The Ultimate Aquaponics Beginner’s Guide - Go Green Aquaponics

The 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?" Well, this ultimate aquaponics 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). You can create a self-sustainable garden with limited space and resources to grow your organic food with aquaponics. 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.

 

The Aquaponics Cycle

 

How Does Aquaponics Work?

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 into 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 then recirculates back to the fish tank, where the cycle will begin again.

Why Choose Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is suitable for those who want to grow their own food sustainably and organically. Aquaponics can be set up anywhere, indoors, in the backyard, or in a controlled environment like a greenhouse. The ability to grow food in a controlled environment means producing a lot more food all year round. Aquaponics can be done in budget-friendly investments by DIYing and using recyclable materials or in a more expensive investment by purchasing pre-made aquaponics kits or starting a big system.

Benefits of Aquaponics

  •  Aquaponics lets you grow your food all year round by regulating your growing needs or 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 they access nutrient-rich water 24 hours a day.
  • An aquaponics system can be a source of income for you and your family if you grow commercially.
  • Aquaponics do not require large land areas and is inexpensive to set up.
  • With Aquaponics, you can grow your food without harmful chemicals or fertilizers.
  • By growing your own food, you can have food security and food independence.
    Fresh Vegetables in Aquaponics

    What is Inside an Aquaponics System?

    Every aquaponics system includes these three main components.

    1. Plants

    Growing plants organically is why many people want to set up their own aquaponics system. Plants also play an essential 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.

    Choosing the best plant to grow in your aquaponics system is essential for your system's overall success. So select plants that are easy to grow and well suited to your location. Until your new system is fully established, avoid planting nutrient-hungry plants like tomatoes and stick to easy-to-grow plants like leafy greens, lettuces, and herbs. Nutrient-hungry plants require a lot of nutrients, so wait until the fish in the system is larger before you start adding tomatoes, peppers, and other fruit-bearing plants.

    Plants in Aquaponics are planted in the grow bed, pipes, or floating rafts. If you're using grow beds, make sure that the grow bed container is strong and the grow medium is deep enough to hold your plants when they grow. If you're planting in a floating foam, make sure that it is lightweight and buoyant and can hold the plants upright. In planting your plants, make sure that the base that holds the plants is sturdy enough to keep the plants when they grow up. Using net pots is recommended because it allows the plant roots to absorb ample nutrients and securely hold the plant.

    2. Fish 

    Fish play an essential role in an aquaponics system because their waste is a natural fertilizer for the plants. To achieve a maximum growth output from your fish, you must know the best fish to raise in aquaponics. To have maximum growth output from your fish, choose fish that is disease resistant, easy to raise, and readily available in your location. 

    You can raise ornamental fish like goldfish and koi or edible fish like tilapia and catfish in aquaponics. Most home aquaponics systems grow tilapia and goldfish because they are hardy and thrive in almost any environment.

    3. Bacteria

    Bacteria play a vital role in an aquaponics system because they convert fish wastes into nutrients 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 nitrates through nitrification. The plants use these nitrates to grow. So it is essential to maintain a healthy bacterial colony in your system. The bacteria in an aquaponics system can be present in the biofilter, grow beds, and fish tanks.

    Types of Aquaponics System

    These are the four main types of aquaponics systems, which we will discuss 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. 

    How it works: 

    A media based system uses a grow bed 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

    • Relatively inexpensive and straightforward.
    • Suitable for all kinds of plants, from leafy greens to larger fruiting plants.
    • Minimal cleaning is required.
    • The media perform a filtering action, preventing debris from returning to the tank.
    • The air is present between media particles, supplying oxygen to the roots.
    • Suitable for hobby and home gardens.

    Disadvantages of Media Based System:

    • A good-quality medium can be relatively expensive.
    • The spaces in the medium may get clogged over time, causing anaerobic conditions that are poor for your plants.
    • The grow be requires regular cleaning.
    • Only suitable for small-scale home aquaponics systems. Not suitable for commercial purposes due to lower productivity and difficulty in a large-scale implementation.
    • The media beds are heavy and need a robust and rigid structure.
    • For a further breakdown of fish waste, red worms can be added to the gravel bed.
    Media Based Aquaponics System

    2. Raft System

    raft system, is also known as Deep Water Culture or Floating System. 

    How it works:

    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:

    • High productivity of crops with cheap labor requirements.
    • The roots are more exposed to water nutrients.
    • Plants are easier to harvest since roots are submerged in water and not in any media.
    • The water volume in a raft system ensures it is more stable in water quality and temperature than in other systems.
    • 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. 
    • It is best for commercial production.

    Disadvantages of Rafts System

    • It is somewhat restricted to growing small leafy greens like lettuce and basil.
    • Unsuitable for plants with large roots systems.
    • It can be a mosquito breeding ground if not designed correctly. (these may be controlled by using guppies or mosquito fish)
    • It needs filtration since the roots are entirely immersed.
    • The filtration process increases costs, besides requiring regular filter-cleanups. (If using a filter and not media beds)
    • Roots are susceptible to microbial attacks or may be consumed by herbivorous fish.
    • There is little surface area for beneficial bacteria to grow.
    Raft System of Aquaponics

    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 adapted to aquaponics because of its simple yet effective design that works well in some environments.

    How it works:

    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:

    • Compared to other systems, the NFT uses fewer materials and less space.
    • NFT systems are easy to set up.
    • You don't need a large land space to set up an NFT system.
    • NFT allows for continuous water purification.
    • NFT systems do not need grow media to grow plants.
    • 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:

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

    4. Hybrid Aquaponics System

    A hybrid aquaponics system is a combination of multiple types of aquaponics systems. Most commercial aquaponics use a hybrid system because of its efficiency and great use of space. 

    How it works:

    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:

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

    Disadvantages of Hybrid Aquaponics System:

    • Hybrid aquaponics systems are more complex to set up and manage.
    • More expensive to set up.
    Hybrid Aquaponics System

    DIY Aquaponics Systems Designs

    A commercial and professional aquaponics system can be expensive. However, you can create your aquaponics system using recycled materials through these practical do-it-yourself (DIY) systems and get higher food yields for your own home. Here are three aquaponics system DIY ideas that will suit any budget.

    1. DIY Bathtub Aquaponics System

    DIY Bathtub Aquaponics System

    Build This System

    If you're on a tight budget but want to start your own aquaponics system, recycling is a low-cost way to get started. This DIY bathtub aquaponics system is an example of what creativity can build. The bathtub system uses two standard recycled bathtubs. 

    A bathtub aquaponics system works well and is very simple to operate. This system will produce good results if properly managed and what's excellent with aquaponics is you can quickly expand later on if you want a more extensive system.

    2. DIY One Barrel Aquaponics System

    DIY One Barrel Aquaponics System

    Build This System

    You will just need a barrel, drill, and jigsaw to build this simple aquaponics system. This step-by-step guide with photos will explain the process of making the single barrel aquaponics system. This type of aquaponics system is excellent for aquaponics beginners who want to start small and save on start-up costs.

    3. DIY Small Aquaponics System

    Build This System

    This small DIY aquaponics system is great for indoors or places with limited space. In this video, the grower set up the aquaponics on the second-floor balcony, and plants were grown in pipes and net cups. Red gourami fish were raised in the system to produce nutrients for the plants. This system shows that you do not need large space to create your aquaponics system.

    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. Home aquaponics kits are also a great way to learn the basics if you want to know the principles and develop them into your large-scale system.

    1. Go Green Aquaponics System

    Go Green Aquaponic System

    Buy This System

    This kit is great for beginners in aquaponics who are looking to take their first step in the world of aquaponics. The kit comes in a "Single Grow Bed System" or "Double Grow Bed System." This complete kit includes a grow media, pump, a digital thermometer, plumbings, and a Master API water test kit. If you're a total beginner, this kit is excellent for you because it also comes with instructions and 5 hours of short aquaponics online course. This home system kit is ideal for kids and adults who want a hassle-free start to aquaponics.

    2. AquaUrban 60 Gallon Aquaponics System

    Media Based Aquaponics System

    Buy This System

    Designed for year-round gardening, you can install this complete home kit aquaponics system indoors or outdoors. It is an attractive, easy to assemble, and easy-to-use design that 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 a grow bed made from thick UV-protected and food-safe PE plastic. The kit is good for beginners who are still learning how Aquaponics works.

    Things to Consider Before Starting an Aquaponics System

    If you're planning to build your aquaponics system or purchase a complete system, it is essential to consider these things.  

    Personal Considerations

    1. Choose an aquaponics system that you want to implement.

    You can choose between media based systems, raft systems, NFT systems, or a combination of these systems.

    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 thought to plan your system correctly and know what method 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 trial and error, but can be a rewarding and fun learning experience. It may also take a long time to make as you try to figure things out 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.

    Environmental Conditions

    1. Humidity

    In an aquaponics system, the water flow is constant, so you need to consider the natural evaporation and increased 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 is an area that can get wet. Be prepared in advance for spillage.

    3. Lighting

    Plants need light to grow. All plants require sunlight for photosynthesis, which converts light, oxygen, and water into carbohydrates (energy). This energy is required by the plants to grow, bear fruit, and bloom. 

    Sunlight is the best source of light for plants in an aquaponics system. However, if you decide to grow an indoor aquaponics system, you can use artificial light to supplement your plant's light needs. Artificial lighting needs to be given essential considerations and carefully selected because plants absorb wavelengths at either end of the light spectrum, which we cannot see.

    System Components and Supplies

    The following components are essential in building your aquaponics system. There are two types of components in an aquaponics system; The "materials" are the materials or equipment needed to make your system, while the "supplies" are required to manage or optimize your system.

    Materials

    • Fish Tank- The fish tank is the home of your fish and one of the most important materials of the aquaponics system. 
    • Grow Bed - The grow bed holds your plants and grow media. Depending on your system, the grow bed can be PVC pipes, floating rafts, or any food-grade containers.  
    • Grow Bed Support - Frame that will support the weight of your grow bed.
    • Sump Tank - Optional. Using a sump tank will depend on the design of your system.
    • Plumbing Pipes and Fittings - It depends on the type of your grow beds, system, and other factors.
    • Bell Siphon- A bell siphon is required for a flood and drain media bed.
    • Water pump - The water pump’s size depends on your desired tank exchange rate and several grow beds.
    • Aerator and Air Stones- These are used in the fish tank and media beds.
    • Grow Lights - Optional. This is mainly used in indoor systems.
    • Heater - Optional. Using a water heater will depend on your location, fish species, and target water temperature.
    • Grow Media - You can use clay pebbles, expanded shale, gravel, and other inert media for a media-based system. 
    • Monitoring System - Optional. It depends on your situation and how you want to manage your system.
    • Timers and Controllers - are mainly used for lighting, pumping, and controlling the temperature.
      Fish Tank in Aquaponics

      Supplies

      • Water Quality Test Kit - A water test kit is essential for 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 meets the nutritional requirements of the fish. You can also use alternative fish food for your system.
      • 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.

      Getting Started with Aquaponics

      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,ensure your system is healthy by cycling to establish the beneficial bacteria. The cycling process converts ammonia (fish wastes) into nitrates necessary for the plants to thrive in an aquaponics system.

      Cycling starts when setting up a newly built or restarting aquaponics system. Cycling with fish generally takes 4-6 weeks. This time frame is dependent on the water temperature, which is ideally 75° - 80 ° F. The temperature outside this range will take longer to cycle because the bacteria will be slow to eat and reproduce. However, you can speed up the cycling process by using other cycling methods.

      Cycling with Fish          

      1. Start fish cycling by adding fish to the fish tank. The fish will be the source of ammonia. Avoid feeding the fish for the first 24 hours and feed lightly for several days.
      2. Let the bacteria populate naturally, or you can add a bacteria starter.
      3. Every day, perform a water test to check the ammonia, nitrites, and nitrite levels. The ammonia should remain below 3.0 ppm, and the nitrites below 1.0 ppm. The nitrates will increase over time.
      4. If the ammonia gets above 3.0 ppm or nitrites above 1,0 ppm, replace ⅓ of the tank water with new water because the fish will suffer or die of the ammonia, and nitrite levels get too high.
      5. The ammonia level will rise steadily to a peak in the first 10-15 days. The ammonia is high because the bacteria that will convert it into nitrites haven't established enough to start the nitrogen cycle quickly.
      6. After 25 days into the cycle, the nitrite level will rise to a peak.
      7. You will know your aquaponics system is fully cycled when:
      • You find nitrates in the water.
      • The water test shows that the ammonia and nitrite levels dropped to lower than 0.5 ppm.
      • Regular feeding of the fish will not increase the level of ammonia.
      1. Once your system is fully cycled, you can add more fish and plants.

      Fishless Cycling

      1. Add bacteria to your aquaponics system.
      2. Add the ammonia (powder or liquid) until the levels are 4.0 ppm.
      3. Test the water to check the ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels.
      4. Continue adding the ammonia until the levels are around 4.0 ppm.
      5. The cycling is complete when the ammonia and nitrite levels drop to below 0.5 ppm. The presence of nitrates also indicates that cycling is taking place.
      6. Once the system is fully cycled, stop adding ammonia and start adding fish and plants into the system. 
      Water Test Kit in Aquaponics

      Maintaining Your System

      Maintaining an aquaponics system is simple if you have a plan. Here are some necessary steps that you need to do in maintaining your aquaponics system.

      1. Feeding the Fish (Every Day)

      You need to feed the fish properly to keep them healthy. Feed them at least twice a day with an excellent quality diet, and while feeding them, monitor their behavior inside the fish tank. Feed the fish only for what they can 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.

      2. Check the 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 and 7.0, which is ideal for fish, plants, and bacteria. 

      You can make adjustments using pH-up products containing potassium hydroxide and potassium carbonate if you have a lower pH. Add a little at a time until your water pH is raised to the proper level. 

      3. Ammonia and Nitrate Levels

      Check the ammonia levels weekly to note any problem that can become disastrous. A sudden rise in the ammonia level, for example, is an indicator that the system may have a dead fish. The levels may not exceed 0.5 ppm. On the other hand, nitrate levels must be checked monthly and not exceed 150 ppm. Further levels indicate that the plants absorb less nitrogen in the nitrogen released by nitrifying bacteria. You can solve this by adding more plants or harvesting some fish.

      4. Temperature

      Monitor your fish tank'stemperature to check if it is within the ideal range for your fish. Adjust to the acceptable temperature range to ensure that your fish are healthy when necessary.

      5. Plant Maintenance

      Tend to your plants as you would a regular garden, except you will not seed any weeds. Check for plant diseases and insects. To keep the balance of your system, plant new crops after harvesting.

      Conclusion

      With the right aquaponic system components, you can create the perfect setup for your space and goals. Carefully planning your aquaponics system design before you get started will make the entire process easier. Sometimes, trial and error is the best way to learn a new skill, which is true in aquaponics and all gardening endeavors. If it is not working the way you want it to, reconsider your design and try again.

      Thank you for reading our article. Enjoy aquaponics gardening and growing your organic food. We'd love to hear your feedback in the comments section below and subscribe to ournewsletter to get new Aquaponics updates. 



       

      5 Responses

      Carl Jamison

      Carl Jamison

      February 08, 2022

      This website was very helpful, but at the same time, I am now conflicted. I have always wanted to get involved with aquaponics, but after reading this I now have type 2 diabetes and am addicted to goat yoga.

      Mike Condie

      Mike Condie

      September 04, 2021

      A fantastic resource for beginners and experts alike, thanks for your useful articles and sharing your knowledge, in such a well written form.

      Sagau

      Sagau

      August 15, 2021

      Thank you for the articles. I have read many that are relevant to my intention to do an aquaponics gardening, very helpful. I am yet to recieve the book ordered for beginners on aquaponics. Tank you

      mohammad reza shamsian

      mohammad reza shamsian

      July 27, 2021

      just to thank you for your information it is going to be use full.

      regards
      shamsian

      Levine Siemu

      Levine Siemu

      December 24, 2019

      a developing country like ours needs to learn more about Aquaponics.

      Leave a comment (all fields required)

      Comments will be approved before showing up.

      Search