Everything You Need to Know About the Different Types of Aquaponics Setups

Many home growers are now using different types of aquaponics setups for their gardening needs. But not every system meets any growing situation and you need to be careful with your choice depending on what you intend to grow. 

The key to achieving a good setup for your aquaponics is getting a balance of nutrients, plants, fish, and bacteria. You can choose from different types of aquaponics systems including media-based, hybrid, vertical, raft, and nutrient film technology.

Aquaponics can be a great way to grow your organic food, but only if you choose the right setup. So, it’s important to know what each of these aquaponics systems entails before deciding.

Types of Aquaponics Systems and How they Work

Media-Based Aquaponics Systems

Media-based aquaponics, also known as flood and drain, is the most common aquaponic system. It’s very popular with do-it-yourselves, backyard home systems, and commercial farms. In media-based aquaponics, plants grow on the surface, and their roots are held down in a suitable medium. A little pond for fish provides nutrients through its waste, helping plants grow.

How Does It Work?

The media-based aquaponics system consists of a grow bed filled with growing media, including expanded clay pebbles, gravel, and lava rock into which you can plant vegetables. The water from the fish tank is pumped or flows by gravity into the grow beds to enable the plants to access the nutrients.

The porous nature of the media allows them to absorb and hold water for longer for more efficient nutrient uptake and filter out water to prevent solids, materials, and other organisms from entering the fish tank. The media is also a great place for beneficial bacteria to live and colonize, which helps convert ammonia from the fish waste into plant-friendly nitrates.

Some media-based aquaponics is run by flooding and draining the grow bed using a bell siphon to drain the water when it reaches saturation. Once the water reaches a certain level of the grow bed, the bell siphon will drain the water from the grow bed. This also brings oxygen back to the grow beds, ensuring the plants have all nutrients they need in the absence of fertilizers.

Nutrient Film Technique

The nutrient film technique in aquaponics is a method in which the plants are grown in a long, narrow channel. The nutrient film technique is a hydroponic growing technique adapted to aquaponics because of its simple and effective design that works well in some environments.

How Does It Work?

The nutrient film technique filtration works by pumping or flowing freshwater through mechanical filters before they enter into biofilters. Some water moves directly into the fish, while the remaining is distributed through the pipes. Water flows by gravity down the grow pipes where aquaponic plants are growing.

Water returns to the pipe or biofilter once they exit the grow pipes. It then moves to the fish tank or the grow pipes. Water entering the aquaponics fish tank makes it overflow, moving the water into the exit pipes and then into the mechanical filter, completing the cycle.

In this technique, a thin film of water flows continuously down each channel, providing the plant’s root with water, nutrients, and oxygen. The water is then pumped back into the fish tank when it reaches the end of the channel. This aquaponics fish tank setup is popular for commercial aquaponics because it’s more viable than the other aquaponics methods.

Aquaponics Plant

Hybrid Aquaponics System

This is a combination of two or more systems into one. It’s mostly used by commercial aquaponics because of its efficiency and great use of space. You can combine any system you like that fits your needs. There are several approaches to this aquaponic system, it all depends on how you design, build and maintain your system.

How Does It Work?

In a hydroponic system with all three systems in one aquaponics system, the water moves from the fish tank to the vertical towers, the media beds, and then drains to the DWC system. It then moves back to the aquaponics fish tank, completing one cycle.

You can scale up these aquaponics hybrid urban growing systems to size and replicate as per your need. They may even operate off the grid if you modify enough. You can grow all green leafy plants and herbs in your hybrid aquaponics system.

Vertical Aquaponics System

A vertical aquaponics setup is one aquaponics method that grows plants without soil in columns above the fish tank. It uses mainly the nutrient film technique aquaponics method. This gardening and raising fish method is very popular among aquaponic gardeners because it’s water-efficient and space-saving. It also allows growers to produce twice the amount of crops compared to the medium-based system having the same area.

How It Works

Vertical aquaponics is a system of farming that grows plants in long, narrow channels. It utilizes the nutrient film technique aquaponics method. The only difference is the setup. While in nutrient film technique, the growing channels are defined horizontally, vertical aquaponics is designed vertically.

Raft Aquaponics Setups

Also known as Deep Water Culture, the raft system of aquaponics is one of the most efficient aquaponics system designs. This homemade aquaponics setup is often used in large-scale or commercial aquaponics because of its mass production capability.

Aquaponics Farming System

How It Works

The nutrient-rich water circulates from the fish tank to the plant rafts in a raft system and then back to the tank. The plants are suspended in a Styrofoam block with their roots hanging down into the water. An aquarium pump constantly circulates the water, so the plants get all the nutrients they need.

The water is filled and flows continuously via the fish tank, then to a raft where the plants are growing, and finally returns to the fish tank. The useful lives in the raft tank, the biofilter, and all through the system. It’s important for a successful system that you design it well, so ensure your selection of plants is right.

During harvest, remove the aquaponics plants and the dead leaves and roots from the canal. Clean the raft but don’t leave it to dry, or else the nitrifying bacteria will die.

What Do You Need to Setup an Aquaponics System?

  • Fish Tank

You need an aquarium tank to hold the fish and water. The size of the tank will depend on how many plants you want to grow and the size of the fish.

  • Grow Bed

You need a grow bed to plant the aquaponics plants in. The grow bed can be made of many different materials but must hold water.

  • Grow Bed Support

You need a way to support the grow bed. This can be done with a stand, bracket, or frame.

  • Sump Tank

The sump tank is a container that catches the water from the grow bed. This water is then pumped back up to the fish tank. The dump tank will depend on the design of your system

  • Grow Lights

You will need lights to grow the plants, especially in an indoor aquaponics fish tank setup.

  • Plumbing Pipes and Fittings

You will need some plumbing pipes and fittings to connect the different parts of your aquaponics system. These will depend on the type of your grow beds, system, and other factors.

  • Bell Siphon

A bell siphon is a device that helps to drain the water from the grow bed. It is a tube with a flared end that sits in the water. When the water level gets high enough, it will siphon the water out of the grow bed.

  • Grow Media

You will need some grow media to grow the plants in. This could be gravel, rocks, or soil. You’ll need these grow media to anchor the plants as they act as a place for the nitrifying bacteria to convert ammonia to nitrates.

  • Water Pump

The water pump is what circulates the water through the system. It pumps the water from the fish tank to the grow bed and back. You’ll need to size your pump according to your system’s needs.

  • Monitoring System

A monitoring system is important to have so you can see what’s going on in your system. This could be a water level sensor, pH, temperature, or oxygen sensor. Without this, you won’t know when something is wrong, and you could lose your fish.

  • Heater

A heater is necessary if you live in a climate where the water temperature drops below 60°F (16°C). You’ll need to size your heater according to the size of your tank.

  • Timers and Controllers

Although optional, you’ll need timers and controllers to automate your system. This will make it easier for you to maintain and help keep your fish healthy.

How Much Does It Cost to Setup an Aquaponics System?

The cost of setting up an aquaponics system depends on several factors. The size, type, and materials used in the system are some of the things that determine the cost. 

The cost of materials for setting up an aquaponic system for a beginner can start from $1411 and go up depending on how large the system is. The cost of labor and transportation of the materials will also add to the overall cost.

The cost of starting an aquaponics system will also depend on the components and quantity you require to get the system up and running. These aquaponic components heavily dictate the size of the system, so prices for these components will vary.

Final Verdict

The right aquaponics setups are a great way to produce plants and fish while conserving water. However, the cost of starting an aquaponics system can be too high. Do your research on what components you need and their prices to get a better estimate of how much it will cost to start, get the perfect aquaponics setup and start your farm.

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Welcome to The Aquaponics Guide

Hello! We are the Johnsons and the faces of The Aquaponics Guide. We have been avid gardeners for many years and growing our own food is one of our key priorities. We have found sustainable Aquaponics farming to be a life changer, which is the reason we have created The Aquaponics Guide.