Photo courtesy of Aquaponics International.
Are you looking for an informative aquaponics how-to guide? We’ve got all the information you need to build your own system right here! Check it out in this 10 step “How-to Aquaponics” guide.
10 Steps to Your Own Aquaponics System
1. Give your system a purpose.
Decide what you want to “do” with your system. You might already have this in mind. For instance, do you want enough vegetables to feed your family? Or do you plan on selling or donating the yield? This will help you plan out the features and choose the materials for your aquaponics system.
2. Choose the location for your system.
For some people, this might be a no-brainer. But if there are multiple places where you could put your aquaponics system, there are a few factors you should consider. The first is sunlight. Plants require 4-6 hours per day to grow; however the fish are better off out of the sun. If their tanks must be in direct sunlight, you should consider putting some floating plants on the surface of the tanks, as fish will have some protection from the sun.
3. Decide what you will grow the plants in.
One important component any hydroponic (or aquaponic) system is the growing media you use to grow the plants in. This media acts as a filter and also provides bacteria with the necessary surface area that they need to multiply and help in the nitrification cycle that will convert fish waste into plant nutrients. You can use rocks, expanded clay, or gravel for this purpose. However there are a few factors you should consider. If you choose rock, you will need to be aware of the pH content, because a high pH level can hurt your system. Rock and gravel are also very heavy, so you will need to consider how you will suspend the beds over the water if that’s what you plan on doing. Expanded clay is a light alternative but it is usually expensive or hard to find.
4. Plant the plants.
As soon as the system is ready you can plant your grow beds. You can use seeds, seedlings, or a combination of both. Sprinkle the seeds over the growing media or if you are using seedlings, plant them throughout the bed. Some people recommend removing soil from seedlings before planting, as the soil attached to the roots of the seedlings often contains contaminants such as fertilizers. You can wash off the roots of the soil to avoid adding this unnecessary dirt to your system. Some tips to remember when planting:
- Plant seeds/seedlings densely. You can plant them much closer than you would in normal soil because they have access to all of the water they need.
- Include structures or areas where the plants can “grow into,” for instance plant climbers, walls, or lattice structures.
- You can even let certain types of plants (e.g. pumpkins) “leave” the system, as the roots will get all they need from the water.
- Choose to grow plants that serve your purpose. If tomato is your favourite vegetable, grow that. If you plan on selling your produce,
- Never remove all of your plants from the system at once.
- The system works best when you have a mix of plants at different stages of maturity, so don’t hesitate to start off with a few plants and increase as you go.
5. Stock your system with fish.
When it comes to aquaponics, every system is different. However, there are some general guidelines that you can use as you go about stocking your tank. In general, you should have about 20-25 fish for every 500L of growbed media in your system. The growbeds should be around 25-30 cm deep. The amount of fish you add to your system will be reliant on the fish species, how much they eat, the flow of water, oxygen levels, the number of plants, and water temperature. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your own system to find out what works best.
6. Don’t forget to feed the fish!
The one added component to any aquaponics system is fish feed. Most people use a standard aquaculture pellet, but you can also supplement the fish diet using worms, maggots, fly larvae or other natural sources.
7. Prepare for power outages.
When the power goes out (and it happens often in India), you need to make sure that your fish are not going to die. A well-stocked fish tank will run out of oxygen very quickly, so you will need to have a contingency plan for when your electric pump stops working. Some suggestions include using battery-operated generators or a backup generator. However, you need to be present to activate those and you can’t control where you are when the power goes out. Having an automatic system is a much better alternative, so consider getting a pump that can run on both an internal battery and power. That way, it will switch on automatically when the power goes out and recharge when the power is on.
8. Study your system.
As you become more familiar with your system, you will be able to notice changes that take place. You should keep an eye on fish behaviour and notice what is normal and what is not. If anything seems suspicious, do a little research to see what might be causing the problem. Also, test your water regularly, but don’t respond extremely to the readings. If you get a reading that says the pH is low in your system, don’t react by immediately adding an alkaline substance to increase it as this will cause stress for the fish. Instead, do a little research and try to find the root of the problem before you react.
9. Combat pests and diseases.
Aquaponics systems are not immune to pests and diseases; however they are significantly less susceptible to these annoyances compared to traditional crops. Pesticides and chemicals SHOULD NOT be used on the system, as they will be toxic to the fish and the bacteria in the system. There are natural ways to control pests, through the use of bacteria, organically-certified sprays, potassium bicarbonate, or sticky traps.
10. Address system deficiencies.
Supplements for plants are usually not necessary in aquaponic systems. If you do notice a deficiency in your plants, you can do some research online. Seaweed extract is a commonly-used substance used to treat deficiencies as it contains a lot of nutrients and minerals helpful to the plants. Always do your research before trying to address a nutrient deficiency.