So you love keeping fish and you love growing delicious home grown vegetables why not go for the obvious choice start your own aquaponics system in your backyard and combine your two hobbies
So what is Aquaponics?
To put it simply aquaponics is the combination of Aquaculture and Hydroponics. The great thing about aquaponics is that it simulates a real life eco system where the bacteria process the fish waste from niitrites into nitrates which can then be absorbed by the plants and then returning clean water back to the fish.
My first system has been running for a little over a year now with no water changes apart from the rain that comes in and some water lost through evaporation and all the fish are still alive and well along with my plants.
Many aquaponics systems are used to grow fish such as tilapia , silver perch, jade perch , trout and other coldwater fish but in some cases people may use ornamental fish such as goldfish if they do not wish to eat fish or do not have the room for growing large edible fish.
Hydroponics is the method of growing plants without the use of soil, for example clay balls or fine gravel is a commonly used growing medium. Aquaponics is the same in this way as no soil whatsoever is being used.
The picture above demonstrates how aquaponics works , the fish produce the waste into the water the pump then circulates the water to reach the roots of the plants where the plants will absorb the nitrates and clean water will be returned to the fish tank.
How i got started
So the way you go about setting up your aquaponics setup can very straightforward or very complex depending on the approach you use. I will be discussing how to get a basic setup up and running on the smallish scale.
The system I will describe is currently running outside and consists of one small pond , small grow bed. It is a good example of how you can get a small system up and running cheaply and get the most out of it.
My system contains the following components
- 250L Pond Bin - 150L growtub
- 1000 L/ph pond pump (capable of pushing water to a height of 1 metre)
- double outlet air pump - 10 m extension cable
- large garden hose - bird wire (keep birds away from the fish)
- Tomato plants ( started from bought seed packets) - 50kg of fine gravel
- digital Timer/surge protector - used to run the pump to circulate the water to the plants at the moment running every 2 hours.
- 6 Comet goldfish - Bricks and roof tiles.
The above components excluding things that I already owned such as the growtub, extension cable ,garden hose,roof tiles and bricks. The cost of all other components was in total around 120 $US
Happy AP fish
Putting it all together
So once I had all my components needed to setup a simple small aquaponics setup the first step was to dig a hole for the fish tub to go into , ensure that your fish tub has some shade to avoid evaporation and is also below ground level to maintain a good steady water temperature.
The second step was to run a 10 metre long outdoor/waterproof extension cable from my shed to the fish area and connect the pump and the air pump to the power outlet. I then places all leads and sensitive electrical parts in a waterproofed box and buried it in a small hole that was easily accessible to me.
The third step is to drill or make some holes in the bottom of your growtub so that that the water can drain out back into the fish tub next thing is to setup a place for the grow tub to sit preferably close as possible to the fish tub as this way the pump wont have to work as hard to get the water into the grow tub from the fish tub.
For my example setup I simply placed the the grow tub at a higher level than the fish tub and let gravity control the water flow back down into the fish tub with the help of a basic roof tile.
The fourth step was to connect a hose from the 1000L pond pump to the grow tub and set it up with the digital power timer to control when i wanted the pond pump to turn on and off.
The fifth step was to then fill the fish tub with dechlorinated water and fish and run a few trial runs to see if the water flowed from the fish tub to the grow tub and back out correctly. At this point it's a good idea to monitor how fast the water is escaping as this will slow down a lot after you add your grow medium (in my case fine gravel).
The seventh step was to wash the gravel and then add the gravel into the growtub (make sure your happy with the location as it gets extremely heavy and impossible to move) . From here you can simply drop some seeds into the grow tub and cover lightly with gravel and wait for germination to occur. When you first put the seeds in you will have doubts that the plants will even come up but be patient and you will see plenty of little seedlings otherwise you can always add plants transplanted from a dirt garden. Germination is always faster in hotter weather.
- Feeding the Fish
- Keeping an eye on the pump cycle , explained more in depth lower down
- Keeping an eye fish health and water level in fish tub.
Simple AP setup
The pump cycle is determined by how fast your grow tub fills up with water , ideally you want the water to fill up to about 3-5 cm before the top of the gravel and you can play around with the time setting until you find a nice spot.
Many people use the 15 minutes on 45 minutes off cycle but this is mainly with people with larger scale systems trying to provide the fish with more oxygenated water. Many of the modern digital power timers you can buy allow you to set up to 15 different on/off peroid in 24 hours and I have found this to be sufficient.
there are many other ways to control your pump cyle including toilet valves and autosiphons but that's a tale for another day.
Fish feed for an aquaponic system is always being discussed as some try to keep there systems totally organic by feeding there fish organic fish feed such as duckweed and worms. This method is perfectly fine its in fact truer to what aquaponics is about but sometimes its not realistic to be breeding worms and growing duckweed or buying expensive organic feed.
Many people just use cheap fish food from supermarkets and have found it to work just as good as organic feed. I currently use supermarket fish food for my goldfish and my system is running perfectly fine.
Most plants will work very well in an aquaponics type system especially things like tomatoes, spinach and most green vegetables. Your choice of plants to grow in your system will really depend on size and experimentation into which plants/vegetables grow well.
Like any plants even aquaponically grown plants can show deficiencies in some vitamins and minerals, So it is wise to add an organic fish friendly fertilizer like a seaweed fertilizer to your system every 2 weeks or so as you would a dirt garden to fix any signs of deficincies.
Increasing the scale
It is very easy to increase your aquaponics setup at any time and the general rule is for a 100Litre fish tub you can grow 200 Litre grow tub worth of plants.
Aquaponics is becoming more and more popular and many countries have designed and built aquaponic systems on huge scales and even many people especially in australia have built large systems in there backyards with up to a thousand fish in there tanks. This is a very fun project to undertake but will require a good knowledge of hardware and plumbing.
I'm am currently in the middle of building a bigger aquaponics system with a 5000 litre pond so I may post a new hub on that system later on
Thanks for reading and I hope if you've got some spare time you will give it a go its well worth the effort:).
I also hope I didn't leave anything out ,i always feel like I have let me know if you think there is something missing. goodluck everyone
Dodo Ebardo on April 10, 2014:
I have already started my little aquaponic made of plastic trapal as fish tub, Bamboo pole as grow tub and put broken pots made of clay, is it right? I need more advice to make my aquaponic successful.
jocent on September 15, 2013:
I liked this post you've written, it tackled the subject completely and simple enough to follow. I am an avid hobbyist and real fan of aquaponics. In fact I made a lot of experiments on this and finally made a "Concrete Farm" out of my research from Youtube and other sites. Copying ideas then improving them to result in better and efficient way, I was able to maximize production and even save a lot because of recycling.
If I had read your article much earlier, I could have understood the things about aquaponics better and easier. Sad to say I learned it through hardship via trial and error. Thank you for writing this beautiful post!!! Hope it will encourage more people to try and propagate the aquaponics way!!!
Craig Miles from Cairo, egypt on September 08, 2013:
One day Aquaponics will be very popular when more and more people try it, I think that it will be one of the future strategies that governments will use to decrease unemployment and food shortage, I love Aquaponics and I do aquaponics systems for myself and for others and have website about it. I will be so happy if anybody asked for any help or gave me any advice or information about Aquaponics and I will follow all the people who are concerned with Aquaponics and I wish they do the same to help each other.
Jason on September 23, 2012:
I am building aquaphonic system with wood and gravel and I am doing aquarium for the fish
joshua on March 25, 2012:
i have started to grow a aquaponics system at my school and hope to supply our hotel school with vegetables. a goodidea is to ad a 'fertilizer' tank inbetween the grow pot and fish tank. in this tank u can add tree leaves and dog hair wich decompose to form phosphates and nitrates wich can assist in plant growth and yield.
ltaylor93 on January 21, 2012:
im not exactly sure what to do all i have is 40gal fishtank so what else do i need and how would i make it? im new to this whole thing
Paul Paolozzi on January 16, 2012:
When you put the plants in,do you put the roots in the gravel?
Neha on November 30, 2011:
awesome post.. I'm going to try this out.. I have a broken pond in ground, which I'm planning to convert into the aqua phonic system... Problem is, I'm in australia & temperature can get up to 40 degrees celsius.. & pond is exposed to morning/ noon sun..
My question is; does the water need to a certain temperature? Up to what temperature, you think the gold fishes can survive ? If it needs to be certain temperature, how do I maintain the temperature in the pond?
Oh & will any gold fish will survive in it?
Aaron on October 28, 2011:
If you grow within the system, the food that the fish require, there is no need to feed them. In this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedd... the fish used [Silver Perch] ate the alge that naturally grows in water, as long as there is sunlight present.
Doran on April 25, 2011:
Hi, how deep do you have to dig the pond for it to prevent freezing during winter?
will on March 28, 2011:
I have heard that if you compost with black soldier fly larva and grow duck weed in your system you can get buy with very little store bought fish feed.
SAM on February 26, 2011:
You have me looking hard at this, it sounds like a very good idea. just a thought here,.......... after going through the expense and effort of building the system......and still have to BUY FISH FOOD, just seems like I'd be defeating the purpose
expectus (author) from Land Downunder on May 13, 2010:
about twice the size of regular aquarium gravel, good size would be around a marble size for good air and water flow, just gets tricky if you drop seeds straight in as they might just end up getting washed away.
I usually have bigger rocks at the bottom and get finer as I go up so I can just drop seeds in cause i'm a bit lazy.
Ben on May 13, 2010:
Hi I was just wondering what sized gravel you use? How fine?
abhinav on April 21, 2010:
hi. interesting idea. i was new to the term aquaponics but i was recycling my fish tank water into my plants. that way instead of changing the water i was lowering the level of water in the fish tank and replenishing it. but this sounds an interesting idea. i shall definitely try this. thanks for such simple explanation.
expectus (author) from Land Downunder on February 15, 2010:
try the forum on http://www.backyardaquaponics.com/, heaps of people running giant commercial systems
William McCracken on February 15, 2010:
Want to do some hydroponic systems here in midwest. Any suggestions on where to look for info on starting small and moving up to commercial size?
expectus (author) from Land Downunder on February 02, 2010:
I've never had trouble but I usually cook and clean my vege's thoroughly
found a response about it as well
Aquaponic systems could be exposed to fecal contamination from warm-blooded animals. In an outdoor system contamination could come from birds for example. In an indoor system contamination could come from rodents. However, the dose would be quite small and it would not occur regularly. Any coliform bacteria that get into the system would be highly diluted. I doubt that there would be any contamination from cattle feces. In the 20 years we have been growing plants aquaponically at the University of the Virgin Islands, no one has ever gotten ill. In the past we raised mainly lettuce, which was washed but not cooked to kill bacteria. Normally the leaves do not contact with the culture water, but some water gets on the leaves from splashing or during packaging operations. Look at the alternative, which is field production of lettuce. Manures are often used as a soil amendment, including cattle manure. During rainstorms, soil splashes on the leaves. A field is a more natural habitat for birds, mice, rats, rabbits, squirrels, etc. The issue should be studied. In the meantime, I would not be overly concerned about microbial health risks in aquaponic systems.
Roxanne on January 31, 2010:
Do you have to worry about things like ecoli?
expectus (author) from Land Downunder on December 20, 2009:
hi chandra, what sort of a feed are you using for your tilapia and what's your water temperature at
chandara on December 20, 2009:
Aquaponic sounds very interesting to me. Actually I have started my aquaponic for 2 months already. My vegeable really grows well but I have some problem with my tilapias. the thing is that they seem to grow slowly. I don't know how to deal with this problem. Can anyb0dy help me solve this problem? I really want to know. Thanks
expectus (author) from Land Downunder on September 17, 2009:
aah yes I did forget step six, I will be sure to add it in very soon :) thanks for the comment. Aquaponics can be setup small scale as well using a small fish tank inside :)
Steve R McDowell from Atlanta on September 17, 2009:
You missed a sixth step in your directions, but otherwise, it was a marvelous read! Once I have my own yard, I'll have to try this out. It doesn't seem quite so viable for apartment living at the moment, I'm afraid.
expectus (author) from Land Downunder on May 17, 2009:
hello alan , i have heard of people setting up systems that don't require power but I cannot find the link at the moment but when I do i will post it here, if you look through backyardaquaponics.com you might be able to find it.
there are others way to generate power if you don't want to be using your household power, some people use water wheels if they have access to a water flow, or wind towers, solar power and a few other ways. I have also just set up a bigger pond about 1 x 2 metres big, will post some new pics soon too
Alan on May 17, 2009:
Hi, I would love to adventure more into this "aquaponics" and was thinking in a larger pond of about 1 meter or about 3 feet deep and three meters long, kind of circular!. The question is : is there any electric pump less way to do it??
expectus (author) from Land Downunder on January 25, 2009:
thanks for the comment:) its true there is a lot to read up on before making a aquaponics setup its worth joining backyardaquaponics:) some very helpful people there and some incredible aquaponic systems
Michele on January 25, 2009:
I really like this Idea , But it may take me a few times reading These instuctions, But only because i am new to this idea. But i am sure i will get it . to me it sounds like a way to save some water and help my fish, and another all around good project. Thank you very much Mrs. Michele Woods. I'LL keep checking i every so offten. firstname.lastname@example.org