Aquaponics is a innovative new idea that combines aquaculture, which is the raising of fish for food (or other reasons) and hydroponics, which is the growing of vegetation and herbs without the use of soil. It is considered to be one of the most efficient forms of growing food in the world, mainly due to the fact that it is self-sustaining and also saves a ton of room.
A properly designed aquaponics system functions just like an ecosystem. In theory, you only have to water the plants once. This water then trickles down into the artificial pond below, where the fish are. With a little man-made help, this water is then pumped back up top to the plants and the cycle continues.
There are many aquaponic systems available for purchase that cost around $200. However, you can also make one on your own, and if you do, here is everything you need to know before you get started:
DIY aquaponics system
On average, a properly functioning aquaponics system can sustain around one pound of fish per gallon of water. However, when you first start off you are going to want to play it safe and put in about 10 gallons of water per pound of fish. This is to make sure that there is always enough water to support the “ecosystem” during the beginning stages of this project.
You can easily purchase a plexi-glass aquarium, or you can use a plastic tub or a bucket. You can use a fish tank of any size, however between 5-20 gallons is normally recommended for people making an aquaponics system on their own for the first time.
The grow bed is where the plants will be growing, and it is usually slightly larger than the fish tank in terms of width and length. Although many people like to build frames or shelving units that hold both the fish tank and the grow bed in place, simply using a plastic Rubbermaid container or any other sort of container that fits on top of the tank can work fine.
Drill 1/8″ holes at the bottom of your grow bed for approximately every 2 square inches. This allows the water to drain into the fish tank below, providing the fish with nourishment and refreshing their water supply. In one of the corners of the grow bed, drill one 1/2″ hole.
Water pumps and tubing can be purchased from your local hardware store, with models ranging from $30 to over $200. Start off by placing the pump inside the fish tank. You are then going to place the grow bed on top of it, making sure the tubing from the water pump is still accessible. You will then feed the water pump tube through the 1/2″ hole that you drilled in the corner of the grow bed.
Make sure that you have enough tubing length left so that you can line the edges of the grow bed with it. Cut off any excess tube and seal the end with electric tape, securing it to the grow bed as well. Then poke holes facing inward along approximately every two inches of the pump, this is how the plants will be watered.
After securing the water pump and tubes, line the grow bed with a growing medium such as perlite, peat moss, gravel or clay pebbles.
Fill the fish tank with water and plug the pump in. Make sure that enough water is being pumped into the grow bed, also make sure that it is properly trickling through the holes at the bottom of the grow bed back into the fish tank.
Choosing Your Fish And Plants
When choosing your fish, choose easy to sustain species that you can get from your local pet store such as goldfish, guppies, angelfish or other common species. If you want to choose a species that you plan on eating, opt for tilapia, as they are the most commonly used fish in small aquaculture systems.
The best plants to choose for growing is any plant that is harvested as a leaf. This includes lettuce, kale, spinach, basil, dill and other leafy herbs. You can start off by planting your seeds in a grow cube, or just spread them loosely in your growing medium.
At the end of the day, your aquaponics system should more or less look like this (if not as aesthetically pleasing):
The main goal is to have a plant bed that trickles down water into the fish tank, and to have a properly functioning pump slowly transporting that water back into the plant bed. This creates the self-sustaining, eco-system like property of aquaponics.
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