Sometimes we get scared by big, technical words. At first glance, “Aquaponics” could be one of those, but when we start dissecting it, that’s really not the case. We don’t need a Latin course to know that Aqua means Water, but what about the Ponics? It comes from the ancient greek and can be roughly translated to “to labor or toil.” Joining both we get something like to work with water and, actually, that’s the overall idea behind Aquaponics – and it works so well, in fact, that it’s been booming in popularity in recent years.
What is Aquaponics, Really?
Alright, we’ll get a bit more into detail. Aquaponics joins the process of aquaculture, which refers to the task of breeding aquatic animals in artificial tanks, and hydroponic, the farming of plants in water, without solid soil. This practice creates a cycle that imitates the one we see, naturally, in Nature. First, we have the fish that eat and breed. Then, they produce excrements but, if the system was only that, the water toxicity would continue to rise and create a harsh environment. That’s where the bacterias enter. They create a bio-filter, capable of turning the ammonia from the excrements into nutrients. But what to do with those nutrients? It’s the plants’ time to shine! They feed on the nutrients, grow healthy, and produce oxygen-rich water where the fish can continue living and breeding, creating the cycle we’ve mentioned before.
This all seems extremely complicated, but with a bit of effort and some guidance (thankfully we’re here for that), you can create your own DIY aquaponics farm at home, in your backyard, and experiment with this amazing and fun way of farming both animals and plants.
Essential Aquaponics Components
First things first, let’s think about the essential components you’ll need to create your own aquaponics farm:
A good fish-water ratio to start with is one pound of fish, for every ten gallons of water. That way, you can try to get one of two standard sizes of food-grade tanks – a 55-gallon barrel or a 225-gallon square bin.
Because having plants floating around isn’t that practical, they will need a water-resistant soilless medium to grow in. A simple DIY approach consists of a 6 to 10 inches deep, shallow wooden box, coated with some kind of pond liner. Then, just fill it with an inert growing medium, like perlite or fine gravel. Regarding the size of your plant farm, you can go up to 10 times the surface area of your fish tank.
Pumps and Hardware
First, you’ll need a pump that makes water circulate between the fish tank and the plants’ bed. Get a solar-powered pump and your aquaponics farm will get a self-sufficient badge! The placement of the pump depends on the placement of your components. If your fish tank is below, place it on the bottom of the tank and use it to spread the water over the surface of the grow bed, but if its reverse, you can place it where it collects the water that drains from the grow beds, pumping it to the water tank.
Then, using regular PVC pipes, create a network that distributes water from the tank on to the grow beds – a good way to go on about it is to drill ¼-inch holes every 6 inches, structuring the beds with several parallel pies. You can plant a seedling at each of the little holes.
Lastly, and because sometimes the plants don’t create enough oxygen for the fish to live healthily, an aerator can take some weight off those plants’ back and ensure you your water tank is always filled with oxygen-rich water.
Now, depending on a large variety of variables, like the fish availability and legality in your area, the climate, the space available, among others, you have to choose a combo, consisting of an aquatic animal and a plant. Since you’re going for a more beginner DIY aquaponics farm, the water tank will never be too large, so choosing a smaller fish might be the best option. Now, since smaller fish produce fewer excrements, you’ll also need to combine it with a plant that has low nutrient requirements. With those characteristics, a good combo to go for is sunfish and lettuce. Even though sunfish isn’t edible, it’s pretty resilient, small and can produce enough nutrients to grow healthy, green and beautiful lettuces.
Putting it All Together
First things first, look at your backyard and choose a flat sunny space. If you don’t have a greenhouse, we recommend getting everything ready in early spring, so you can place your fish in the water tank when the water is at the right temperature.
Get all the previously mentioned components mounted and ready and seed your vegetable in some potting soil, at the same time you place your fish in the water tank. As soon as the seedlings are big enough to transplant to the grow beds, the fish should already be producing enough nutrients for the cycle to work.
Remember that the actual vegetable doesn’t have that much influence in producing oxygen for the water, but the grow beds do, so the water needs to circulate through them even if the plants aren’t still growing there.
Few things you should always remember:
- Keep the aerator running 24/7.
- The pump that transports water from the tank to the grow beds and vice-versa should be on a timer that turns it on in short periods of time, several times a day.
- A good rule on feeding fish is to let them eat as much as they can in 20 minutes, 3 times per day. Overfeeding them might result in more toxic water.
- Start simple – don’t overstock the water tank with fish.
- Once you get into a comfortable rhythm and have a good routine, start adding expansions and improvements to your aquaponics farm.
We’re sure you have realized, after reading this article, that the whole process isn’t that complex or hard. The overall idea is to create a simple symbiosis cycle between animals and plants, and even though the way we’ve explained it is the simpler and more effortless path to success, there are several other ways you can go on about it. Now, thin carefully on what you wish to produce, roll your sleeves up and get to work!