Aquaponics 101: Quick And Easy Aquaponic Systems Full Guide

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Emma Downey

Emma Downey
Gardening Expert

Updated on 12/4/2022

What if fish were put to work as a source of fertilizer for plants? Aquaponics does precisely that, and it fosters a relationship of mutual benefit and coexistence between the plants fertilized by fish and other aquatic organisms.

Aquaponics is a farming method that can be employed on a small scale in one's own house or on a much larger one for commercial or agricultural purposes. Compared to more conventional gardening practices, it enables you to cultivate your indoor garden more quickly and efficiently using available resources.

aquaponics system

In this article, you'll learn more about aquaponics' benefits and drawbacks. There are many available aquaponic systems and how to get started with aquaponics. Before we get into that, let's begin by defining aquaponics more precisely.

Aquaponics Definition

Aquaponics is a method that blends aquaculture with hydroponics. To provide a self-sustaining ecosystem that is conducive to the growth of both plants and animals.

The accumulation of animal excretions is a natural by product of conventional aquaculture, which refers to the practice of rearing aquatic animals in tanks. This kind of trash contributes to a rise in harmful water levels.

aquaponics farm fish
 

fish farm

To solve this problem, hydroponics was developed. The cultivation of plants using water as a growing medium is referred to as hydroponics and is an age-old activity.

It eliminates the need for soil to hasten the growth process and enhance productivity. If you are interested in learning more about the various hydroponic systems, we have a comprehensive guide written on hydroponics that you may read.

In aquaponics, the water from an aquaculture system is recirculated through a hydroponic system. This allows the system to convert waste products into nutrients while providing the fish with clean water.

fish in an aquaponics

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The process of aquaponics relies on nitrifying bacteria to convert waste into nitrites, which are then converted into nitrates, which are used to nourish the plants.

To put it another way, aquaponics is a method of getting fish to work for you by first providing them with food and then using the waste that the fish produces as a source of natural fertilizer for plants.

When everything is in harmony, the ability of the plant to use the waste that the fish make is equal to the amount of waste that the fish produce. A brief explanation of how this system function is as follows:

  1. The waste products of the fish are what contribute ammonia to the water.
  2. Ammoniated water is pumped into the tanks containing the plant microorganisms.
  3. Nitrate is produced when bacteria convert ammonia to nitrate.
  4. Nitrate, a source of plant nutrition, is taken up by the plants.
  5. The fish tank is filled with fresh water once more.

self watering and sustainable

Aside from that, though, you don't need to keep a constant watch on it at all times. In other words, aquaponics can be not just practical but also liberating.

Reduced Need For Human Effort

The fish are put to work in the aquaponic system that is being used. You won't need to manually till the soil or fertilize the plants because these tasks are handled for you. You can considerably cut down on human labour.

Environmental Benefits

The natural biological cycles can be recreated through the use of aquaponics. Not only does it save the waste of land, but it also eliminates the need for fertilizers and pesticides. The most exciting part?

diy aquaponics

Aquaponic facilities can be established in practically any site by transforming existing structures, such as warehouses.

Agriculture With Aquaponics Has Its Drawbacks

It is only suitable to point out that aquaponics does have a few potential downsides. If you are aware of them, it will allow you to predict such difficulties. Additionally, it can assist you in making an informed investment in the appropriate aquaponic system.

Utilizes a Substantial Amount of Electricity

A pump and maybe a light source and heating are necessities for an aquaponic system. When operating inside, all of these must be in a constant state of operation.

aquaponics need

You can probably understand that this will add to the costs that are linked with the initial investment, and this is especially true during the colder months.

Installing photovoltaic cells and other forms of renewable energy can, however, bring down overall energy use.

Initial Financial Commitment

Because aquaculture equipment is necessary for an aquaponic system, it often carries a higher price tag than its hydroponic counterpart.

aquaponics equipment

In addition, you are responsible for purchasing the fish and food for them. Mainly when aquaponics is used in a commercial setting, these costs have the potential to build up quickly.

Controls On The Quality

Checking the water's quality often can get you the best possible results if you do it—temperature variations. As well as, imbalances in the nutritional or pH levels can impact the plants' growth. In the meantime, you must ensure the fish maintain good health.

ph testing

Additional checks include examining the effectiveness of the pumps, drains, and filters. You are not required to perform these checks daily, but you cannot miss them.

Aquaponics Setups Available In Various Forms

Various methods of water circulation are used in aquaponics systems. They might employ a timer, a light source, or a drain, but it's not guaranteed.

The following is an explanation of the most critical systems. Keep in mind that you may always modify them to suit your requirements by making some minor adjustments to them.

Media-Filled Beds

The most basic forms of aquaponics use containers packed with expanded clay pellets or porous rocks, both of which are designed to encourage the development of plants. These systems are simple to operate, and they pump the water over the media-filled beds using hydroponics to grow their plants.

aquaponics farm

There is also the possibility of using gravity to drain the water from the grow bed. The porous rocks can retain moisture for a more extended period than regular rocks, make for adequate aeration, and filter out biological creatures and parasites.

There are two different layouts available for aquaponics systems that use media-filled beds. Have a glance at each one that is listed below.

Continually Flowing Beds That Are Filled With Media

The water is pumped out of the aquaculture tank, passed through the media bed, and then pumped back into the tank as part of the continuous flow system. They can only function successfully if equipped with a pump and if the assembly is done correctly.

media filled

Pros

  • Aeration that is effective and the dynamic interaction of nutrients
  • When compared to other systems, the setup process is quite simple.
    Perfect for novices

Cons

  • Any disruption to the flow can potentially throw off the entire system.
  • The porous rocks' nature can potentially affect the growing circumstances.

Media-Filled Beds That Move Up and Down With The Tide

In the ebb and flow aquaponics, a timer injects water into media-filled beds at predetermined intervals. This allows water to flow continuously through the system.

They work to a depth of at least 10 inches before employing a siphon to remove the water from the working area. These systems make efficient use of the available resources and offer adequate plant ventilation.

ebb and flow

Aquaponics with ebb and flow can be modified for usage on a commercial basis. However, the timer is a significant factor in the operation's success.

Disruption is possible if the timer fails to function correctly. This system has the potential to become clogged with fish waste, and as a result, it needs to be cleaned regularly.

Pros

  • Scaling it is simple.
  • Energy-efficient
  • Simple to set up

Cons

  • In comparison to other systems, it requires cleaning on a more regular basis.
  • Timer-dependent 

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) Aquaponics.

Via the use of the NFT system, employed in aquaponics, nutrient-dense water is drawn from the aquaculture tank and sent through a network of growth pipes.

vertical

The plants are contained within net pots and placed in specialized holes within the pipes. The presence of air holes above the water level ensures a high level of oxygenation and humidity.

Because the water moves so slowly along the pipe, it forms a film that gives the system its name. When the cycle is complete, the water is poured back into the aquarium, where the fish are kept. PVC pipes or enclosed gutters may be used as the conduits, although the particular system determines this.

aquaponics

It is essential to be aware that NFT aquaponics necessitates using a biological filter to transform fish waste into plant nutrients and encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria. At the same time, it requires the implementation of an appropriate waste solids filtration system.

The NFT aquaponics systems may not be as successful with certain plants as they are with others, and they are not the best choice for plants with substantial root systems like potatoes and sweet potatoes.

growing leafy greens

On the other hand, they are ideal for quickly and painlessly cultivating lettuce and watercress in small spaces.

Pros

  • Makes effective use of water resources
  • Excellent for green leafy vegetables.
  • It is possible to mount it vertically, saving some floor space.

Cons

  • This is not the best solution for plants with extensive root systems.
  • The utilization of numerous filters is necessary for efficient operation
  • Deep Water Culture (DWC) Aquaponics
  • The plants used in the deep water culture system are allowed to float on the water's surface while their roots hang down into the aquaculture tank.

deep water culture

The plants are supported either by Styrofoam containers with holes in the bottom or rafts with the filtration system linked directly to them.

One of the drawbacks of using DWC aquaponics is that it cannot support the growth of fish species that feed on plants because doing so could cause damage to the plant roots.

DWC aquaponics doesn't require complex equipment. However, to oxygenate the tank, you must have an air pump and a solid waste filter installed.

aquaponics DWC

Because it may provide high yields and makes harvesting more straightforward, it is frequently employed in commercial settings. This is one of the reasons why.

The fact that the water does not circulate through any of the other components of the system is the primary benefit of the deep water cultivation system.

Because it is always present in the aquaculture tank, it can keep the temperature and pH in a healthy balance and produce a consistent environment in which the fish and the plants may flourish.

DWC

Pros

  • Rapid expansion is driven by conditions within the system that are stable.
  • Simple to expand to achieve higher yields.
  • Suitable for use on a broad agricultural scale

Cons

  • Imposes restrictions on the types of fish you can utilize.
  • It can be more challenging to implement than some other systems.

How To Determine Which Aquaponic Setup Is Best For Your Needs

As can be seen, aquaponics systems can take on a wide variety of forms and configurations. Having a clear idea of what you want to find can help you save both time and money. Last but not least, it might assist you in getting a greater return on every dollar you invest.

The following outlines the most important factors that call for your attention.

The Dimensions Of The System

In general, smaller systems are more energy efficient and require less maintenance. When a component fails after prolonged use, it is typically more cost-effective to repair rather than replace it.

scalable deep water

But not all remote systems are scalable. For example, a deep water culture aquaponics system is more scalable than a nutrient film aquaponic method.

Aquaponic System Maintenance

Most aquaponics systems enable some form of self-regulation. But don’t forget that you still have to feed the fish and keep the system clean.

feeding fish

Maintenance requirements can be higher or lower, depending on the type of water circulation system installed in the building.

Effective Use Of Energy

Is reducing your energy use a priority for you? Think about the amount of water and the amount of electricity that the aquaponic system consumes. Adding extras such as LED lights, timers, or pumps will result in more electricity use.

Plants 

There is good news regarding the plants that can be used in aquaponics. These plants range from herbs and lettuce to vegetables and ornamentals. However, not every configuration is suitable for growing every kind of plant.

large aquaponic

Maintenance requirements can be higher or lower, depending on the type of water circulation system installed in the building.

Think about the size of the planting area as well as the support for the plants. These may restrict the kind of plants that can be grown. To cultivate attractive plants or plants that require more nutrients, you should choose a larger growing space.

Fish

Even though most fish kept in home aquaponic setups are pretty young, they still require room to develop. The number of fish species that can be grown in the aquarium is directly proportional to the tank's volume. In addition, it will decide how many fish you are allowed to retain.

cloud minnow

Most setups are conducive to developing tiny fish such as goldfish, cloud minnows, and bettas. Do you want your fish to get bigger? If you have a large fish tank or a garden pond, you might want to look into purchasing a do-it-yourself aquaponics kit.

What Types Of Plants Are Ideal For Aquaponics Systems?

Aquaponics is most successful when used with plants that have low nutritional requirements. It is possible to cultivate various plants, including tomatoes, cauliflower, and other vegetables, as well as strawberries and other fruits.

growing tomato

However, many people feel it is simpler to cultivate leafy crops such as lettuce, watercress, kale, and other greens, as well as specific herbs.

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The following is an essential list of plants that work well in aquaponics systems

  • Lettuce
  • Watercress
  • Kale
  • Basil
  • Microgreens
  • Ginger
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Strawberries
  • Sweet corn
  • Asparagus
  • Onions

Aquaponics can cultivate various ornamental plants, such as violas, roses, orchids, and other species that thrive in wet settings or when grown directly in water.

Squash

Some plants, including mint, broccoli, beans, peas, squash, blueberries, citrus fruits, and chrysanthemum, do not fare well in an aquaponic system and do not grow as well others do.

What Kinds Of Fish Are Ideal For Aquaponics Systems?

Certain types of fish are more appropriate for use in aquaponics systems than others. The growth rate, size, eating habits, and longevity are all essential characteristics that play a role.

The temperature of the water and whether or not your fish are herbivores or carnivores are two other factors to consider when selecting the best fish for your aquaponic endeavour.

Please find below a concise summary of the various species of fish that can be used successfully in aquaponic systems and the conditions in which they flourish.

Best fish

If you are just getting started with aquaponics, the following is a list of the fish species you should concentrate on as a beginner.

Goldfish

The care and maintenance of goldfish are relatively simple, and they are lovely ornamental fish that can do well even in somewhat restricted environments.

Koi

Even if you don't intend to consume the fish, having some koi in your aquarium is still a good idea. Koi fish are known for their vibrant colours, versatility, and long lifespans.

Tilapia

Tilapia are simple to raise and contribute to a cleaner environment in the system since they consume algae. However, you will need to use hot water.

Trout

Trout proliferate and have a delicious food-to-growth ratio, making them suitable for outdoor aquaponics systems.

Catfish

Catfish have a high nutritional value and can adapt to the majority of different types of aquaponics systems. However, for them to flourish, they require a varied diet consisting of both plants and insects.

Constructing Your Very Own Do-It-Yourself Aquaponics System

Is it possible to assemble a do-it-yourself aquaponics system in your own home? You bet! You will require a plant bed, a fish tank, a reliable water pump equipped with a timer, and a few other little items that are not difficult to acquire.

To convert a fish tank into an aquaponic system, follow the instructions in our guide.

Step 1: Prepare The Plant Bed.

aquaponics plant

Place the plant bed directly on top of the fish tank. A long window pot or similar plastic container can serve as the plant bed. Pick something that won't break easily but won't weigh you down too much.

Step 2: To Set Up The Pump.

aquaponics

Next, secure the pump in a secluded area of the aquarium where the fish won't be disturbed by its operation. Position the pipe so it will carry water to the plant bed at a higher level.

Step 3: Install A Water Exit

drain and pipes

Make a hole on the other end of the plant bed from where the pipe is before filling it with your preferred growing media for plants.

Run a pipe made of PVC through it, and then place a media guard on top of the line. This will function as a drain that refills the fish tank with water when it is empty.

Step 4: Create A DIY Waste Filter

It would help if you took measures to avoid solid fish waste from entering the grow media. To accomplish this, take some aquarium filter floss and wrap it around the end of the pipe that drains into the grow bed.

Step 5: Installing A Timer

Install a timer on the pump, and set it to run for fifteen to twenty minutes. The timer will determine the frequency at which the water will flow through the grow bed.

Step 6: Add A Light Source

Light source

A plant light source is an accessory that is not required but can be installed if you like. This may be an LED lamp.

Since each step is straightforward, you shouldn't have any trouble carrying it out as directed.

Check out this low-cost system that not only provides a wonderful introduction to aquaponics but also does not require a significant initial commitment on your part. This is a video that demonstrates how it should be used.

Aquaponics for Dummies - The Easiest DIY Indoor Aquaponic System

It's possible that if you're interested in fish farming and hydroponics, you already have at least some of the components needed to get it up and run.

Aquaponics Kits

An aquaponic system for the house is the best method to start growing plants and fish, and it is also the easiest way to get started.

A wide variety of aquaponics equipment is available on the market, including starter kits and more complex systems, and they don't require much effort to set up and maintain.

The following are some of the more impressive ones that may be purchased.

Indoor Gardening Made Easy With The Eco life Aquaponics System With LED Light

The Eco life indoor garden system can be assembled in a short amount of time. The fact that you are not required to replace the water regularly is the most excellent aspect.

After you get it set up and operating, the only thing left to do is adjust the programmed LED lights; you have four different grow modes to select from. Remote control and a timer are also built-in as additional functions.

A Water Garden That Gets Back To Its Origins

The fundamental ideas behind aquaponics are utilized in constructing this home-based micro-ecosystem. The result is a straightforward hydroponic system. The microgreens grown on top are fertilized by the waste from the fish below.

In around ten days, you can harvest salad and herbs if you use this kit. Not too shabby, huh?

Please be aware that the fish must be purchased individually.

Fish Tank With Aquaponic System For Betta Fish By Penn Plax, 1.4 Gallons

The installation and maintenance of this combined aquaponics planter and fish habitat couldn't be more straightforward. Even if you've worked with more complex aquaponics setups in the past, you'll be able to appreciate how straightforward this one is.

The waste from the fish accumulates in the fishbowl at the bottom of the tank, eventually used to nourish the plant located at the top of the tank.

By absorbing the waste through its roots, the plant, in turn, contributes to maintaining a clean environment for the fish.

Aqua Sprouts Garden

The Aqua Sprouts Garden is an aquaponics system that can maintain itself and can be installed on top of virtually any 10-gallon fish tank (not included). Clay grow material, and a how-to manual is included in the package, in addition to an adjustable light bar, a pump, and a timer.

Frequently Asked Questions