How to Start an Organic Aquaponics Garden

If you're inspired to try out an organic aquaponic garden instead of a typical vegetable garden in your backyard. This article will walk you through in starting your own aquaponic garden, giving you all the necessary information to get started. 

Aquaponic gardening is a little more complicated than other gardening methods, but anyone with a bit of ingenuity and determination can make it happen. But before you rush ahead and start, there are a few things that you should know about aquaponics gardening.

What is Aquaponics Gardening?

Aquaponics is the raising of fish and growing crops in water instead of soil. The basic principle is that fish in the water produces waste that is high in ammonia content. The beneficial bacteria convert this ammonia into nitrates that become nutrients for the plants. Plant roots absorb these nutrients in the water, and in return, plants clean the water before it flows back to the fish tank for the fish to live.

How Aquaponics Works


Why Aquaponics Gardening?

Aquaponics, no matter the size, makes a more efficient garden than other gardening methods. When done right, it can produce both fish and vegetables at impressive rates all year-round. Here are some reasons why you should start aquaponics gardening.

  • Aquaponics can be adapted easily for home and small-scale gardens and large-scale commercial farms.

  • It yields both fish and fresh organic vegetables.

  • Fish and plants are not exposed to mercury, pollutants, and antibiotics used in commercial farming.

  • Aquaponics do not require weeding since there is no soil involved.

  • An aquaponics system makes it easy to grow organic vegetables by prohibiting the use of pesticides that can harm the fish in the system.

  • No bending or stooping is required, since most gardening beds are placed above the fish tank.

  • It allows aquaponics gardeners to harvest fresh vegetables all year round, if grown indoors or in a greenhouse.

  • Plants grown in aquaponics grow faster because of their access to 100% of natural nutrients 24 hours a day.

  • One crucial benefit of aquaponics is its low water usage. An aquaponics system uses 90% less water than other methods of gardening.

  • Food independence. Having your own aquaponics garden allows you to live a more self-sufficient lifestyle.

Things to Consider in Starting Your Own Aquaponics Garden

These are the basic checklists listed to help you in planning your aquaponics garden.

1. Type

The types of aquaponics systems are film technique, media-based, raft system, and hybrid system. Thenutrient film techniques (NFT)are often used for commercial systems, and the plants are grown on vertical pipes with holes. Amedia-based system uses grow beds that are filled with grow media to support the roots. The Raft system uses floating rafts to grow plants, while the hybrid system is the combination of the three systems (raft system, NFT, and media-based). 

2. Size

The size of your aquaponics garden will depend on your budget and space available. You have the option to start with a small aquaponics garden you can upgrade later when you already know the ins and outs of aquaponics.

3. Location

To have successful results, make sure that the location's temperature is suitable for fish and plants. Make sure also that there is enough light in the chosen location.

4. Cost

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; it all depends on your budget. 

There are many aquaponics system kits available in the market today. The premade ones that come with instructions on how to assemble the kit often come with a hefty price tag. However, if you are resourceful and love DIYs, you can create your own system using recyclable materials.

Types of Aquaponics Systems

The Media Based, Nutrient Film Techniques (NFT), and Deep Water Culture (DWC) are the three main types of aquaponics systems that you can implement in home gardening. These systems can also be combined to create an aquaponics system that suits your needs.

  • Media Based

The Media Based is the easiest type of system to set up and is popular with many aquaponics growers. The media based consists of a grow bed filled with grow media (expanded clay or gravel) to support plant roots. The water from the fish tank is either pumped or drained by gravity into the grow beds so that plants can access the nutrients rich water. The grow media and plant roots serve as filters to remove wastes and other solid to the water before draining back to the fish tank.

Media Based Aquaponics System
  • Nutrient Film Technique

The Nutrient Film Technique  involves sitting on a series of pipes (usually PVC) adjacent to the fish tank. Holes are made in the pipes into which the plants are planted. The nutrient-rich water is pumped through the pipe in a very thin film and moves slowly, allowing plants to access the nutrients. When the water reaches the end of the pipes, it is pumped back to the fish tank, where the cycle will begin again.

Nutrient Film Technique
  • Deep Water Culture (DWC)

Also known as the Raft System, the DWC is one of the most efficient and is often used in large-scale commercial aquaponics systems. In DWC, the nutrient-rich water circulates through the long canals, while the plants are planted in the floating rafts (foam boards) that float on top of the long canals. 
Deep Water Culture

Main Components of an Aquaponics Garden

The three main components of an aquaponics system are plants, fish, and bacteria.

1. Fish

Fish has a significant role in an aquaponics system because their waste becomes the natural fertilizer for the plants. Fish should be chosen for their resistance to diseases, ease of raising, and growth time. You can select between ornamental fish or those that can be used for food. Koi and goldfish are ornamental varieties that are popular with aquaponics growers. The most common edible fish species are tilapia, catfish, and bluegill.

2. Plants

Plants also play a vital role in aquaponics, and they are the number one reason why many people set up their own aquaponics gardens. Almost all plants can be grown in an aquaponics garden, but it is essential to choose plants that are easy to grow, especially if you are a beginner in aquaponics. Until your aquaponics garden is well-established, it is best to stick to leafy greens like lettuces, herbs, and common houseplants. You can add nutrient-hungry plants like tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and other fruit-bearing plants when your garden is more established.

3. Bacteria

The bacteria convert the fish waste into nutrients for the plants through nitrification. Nitrification is a process in which the ammonia present in the fish wastes is converted into nitrites and then nitrates. Once the fish waste is converted into nitrites, they turn into compounds that the plant's roots can absorb. The bacteria can be present in the fish tank, biofilter, or grow beds.

Secondary Components of an Aquaponics Garden

These components are essential in building your aquaponics garden. 

1. Fish Tank

The fish tank is the home to your fish, and where fish waste is stored. The tank can be an indoor aquarium or large ready-made containers. The most common fish tanks used in aquaponics are aquariums, recycled bathtubs, stock tanks, IBC tanks, and recycled barrels. 

The fish tank you choose will determine the size of your garden, the number of fish, and the plants you can grow. Here are some considerations in choosing a fish tank for your aquaponics garden.

  • Choose a round-shaped fish tank.
  • Choose a fish tank that is sturdy, waterproof, durable, and heavy-duty to withstand water pressure.
  • The fish tank should be made from non-toxic and food-safe materials.

2. Grow Bed

The grow bed holds your plants and the nutrient-rich water they needed to grow. Your grow bed will depend on the type of aquaponics system you want to implement. Media based systems often use rectangular grow beds. The nutrient film technique used PVC pipes to grow plants, while the deep water culture uses floating rafts on top of the canals. Grow beds must be made of lightweight but sturdy materials to give plants structure.

3. Grow Media

In a traditional garden, the grow media is the soil. However, in an aquaponics garden, the grow media is the substance that the plant's roots grow through. The best grow media to use in an aquaponics garden should be lightweight, have a neutral pH, porous and mid-sized. Most aquaponics growers use expanded clay, gravel, or lava rock as grow media. 

4. Pumps and Piping

The water pump carries the nutrient-rich water from the fish tank to the plants and helps in aeration. So it is essential to choose the right size water pump for your aquaponics garden. In smaller systems, submersible pumps work well.

The pipes need to be sized appropriately also to ensure that the water flows continuously throughout the garden and to avoid clogging and blockage.

5. Water Test Kits

A water test kit is essential in monitoring the water quality in your aquaponics garden. There are lots of water test kits available, so choose one that fits your budget.

Aquaponics Water Test

Starting an Aquaponics Garden

Are you interested in setting up your own organic aquaponics garden now? Here are a few steps required to get started.

1. Choose Your System

We've discussed the different types of aquaponics systems above. The media based system is popular with aquaponics beginners because it is easier to operate and maintain. But you can choose a system that you think will work best for your situation. 

2. Where to Set up Your Aquaponics Garden?

One question you need to address in starting your aquaponics garden is where to set up your fish tank and growing a bed? You can choose to have an indoor or outdoor aquaponics garden in your backyard. If you decide to make an indoor aquaponics garden, make sure that it is near the water source, electrical source, and easily accessible. For an outdoor setup, the best location is in any south-facing space or an area where you can get at least six hours of sunlight. 

3. Fill it with Water

Once your aquaponics garden is in place, you must add water. First, make sure that the water is dechlorinated. You can use rainwater if you have access. 

Fill your fish tank with water. Turn on your aerator and pump. Test your water pump and run it for a few days to remove the chemicals found in most tap water.

4. System Cycling

Cycling is an essential process in starting an aquaponics garden. It is important to the health of the fish and growth of the plants. System cycling is the process of establishing a healthy bacterial colony in your garden. These bacteria convert fish waste into nutrients for the plants. 

There are two methods of cycling; cycling with fish and fishless cycling. Cycling with fish can take from 4 to 6 weeks, depending on your water temperature and cycling method. However, you can speed up your cycling process by using the fishless cycling method.

Cycling with Fish

  1. Start fish cycling by adding fish. The fish will provide the ammonia source through its waste. Do not feed the fish for at least 24 hours and feed them lightly for the first few days.
  2. Let the bacteria populate naturally.
  3. Do a water test every day to check the ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels. Ammonia should remain below 3.0ppm, while the nitrites should stay below 1.0 ppm. The nitrated level will increase over time.
  4. Partially change the water of the tank if ammonia gets above 3.0 ppm. Continue monitoring the levels of ammonia and nitrites until your tank is fully cycled. 

Fishless Cycling

  1. Add a source of ammonia to the fish tank. Continue adding ammonia until the level is around 4.0 ppm.

  2. Perform water tests to check ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels.

  3. The cycling process is complete when ammonia and nitrite levels drop below 0.5 ppm.  

5. Adding the Plants

You can start adding plants while cycling your aquaponics garden. Be sure to remove excess soil when planting the plants in the grow bed to avoid contaminants from entering your garden.

6. Maintaining Your Aquaponics Garden

Once your aquaponics garden is up and running, all you need to do is to make a regular monitoring schedule. This is to make sure that the plants, fish and bacteria in your garden are performing their duties. Having a regular monitoring schedule will also help you avoid problems in the future.


Thank you for reading this article. You've survived a crash course on aquaponics gardening. Hopefully, this has given you insights into what aquaponics is and what it takes to set your aquaponics garden. Aquaponics gardening can be a challenge, but it's all worth it. Feel free to leave your comment below.

Once your aquaponics garden is up and running, all you need to do is to make a regular monitoring schedule. This is to make sure that the plants, fish and bacteria in your garden are performing their duties. Having a regular monitoring schedule will also help you avoid problems in the future.

2 Responses

Joseph Johnson

Joseph Johnson

February 14, 2023

Interested in learning about aquaponics for home use



July 27, 2021


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