Aquaponics in a Nutshell

1. Basic Information about Aquaponics

Aquaponics is a method by which you grow plants and nurture aquatic animals together in a system that recirculates the nutrients produced, to the benefit of both plants and animals. The aquaponics approach is gaining in popularity as a sustainable gardening method.

You can grow any living plant like herbs, flowers, vegetables, and fruits.

The possibilities for the size and location of your setup are endless. Small, big, indoors or outdoors. Whatever your current situation, you can definitely get your own aquaponics system up and running!

One of my favorite things about aquaponics is that you can setup a system of almost any size, either indoors or outdoors. From a mini garden with gold fish growing vegetables and herbs, to a large backyard farm, or even massive commercial operations.

The key thing to keep in mind when growing indoors or outdoors is that you need to choose a CLEAN area that receives at least 4 to 6 hours of sunlight per day, this is the minimum required for most plants to grow properly.

With that said, any place in your home that meets the minimum requirements for sunlight is perfect for setting up a small aquaponics system. And of course you can always use a hydroponic grow light if getting adequate sunlight is a problem.

The Basic Configuration of Aquaponic System

The Basic Configuration of Aquaponics System

As you can see, the core concept is extremely simple.

Water flows from the fish tank (A) to the garden (B). And then from (B) back to (A) again.

The secondary components (c, d, & e) facilitate the movement and distribution of water between the two primary components.

This, in its most basic sense, is all an aquaponics system. And although you might feel that this is too simple, remember that you can expand on this core design and implement it for your specific needs in an almost infinite variety of ways.

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1.1 Nutrition

1.1.1 Plants

There’re two categorizes of nutrient elements for plants; The Major Elements, which are the main and the most important elements for growing and the plant need it a lot and includes [Nitrogen, Phosphor, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, and Sulfur]. And there’re The Minor Elements; which is not main elements but they’re necessary for enhance growing for some plants (Vegetables and fruits) and includes [Iron, Zink, Manganese, Copper, Boron, and Molybdenum].

1.1.2 Fishes

1.1.2.1 Nitrification Cycle

Fish excrete ammonia in their wastes and through their gills. In sufficient quantities ammonia is toxic to plants and fish. Nitrifying bacteria, which naturally live in the soil and water, convert ammonia first to nitrite and then to nitrate. In your aquaponic system the nitrifying bacteria will thrive in the gravel in the fish tanks and in the growing medium in the grow bed. Nitrate is used by plants to grow and flourish. The plants readily uptake the nitrate in the water and in consuming it, keep the levels safe for the fish.

Bacteria convert waste to fertilizer

1.1.2.2 The Best Aquatic Fish Species

Tilapia

tilapia

This is most likely the most popular fish for aquaponics, but not everywhere in the world. In fact, the Tilapia fish is illegal in Australia, since they can overtake and dominate local waterways. The fact that this happens actually makes them a good choice for aquaponics elsewhere in the world, since they multiply so easily. Tilapia can survive in various water conditions, however they do prefer warmth. Tilapia are low in fat, easy to raise, they taste good and they produce a decent amount of meat.

Carp

carp

Carp don’t have a great reputation in North America when it comes to eating them, and they’re actually banned in some places because much like Tilapia, they can easily become overpopulated. Again, this makes them a good candidate for an Aquaponics tank when the goal is to have a high output. Carp are the most commonly raised fish in the world, due to their prominence in Asia.

Jade Perch
jade perch

Image Source: www.info.gov.hk

The reason many people start to look into aquaponics is to take advantage of the health benefits of eating fish, and to know those fish are coming from a safe source. Jade Perch make an ideal fish for aquaponics because they contain the highest levels of Omega-3 in the world, so for people looking to take advantage of this super-health oil, you can’t do any better than the Jade Perch. They also grow quickly from fingerlings, but they do require warmer water to live so they’re not very well suited for cooler climates.

Trout
Image Source: en.wikipedia.org

Image Source: en.wikipedia.org

If you don’t have the warm weather to support the Jade Perch, perhaps consider the trout. Trout fish can survive better in cooler weather than a lot of fish, preferring a temperature somewhere between 10°C and 20°C.

Goldfish

l_shutterstock_goldfish_1200x675

Most commonly known as a pet, goldfish are very resilient to have in your aquaponics tank. They don’t grow to be too large, and they aren’t considered to be a food source, but they’re very nice looking fish that can survive in many different conditions.

Catfish

catfish

These ugly looking fish aren’t great to eat, but some people still enjoy keeping them in their aquaponics setup for the same reason you keep fish in ponds in your yard, and of course to help with the plants in your tank. The catfish is not a tough fish to raise, these prehistoric-looking creatures are pretty much able to fend for themselves.

2. System Maintenance

The only daily input in this system is fish food. With any aquarium, frequent small feedings are better than fewer large feedings. Unless you have a really large tank, a pinch of food is all it takes. You should never feed more than the fish can completely consume in 5 minutes. Most tropical fish will be fine with a dry flake fish food but occasionally varying their diet with brine shrimp or blood worms will definitely keep them healthier and happier.

The water level in the tank will slowly decrease as some water is absorbed by the plants and some evaporates. Every few days you should refill the tank to the top. About once a month a 10 – 15% of the tank water should be siphoned out and replaced with fresh and free-Chlorine water.

Make sure the temperature and the PH level in the fish tank are stable. Generally the normal PH level for healthy plants is 7 ± 1.

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3. Instructions

3.1 What You’ll Need

  • Fish Tank you can use a traditional glass fish tank though that would be a bit more expensive. As an alternative, it’s very common for aquaponic gardeners to use a large barrel or a stock tank.
  • Flood Table this will be used as a grow bed for growing your plants on. The bigger the size, the more plants you can grow, but you also have to factor in whether your tank can hold enough fish to provide enough nutrients for the amount of plants you want to grow.
  • Support you need to support the grow bed with a sturdy foundation. Using sets of concrete blocks and lumber will do well. Alternatively, you can get pre-made frames.
  • Water pump capable of lifting water to enough height (small circulation or fountain pump is ideal).
  • Plastic tubing that fits the outlet on your water pump.
  • Air pump and air stone.
  • Air tubing to connect the air pump to the air stone (Must fit the air pump outlet).
  • Grow bed must sit on top of fish tank and be deep enough for the plant’s roots.
  • Grow Bed Media gravel is cheap but depending on the rock used, it can affect pH levels in the water. You can also use clay pellets which are pH neutral and holds moisture well. Other media such like pea gravel, perlite, coconut coir, expanded clay pebbles or peat moss to fill the grow bed.
  • Bell Siphon you can pick this up for very little cost or you can just easily build your own with some PVC pipes, slip caps and tubing.
  • PH test kit depending on the pH of your water, pH down or pH up.
  • Plumbing the last part is connecting the system together to bring it to life. You would need to build a water feed line and drain line. The parts needed to assemble these consist of various size and shape pipes, tubes, threads and valves.
  • Fish and plants.

 bell siphon

Additional components (Not Mandatory):

  • Timer for the water pump — Filter for aquarium water.
  • Gravels for fish
  • Aquarium plants in the fish tank.

Some basic tools like:

  • Drill and bits with different sizes — Hacksaw and Wood saw.
  • Pipe cutter — Razor blade.
  • Cutters — Thread seal tape.

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3.2 Assembling Step-By-Step

  1. Drill a hole in the bottom of the grow bed so the water can drain into the tank. In one of the back corners of the grow bed, drill a hole for the tubing from the water pump to pass through. Make sure that the tubing is fitted to the holes.
  2. Place the water pump in the fish tank then set the grow bed on top of the tank. Feed the tubing from the water pump through the 1/2” hole. Leave enough tubing to extend about 3/4 the height of the grow bed and to loop around the inside of the grow bed. Cut off any excess tube and fold the end over. Seal the folded piece with electrical tape.
  3. Fill the grow bed with the growing medium to just under the top of the tube.
  4. Puncture small holes every 2 inches in the section of tubing that loops in the grow bed.
  5. Cover the loop of tubing with an inch or two of growing medium.
  6. Fill the fish tank with water. Plug in the pump to ensure that the water is pumped into the grow bed, trickles down through the growing medium and continuously back into the tank. Depending on the size of your tank, grow bed and pump, you may have to adjust to flow.
  7. Connect you air pump to the air stone with the air tubing. Place the air stone in the tank and plug in the air pump. A steady stream of bubbles should rise through the water, providing fresh air.
  8. Check the pH of your water using litmus paper, a pH test kit or pH meter. Litmus paper and inexpensive pH test kits are available in most hardware pool supply stores. The ideal pH is 7.0 for an aquaponic system. If it is higher than 7.2 you should lower it with a “pH down” product and if it is lower than 6.8 you should raise it with a “pH up” product, both of which are available from aquarium stores.
  9. Allow the unit sit for 24 hours to be sure all chlorine has dissipated from the water. If you want to stock you fish right away, you’ll need to add a chlorine remover, which is available from aquarium shops and pet stores.
  10. Add your fish to the fish tank. Initially, you should lightly stock your tank with no more than 1/2” of fish per gallon of water. Once your system has been established for over a month you can increase to fish density to 1” per gallon of water.
  11. Ideally you should wait approximately 4 weeks to add plants to your system, but if you are eager to plant it, add just a few plants or seeds and increase plant density in a month or so when your system is well established.
Properties of different sizes of gravels (Medium)

Properties of different sizes of gravels (Medium)

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3.3 Fish and Plant Selection

In selecting your fish, choose hardy species like goldfish, guppies, angelfish and other common varieties available from your local aquarium or pet store. Most desktop aquaponic gardens do not include food fish because there isn’t enough space to grow them to maturity. If you do want to raise food fish or a local species, be sure to provide adequate water temperature and feed.

A desktop aquaponic garden will support most varieties of house plants, lettuce, spinach and herbs. Ideally, you should start your plants from seed in a grow cube (also called jiffy cubes) or loose in the growing medium in your grow bed. Very small seed can be sprouted by placing them between two paper towels that are kept warm and most. You can also transplant plants from an existing hydroponic system with good results.

If you must transplant from soil, thoroughly wash away all of the dirt surrounding the roots and wash the leaves being sure to remove any pest insects.

You will have the most success with leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach and herbs or houseplants such as anthodium, dracaena, dieffenbachia and philodendron.

You can also plant aquatic plants in the fish tank. They will provide a more natural habitat for the fish and aid in purifying the water.

Further Reading:

How to Make an Indoor Aquaponics System – WikiHow

Top 5 Tips For An Aquaponics System Design – Home Aquaponics System

DIY Aquaponics or Backyard Aquaponics – Japan Aquaponics

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