Getting Started In Aquaponics

Discussion in 'General Survival and Preparedness' started by Yard Dart, Apr 4, 2016.

  1. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator


    You’ve probably heard of aquaponics, but perhaps you don’t know exactly what it is. Here’s the simple explanation: aquaponics is the practice of combining aquaculture (raising fish in a closed system such as a tub or tank) with hydroponics (raising plants in a soil-less system) into one integrated system.

    With aquaponics, you have fish, plants and water all contained in one system that utilizes bacteria and worms to balance it. The fish emit their waste, which is full of ammonia, while the plants lose their decaying matter. This would be a problem if you had fish but no plants, or plants with no fish. But when the two systems are combined with bacteria and worms, the issues are resolved and what results is an environment where both can thrive.

    The worms and bacteria are the key elements of the system. Without them, neither the fish nor the plants will survive. Those worms live inside the grow bed medium, while the bacteria lives on it.

    The bacteria is crucial because it converts the ammonia into nitrates, which the plants suck up to leave clear, aerated water that is recycled back to the fish. The worms are essential because they feed on the plant matter and decaying leaves, and they break up the solid matter from the fish waste. The worms’ waste makes nutrients available to the plants.

    If you are thinking about establishing an aquaponics system in your home or on your property, here are a few bits of information that might encourage you to move forward with the idea:

    • You can’t over-fertilize an aquaponics system.
    • You can use the same water indefinitely. You’ll only have to replace what’s lost through evaporation and transpiration.
    • It’s less expensive than aquaculture and traditional gardening.
    • There’s no weeding.
    • It’s more difficult for predators to gain access.
    • It’s four to six times more productive.
    Establishing an aquaponics system
    If you decide to build your own aquaponics system, there are websites and books that will show you how. First you’ll need to decide whether to go horizontal or vertical with your system. The advantage to a horizontal system, assuming you have room to spread out, is that you can easily reach your plants. Because a vertical system grows vegetables in columns above your fish tank, you can produce about twice the amount of plants as you can with a hydroponic system utilizing the same area. One five-foot tall tower can produce more than 300 heads of lettuce per year.

    Regardless, among the components you will need for your aquaponics system are a pump capable of moving the amount of water you have through your system, an aerator and one or more air stones, a container for the fish, a container for the plants, a grow media, worms, a testing kit and a siphon (with certain systems).

    There are two types of media-filled systems: continuous flow and flood and drain. In the continuous flow system, water is pumped from the fish tank to the grow bed. The water drains through the media and back into the fish tank. All this system needs is an irrigation grid consisting of pipes placed over the grow bed to ensure there is an even distribution of water.

    In the basic flood and drain system, water is pumped from the fish tank into the media grow beds, which are allowed to fill up before being drained. The cycle repeats using an automatic siphon requiring no electricity. In addition to being simple, this system provides the best growing environment for the plants.

    Choosing a container
    When choosing a container for your aquaponics system, there’s only one rule: it must be able to hold water without leaking. The advantage to a transparent container, such as an aquarium, is that you can better see what’s going on in your system. A downside could be the water will heat up more quickly, which is not good for the fish.

    Some possibilities you might want to consider for your aquaponics container are a kid’s swimming or wading pool, a wooden or fiberglass barrel, a bathtub, a concrete mixing tub, a livestock watering trough and a trash can. The most popular aquaponics container, for both first-time and experienced growers, is the intermediate bulk container. The size of your container really comes down to how many pounds of produce and fish you wish to produce.

    The next thing you’ll need to decide is where to place your tank. Among the options are your basement, garage, sunroom, porch, deck, greenhouse, shed and garden. One of the deciding factors is the type of fish with which you stock your system. Some fish, such as tilapia, need higher water temperatures and would benefit from sun, while others such as trout or catfish prefer cooler temperatures and would do better in shade.

    Other factors regarding where to place your aquaponics tank are how large and heavy it is, how far from your living quarters you are willing to walk, how close your power source is, how close your water source is and what kind of potential predators are in the area.

    Water loss
    One of the realities of an aquaponics system is water loss. Depending on the size of the system, you could lose between two and four gallons of water per day. Some vegetables require a considerable amount of water, including tomatoes, squash, melons and strawberries. They will devour the water and then release some of it through their leaves. Some of the other water in the tank will evaporate.

    Following are five steps to launching your aquaponics system:

    • Design and build or purchase and assemble your system.
    • Fill the tanks with de-chlorinated water.
    • Add plants to your grow media.
    • Place worms on the top of the grow media. They’ll burrow in quickly.
    • Establish the nitrifying bacteria by adding a few fish.
    Next month we’ll take a look at the fish component of an aquaponics system, including which types of fish to raise and why, how many fish to include in your system, how much water you’ll need per fish, introducing your fish to the system and harvesting your fish.


    Last month we took an introductory look at the fascinating world of aquaponics, discussing the different types of systems you could build or purchase, what kind of tank you could use, and how the integrated system works as a result of contributions made by the grow bed, bacteria, plants, worms and fish.

    This month, we’ll go into more detail regarding the fish that are such an important part of the system, including which types of fish you can raise and why, how many fish to include in your system, how much water you’ll need per fish, introducing your fish to the system and harvesting your fish.

    Choosing your fish
    When you feel too cold, running around or engaging in other exercise will generate some of the heat your body craves. When you feel too warm, remaining as perfectly still as possible can help your body cool down. Fish, on the other hand, don’t have this luxury. They are cold-blooded creatures, meaning their internal body temperature is regulated solely by the outside environment.

    Swimming faster won’t help them warm up and staying still won’t help them cool down. They are at the mercy of the water temperature. If it’s too hot or too cold, they will not eat, swim or mate as they are supposed to, and they may eventually become susceptible to disease or die. Of course, different fish have different optimal body temperatures.

    As you select fish for your aquaponics system, keep in mind the temperatures in which they will thrive rather than just survive. Your decision should also be based on what kind of plants your system will include, as some do better in colder temperatures and others in warmer temps. As an example, saltwater is not a good environment for most fruits and vegetables, so you’ll want to choose fresh water fish for your system.

    Another factor to consider when choosing fish is water movement. A still water environment is great for tilapia, catfish, bluegill, bass and some perch, while a moving water system is better for trout and most perch. And while we’re on the topic of environment, among activities you should avoid are subjecting your fish to extreme and sudden differences in lighting, which occurs when you flip on a bright light after they’ve been in darkness all night, and tapping on the tank with your fingers, which causes uncomfortable vibrations throughout their bodies.

    Types of fish
    You should do research into the types of fish to stock in your system, but here’s a quick look at some possibilities:

    • Catfish – These fish are bottom feeders, so they co-exist well with bluegill, which enjoy a tank’s upper levels. Catfish prefer still to slow-moving water.
    • Carp – This hardy fish can adapt to just about any temperature and conditions. They do best in still water with temperatures between 50-70 degrees F.
    • Koi – Brilliantly colored and sometimes expensive, koi are still basically carp at heart. They live from four to 20 years, on average.
    • Yellow Perch – These fish need more room than the average fish in order to grow faster and healthier, and they thrive in flowing water.
    • Silver Perch – Intolerant of overcrowding and poor water quality, these fish like flowing water and need plenty of protein in their diet.
    • Jade Perch – These fish enjoy warm water and tend to grow to full size quickly. Unlike other perch, they prefer still water.
    • Murray Cod – A fast-growing fish that tastes great, they can be predatory so keep them well fed. They like moving water.
    • Tilapia – Hardy and adaptable, these fish can tolerate poor water conditions but need warm (82-86 degrees F) and still water.
    • Trout – Without crystal clear, cold water, these fish will not do well in an aquaponics system. In the right conditions, they have fast growth rates.
    Fish and water quantities
    One of the first questions people ask when they’re looking into setting up an aquaponics system is, “How many fish should I have?” Because fish vary in size and water needs, there is no set answer. As a general rule, however, you can probably have as many as 40 to 50 fish if your tank holds 265 gallons.

    Keep in mind that larger tanks usually provide a more stable fish environment, so it’s best to build up the number of fish over time rather than risking over-populating your tank right away. Also, the more active your fish are, the fewer you’ll want in the tank. At the end of the day, the number of fish you can raise in any system is only limited by how well your system can convert ammonia to nitrates and how effectively you can maintain appropriate levels of dissolved oxygen in the water.

    Introducing fish to water
    In general, your water’s pH levels should be between 6.5 and 8.5, depending upon the temperature of the water, to maximize your fish’s odds of thriving. Before you add fish, you need to cycle your water to create the bacteria/water balance that will convert ammonia from the fish into nitrates your plants can use.

    As soon as your fish are introduced to the water, they will begin generating waste, including ammonia as a result of their respiratory process and solid waste that needs to be converted to nitrates. Bacteria and worms, which are the real keys to an aquaponics system, take care of this important responsibility.

    Harvesting your fish
    You want to harvest your mature fish without stressing out the younger ones. Put your net into the tank and let it sit there for a while until the fish are used to it. Pick out the fish you want to harvest and wait until it comes to you. Scoop it up quickly when it’s not next to a smaller fish and then transfer it to a bucket or cooler for processing.

    A fun way to grow and harvest plants and fish, aquaponics could be the rewarding challenge you are seeking.
    Stocking a variety of fish will hook you on aquaponics - Personal Liberty®
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  2. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

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  3. yeti695

    yeti695 Monkey+

    This is cool. My wife and I are doing the ground work to do a 26'x60' commerical size greenhouse with 200 sqft (possible more) of grow space. We are doing it for us and the local commuinty. Where we live the closest store to get any veggies is an hour and hald drive from the house. In the future we are going to put the electric system on solar and put in a dual wood/propane heater. We have learned alot about aquaponics over the last few years. Good to see others doing it.
    chelloveck, Aeason and Yard Dart like this.
  4. duane

    duane Monkey+++

    Love everything about it but trying to keep fish alive through NH summers and winters. People here have the systems and they do work well, but take more fuel and electricity than I am willing to commit. In warmer more stable climates they do everything that he said and it is a really interesting project, veggies and protein with only a little fish food. What is there not to like. The way I had it explained to me, the whole system depends on a filter bed of some kind for the bacteria to do the nitrogen conversion. Without that, it crashes in hours.
    While it may all be accidental, the complexity of the simple process is many years beyond our ability to improve it, kind of like a cow's stomach.
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  5. Ganado

    Ganado Monkey+++

  6. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

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  7. Seacowboys

    Seacowboys Senior Member Founding Member

    I put bug lights above the koi pond to attract and kill insects for the fish to eat.
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  8. ditch witch

    ditch witch I do stupid crap, so you don't have to

    My best luck with fish has been, hands down, Bluegill. I shut the system down in the winter since we don't have a greenhouse but I left the fish tank running out in the open all winter, figuring they'd probably die. At one point the filter pumps stopped for 4 days straight because the ice froze. I went out on the 5th day to hack through the ice to drop some air bubblers in. Out of 30 Bluegill in the tank, I only lost 3.
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  9. Seacowboys

    Seacowboys Senior Member Founding Member

    Bluegill and catfish are what do the best in my pond
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  10. TailorMadeHell

    TailorMadeHell Lurking Shadow Creature

    I found a perfect piece of land to do this on. The only catch is I need $8.5mil to buy it. :rolleyes:
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  11. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    Did you check the couch cushions?:cautious:
  12. TailorMadeHell

    TailorMadeHell Lurking Shadow Creature

    An old stale Frito, chewed dog bone and a pen. Close.
  13. natshare

    natshare Monkey+++

    Something I'd love to start, but would have to do inside, as the recent drought conditions (only alleviated just last year, and always possible to return), and our temperature extremes in northern Texas, plus my lack of available land to build a bigger/deeper pond (which would, I think, solve some of the temperature problems), mean putting it outside would make it a seasonal project, at best.
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  14. arleigh

    arleigh Goophy monkey

    I haven't had a lot of success yet doing aqua ponics but I"m not giving up.
    Fortunately I'm starting very small and had only a few losses,
    I can deal with it.
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  15. chelloveck

    chelloveck Diabolus Causidicus

    One thing to check, is whether there are any jurisdictional restrictions on fish where you are. Exotic fish escapes into the local environment may potentially cause considerable environmental and economic damage. European Carp and Tilapia are no goes for antipodean fish farming / aquaponics.

    Noxious (banned) fish
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  16. zombierspndr

    zombierspndr Monkey

    I've got an old hot tub that I intend to repurpose into a fish tank for aquaponics. Pretty easy to find them cheap or free.
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  17. Ganado

    Ganado Monkey+++

    this video is a nice small size 'Desk Top" aquaponics unit
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  18. arleigh

    arleigh Goophy monkey

    A friend of mine has a working system, raising tilapia .one of his issues was the waste solids that build up in the rock bed .
    So he ran the water from the fish to a settling tank first, then to the garden.
    He uses the flood / drain method.

    There are several things I'm learning concerning this issue and one thing is certain watering from the bottom of the bed is better.
    Water will wick upward, and roots will extend to reach the water and by doing so expose them self to more minerals in their environment. thus growing more healthy.
    When my frontier/learning /discovery garden is done and harvested, i am revamping it significantly .
    I may move it altogether and finish the green house .
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