All aquaponics systems have the same essential components. These include fish, plants, and bacteria, and depending on your aquaponics designs, the secondary components include the fish tank, grow beds (rafts or grow pipes), pump, and plumbing. All aquaponics system designs share these common and essential components. Each of these components plays a vital role in the success of your aquaponics system. So it is essential that every aquaponics growers give some thoughts on the design before getting started. This blog will walk you through each component and give you all the information you need to decide which aquaponics method to implement
The Essential Component of Aquaponics System
Fish plays a vital role in the aquaponics system as they will be the source of natural fertilizer for the plants, so proper selection of fish to raise in your aquaponics system is critical. Key things to consider when selecting the fish for your system:
- Purpose: Aside from providing food for your plants, what is the goal of raising your fish? The easiest way to start your aquaponics system is to grow a few fish for recreation like goldfish or food like tilapia.
- Temperature: Different fish have different water temperature requirements. Some fish, such as trout, like cold water, while some fish, such as tilapia, prefer warm water. Choosing a fish adaptable to your temperature and weather is essential.
- What crops are to be grown: Make sure that your fish and plants have the same temperature requirements.
- Maintenance Difficulty: Some fish are hardy and require little care, while others are sensitive and costly. If you don’t want to put much effort into maintaining your system, you can choose a sturdy fish that can live in dirty water and be immune to parasites and disease. Koi and tilapia are easy to raise for a beginner.
Making the right choice in aquaponics plants is essential to the success of the system and the success of your harvest. You can grow many plants in an aquaponics system, and picking plants to grow in your aquaponics system can be a fun part. However, different plants have different needs and thrive under other conditions.
The most common plant types in aquaponics systems are lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, basil, and cucumbers. Don’t limit your imagination to just these plant types. You can grow almost any plant variety in an aquaponics system. To choose the best plant for your aquaponics system, read our related article: What are the best plants for aquaponics?
Bacteria play an essential part in the aquaponic cycle. It transforms fish waste into nutrients for the plants in the process known as nitrification. Nitrification is a process in which organic compounds are converted into nitrites and then into nitrates. The Nitrosomonas do this by converting ammonia into nitrite. Then the Nitrobacter converts nitrites into nitrates. Once converted into nitrates, they can be absorbed by the plants. These bacteria can be present in the grow bed, grow media, fish tank, and biofilter.
Components of Different Methods of Aquaponics System
1. Media Based
A media based aquaponics system, also called flood and drain, is the most common small-scale aquaponics system that is popular with do-it-yourself (DIY) backyard home systems. Media based systems designs are simple and efficient with space and have a low initial cost which is suitable for beginners in aquaponics.
Components of a Media Based Aquaponics System
1. Fish Tank
Fish tanks are a critical component of aquaponics. Fish require specific conditions to thrive and survive. Therefore, the fish tank should be chosen wisely. Factors to consider in choosing a fish tank are the following:
- Shape: Although any tank’s shape will work, round tanks with flat bottoms are recommended for aquaponics. A round-shaped tank allows water to circulate uniformly and transports solid wastes toward the tank’s center.
- Material: The material should be either a robust and inert plastic or fiberglass because of its durability and long life span.
- Color: White or other light-colored fish tanks are advisable because they allow easy viewing of the fish inside the tanks. White tanks also reflect the sunlight and keep the water cool.
2. Grow Bed
One of the most essential components in the media bed system is the grow bed. The grow bed is where you grow your plants. Make sure your grow bed is:
- made of food-grade materials that will not leak unwanted chemicals into the water or affect the water pH.
- Strong enough to hold the water and growing media.
- Able to withstand different weather conditions.
- It can be connected to other components easily through simple plumbing parts.
- It can be placed near the other components.
3. Grow Media
Many materials can be used as grow media in a media based system. However, the media must be organic and have an adequate surface area to allow bacteria to grow and water flow to the plants’ roots. The medium must have a neutral pH so that the water quality will not be affected. The common grow media options for aquaponics are:
- Clay pebbles
- Lava rock
- Expanded Shale
4. Bell Siphon
A Bell Siphon, also known as an Auto Siphon, is a mechanical device used to regulate the water flow quickly and efficiently in an aquaponic system.
Pumps are used to recirculate the water in raft systems and keep the water moving.
2. Raft Method
The Raft System of aquaponics, also known as deep water culture (DWC) or floating system, is one of the most efficient aquaponics techniques. This system is generally implemented in large-scale or commercial aquaponics because of its mass production capability.
Components of a Raft System
1. Fish Tank
A fish tank is essential in any aquaponic system. The fish tank is where your fish will live, and the tank acts as the collection reservoir for fish waste. The fish waste and water will be pumped into the plant beds, providing enough moisture and nutrients for their growth.
2. Grow Canals
Like the fish tank, canals can be made of strong, inert material that can hold a large water volume. Canals can vary in length, but it is generally recommended that the width should be the standard width of a polystyrene sheet. The recommended depth is 30 cm to allow adequate plant root space.
3. Floating Rafts
This is the place for the plants to grow. Floating rafts are made from styrofoam or other lightweight material lined with foam. Plants are placed in holes on the rafts, allowing their roots to dangle into the water. Net pots are often used for added stability and to prevent the plants from falling through rafts into the system.
The filters capture the solid waste from the fish, plant material, and anything that might get into the system. Filtration in the raft method is essential because the solid particles, residual fish foods, and fish waste can create a severe problem in your aquaponic system.
5. Water Pump
The water pump pumps water from the fish tank, through the filters, and into the grow beds. Pumps are used to recirculate the water in raft systems and keep the water moving.
6. Aeration Method
Aeration is the addition of oxygen into the water using ambient air. Adding more oxygen to the water is essential for the fish and the plant’s health and growth. Air pumps, diffusers, air stones, or other methods can also aerate the system.
7. Grow Media
The grow media in the raft method are placed in the net pot to ensure the plant roots are established in the proper position.
3. Nutrient Film Technique
The Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) method uses horizontal pipes (usually PVC pipes) with shallow streams of nutrient-rich water flowing through them. Plants are planted in the holes in the top of the pipes and can utilize this thin film of nutrient-rich water.
Nutrient Film Technique systems are primarily used in cultivating greens that have small root systems. The NFT is popular for commercial aquaponics because it is more viable than the other aquaponics methods. This technique is also more useful in urban places where space and food production are considerations. However, it is more expensive to set up and is not suitable in locations that do not have enough access to suppliers.
Components of Nutrient Film Technique
1. Fish Tank
As mentioned above, the fish tank is where your fish live.
2. Grow Pipes
NFT uses plastic pipes (usually PVC pipes) laid out horizontally to grow plants using the water in the aquaponics system. The pipes can be arranged in different patterns and use the vertical space, walls, fences, and overhanging balconies.
Like in other aquaponics methods, the pumps in nft are used to recirculate the water in raft systems and keep the water moving.
4. Grow Media
Like the raft method, the grow media in the nft method are also placed in the net pot to ensure the plant roots are established in the right position.
Understanding each of the elements of aquaponics is key to running a thriving aquaponics system. It is essential to consider your objectives and constraints from fish selection to grow bed selection before building your own system. To learn more about aquaponics, join our Facebook group.