Other than the startup cost of the system, keep in mind the operation and maintenance costs.
What Does a DIY Aquaponics System Need?
A well-thought plan is the most important thing you need when DIYing your aquaponics system. Before you start gathering the materials and deciding what fish and plants to raise and grow, you must research your options thoroughly and ensure you are prepared to dedicate your time and effort to your garden.
Materials for DIY Aquaponics System
- Fish tank for the fish
- Grow bed, floating rafts, or PVC pipes for the plants (this will depend on the aquaponics method you want to implement)
- PVC pipes
- Grow media
- Water Pump
- Air pump
- Grow lights (for indoor aquaponics system)
- Water test kit
- Seed starters (net pot, seedling trays for starting seeds)
- Fish food
How to Start Your own DIY Aquaponics System
Below are the basic steps in DIYing your aquaponics system.
1. Plan Your Aquaponics System
Sketching out your aquaponics system plan on paper is a great way to start. This way, you can picture your plan's outcome and ensure your design is compatible with the space available.
Plan what types of fish and crops you want to grow. Read our “Best Fish for Aquaponics Systems” and “What are The Best Plants for Aquaponics” to guide you in choosing the best fish and plants to raise and grow in your system.
2. Gather Your Supplies
Once you have finalized your plans, start gathering your supplies, but hold off on buying your fish until you have finished setting up your system. Seeds can wait until you're ready to plant. However, the fish will need care the moment they arrive at you.
3. Build Your System
Build your system and ensure it is strong enough to hold the weight of your fish tank and grow bed. Once filled with water, your system will be heavy, so make sure your space can hold its weight and stand being wet with spilled water at times. Ensure that your system is also within easy reach for maintenance, planting, and harvesting of your crops.
4. Fill it With Water
Once your system is set up, and all the plumbings are connected to the different compartments, fill it up with water to its appropriate level. Turn on your pump plug and filter to ensure that each component is working. Test the water flow to ensure there is no leak, and the water circulates to the different parts of the system. It is also recommended that you test the water quality often to ensure the parameters such as dissolved oxygen, ammonia, nitrates, and pH are within their ideal levels.
5. Adding Plants and Fish
You can start planting once you fill your system with water while “system cycling” your aquaponics system. When transplanting your seedlings from the soil, fill a small container with water and gently rinse the dirt off the roots before placing the plant in the media deep enough for the roots to touch the water. Applying rooting compounds can help because they encourage fast growth and help limit plant stress during transplanting.
Once your system is fully cycled, you can start adding fish into your aquaponics system. System cycling can take a few weeks, but you can speed the process by doing fishless cycling method. Your system is cycled when the nitrifying bacteria are established, and the ammonia is converted into nitrates.
6. Maintenance and Harvesting
Regular maintenance such as fish feeding and water quality tests are essential for the success of your system. Make sure to feed your fish with quality fish food to ensure their waste is full of nutrients required by the plants to grow and thrive.
As part of the maintenance process, observe your fish's behavior during feeding to check if there is any unusual behavior. Take notes of any unusual behavior and take the necessary action to avoid fish diseases and other problems.
Harvesting Tips for Aquaponics
- Remove the entire root system when harvesting full plants. Leaving roots and eaves in the system can cause disease.
- Place the discarded plant roots into a compost bin to recycle plant wastes.
- Use a clean, sharp knife when harvesting.
- Ensure that the aquaponics water does not wet the leaves of the harvested plants to avoid bacterial contamination. Place the harvested plants into a clean container and wash them as soon as possible to maintain freshness.
Carefully planning the design of your aquaponics system before starting will make the entire process easier. Deciding to DIY your aquaponics system might be challenging, but it will be worth it. Knowing what comes into your food and being able to harvest healthy fresh food for your family is worth all the efforts you spent in planning and building your system.
Thank you for reading our article. Building and maintaining an aquaponics system might be difficult at first, but once you know the process, it will be more easy. All you need to do is feed your fish, plant your crops and harvest fresh, healthy food for you and your family. Read “The Ultimate Aquaponics Beginner's Guide” to learn more about aquaponics.
August 18, 2022
Good article. I really enjoyed it.i need to start one myself