The Most Common Mistakes People Make in Aquaponics

The Most Common Mistakes To Avoid In Aquaponics

Often when people hear about aquaponics and its benefits, they get excited at the thought of growing their own organic food. Aquaponics systems are easy to establish and operate, but it may be challenging if you are not familiar with aquaponics.

If you had started building your aquaponics system or planning on building your aquaponics system, then this article is for you. I’m sharing this list of the most common mistakes that people make in aquaponics. This list will be a useful guide for you to avoid problems in building and managing your new aquaponics system.

1. Adding Poor Water Quality Water Into Your System

Water is considered the blood of aquaponics because it transports and provides all the plants’ essential nutrients. Your fish live in the water also, so it is important to maintain good water quality in your aquaponics system.

Using water that may not be clean is a big risk in aquaponics. So be sure to use clean water in your system like rainwater and potable pH-neutral well water.

If you are using tap water treated with chlorine, remove the chlorine before using it in your aquaponics system. You can remove the chlorine by allowing the water to sit out for 24-48 hours before using it. Chlorine gas will dissipate during the resting time, leaving clean and dechlorinated water.

The ideal water quality parameters for aquaponics are: 

  • Temperature (18-30 °C)
  • pH (6-7)
  • Ammonia
  • Nitrites
  • Nitrate
  • Dissolve oxygen ( 5-6.5 ppm)
Water Quality Test in Aquaponics

2. Improper Cycling

One of the most common mistakes that a beginner makes in aquaponics is not cycling their system properly by rushing to introduce fish in their systems. You need to cycle your aquaponics system first to establish the beneficial bacteria into your system. 

The two methods of cycling in aquaponics are:

  • Cycling with fish: You can start cycling your new aquaponics system by adding a few fish to the tank. Once the fish are in, feed them so they can begin the cycle by producing wastes. You need to monitor the ammonia and nitrite levels daily to ensure that they don’t get too high. If the ammonia gets higher than one ppm, change the water and continue monitoring the levels. If ammonia and nitrite levels are still high, keep replacing the water until the level gets lower. Your system is fully cycled once the ammonia and nitrite level remains below 0.25 ppm. Cycling with fish can take weeks.
  • Cycling without fish: Fishless cycling is often used in new aquaponics systems because it is fast and can be completed without the use of fish. You can begin fishless cycling by using an ammonia solution and monitoring your ammonia and nitrite levels. Continue adding and testing ammonia until the ammonia and nitrite levels are below 0.25 pm. When the system is fully cycled, you can start adding fish. 

3. Choosing the Wrong Fish

Choose fish that are capable of surviving to the temperature range of your location. If you live in a warmer climate, choose fish that thrive in warm weather like tilapia, and if you live in a colder climate, you can choose cold climate fish like trout. You also need to consider your space, budget, size, fish growth rate, and fish diet in choosing fish to grow in your aquaponics system.

4. Choosing the Wrong Plants

Choosing the wrong plants for a particular environment is another mistake that people make in aquaponics. For your aquaponics system’s success, you need to select plants that grow best in your type of system, space, climate, and environment. Another important thing to keep in mind is to choose plants and fish that thrive in your location.

5. Choosing the Wrong Grow Media

Choosing the wrong grow media is one of the most common mistakes people make in aquaponics. Many people ignore the basic factors in selecting the right media for their systems.

Grow media is one of your aquaponics system’s essential components because it allows the colonization of microbial populations, and it is where your plants grow. So, choose a grow media that is pH neutral, nutrient-free, able to retain water and air, but will drain quickly so that the roots will not get waterlogged. To ensure the success of your system, choose the top growing media for aquaponics.

6. Improper Management of Plant Pests and Diseases

It is important to know the proper pest and disease management in aquaponics and consider using natural pest control to establish and maintain your system. Keeping your aquaponics system is one way to ensure that the plants and fish in your system are safe and edible.

The most common pests in aquaponics are:

  • Aphids
  • Caterpillars
  • Tomato Hornworms
  • Bettles
  • Mealybugs
  • Cutworms

There are several ways to eliminate pests from your aquaponics system without using chemicals safely, and here are some of them:

  • Check your plants regularly for pests.
  • Hand removes visible pests you find in your plants and destroys the pests. 
  • Use bug netting in your aquaponics system to create a physical barrier around the plants to prevent many pests from getting to your plants.
  • Plant pest-repelling plants in your system to drive away from the pests. You can plant these plants beside your vegetables. Pest-repelling plants are artemisia, catnip, dill, chives, chrysanthemums, petunias, and mint.
  • Use beneficial insects such as ladybugs, lacewings, and spiders. These are beneficial insects that can help in preventing or controlling pests in your plants. 


Fish in Aquaponics

7. Too Many Fish In the Tank

Another common mistake that people make in aquaponics is overcrowding their fish tanks. Too many fish will overcrowd your fish tank and make your system less efficient. It is advisable not to fill your fish tank with fish and keep stocking density low if you are starting your system. With low stock density, you can easily manage your aquaponics system and avoid any shock and collapse. 

Too many fish will release lots of fish wastes that will be more than what the plants can filter. A rule of thumb is to keep one fish per every eight gallons of water. Anyway, you always have the option to add fish later when you see that your system needs more fish. So, it’s a waste to overstock fish and lose them to death or have to take them out.

8. Choosing the Wrong Fish Tank

Your fish tank and grow bed go together, so it is important to consider your grow bed in choosing fish the right fish tank for your system. It is recommended to use a waterproof, sturdy, non-toxic, and round-shaped fish tank for your aquaponics system. 

9. Improper Management of pH

Improper Management of pH is the most common mistake in aquaponics systems. The pH of the water has a significant impact on plants, fish, and bacteria. The ideal pH range for aquaponics is between 6-7, and outside this range, the nutrients become difficult for the plants to access.
Improper Management of pH can cause many challenges and difficulties in your aquaponics system. So test your pH often and properly adjust it to the ideal range to keep your fish, plants, and bacteria safe.

10. Overfeeding the Fish

Avoid overfeeding the fish in your system and remove or clean any uneaten food 30 minutes after feeding. Uneaten food will decompose inside the fish tank that can be harmful to the fish. Decomposing uneaten food can consume all the dissolved oxygen in the fish tank and cause fish diseases.

11. Poor Water Circulation

It is important to have proper aeration and water circulation by using water and air pumps or air stones to maintain a healthy environment for fish, plants, and bacteria.

12. Not Spending Enough Time Checking the System

Seeing the process of growing plants and fish together can be exciting. Once your aquaponics system is set up, and you have established a routine on maintaining your aquaponics system, there are very few things that may need to be done from day today. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that things are running smoothly and take your system for granted.
Be diligent in monitoring your system and track the overall health of your system. Be detailed in observing any changes in your plants and fish behavior and make a point to check your system’s detail every day. It doesn’t take but a few days to change the system to become negatively impactful to your whole system.
One important thing to keep in mind in maintaining your aquaponics system is keeping records of what is happening to your system. Keep records of your observation, test results, or make a few notes from time to time. You might like it now, but one day you’ll appreciate all those notes you wrote because keeping records can be your helpful reference in the future.


As you have seen, in building and maintaining an aquaponics system,  many variables need to be considered, and mistakes are unavoidable. However, mistakes can be avoided easily if you know about them. I hope this list will help you avoid making mistakes when you start building your aquaponics system.
Thank you for reading this article, and if you want to add it to the list above, please add it in the comments below.