Food Self-Sufficiency Pt. 2 : Build your Aquaponics System


Recycling is the concept of an aquaponics system, since all the water used by fish is considered to be rich in all types of nutrients. The water is given on the plants that grow very properly with all of these nutrients. After utilizing all the nutrients in water, the plants also recycle that water back to the fish tank and this process continues. Learn how to build your own aquaponics system, a product of both Hydroponics and Aquaculture.

From the previous article, you already learned that Hydroponics is a method of farming plants not seeded in soil, and all required minerals and nutrients are provided directly through the roots of the plants. Fish produce wastes (organic fertilizer) that they release from their gills and in their excrement that are full of plant nutrients. Plants can get everything they need to grow from fish water and the air. When fish water is circulated through a-grow bed, without soil, plants can grow very well and can produce high quality vegetables and fruits that are all organic.

Therefore, this creates a system that is much more efficient than growing either plants or fish on their own. In this system there really are no waste products, everything is utilized. You can grow crops with only around 2% of the water as traditional farming and in a fraction of the space.

Now, before you begin ordering supplies for your own aquaponics system, you need to have an idea of scale. One of the benefits of aquaponics systems is they are easily scalable. If you find yourself short on fish or vegetables, you can add another tank or increase the size of your current one. If you overrun with food, you can harvest an entire tank setup. Freeze or can the surplus produce and scale down your system accordingly.

Supplies for the Aquaponics System

The first thing you need to build an at-home aquaponics system is a fish tank. Any size will do, from small bedroom aquariums to dedicated fishponds. And with the natural plant water filter, you can stock fish at a higher density than normal.

IBC (intermediate bulk containers) are popular tanks for aquaponics. These are easy to find and often have plumbing fittings already in place. The standard shape is a simple cube design. It also has an integrated pallet base which makes the system sturdy and easier to move than other tanks.

Besides the fish tank, you’ll also need a vegetable growth container. A wide, shallow container is ideal because plants don’t need deep roots for this setup. These containers are not as large as the fish tank, but they must be sturdy, since they’ll need to hold the accumulating weight of the growing plants and produce.

Finally, you’ll need some plumbing supplies and a pump. This moves the water from the fish tank to the plant container. The best designs take advantage of gravity. You can do this by placing the plant tank at a higher elevation than the fish tank. This allows natural drainage of the cleaned plant water to fall back to the fish tank.

It’s best to size the pump for a quick transfer, flooding the plant tank. Then turn the pump off and allow the water to drain back into the fish tank slowly. This ensures the roots get often watered but avoid rot. A garden-sized pond pump works for large or medium-sized systems. Unless your system is massive, then you’ll want to look at industrial-sized pumps.

A timer for the pump will be needed. This allows you to schedule several cycles per day automatically.

Remember, the plants will receive their nutrients from the fish waste. So, you will also need separate growing media for plants and bacteria. Their growing media should be something durable and inert – soil is neither of these. Use a quick-draining material such as gravel, coarse sand, or even coconut fiber. Expanded clay balls are also a common growing medium.

As for the bacteria, look to aquarium filter media or filter fiber. These provide enough water movement and a large enough surface area. Both of which are necessary for a bacterial colony to thrive.


Building your own Aquaponics System

Make sure to bring the system slowly in a step by step fashion. Increase your odds of establishing a healthy, productive aquaponics system by following these simple steps.

1 – Location

Choose your location with care. You don’t want to disturb your system once you’re up and running. Moving adds stress to plants, fish, and bacteria.

Look for an area with plenty of light (unless you plan to use artificial lights). If your location has strong sun and high temps, use a shade screen to reduce excessive heating of the water.

Remember, be sure to have a stable surface to build on, and adequate access for cleaning. Leaks or failure of tanks could cause damage to the surroundings as well as a total loss of the system.

2 – Setting up Tanks and Pumps

Most DIY aquaponics systems use gravitational drainage from the plant to the fish tank. This means setting up the plant tanks at a higher elevation, taking a form of high benches, shelves, or even a hillside. Just make sure your pump can handle pumping water up the difference in elevation (referred to as “head”). While the pump and plumbing are being set, be sure to check all the fittings and for any leaks.

Finally, add an air pump and stone to the fish tank to provide dissolved oxygen. With all the leaks managed, put in the growing media and finish filling water to the right level. If your water is chlorinated, allow ample time for it to dissipate. It is harmful to your system. You can speed the process up by circulating the water through the system.

At the same time, turn on the air pump and allow it to run full time. This aeration of the water helps the chlorine escape and introduces dissolved oxygen. Allow this to run for several days to ensure the chlorine is all removed.


3 – Cycling The System

Both species of bacteria are present throughout the environment. But it can be helpful to get a starter to help establish the colony. Most aquarium shops can provide you with more than enough to get going. You can get a source of pure ammonia in the laundry aisle at the grocery store to get your colony to grow.

At this point, you’ll need some basic water testing supplies. These allow you to determine if the ammonia is being converted to nitrite and then nitrate. If you are successful in converting all the way to nitrate, you can add your plants.

Then allow the system to run for a while before introducing fish. This phase is when the bacteria convert ammonia to plant food. And the plants clean the water.


4 – Adding Fish

Finally, once you have a colony of bacteria and your water parameters are stable, you can add fish. But add them slowly, allowing them to acclimate to the temperature and chemistry of the water. This helps to reduce the shock to the fish due to any changes in water chemistry.

Never dump fish into a new tank haphazardly, the abrupt change can shock or even kill them. Ask your fish supplier for suggestions on how best to acclimate your chosen species.

5 – Maintaining The System

Once your aquaponics system is running, there’s not a lot of ongoing maintenance required.

Sure, the fish will need food.

You’ll need to test water chemistry on occasion. But one of the best indicators of system health is growing plants and healthy fish.