Photo by Flickr/Kirsty
Are you looking for a quick and relatively easy way to grow plants in your garden? Aquaponics is a revolutionary and alternative way of growing food that maintains both plants and fish in one integrated system — and with no need for soil.
The fish produce waste, which is converted into fertilizer for the plants. In return, the plants filter the water for the fish, creating a self-sustaining way of both growing plants and keeping fish.
There are many benefits to using aquaponics to enhance your organic gardening, with several that outweigh traditional hydroponics. Aquaponics uses one-tenth the water that soil-based gardening does, and even less water than hydroponic systems.
It is a completely natural ecosystem, it drastically reduces the amount of time you need to spend gardening, and you’ll be able to spend more time doing the more enjoyable things (such as feeding the fish and harvesting the plants).
An aquaponics system can be placed anywhere, and they can be any size — from small tabletop herb systems to large backyard systems.
Another benefit is that, not only do you produce plants and vegetables to eat, but you can also raise the fish to eat — you can grow an entire meal all at once! If you want to have a go at starting your own aquaponics system that runs in addition to a vegetable garden, we’re going to take a look at all the things you need to get started.
What You Need for an Aquaponics System
For all aquaponics systems, you need all the following equipment. You may also need other equipment depending on the size of your system, and where you live in the world. If you live in an area which experiences seasonal changes and colder winters, you may want to use a greenhouse to allow the system to keep going all year round.
Basic materials list:
A fish tank
A grow bed
A grow bed stand
Siphons or stand pipes
Optional – sump tank, liners, heating elements, backup systems
Choosing a Tank
Depending on whether you want to build your own system from scratch, or are happy using a kit this will determine the tank that you use.
If you choose the DIY route, there are lots of different options available, from using a glass or acrylic fish tank, to setting up your own system using wire ranks and large food grade tanks. Food grade containers typically come in two popular sizes: 55 gallons and 225 gallons.
If you choose to use a recycled food tank from the catering industry, make sure than whatever has been stored in it hasn’t left a toxic residue.
Vinyl swimming pools are also a great choice for larger DIY tanks. Find somewhere that is level to place the fish tank; it’ll also need to be close to a source of electricity.
Choosing the Grow Bed and Media for Aquaponics
Photo Robert Woods
The grow bed will be placed above the fish tank, and is the place where all your plants will grow.
The grow box doesn’t have to be anything fancy; you can use a wooden box with a pond liner. It should be quite shallow, between 6 to 10 inches deep.
Unlike other gardening system, you won’t need any soil in the grow bed. Instead you should choose a different media such as perlite, fine gravel or clay pebbles. Each one has their own advantages and disadvantages so carry out a little more research into this area before building your aquaponics system.
Choosing Fish for Aquaponics
The fish you choose will depend on whether you will be harvesting them to eat, or whether you just want them for their aesthetics.
If you plant on eating the fish, an ideal species is Tilapia. They are fast-growing and low maintenance. They’re also really hardy and resilient to disease.
If you’re looking for ornamental fish, Koi carp are often a popular choice, as are goldfish.
Choosing the Plants
You’ll find that some plants will thrive in pretty much any system such as lettuce, basil and kale, whereas plants such as tomatoes, broccoli and peppers all require more nutrients. If you’re new to this – start out with the easier options and once you’ve got a handle on what you’re doing you can experiment with the trickier plants.
Choose plants with short grow-out periods such as salad greens. Most leafy greens do well in aquaponics systems.
Effort to Maintain an Aquaponics System
The beauty of an aquaponics system is that after it is set up, it doesn’t need much intervention. You’ll need to feed the fish daily and check the water parameters, but you won’t have all the additional maintenance that comes with fishkeeping or gardening. You really do get the best of both worlds: Low maintenance, and high rewards!
Robert Woods has been keeping fish for nearly 30 years. As the owner of the Fishkeeping World blog, he strives to ensure that the standards within the aquarist community are kept high and that people are given the best advice on caring for all aquatic life.