How to Build an Aquaponics System Step by Step at Home
Not so long ago, we have discussed aquaponics in detail. If you remember, the definition we gave was “the combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil) that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system.”
In short, aquaponics allows you to grow both fish and plants in the same time, saving plenty of water in the process, in a symbiotic system in which plants feed on the aquatic animals’ discharge or waste, while in return, the vegetables and other plants clean the water that goes back to the fish.
Aquaponics is, therefore, a form of sustainable food sourcing and it can take a small-scale size or a large-scale one. From an economic sustainability point of view, aquaponics is a strategy for the future to implement in under-developed areas to help people grow their own food in a cheap, safe, eco-friendly, and permanent manner.
First, the Questions about Building Aquaponics
If you want to learn how to build an aquaponics system step by step at home, you have to answer the following questions:
- Why? – Do you plan an aquaponics system for the fun or it or as a scientific experiment for the kids, or are you trying to grow your own food to save some money on the grocery bills?
- Where? – Depending on where you want to place the system, the location will decide the size and design of the system.
- When? – You need to pick carefully your season because some plants do not grow well in cooler months, some suppliers do not sell fish in some cold months, while bacteria will establish better in warmer temperatures.
- Who? – Before you start building, you need to establish who is going to take care of the system. Kids may be too small to be able to manage the system, so you need to keep height in mind. Also, if you and your family travel often and leave the system to do on its own, you will need to consider backup aeration and other design elements to contribute to the system’s resilience and low maintenance over time.
If you have the answers to all these questions, it is time to learn how to build an aquaponics system step by step in the comfort of your own home!
1. Choose the Location
You can place your aquaponics system anywhere you want. However, depending on your setting, you will have to adjust the design and factor in plenty of elements.
- Outdoor location: if you want to place the aquaponics system in the backyard, for instance, you have to consider the weather in your area, hours of light per day, temperatures, the default air pollution, adequate system’s insulation, sturdiness, access and protection against accidents, and many more.
- Indoor location: if you want to build your aquaponics system inside the house (garage), you need to consider the amount of light, heat, and access as well. If you do not have big enough windows or your house does not receive plenty of natural light, for instance, you have to consider adding an extra source of artificial lighting.
When we talk about the hardware of an aquaponics system, we mean the fish tank; the plants’ grow bed, and the wiring (plumbing, pumps etc.). Here is what you need to know about the hardware:
- Fish Tank: If you want to see how things go, you should choose a traditional fish tank made of glass. Make sure it will hold enough fish for the plants you want to grow.\
NOTE: On average, 264 gallons (1,000 liters) make a good aquaponics system. Remember that when you increase the size of the fish tank, you also have to adjust the size of the grow bed.
- Grow Bed: The bigger it is, the more plants you will be able to grow, but make sure the fish tank and the table can work together. The grow bed should be at least 12 inches deep.
NOTE: The correct grow bed size ensures the filtration and keeps the fish tank system balanced. In general, you can design a 52-53 gallons fish tank to raise fish to 10-12 inches in length. You should begin with the 1:1 ratio of your grow bed to fish tank volume. When your aquaponics system starts maturing within 4 to 6 months, you can increase its ratio to 2:1.
- Support: You need to support the grow bed with a sturdy foundation. It is better to buy pre-made frames, but you can also use concrete blocks or lumber (for outdoor aquaponics at least).
- Water Pump: When choosing a water pump, make sure that you get a reliable and trustworthy one. Read reviews before buying it. Magnetic drive (mag-drive) pumps are best because the motor has its own separate compartment, which is sealed, and it should never leak any oil into the fish tank. Place the submersible pump in one corner of the fish tank which takes the water up to the grow bed.
- Air Pump: This will pump oxygen into your fish tank. Make sure you buy one that comes with a reputation and solid tech specs.
- Grow Bed Media: Gravel is cheap but depending on the rock used, it can affect the pH levels in the water. You can also use clay pellets, which are pH neutral and hold moisture well.
- Bell Siphon: This is a very effective method of slowly flooding the grow bed and then draining it fast. The bell siphon achieves this goal with a non-mechanical action and has no moving parts to break. If you buy pre-made bell siphons, make sure they are of quality.
- Plumbing: The last part is connecting the system together to bring it to life. You will need also a media guard together with your bell siphon and will keep the grow bed media out of the bell siphon, allowing water to come in.
Now that you have all the materials, you need to think about the software. You have some elements to consider here, as they are the ones keeping your aquaponics system alive, healthy, and thriving:
- The number of fish to grow: According to aquaponics system experts, you can use the ratio rule: 17-18 oz. fish for 0.330 square feet of the grow bed surface. Keep in mind that you base your ratio on the 12 inches deep grow bed.
- Water temperature in the tank: This depends plenty on the type of fish you want to grow. If they need warmer temperatures, you can get an aquarium water heater. Warmer temperatures also help beneficial bacteria to thrive.
- Set the water pH: As we mentioned in the previous article, you should fix a healthy pH about 6.8 to 7.0 in an aquaponics system. You will probably need to adjust the pH in the tank, so remember to test the levels in your aquaponics system every week around 3 to 4 times in order to make sure it stays within the permitted limits.
- Choose the fish: The best fish for aquaponics systems are omnivore freshwater fish. You can enjoy a wide selection of aquaponics fish, experts recommending the following: rainbow trout, tilapia, grass carp, white bass, crappies and more.
Now that we discussed how to build an aquaponics system step by step at home, you should also know that there are experts out there who can help you with the finer engineering details or build one for you in case you want large-scale aquaponics for food growth.
Now it is your turn: have you ever tried to build an aquaponics system at home? Do you feel tempted to build one in the immediate future?
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