The Different Types of Aquaponics Systems

Several types of aquaponics system designs are being used by home growers right now. Each of these aquaponics system designs may be the best aquaponics system design for you to implement in a given situation. So to help you in the process of deciding what system might be the best for you, we made this article about the different aquaponics systems.

Achieving a good balance between fish, bacteria, and plants is essential in aquaponics. Once you have a good balance, you will have a successful and sustainable aquaponics system design that you can rely on.

Every aquaponics system design comprises the following components:

  • A grow bed for the plants to grow.
  • A fish tank for the fish to live.
  • A pump transfers the water from the fish tank to the grow bed.
  • Standpipes or siphons drain the grow bed water back to the fish tank.
  • The water pump helps water circulate through the entire system and helps with aeration.
  • Grow media or floating rafts that give support to the plants.

Overview of the Different Types of Aquaponics Systems

In general, there are three different types of aquaponics systems designs; Media Based, Raft System, and Nutrient Film Technique. However, because of the development of aquaponics, more designs are being developed and utilized by aquaponics growers today. The two new aquaponics designs are Vertical Aquaponics System and Hybrid System. When deciding what type of system to build, it is essential to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each design to determine what fits best with your needs and capacity.


Media Based Aquaponics System

Media Based Aquaponics System

Also called Flood and Drain, the media based system is common for small-scale aquaponics systems. It is also popular with do-it-yourselves aquaponics home growers because it is easy to operate. The media based system design is simple and efficient with space and has a low initial cost suitable for beginners in aquaponics.


Media Based Aquaponics System Infographics

How do Media Based Aquaponics Systems Work?

A media based system uses a growbed or container filled with grow media (usually gravel, lava rock, or clay pebbles) to plant the crops. The grow bed is periodically flooded with water from the fish tank through a bell siphon so that the plants can access the nutrients. The water then drains back into the fish tank, in which a new cycle begins. 

All waste is broken down in the grow bed. Sometimes worms are added to the grow media to help break down all the waste. The media based uses the fewest components, and no additional filtration is needed, making it easy to operate. However, the produce is lower than the other types because of its limited growing space. 

Advantages of Media Based Aquaponics Systems:

  1. Relatively inexpensive and straightforward.
  2. Suitable for all kinds of plants, from leafy greens to larger fruiting plants.
  3. Minimal cleaning is required.
  4. For a further breakdown of fish waste, red worms can be added to the gravel bed.
  5. The media performs a filtering action, preventing debris from returning to the tank.
  6. The air is present between media particles, supplying oxygen to the roots.
  7. Suitable for hobby applications, home gardens, and as part of the commercial farm.

Disadvantages of Media Based System:

  1. A good-quality medium can be relatively expensive.
  2. The pore spaces in the medium may get clogged over time, causing anaerobic conditions that are poor for your plants.
  3. It can require cleaning of the grow bed.
  4. By itself, this style system is not usually suitable for commercial purposes due to lower productivity and difficulty in a large-scale implementation.
  5. The media beds are heavy and need a robust and rigid structure.


Nutrient Film Technique Aquaponics System


Nutrient Film Technique

The Nutrient Film Technique (NFTis a hydroponic growing technique adapted to aquaponics because of its simple yet effective design that works well in some environments. This method uses horizontal pipes (PVC) with shallow streams of nutrient-rich water flowing through them. The NFT is famous for commercial aquaponics and is also helpful in urban places where space and food production are problems.


NFT Aquaponics System Infographic


How do Nutrient Film Technique Aquaponics Systems Work?

In the NFT method, the plants are grown on long, narrow channels. A thin film of water continuously flows down on each channel to provide plant roots with water, nutrients, and oxygen. Like the raft system, the water flows from the fish tank through filtration components, through the NFT channels where plants are grown, and then back into the fish tank. A separate biofilter is required in NFT because there is not enough surface area for the beneficial bacteria to live. 

Advantages of NFT:

  1. Compared to other systems, the NFT uses fewer materials and less space.
  2. NFT systems are easy to set up.
  3. You don’t need a large land space to set up an NFT system.
  4. NFT allows for continuous water purification.
  5. NFT systems do not need grow media to grow plants.
  6. Plant roots in NFT systems remain above the waterline at all times, allowing them to expel waste gas and absorb oxygen, which results in better plant growth.

Disadvantages of NFT:

  1. The water temperature is harder to control in NFT because of the thin film of water that flows in the pipes. 
  2. The narrow channels or the pipes are susceptible to clogging.
  3. The grow pipes may be clogged with roots. The roots may be deprived of water when the pump fails.
  4. Suitable only for small rooting plants.


    Raft System of Aquaponics

    Raft System

    Also known as the Deep Water Culture (DWC), the raft system of aquaponics is one of the most efficient aquaponics system designs. This system is often used in large-scale or commercial aquaponics systems because of its mass production capability. 


    Raft System Infographic

    How do Raft Aquaponics Systems Work?

    In a raft system, the nutrient-rich water circulates through the long canals, usually at a depth of about 20 cm, while rafts (polystyrene or foam board) float on top. The plants are grown on the raft boards supported within holes by net pots. Plant roots hang down in the nutrient-rich, oxygenated water, where they absorb oxygen and nutrients to grow rapidly. The nutrient-filled water flows continuously from the fish tank through the filtration process, then to the raft tank where the plants are grown, and finally back to the fish tank. Most often, the raft tank is separate from the fish tank.

    Advantages of Raft System:

    1. High productivity of crops with cheap labor requirements.
    2. The roots are more exposed to water nutrients.
    3. Simple and can be the most economical to build of all aquaponics systems.
    4. Plants are easier to harvest since roots are submerged in water and not in any media.
    5. The water volume in a raft system ensures it is more stable in water quality and temperature than in other systems.
    6. Easy maintenance as raft beds is easy to clean. Since rafts can be placed in the tank itself, it allows for the efficient use of space. 
    7. It is suited for commercial production.
    8. It allows for a higher stocking of fish.

    Disadvantages of Rafts System:

    1. It is somewhat restricted to growing small leafy greens like lettuce and basil.
    2. Unsuitable for roots, some fruits, and a few other plants.
    3. It can be a mosquito breeding ground if not designed correctly. 
    4. It needs filtration since the roots are entirely immersed.
    5. The filtration process increases costs, besides requiring regular filter-cleanups. (If using a filter and not media beds)
    6. Roots are susceptible to microbial attacks or may be consumed by herbivorous fish.
    7. There is little surface area for beneficial bacteria to grow.
    8. Because the roots are entirely submerged, oxygen through aeration is often required.


      Vertical Aquaponics System

      Vertical Aquaponics System

      A vertical aquaponicssystem is one aquaponics method that grows plants without soil in columns above the fish tank. 

      How do Vertical Aquaponics Systems Work?

      Vertical aquaponics mainly uses the nutrient film technique (NFT) aquaponics method. The NFT is an aquaponics method in which the plants are grown in a long narrow channel. NFT is a hydroponic growing technique adapted to aquaponics because of its simple yet effective design that works well in many environments. The only difference is that in the NFT method, the growing channels are set up horizontally, while in the vertical system, the growing channels are set up vertically.

      Advantages of Vertical Aquaponics System:

      1. It does not require a large space to set up.
      2. More plants can be stacked up in vertical rows.
      3. If grown in a greenhouse, it allows plants to be produced throughout the year, not weather-dependent.
      4. It uses minimal water since water is recycled.
      5. Plants can be harvested more frequently.
      6. There is no bending over to the garden because vertical systems keep plants off the ground.
      7. Vertical tubes are easy to set up and move to different areas.
      8. Inexpensive and does not require lots of material to construct.
      9. Easy to customize to your preferred style and layout.
      10. Great for urban farming.
      11. Flexible and can operate outdoors, indoors with lights, or in a greenhouse.

      Disadvantage of Vertical Aquaponics System:

      1. The narrow channels or the pipes are susceptible to clogging.
      2. The roots may be deprived of water when the pump fails.
      3. Suitable only for small rooting plants.


          Hybrid Aquaponics System


          Hybrid Aquaponics System

          A hybrid aquaponics system combines two or more methods into one system. 

          How do Hybrid Aquaponics Systems Work?

          There are several approaches to the hybrid system, and all can work well depending on the design. One example of a hybrid system is a combination of raft and media based systems. Some aquaponics home growers and commercial aquaponics farmers use hybrid systems because of their efficiency and great use of space.

          Advantages Of Hybrid Aquaponics System:

          1. A hybrid system offers flexibility for plants to grow.
          2. High productivity.

          Disadvantages of Hybrid Aquaponics System:

          1. Hybrid aquaponics systems are more complex to set up and manage.
          2. More expensive to set up.

          Factors to Consider in Choosing an Aquaponics System Design

          Before you choose a system design, think first about the intended use of the system. Is it for personal, educational, or commercial use? Your intentions will determine what kind of system design fits your particular needs. Properly planning your system will help you become more successful in setting up your aquaponics system. Here are some essential questions you need to answer in choosing your aquaponics system design.


          Your chosen location will affect your system's health all year round, so choose a suitable place for growing fish and plants. If you want an indoor aquaponics system, ensure that the location is easily accessible and near the water source. Lighting and temperature are not a problem because they can be controlled using grow lights, a heater, or a cooler. For outdoor aquaponics systems, ensure that the location is safe from predators and has enough sunlight. 


          How much space do you have? You need to consider the size of your system and the space available. Ensure that there is enough space to move around your system quickly so you can access your fish tank and grow beds. 

          Type of Plants

          Your choice of plants will influence the system you end up setting up because you have to match the plants to the system. In general, the media beds are the most versatile system's design and work well for fruiting crops like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. Leafy greens such as lettuce and kale also work well with raft system design. A hybrid system design will give you more options for plants to grow. 


          Your environmental condition, such as the daily temperature fluctuations and water source, will directly affect the productivity of the different life forms and, ultimately, your system's design. Understanding where your water comes from and its quality is also essential. You need to provide de-chlorinated water tested for its hardness pH, and we delivered other water quality parameters to ensure good water to the system.

          Technical Capability

          Who will use and manage the system? Do you have enough knowledge about aquaponics? Are you going to do-it-yourself (DIY) your system, or are you going to buy a pre-made system? It would help consider these essential considerations before choosing an aquaponics system design. 

          Conclusion: What System is the Best for You?

          The best aquaponics system design for you will depend on your answers to the factors you need to consider in choosing an aquaponics system design. The best thing you can do in choosing the best plan for you is to weigh each design's advantages and disadvantages. It is also good to ask for the expert's opinion and experiences on each system by joining aquaponics groups online. There are also lots of free resources online for you to learn what fits your needs. 

          We hope this article has helped you choose your aquaponics system. Starting something is always exciting, but challenging. We highly recommend reading more aboutaquaponics so you can learn more and know how to manage your aquaponics system. If you need assistance in planning your aquaponics system, don't hesitate to contact us. 

          2 Responses

          Raymond Osborne

          Raymond Osborne

          April 07, 2022

          Very good site and information.
          I’d like to stay in touch for when we start building a system.

          Rohitha kumara

          Rohitha kumara

          August 31, 2021

          Presentation is good

          Leave a comment (all fields required)

          Comments will be approved before showing up.