Welcome to My Aquaponics Adventure! In the following posts I will be blogging about my adventure down the path of Aquaponics. Perhaps you have heard of the term aquaponics, know a friend who has a system or have never heard about it at all. Well, hopefully I will be able to shed some light on the subject and show you how my system is going right now, and in future posts. But first things first…
What is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics.
Aquaculture is the raising of fish for food or market, otherwise known as fish farming. Aquaculture has disadvantages such as having to constantly monitor the pH levels and suck the ammonia, nitrite, and solid waste from the tank, meanwhile also having to filter water so the fish can survive.
Hydroponics is the process of growing plants without soil and only using water. Hydroponics has the disadvantage of also having to monitor pH levels and add ammonia and nitrate to the water that the plants need.
In case you didn’t notice, in hydroponics you need to add ammonia and nitrate, and in aquaculture you need to subtract ammonia and nitrite. Therefore, we combine the two and come up with a system call Aqua-Ponics, get it? However, there is a third ingredient in the system that is often over looked. Plants cannot simply eat nitrite and fish waste by itself. There is a bacteria that needs to be formed to convert the nitrite from the fish into nitrate for the plants. Luckily this bacteria exists on the slime coating of the fish so it is introduced naturally, but it needs to be grown. This is often called the nitrogen cycle in terms of aquariums and fish farms. I’ve read that this can take up to a month before it evens out. The basic cycle of aquaponics is:
- Fish produce ammonia, and nitrite. Water is pumped from fish tank to a grow bed.
- Bacteria in the grow bed eats and converts nitrite into nitrate
- Plants in the grow bed take in nitrate and filter water for fish.
- Water is gravity fed back to the fish tank.
Most materials can be picked up for free if you’re a scrounger like me. I have brought 100 pallets, an IBC, 2 55 gal drums, and I am working on getting dustless gravel for free also. Most industrial factories see these items as disposable and you should be able to pick them up for free or for a lower cost than buying them new. However, if you do want to buy everything, here is what you’ll need to get started.
- Fish Tank (IBC)
- Grow Beds (IBC/55 gal Drums
- Water Pump (I’m going to try to use an Air Pump so we will see how that works out.)
- PVC pipe (will vary based on the size of system/amount of flow)
- Plants (you can grow just about anything from what I’ve read online, including trees!)
- Fish (There are many different types of fish you can grow)
I’m sure I’m missing things, but these are the basic components to get started. Here is a further explanation of the materials listed above:
Fish Tank An IBC (Intermediate Bulk Container) commonly referred to as a chemical tote, is primarily what I’ll be using for the fish tank and a large grow bed. These generally hold about 275 gal when whole but I have cut mine so I’m guessing around 200 gals for my fish tank. IBC’s have metal grating around them which make them great, inexpensive fish tanks that can be buried or stand alone on top of the ground without collapsing.
Grow Beds are what the plants and bacteria live in. These need to be deep enough that plants can set down roots to hold themselves up, however, not so deep that there is a significant amount of water not being used by the plants. Aquaponics is about being efficient. 55 gal plastic drums are great for water tanks and grow beds. I have cut the top off of one for a gravity force water tank to feed the grow beds, and the other I cut in half length wise to serve as additional grow beds. Keep in mind if you cut them length wise you will need to have additional support for them as they can get flimsy in this position. I’ve read horror stories online.
Water Pump While this is obvious, the pump needs to be capable of cycling the amount of water in the system once every 2-3 hours. so if you have a 300 gal system, you will need to have a 200-300 gal/hr water pump. You can have the water pump supply the water straight from the fish tank to the grow beds and eliminate the gravity fed water tank altogether. I will be using a gravity fed water tank simply because I only want to pump the water to it, and then let graviy take the water through the rest of the system.
Plants I have seen tons of lists online of plants you can grow in an aquaponics system, from what I can tell, if you can grow it in a garden, you can grow it in this system.
Fish can vary depending on your area and climate. Here in Texas, the most common are tilapia and catfish being used in aquaponics systems. I will be using catfish since they are a little hardier than tilapia when it comes to temperature. Most people think aquaponics is the farming of fish and plants, however an aquaponics system is a garden first, with a bonus of fish later. You will not be able to harvest the fish like you will the plants, and it will most likely not be a steady source of protein as a standalone system. Something to keep in mind if you are planning on starting a system of your own.
Well I hope this at least gives a decent introduction into the world of aquaponics. I will keep posting on this as my project continues, please feel free to join me and comment, post pics and ideas or concepts working in your system or ask questions!