Definition of Aquaponics
You may ask yourself what’s aquaponics: A system of aquaculture in which the waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic creatures supplies the nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water.
By blending natural nutrient cycling and food cultivation, aquaponics can produce tons of food in a small fraction of the area used by monoculture farms. Impressively, it does so without creating the myriad pollution and disease problems that often come from feedlots.
In this article, you will be educated with the basic requirement for some of the beginners.
DIY Aquaponics System Design
There are lots of different ways to create aquaponics DIY systems at home. There are 3 main aquaponic system
Media filled Beds:
Media filled beds are the simplest form of aquaponics, they use containers filled with rock medium of expanded clay or similar. Water from a fish tank is pumped over the media filled beds, and plants grow in the rock media. This style of system can be run two different ways, with a continuous flow of water over the rocks, or by flooding and draining the grow bed, in a flood and drain or ebb and flow cycle.
Nutrient Film Technique:
Nutrient Film Technique is a commonly used hydroponic method, but is not as common in aquaponic systems. In NFT systems, nutrient rich water is pumped down small enclosed gutters, the water flowing down the gutter is only a very thin film. Plants sit in small plastic cups allowing their roots to access the water and absorb the nutrients. NFT is only really suitable for certain types of plants, generally leafy green vegetables, larger plants will have root systems that are too big and invasive, or they become too heavy for the lightweight growing gutters.
Deep Water Culture:
Deep Water Culture, works on the idea of floating plants on top of the water allowing the roots to hang down into the water. This can be done in a number of ways. This method is one of the more commonly practiced commercial methods. DWC can be done by floating a foam raft on top of the fish tank, however a more common method is to grow the fish in a fish tank and pump the water through a filtration system, and then into long channels where floating rafts filled with plants float on the water surface and extract the nutrients.
In whichever aquaponics system DIY setup you use, there will need to be a place for the fish to live, a pump to move the water, a watertight bed for the plants to grow in, and a soil-free medium in which those plants can stabilize.
For those not into freewheeling do it yourself projects, there are plenty of aquaponics kits for beginner available for purchase. These kits tend to be smaller than other home systems, and of course they really do simplify the setup process.
For those who don’t mind getting their hands dirty, aquaponics is famously fun for more adventurous growers. I recommended this as it will prevent common mistake while building your aquaponics system.
The pump doesn’t need to be huge, but its size will vary by how far the water must go up. The container for the plants can be anything from a length of pipe to a standard window box or a huge barrel. And generally the plants are either grown in gravel or special clay pellets.
Mini Aquaponic System for beginner
A tank for the fish, Gravel, Water pump, 3 ft. of plastic tubing that fits the outlet on your water pump, Aquarium air pump sized for the number of gallons in your fish tank, Air stone, 3 ft. of air tubing to connect the air pump to the air stone, Grow Bed, Growing Medium, H test kit and, depending on the pH of your water, pH down or pH up and most important Fish and Plant.
A tank for the fish:
The fish tank can be a glass or plexi-glass aquarium or you can use any other clean container that holds water: for example, a plastic tub, bucket or barrel. We recommend anything between 3 – 20 gallons, although, you can go with a larger tank if you have the space. Small, clean plastic amphibian cages, available in most pet shops, make an excellent mini-system. They hold about 3 gallons and are quite inexpensive.
The standard sized fish aquariums of 10 and 20 gallons are also reasonably priced. The larger the tank, the larger grow bed area you can support. As a general rule, you can support 1 – 2 square feet of growing area for every 10 gallons of fish tank water.
Gravel for tank bottom:
The gravel serves as a home to the nitrifying bacteria that convert ammonia to nitrite and then to nitrate, which can be used by the plants. Most pet stores carry natural or colored aquarium gravel. The individual pebbles are about 1/8” in size. Be sure to wash the gravel thoroughly before using it because it is often dusty. Unwashed gravel will cloud your tank water.
Water pump and tubing:
A small water pump is used to pump the water from the fish tank to the grow bed. After the water is pumped into the grow bed, it gravity-feeds back to the fish tank. You’ll need enough tubing to go from the outlet on the pump to the top of your grow bed and form a circle within it.
Air pump, air stone and tubing:
You need an air pump to blow air into the tank water for both the fish and the plants. Tubing connects the air pump to an air stone at the bottom of the tank. The air stone breaks the stream of bubbles coming from the air pump into micro-bubbles, which greatly increase the oxygenation in the water.
The grow bed, which sits on top of the tank, must be slightly larger than the length and width of the fish tank. The grow bed is filled with a growing medium that the plants grow in. A plastic Rubbermaid container, a garden planter or other container that will sit on top of the tank will work fine. The container should be between 3” – 8” deep.
You can use a plastic tub or, for a very nice looking unit, build one out of plexi-glass and seal it with a non-toxic, silicone glue. If you build the grow bed, you can accommodate an aquarium light by making a cavity in the grow bed that the light can slide into. If you are using some other kind of container, a light can sit just behind it if there is room.
A growing medium is a porous, chemically inert material that holds the plant roots and maintains moisture. Examples include: perlite, expanded clay pebbles, peat moss, pea gravel and coconut coir. You need enough to fill your grow bed.
Fish and plants:
In an aquaponic system, the fish provide the nutrients the plants need and the plants purify the water by consuming those nutrients.
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, water and air, 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.
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 water.
Best Fish for Aquaponics
Fish are crucial to aquaponics systems because they provide the nutrients for the plants. For high-production systems, they also equate to food for people. That being said, not all fish species are suitable for use in aquaponics. And not all fish suitable for aquaponics are appropriate for every geographical region.
Top 5 Fish I recommended for beginner
In a big tank, they are very easy to keep. Goldfish, a relative of carp, are great at tolerating temperature swings to both the high or low end of the temperature range.
However, as with all fish, you should still target the perfect temperature (70°F for goldfish) to optimize feeding, pooping and veggie growing. If you are a lazy Aquapon and let your pH drift down slowly over time, goldfish will be more forgiving than most — but don’t be lazy! Goldfish might be able to survive almost anything you throw at them, but they will reward optimal care by driving better plant yields.
They are also colorful, pretty to look at and really fun as pets. They are legal everywhere, cheap to buy, and tremendously easy to find. It is worth paying a little extra at the pet store to avoid the ‘feeder’ goldfish, as these can often bring disease into your tank.
You can learn my information about Ryukin fish HERE.
The sentiment that tilapia ‘taste like mud’ is unfair. They get this reputation because they are so tolerant of low quality feeds and the poorly filtered environments that they are often farmed in (where other fish would just die) that they can take on a poor taste. When they are fed a high quality feed and live their lives in a clean, ecologically stable, well managed aquaponic system tilapia taste great. This tolerance of variable water quality is one of the things that makes them such a great choice for beginner aquapons. Some varieties of tilapia, if bought as fingerlings from a reputable US farm, can grow to plate size in as little as six months. However, tilapia are illegal in some states, so check online with your state fishery department before ordering.
With a little know how it is possible to breed your own tilapia, but this can be counter-productive. When in breeding mode the males get aggressive and the females stop eating, which is not what we want for aquaponic plant production! But you may want more fish one day, so it is nice to have a low cost option of obtaining them.
If you can guarantee an average tank temperature of above 70°F and that it will never fall below 60°F (you may need a heater) then it is hard to top tilapia as an edible aquaponic worker fish.
3. Channel Catfish
They will grow optimally in a similar temperature range to tilapia (70–80°F), and will stop eating if the temperature falls below 55°. Breeding them is difficult, but not impossible.
Catfish don’t have scales like other fish, so handling should be kept to a minimum and you should be extra gentle. Their skin, whiskers and calm demeanor makes them intriguing to watch and fascinating for kids.
Trout are closely related to salmon and are carnivorous, feeding on other fishes and soft bodied aquatic invertebrates such as flies, molluscs and bloodworms among other insects.
Their environments differ and they can have dramatically different coloration and patterns, which acts as a camouflage when they move to different habitats. Trouts are often raised on fish farms, and they’re an important food source for animals and humans.
A pair of Longear Sunfishes, Bluegills or other large species will require a 55-75 gallon aquarium, but others will get along well in smaller quarters. Included among these are the brilliantly-clad Banded, Blue-Spotted and Black-Banded Sunfishes (Enneacanthus spp.). Young sunfishes will often form mixed-species schools, but adults generally become quite territorial and each pair may require a tank to itself. All do best in heavily-planted aquariums.
Pumpkinseeds and other sunfishes are carnivorous and prefer to feed upon insects, worms and small fishes. Newly-collected individuals may refuse other foods, but in time can be induced to accept fresh shrimp, frozen bloodworms, freeze-dried krill, cichlid pellets, flakes and similar foods.
I’ve had good success with diets comprised of approximately three quarters live foods (earthworms, blackworms, guppies, crickets, sowbugs) and a quarter cichlid pellets freeze dried and fresh prawn, and trout chow. In the warmer moths, I collect moths, beetles, tree crickets, and other insects around my outdoor lights each evening. The strong reaction of my sunfishes (and, indeed, most tropical fishes) to these novel foods always fascinates me.
I’ve observed wild and captive Bluegills feeding upon aquatic grasses, so some experimentation with plant foods for other species may be worthwhile.
Aquaponics for the Future
Consumers have become more aware of the environmental repercussions of clear-cutting for farming cattle. Their are video exposing inhumane conditions pigs and chickens are forced to endure before they become dinner.
A little more investigation reveals the amount of pollution and disease contemporary farming systems cause, and how many resources go in to creating less food. As a result, even non-vegetarians have begun to look for more sustainable sources of protein.
Some experts claim that fish can produce 30 times more protein per square foot than other animals. Aquaponics is a method of doing that in sanitary conditions with secondary outputs.
Through its holistic approach– considering how to sustainably provide the necessary inputs and responsibly deal with once-problematic outputs– this approach offers a glimpse into the future of food.
Unlike factory farming methods, aquaponics offers the opportunity to produce meat and vegetables without the use of biocides, antibiotic overloads, GMOs, or fertilizers.
What’s more, fish and veggies are two things that generally add up to a very healthy diet. In a time where the future of food production seems like an unsolvable mystery, aquaponics provides solid, sustainable answers. -Jonathon Engels, lead
Challenges with Aquaponics
Despite the rosy disposition you’ll find in most articles on the subject, this is not a venture without challenges. Beginner Aquaponics systems require patience and persistence. Smaller aquarium versions don’t require much investment, but systems that are going to provide a significant source of fish and vegetables do require a bit of capital up front.
The largest challenge of aquaponics gardening is figuring out the fish food, which adds cost and ecological uncertainty. To be truly eco-friendly, growers will need to choose sustainably sourced fish food. But that’s currently a rarity, with most fish foods derived from wild seafood. This problem will need to be addressed as aquaponics advances.
Another significant challenge (though certainly not an insurmountable one) is getting the system to stabilize. It takes time to get the feed-to-fish-to-plant ratios in the ranges they should be. In aquarium systems, this is less of an issue. But as aquaponics moves more towards truly productive farming purposes, the cost of feed versus the output of the system will become increasingly important.
Additionally, with large aquaponics systems there are infrastructure overheads, including sizeable tanks, serious grow beds, scaled pumps, and solar power. These costs are minimal with home systems, in which food production is a side hobby. But to produce on a market scale, startup expenses will factor in. It’s worth experimenting with small-scale systems in the beginning.
All that being said, whatever the challenges may be, there is no denying the potential of what aquaponics systems can do. Many people are realizing that the future of food production is going to rely on growers learning to adopt these types of cyclical systems, in which the arrangement itself handles the pollutant elements it produces.
Best Plants for Aquaponics
Over 300 varieties of aquaponics plants have been tested to see which ones would thrive best in the system. The biggest group that did not seem to grow well in the system is any type of root vegetable. Basically root vegetables are any plants that are produced under the soil such as potatoes.
There are 3 main:
- Salad varieties: such as cucumbers, shallots, lettuce, tomatoes, chiles, capsicum, red salad onions, and snow peas usually have the greatest success.
- Aquaponics vegetables: such as beans, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, and eggplant as well as the choys that are used for stir fries are also pretty successful and easy to grow.
- Planting aquaponic herbs: such as watercress, basil, coriander, parsley, lemongrass, and sage, all work well also. This is only a small part of the list of herbs that continues on and on.
Top 5 Plant Aquaponics for beginners
1. Iceberg Lettuce
Iceberg lettuce has been surrounded by various criticisms saying that it is one of the most “useless” vegetables in the culinary world. People have even claimed that iceberg lettuce is just as nutritious as cardboard.
If you find yourself asking, “Is iceberg lettuce good for you?”, the clear answer is yes. Here are some of the health benefits that you can get when you incorporate this lettuce variety into your diet:
- May aid in weight loss — Iceberg lettuce has a low caloric content with only 75 calories per medium-sized head.
- May help reduce the risk of birth defects — This vegetable contains a considerable amount of folate, a mineral essential for protecting against birth defects and other prenatal conditions.
- Contains vitamins A and C — Even though it has the lowest percentage of vitamins A and C among all lettuce varieties, iceberg contains good amounts of these vitamins. Vitamin A has been commonly linked to eye maintenance and the prevention of macular degeneration, the leading cause of age-related blindness, while vitamin C has been observed to boost the body’s immune system through its antioxidant properties.
An aquatic plant found near springs and slow-moving streams, watercress is an often-overlooked, leafy green food source that is a close cousin tomustard greens, cabbage
Watercress is very low in calories, but contains phytonutrients like isothiocyanates and antioxidants with a plethora of disease-preventive properties. Gluconasturtiin, a glucosinolate compound providing the peppery flavor, is one of them, contained in the leaves and stems and providing phenethyl isothiocyanates, shown to inhibit carcinogens.
Scientific research found that the PEITC in watercress may suppress breast cancer cell development. Studies at the University of Southampton study found PEITC may starve tumor growth of blood and oxygen by “turning off” a signal in the body. Researchers explained that “as tumors develop, they rapidly outgrow their existing blood supply so they send out signals that make surrounding normal tissues grow new blood vessels into the tumor, which feed them oxygen and nutrients
3. Snow peas
Snow peas aren’t just for Asian dishes. They’re delicious in all kinds of stir-fries with other vegetables, a tasty addition to salads and a crunchy snack all on their own. You can buy snow peas in the refrigerated case of many grocery stores or at farmers markets, but imagine heading out onto your own patio garden or backyard plot to pick handfuls of super-fresh snow peas you planted yourself.
Growing Peas is very easy Peasy: Peas, whatever the variety, are easy to grow, needing little beyond soil made up of an even mix of sand and clay and some mulch as a built-in food. The seeds are basically large, dried peas which are planted to a depth of about twice their diameter. According to the featured video above, peas are a remarkably easy crop to grow:
Cauliflower, which like broccoli is a member of the cruciferous family, contains an impressive array of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other phytochemicals. It’s a good source of vitamin K, protein, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, fiber, vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, potassium and manganese.
Fight Cancer: Cauliflower contains sulforaphane, a sulfur compound that has also been shown to kill cancer stem cells, thereby slowing tumor growth. Some researchers believe eliminating cancer stem cells may be key to controlling cancer.
For instance, research has shown that combining cauliflower with curcumin (the active compound in the spice turmeric) may help prevent and treat prostate cancer.1
A study published in Carcinogenesis also found sulforaphane may reduce the incidence and rate of chemically induced mammary tumors in animals.2 It also inhibits the growth of cultured human breast cancer cells, leading to cell death.
Other compounds in cauliflower also show anti-cancer effects. According to the National Cancer Institute:
“Indoles and isothiocyanates have been found to inhibit the development of cancer in several organs in rats and mice, including the bladder, breast, colon, liver, lung, and stomach.”
Boost Heart Health: Sulforaphane in cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables has been found to significantly improve blood pressure and kidney function.4 Scientists believe sulforaphane’s benefits are related to improved DNA methylation, which is crucial for normal cellular function and proper gene expression, especially in the easily damaged inner lining of the arteries known as the endothelium.
It’s Anti-Inflammatory: You need some level of inflammation in your body to stay healthy. However, it’s also possible, and increasingly common, for the inflammatory response to get out of hand.
If your immune system mistakenly triggers an inflammatory response when no threat is present, it can lead to significant inflammation-related damage to the body, a condition linked to cancer and other diseases, depending on which organs the inflammation is impacting.
Cauliflower contains a wealth of anti-inflammatory nutrients to help keep inflammation in check, including indole-3-carbinol or I3C, an anti-inflammatory compound that may operate at the genetic level to help prevent the inflammatory responses at its foundational level.
It’s Rich in Vitamins and Minerals: Most Americans are seriously lacking in nutrients their body needs to function. Eating cauliflower regularly is a simple way to get these much-needed nutrients into your body. For instance, one serving of cauliflower contains 77 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. It’s also a good source of vitamin K, protein, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, fiber, vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, potassium, and manganese.
Boost Your Brain Health Cauliflower is a good source of choline, a B vitamin known for its role in brain development. Choline intake during pregnancy “super-charged” the brain activity of animals in utero, indicating that it may boost cognitive function, and improve learning and memory. It may even diminish age-related memory decline and your brain’s vulnerability to toxins during childhood, as well as conferring protection later in life.
Detoxification Support: Cauliflower helps your body’s ability to detoxify in multiple ways. It contains antioxidants that support Phase 1 detoxification along with sulfur-containing nutrients important for Phase 2 detox activities. The glucosinolates in cauliflower also activate detoxification enzymes.
Digestive Benefits: Cauliflower is an important source of dietary fiber for digestive health. But that’s not all. According to the World’s Healthiest Foods:8
“Researchers have determined that the sulforaphane made from a glucosinolate in cauliflower (glucoraphanin) can help protect the lining of your stomach. Sulforaphane provides you with this health benefit by preventing bacterial overgrowth of Helicobacter pylori in your stomach or too much clinging by this bacterium to your stomach wall.
Antioxidants and Phytonutrients Galore: Eating cauliflower is like winning the antioxidant and phytonutrient lottery. It’s packed with vitamin C, beta-carotene, kaempferol, quercetin, rutin, cinnamic acid, and much more. Antioxidants are nature’s way of providing your cells with adequate defense against attack by reactive oxygen species (ROS).
As long as you have these important micronutrients, your body will be able to resist aging caused by your everyday exposure to pollutants, chronic stress, and more. If you don’t have an adequate supply of antioxidants to help squelch free radicals, then you can be at risk of oxidative stress, which leads to accelerated tissue and organ damage.
Cucumbers are one of my most highly recommended vegetables, and if you have a garden, you can easily grow them at home. Aside from being able to control pesticide and fertilizer use, you’ll also avoid the wax applied to many commercially sold cucumbers. There are dozens of varieties that thrive in both cool and warm climates, although they can be a challenge to grow if temperatures are consistently in the mid-90s.
Protect Your Brain: Cucumbers contain an anti-inflammatory flavonol called fisetin that appears to play an important role in brain health. In addition to improving your memory and protecting your nerve cells from age-related decline,1 fisetin has been found to prevent progressive memory and learning impairments in mice with Alzheimer’s disease.
Reduce Your Risk of Cancer: Cucumbers contain polyphenols called lignans (pinoresinol, lariciresinol, and secoisolariciresinol), which may help to lower your risk of breast, uterine, ovarian, and prostate cancers.3 They also contain phytonutrients called cucurbitacins, which also have anti-cancer properties. According to the George Mateljan Foundation.
Fight Inflammation: Cucumbers may help to “cool” the inflammatory response in your body, and animal studies suggest that cucumber extract helps reduce unwanted inflammation, in part by inhibiting the activity of pro-inflammatory enzymes (including cyclo-oxygenase 2, or COX-2).
Antioxidant Properties: Cucumbers contain numerous antioxidants, including the well-known vitamin C and beta-carotene. They also contain antioxidant flavonoids, such as quercetin, apigenin, luteolin, and kaempferol,6 which provide additional benefits.
For instance, quercetin is an antioxidant that many believe prevents histamine release—making quercetin-rich foods “natural antihistamines.” Kaempferol, meanwhile, may help fight cancer and lower your risk of chronic diseases including heart disease.
Freshen Your Breath: Placing a cucumber slice on the roof of your mouth may help to rid your mouth of odor-causing bacteria. According to the principles of Ayurveda, eating cucumbers may also help to release excess heat in your stomach, which is said to be a primary cause of bad breath.
Manage Stress: Cucumbers contain multiple B vitamins, including vitamin B1, vitamin B5, and vitamin B7 (biotin). B vitamins are known to help ease feelings of anxiety and buffer some of the damaging effects of stress.
Support Your Digestive Health: Cucumbers are rich in two of the most basic elements needed for healthy digestion: water and fiber. Adding cucumbers to your juice or salad can help you meet the ideal of amount of fiber your body needs — 50 grams per 1,000 calories consumed.
Maintain a Healthy Weight: Cucumbers are very low in calories, yet they make a filling snack (one cup of sliced cucumber contains just 16 calories).8 The soluble fiber in cucumbers dissolves into a gel-like texture in your gut, helping to slow down your digestion. This helps you to feel full longer and is one reason why fiber-rich foods may help with weight control.
Support Heart Health: Cucumbers contain potassium, which is associated with lower blood pressure levels. A proper balance of potassium both inside and outside your cells is crucial for your body to function properly.
This is just a basic guideline to start off you aquaponics adventure, you truly understand aquaponic you have to try it yourself and learn from your mistake.
Hope you the best of luck.