If you’re planning to start your aquaponics system, then these aquaponics frequently asked questions can be a big help in answering questions you might have in building your system.
What is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics is a method of farming that combines aquaculture (growing fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in water) in a symbiotic environment. Aquaponics uses no chemicals and requires only 1/10 water needed to grow plants.
How does Aquaponics Work?
In aquaponics, fish are fed food to produce ammonia-rich fish waste that accumulates in the water. The bacteria process the fish waste and turn it into nitrites and then into nitrates, which are essential nutrients for the plants.
The water with fish wastes is then pumped to the grow beds for the plants to use as nutrients. In return, the plant roots filter the water before it returns to the fish tank for the fish to live.
Who can practice aquaponics?
Aquaponics is for everyone. Anyone who are interested in aquaponics can set up their system.
Do I need any permits to set up an aquaponics system?
It depends on your location. However, most countries do not require permits to set up a backyard aquaponics system.
Do you need a greenhouse in aquaponics?
No, aquaponics does not need a greenhouse. You can set up an aquaponics system, indoors, outdoors, and in a greenhouse. Using a greenhouse can provide year-round gardening and some protection from the weather and other elements. However, a greenhouse is just another option in setting up an aquaponics system.
What are the advantages of aquaponics compared to other methods of farming?
These are the advantages of aquaponics over other methods of farming:
- Aquaponics uses 90% less water than traditional agriculture, since the water is rarely changed or discarded because it is recycled repeatedly through the whole system.
- Compared to other farming methods, aquaponics allows you to grow food all year round by regulating the temperatures as per what you are growing and by using greenhouses.
- Aquaponics farming does not require soil to grow vegetables. So there are very few weeds that will pop up in your garden.
- Aquaponics can offer two sources of income from the fish and vegetables if you grow commercially.
What are the main components of an aquaponics system?
The three main components of aquaponics are fish, plants, and bacteria.
What is cycling?
System cycling is the process of establishing the beneficial bacteria in a newly built aquaponics system so that the bacteria can convert fish waste into food for the plants.
Cycling is a slow process that requires patience, and the process involves constantly introducing an ammonia source into the aquaponics system, feeding the new bacterial colony, and creating a bio-filter.
The progress is measured by monitoring the nitrogen levels using a nitrate test kit. You know that the bacteria are established, and the system is fully cycled when the test result shows an increase in nitrates.
In the right conditions, cycling can take about 25 to 40 days. If the water temperature is cool, full cycling may take up to two months to finish. However, if another aquaponics system is available, it is beneficial to share part of the existing system bio-filter as a seed of bacteria for the new system.
What can be grown in aquaponics?
You can grow almost any fish and plants in aquaponics, but an aquaponics system is best suited for warm freshwater fish and leafy crops. The best fish that can be raised in aquaponics are tilapia, carp, koi, barramundi, catfish, etc. and ornamental fish like koi and goldfish.
The best plants that can be grown in aquaponics are lettuce, kale, swiss chard, watercress, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, chives, cabbage, onions, cauliflower, carrots, etc.
How many fish can be grown in an aquaponics system?
This depends on your aquaponics system plan, but as a general rule, 5-10 gallons of water can accommodate 1 pound of fish (1-2 fish). It is important not to overstock fish in your fish tanks, as this could create fish congestion, which can harm the fish.
What do I feed the fish in my aquaponics system?
The fish grown in the system will determine the fish food to be used. Specific fish need specific fish food. Some fish eat worms, vegetable leaves, left-over food, etc. Before choosing what species of fish to grow in your system, it is important to know what fish food the fish likes to eat to ensure that the fish food is readily available in your location.
Do I need to test the water in my system regularly?
It is recommended to test your water regularly. You can do a water test every week or every two weeks, especially if your system is new. Regular water tests include ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, and iron, and this can be done by using water test kits that you can buy online or through an aquarium store near you.
Is there daily maintenance in the operation of the aquaponics system?
Yes, To ensure the health and success of your aquaponics system, you need to do some periodic tasks each day such as;
- Feeding the fish
- Planting vegetables
- Observing and monitoring your system
- Testing water quality
- Any other tasks to ensure that the system operates properly.
Can I use chlorinated water in aquaponics?
No, the chlorine present in the water can be harmful to your fish and to the bacteria colonies living in the grow bed. You should dechlorinate your water before using it by letting the water sit for a few days to allow the chlorine to evaporate or by adding dechlorinate to the water.
Is aquaponics expensive to start?
It depends on what type of system, size of the system, location, and if you will buy a ready to set up the system, or create a DIY aquaponics system and use some materials that you can recycle into grow beds and fish tanks. Here are some major factors that will affect the cost of starting an aquaponics system:
- Type of aquaponics system: It can be a media-based, raft, IBC, NFT type of system.
- Size of the system: You might want a single grow bed system, which is cheaper than a large system with multiple grow beds.
- Components: You can buy a kit system that is ready to set up, or you can build an aquaponics system using materials that you can find around. Yes, you can build a system by repurposing and innovating old materials, but you should also consider the longevity, and quality of the material you’re using if you want a long-lasting, food-safe aquaponics system.
What are the materials needed to start an aquaponics system?
These are the possible materials needed for a small media-based aquaponics system:
- Fish tank
- Grow bed
- PVC pipes for piping
- Grow media (clay pebbles, gravel or expanded clay)
- Water pump
- Air pump
- Water testing kit
- Fish food
- Water heater if you live in a colder climate
- Light for the fish tank and plants if you’re growing indoor
- Bell siphon
What are the different types of aquaponics systems?
These are the types of aquaponics system:
- Media-Based Aquaponics System: The media-based system is the most common type of Aquaponics system. This system is also called “Flood and Drain” or “Ebb and Flow.” In this system, plants are grown in a planting media like gravel or expanded clay pebbles. The planting of media filters ammonia-based waste and solid waste. The media-based system is well suited for growing smaller and larger fruiting plants. This system is also popular with do-it-yourselves, backyard aquaponics systems, and commercial farms.
- Nutrient Film Technique: (NFT) in Aquaponics is a method in which the plants are grown in a long narrow channel. NFT is a hydroponic growing technique that is adapted to aquaponics because of its simple yet effective design and works well in some environments.
- Raft System: In a raft system, also known as Deep Water Culture or Floating System, the plants are grown on rafts (polystyrene or foam boards) that float on top of the water in the raft bed. The nutrient-filled water flows continuously from the fish tank through the filtration process, then to the raft tank where the plants are grown and then back to the fish tank. Most often, the raft tank is separate from the fish tank.
- IBC: An IBC aquaponics system is a system that is made of an Intermediate Bulk Container. The top of the container is usually cut off and turned upside down to be made into grow beds for the plants. The water is then pumped from the fish tank to the grow bed and is then let to trickle through the grow media, passing the roots of the plants before being drained back into the fish tank.
- Hybrid: A hybrid aquaponics system is a combination of multiple types of aquaponics systems. Most commercial aquaponics use a hybrid system because of its efficiency and great use of space. You can combine any system that you like and fits your needs. There are several approaches to this aquaponic system, and all can work well, depending on how you design, build and maintain your system.