Ultimate Aquaponics Beginner’s Guide
Have you ever thought of starting your garden? Grow, harvest, and eat the organic food you produce? If you’re inspired to grow your food with Aquaponics, then the next thought is, “How do I build a simple aquaponics system at home?” This ultimate beginner’s guide will serve as an overview, giving you the information necessary to get started.
What is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (growing plants in a nutrient solution). With Aquaponics, you can create a self-sustainable garden with limited space and resources to grow your organic food. A simple aquaponics system involves growing plants and raising fish with the help of beneficial bacteria. These components work symbiotically to create an effective aquaponics system.
How Aquaponics Works
In aquaponics, the plants are grown in the grow bed, and fish are placed in the fish tank. The water from the fish tank that contains fish waste is fed to the grow bed, where billions of naturally occurring beneficial bacteria break the ammonia down into nitrites and then nitrates.
Plants absorb these nitrates, and other nutrients to help them grow. In return, the plants clean and filter the water in the system. The fresh, clean, and oxygenated water is then recirculated to the fish tank, where the cycle will begin again.
Benefits of Aquaponics
- Aquaponics lets you to grow your food all year round by regulating your growing needs and using greenhouses.
- Low water usage, aquaponics uses approximately 90% less water than conventional farming. The water used is recycled, so it is rarely changed or discarded.
- There is no soil involved in aquaponics, so there are very few weeds that will pop up in your garden, giving you more time to enjoy farming.
- Plants grow faster in the aquaponics system because of their access to the nutrient-rich water 24 hours a day.
- An aquaponics system can be a source of income to you and your family if you grow commercially.
- Aquaponics farming does not require large areas of land.
- By growing your own food, you can have food security and food independence.
- Organic produce, you can grow your food without the use of harmful chemicals or fertilizers.
Three Main Components Of Aquaponics System
Every aquaponics system includes these three main components.
Growing plants organically is one reason many people want to set up their own aquaponics system. Plants also play an essential role in maintaining the overall cycle of your aquaponics system by cleaning and oxygenating the water in the system.
Fish play an important role in an aquaponics system because their waste acts as a natural fertilizer for the plants. To achieve a maximum growth output from your fish, it is important that you know the best fish to raise in aquaponics.
Bacteria plays a vital role in an aquaponics system because they convert fish wastes into nutrients that are absorbed by the plants. The water from the fish tank that is fed to the plants contains a lot of ammonia from fish wastes that are converted by the bacteria (nitrifying bacteria) into nitrites and into nitrates. These nitrates are used by the plants to grow.
Types of Aquaponics System
There are four main types of aquaponics system which are discussed below.
1. Media-based aquaponics system
Media Based Systems, also called Flood and Drain, is the most common Aquaponics system, popular with do-it-yourselves, backyard home systems, and commercial farms. In a media-based system, plants are grown in planting media such as gravel or expanded clay pebbles. The media filters ammonia-based waste and solid waste. This system is well suited for growing larger fruiting plants and smaller plants.
2. Raft System
In a raft system, also known as Deep Water Culture or Floating System, the plants are grown on rafts boards (polystyrene or foam boards) that float on top of the water in the raft bed. 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 then back to the fish tank. Most often, the raft tank is separate from the fish tank. Many commercial aquaponics farm use this system because it allows the plants to grow faster and yield more crops.
3. Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
The Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) in Aquaponics is a method in which the plants are grown in a long narrow channel. NFT is a hydroponic growing technique that is adapted to aquaponics because of its simple yet effective design that works well in some environments.
In NFT, a thin film of water flows continuously down each channel, providing the plant roots with water, nutrients, and oxygen. When the water reaches the end of the channel, it is pumped back to the fish tank.
4. Hybrid Aquaponics System
A hybrid aquaponics system is a combination of multiple types of aquaponics systems. Most commercial aquaponics uses a hybrid system because of its efficiency and great use of space. You can combine any system that you like that fits your needs. There are several approaches to the aquaponic system, and all can work well, depending on how you design, build, and maintain your system.
A commercial and professional aquaponics system can be expensive. However, you can create your aquaponics system using recycled materials through this practical do-it-yourself (DIY) system and get higher food yields for your own home. Re-use or re-purpose items you may have already on hand to reduce your start-up cost. You just need a little creativity and a small pump to make your aquaponics system setup.
Here Are Three Aquaponics System DIY Ideas That Will Suit Any Budget
1. Small DIY Aquaponics System
This small aquaponics system costs only $40. It is delivered in 7 easy steps that lead you through the stages in creating a small aquaponics system. Jeffrey provided the lists of materials and tools used in this system. The grow bed is built from a 15- gallon plastic bin while the pipes are PVC pipes of different sizes, including a 2-inch and 0.5-inch PVC pipes. This system uses a 130 GPH submersible pump.
2. DIY Urban Bathtub Aquaponics System
This design takes the aquaponic system design to a new level. This is an outdoors designed aquaponics system using an old bathtub as the grow bed. A fish pond was built and decorated with rocks to give it a natural feel. Grow media filled the bathtub where the plants are grown. The stones around the pond and the wooden enclosure for the grow bed make it a functional and beautiful system. Creativity and finishing make this aquaponics system unique and different from other aquaponics systems.
3. Indoor Aquaponics System by Japan Aquaponics
You can build your aquaponics system by using this DIY guide. The tutorial is in seven easy steps, beginning with the frame setup, and ending with filling up the grow bed. This is an easy DIY guide that lets you select the building stages to look at. The tutorial shows how to install the standing pipe, the adapters, and the siphon.
Home Aquaponics Kit Systems
Home aquaponics kits are available in the market today. You can have an indoor aquaponics system in your home with no mess or hassle by choosing to use aquaponics kits. Aquaponics kits are best for growing microgreens, lettuce, houseplants, or other small, fast-growing vegetables. You may not grow full plants in home aquaponics kits, but you can do it as a hobby or learn the basics if you want to know the principles and develop into your large-scale system.
Designed for year-round gardening, this complete home kit aquaponics system can be installed indoors or outdoors. It is attractive, easy to assemble, and easy-to-use design will be a perfect fit for your home. This kit allows you to grow full-sized plants like lettuce, house plants, and other vegetables. This home kit system includes 60-gallon fish tanks and grow bed made from thick UV-protected and food-safe PE plastic. This kit is excellent for beginners, who are still trying to learn how aquaponics works.
The Edu Aquaponics Kit uses a scaled-down technology just like you would find in a large scale aquaponics setup. This kit may not be as stylish as others, but it will teach you how to grow with aquaponics. It is an all in one system using expanded clay as growing medium and real edible plants to filter fish water. The bell siphon self waters the plants while keeping them in a separate tank so that the water is not clouded with roots. This is an excellent system for anyone who wants to learn about aquaponics at home.
Things To Consider Before Starting your Aquaponics System:
In planning to build your system or to purchase a complete system, it is important to consider these things. These are the basic checklist listed to help you plan your system accordingly. These are for home, hobby, or small scale aquaponics system and do not cover the planning required for a commercial-scale aquaponics system.
1. Choose the system you want to implement.
2. What are the goals and purpose of your aquaponics system?
Why do you want to have an aquaponics system? What plants or fish are you planning to grow and raise? Are you going to eat your fish? These questions should be given a thought so you can plan your system correctly and know what system will meet your goals and purposes.
3. Are you a do-it-yourself (DIY) person?
Are you a do-it-yourself person or do you prefer to purchase a well-proven free-made design? This is one of the most important considerations to make in planning your aquaponics system. DIY aquaponics is a trial and error, but can be a rewarding and fun learning experience. It may also take a long time to make as you are trying to figure things on your own. However, if you want a proven system that can run quickly and with technical support, you can purchase a free-made aquaponics system.
Consider These Environmental Factors
In an aquaponics system, the water flow is constant, so you need to take account on the natural evaporation and increase moisture in your space. The temperature difference will cause extra humidity.
2. Water Spillage
Your fish tank or aquarium can leak. Therefore, the area where you want to create your system should be waterproof, or it is an area that can get wet. Be prepared in advance for spillage.
If you want to grow indoors, consider your lighting option and electrical cost.
System Components And Supplies
The following components are important in building your aquaponics system. There are two types of components in an aquaponics system; The “materials” are the materials or equipment needed to build your system while the “supplies” are required to manage or optimize your system.
- Fish Tank - Depends on the size you choose
- Grow Bed - Media bed, raft, PVC pipes.
- Grow Bed Support - Frame that will support the weight of your grow bed.
- Sump Tank - Optional, this will depend on the design of your system.
- Plumbing pipes and fittings - Depends on the type of your grow beds, system, and other factors.
- Bell Siphon - This is required for a flood and drain media bed.
- Water pump - The size depends on your desired tank exchange rate and several grow beds.
- Aerator, air stones - This is used in the fish tank and media beds.
- Grow Lights - Optional. This is mostly used in indoor systems.
- Heater - Optional, this depends on your location, fish species and target water temperature.
- Grow Media - For a media-based system, you can use clay pebbles, expanded shale, gravel, and other inert media.
- Monitoring System - Optional. It depends on your situation and how you want to manage your system.
- Timers and Controllers - This is mostly used for lighting and pumping.
- Water Quality Test Kit - Water test kit is very important in monitoring your water quality parameters.
- Cycling Kit - A source of nitrifying bacteria or ammonia required to cycle your system and prepare your system for the fish.
- Fish Food - You need a supply of fish food for your fish. Choose fish food that is organic and meet the nutritional requirements of the fish.
- Fish Care Products - Fishnet, thermometer, automatic feeder, etc.
- Gardening Supplies - Supplies you will need in gardening like gloves, pruning shears, sprayer, etc.
- Seeds and Seed Starting Supplies - Net pots, germination trays, or seed starting kit you will need to get your plants off to a good start.
1. Building Your System
Once you have all the materials needed for your aquaponics system, you can start building your system based on your specifications and design. Test your system to ensure there are no leaks, and the flow rate and drain rate work well.
2. System Cycling
Before stocking your system with fish and plants, make sure your system is healthy by system cycling to establish the beneficial bacteria.
3. Adding Plants
Once your system is cycled, you can start adding plants and fish. It is recommended to plant your grow bed as quickly as possible and to wash the soil or potting mix off the roots of the seedling before planting to avoid adding unnecessary contaminants to your system in the form of dirt and other slow-release fertilizers.
4. Adding Fish
The amount of fish you can safely keep in your system depends on factors such as feed rate, water flow, oxygen level, number of plants, pumping rates, fish species, and water temperature. You can start adding your fish once your system is fully cycled. It is also important to avoid fish stress in handling your fish.
Maintaining Your System
It’s simple to maintain your aquaponic system. Here are the steps in maintaining your aquaponics system.
1. Feed The Fish (every day)
Fish are essential components of an aquaponics system. They must feed every day to keep them healthy. Feed them at least twice a day with a quality diet, and while feeding them, it is also important to monitor their behavior inside the fish tank. Feed fish only on what they will consume in 5 minutes, remove any uneaten food after feeding to avoid unwanted water quality issues. To calculate the amount of feed needed in your system, use this formula: 20 g of feed per square meter of Deep Water Culture growing area.
2. Check pH Level
The pH level of the aquaponics system plays a significant role in determining whether your system will work. Check the pH level weekly. The pH should be neutral, between 6.8 - 7.0, which is the ideal pH for the fish, plants, and bacteria.
You can lower your water pH by using pH down products, which usually contain food-grade phosphoric acid. Add only a little pH down at a time to lower the pH to the proper level.
If you have a lower pH, you can make adjustments using pH-up products, which usually contain potassium hydroxide and potassium carbonate. Add little at a time until your water pH is raised to the proper level.
3. Ammonia And Nitrate Levels
Ammonia and Nitrate levels should be checked weekly. The ammonia level should not exceed 0.5 ppm, and the nitrate level should not exceed 150 ppm.
Check the temperature of your fish tank to check if it is within the ideal range for your fish. Adjust it when it’s necessary to ensure the health of your fish.
5. Plant Maintenance
Tend to your plants as you would a normal garden, except you will not seed any weeds. Check for plant diseases and insects.
Thank you for reading our article, enjoy aquaponics gardening, and growing your organic food. We’d love to hear your feedback on the comments section below and subscribe to our newsletter to get new Aquaponics updates.
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