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 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.
Read the “Definition Of Aquaponics Terms” to learn the terms usually used in aquaponics.
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. (1)
The plants absorb these nitrates and other nutrients to help them grow, and in return, the plants clean the water. Other solid wastes are also filtered out of the water either by the grow beds or some other mechanical process. The fresh clean and oxygenated water is then recirculated to the fish tank where the cycle will begin again. (1)
Benefits of Aquaponics
- Aquaponics allows you to grow your food all year round. By regulating the temperatures to your growing needs and by 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.
- Food security and food dependence by growing your food.
- Organic produce, you can grow your food without the use of harmful chemicals or fertilizers.
Three Main Components of the Aquaponics System
Every aquaponics system includes these three main components.
Growing plants organically is one reason for your aquaponics system. Plants also play an important role in maintaining the overall cycle of your aquaponics system. Fish wastes act as food for the plants which absorb all the rich-nutrients in the water from the fish tank. By doing this, the water is clean and oxygenated by the plants before it returned to the fish tank. (5)
What Are The Best Plants For Aquaponics? read this blog to know more about plants in aquaponics.
Fish play a very important role in an aquaponics system because their waste acts as a source of natural fertilizer for plants. Select a fish that matures easily like crappie, tilapia, yellow perch, and barramundi, because their oxygen levels are easy to maintain and can withstand temperature changes. (5)
You have several factors to consider in selecting fish for your aquaponics system because will live in a tank environment. To have a maximum growth output from your fish, read our article “What Are The Best Fish For Aquaponics”.
Bacteria play a very important role in an aquaponics system. The bacteria convert wastes for the fish into nutrients able to be absorbed by the plants.
The water from the fish tank that is fed to the plants contains a lot of ammonia from fish wastes. The bacteria (nitrifying bacteria) convert the ammonia into nitrites and eventually into nitrates. These nitrates are used by the plants to grow. (5)
To learn more about the role of bacteria in aquaponics, read this article “Nutrients And Bacteria In Aquaponics”.
Types of Aquaponics System
There are four main types of aquaponics system which is discussed below.
1. Media-based aquaponics system
Media Based Systems also called Flood and Drain” or “Ebb and Flow” 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 (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 farms 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 and 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. Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
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 and fit your needs. There are several approaches to this aquaponic system and all can work well, depending on how you design, build and maintain your system.
A commercial and professional aquaponics system is expensive; however, you can create your aquaponics system using recycled materials through this practical do-it-yourself (DIY) system and get higher food yields in 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. Delivered in 7 easy steps that leads 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 outdoor 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 was filled in the bathtub where the plants are grown. The rocks around the pond and the wooden enclosure for the grow bed makes it a functional and beautiful system. Creativity and finishing make this aquaponics system amazing 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. By choosing to use aquaponics kits, you can have an indoor aquaponics system in your home with no mess or hassle. Aquaponics kits are best used for growing microgreens, lettuce, houseplants, or other small fast-growing vegetables. You may not grow full crops of plants in home aquaponics kits, but you can do it as a hobby or to learn the basics if you want to learn 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’s 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 a 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 really teach you how to grow with aquaponics. It is an all in one system using expanded clay grow 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 a great system for anyone who wants to really learn about aquaponics at home.
Things to Consider Before Starting your Aquaponics System:
If you’re planning to build your system or purchase a complete system, it is important to consider these things for the success of your aquaponics system. These are the basic checklist listed to help you plan your system accordingly. This is for home, hobby or small scale aquaponics system and does not cover the planning required for a commercial-scale aquaponics system.
1. Choose the system you want to implement.
1. Choose the system you want to implement.
You can choose between a media-based system, raft system, NFT system, or a combination of these systems.
2. What are your goals and purpose in 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 thought so you can plan your system properly and for you to know what system will meet your goals and purpose. (2)
3. Are you a do-it-yourself (DIY) person?
Or do you prefer to purchase a well-proven free-made design? - This is one of the most important considerations 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 and you can choose to purchase a free-made aquaponics system. (2)
Consider these environmental factors
In an aquaponic system, the water flow is constant so you need to take a count on the natural evaporation and increase moisture in your space. The temperature difference will cause extra humidity. (3)
2. Water Spillage
Your fish tank or aquarium can leak. Therefore, where you want to create your system, should be waterproof or in an area that can get wet. Be prepared in advance spillage. (3)
If you want to grow indoors, consider your lighting option and electrical cost. (3)
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 the supplies needed 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, depending 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 - 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, 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 make sure there are no leaks and the flow rate and drain rate works well.
2. System Cycling
Before stocking your system with fish and plants, make sure your system is in a healthy condition by system cycling.
3. Adding Plants
Once your system has been cycled, you can start adding plants and fish to your system. 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 soil 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 cycled. It is important to avoid fish stress in handling your fish.
Maintaining Your System
It’s simple to maintain your aquaponic system. Here are the steps to 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 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. (4)
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. Lemon juice can be used as a pH down solution.
If you have a lower pH, you can make adjustments by 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. Baking soda can also be used as a pH up solution.
3. Ammonia and Nitrate Levels
Ammonia and Nitrate levels should be checked weekly. The ammonia levels should not exceed 0.5ppm and the nitrate level should not exceed 150ppm. Levels beyond this show that there are not enough plants in the system to take in the nitrogen released by the nitrifying bacteria. (4)
5. Plant Maintenance
Tend 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. To learn more about aquaponics refer to “100 Best Aquaponics Resources”
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 updates on Aquaponics.
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