The Ultimate Guide to Aquaponics

Aquaponics is one of the fastest-growing agriculture sectors. It has been around for thousands of years, and the practice’s history dates back to ancient times. In recent years, the concept of aquaponics is growing in urban farming communities and is rapidly making a mark on larger scales.

Aquaponics is a hybrid food production technology that integrates two words: aquaculture and ponos. Aquaculture cultivates fish in a re-circulatory system. Ponos is a Greek word that stands for rearing plants either with or without grow media.

The principle behind aquaculture is simple. Fish are fed fish food, and their waste is pumped to grow beds, where plants are grown. The plant roots filter the water as they grow, purifying the water for the fish.

We have curated a guide for you to know about aquaponics farming. It will also provide you with an in-depth insight into the basic components of an aquaponics system so that you can replicate this process. Or even make something similar without much prior knowledge about aquaponics.

The Definition

Aquaponics is the process of growing plants, bacteria, and fish together in a symbiotic system using recirculating water to create high yields without soil.

The practice of using aquaponics is older than you can think. Keep reading to find out more about it.

A Brief History of Aquaponics

The river plains have been flooded with river water since the beginning of agriculture. That is not all. Here are more examples from the past.

  • One of the earliest examples of aquaponics is from Southeast Asia and South China. The Chinese settlers migrated from Yunnan in 5AD cultivated rice using fish. This polyculture farming system has been in practice in several far eastern countries. 

  • A Chinese agricultural manual from the 13th century, “Wang Zhen’s Book” on farming, describes floating wooden rafts stacked with dirt and mud. These were used for growing fodder, rice, and wild rice. The farming book has references from the Northern Song Dynasty (8th century) and the Tang Dynasty (6th century) of Chinese history. 

  • The Aztecs prepared agricultural islands in a farming system and are thought of as one of the earliest forms of aquaponics. The plants were reared on movable or stationary islands on the waste materials and lake shallows from the Chinampa canals and the adjacent cities to cultivate plants every year.

Living Components of Aquaponics

An aquaponics system comprises three living things:

Fish (or some other aquatic creatures)

Fish excreta is used as a natural fertilizer for the plants. However, one must research enough to choose the best fish for their aquaponics system. This will help them gain maximum growth output. To be more precise, pick easy to raise, disease-resistant, and readily available fish for the purpose. 

Plants

The number one reason people want to grow plants in an aquaponics system is to cultivate organic plants. Not only this, plants play a crucial role in controlling and managing the overall growth cycle by cleaning and aerating the system.

Plants filter water, absorb nitrates, and recirculate water back to the fish. Select easy-to-grow plants that suit the climate of your location.

Bacteria

Yet another critical component of an aquaponics system is bacteria. They are responsible for converting fish waste into nutrients to be absorbed by the plants. The fish waste contains ammonia which is turned into nitrites and nitrates via the nitrification process.

Plants utilize these two to grow and thrive. In addition, two main types of bacteria Nitrosomonas spp and Nitrobacter spp are used for aquaponics success. Both must be present in a system.

Main Parts of Aquaponics

Each aquaponics system is made up of two main components: aquaculture for rearing aquatic animals and hydroponics for growing plants. These two main parts are further sectioned into more subsystems, including:

  • Rearing (fish) tank: Fish are grown in it before adding to the tank.
  • Plant bed (hydroponics subsystem): A part of the system where the plants are grown and fed with nutrients dissolved in water.
  • Settling basin: It grabs detached biofilms, uneaten food, and settles the fine particulates.
  • Biofilter: Bacteria converts ammonia into nitrites and nitrates here.  
  • Water pump: It helps transport water to the plants growing in the grow beds.
  • Pipes or siphons: A way to drain water from the grow bed to the fish tank.
  • Sump: The lowest part of the system. Water used by the plants moves to this part and is then circulated back to the system.
aquaponics

Types of Aquaponics

There are five types of aquaponics systems:

Media-based aquaponics:

One of the most common hydroponics systems is media-based aquaponics. It is quite popular with DIY gardeners, commercial farms, and backyard home systems. The media-based system contains grow beds filled with grow media such as expanded clay pebbles, lava rock, or gravel. Water is pumped from the fish tank or it flows down into the fish tank for the plants to access nutrients. Some systems use bell siphons to drain water.

Raft System

Also called Deep Water Culture or DWC in a raft system, plants grow on raft boards floating on the raft bed. The nutrient-dense water will flow non-stop from the fish tank to the raft tank, raising the plants and moving back to the fish tank. Usually, the fish tank is different from the raft tank. Most commercial aquaponics farms use this system.

Nutrient Film Technique

Plants grow in a channel in a Nutrient Film Technique Aquaponics. It utilizes horizontal pipes with a shallow flow of nutrient-rich water flowing through the channel. Plants growing in the holes on top of the pipes are allowed to use a thin film of nutrient-rich water. A film of water flows continuously via channels, delivering plant roots with water, nutrients, and oxygen.

Vertical Aquaponics System

Plants grow vertically upon the fish tank in the vertical aquaponics system. These use Nutrient Film Technique to raise plants. Water trickles down the water media growing plants. The roots receive nutrient-rich water as the bio media removes nitrites and nitrates from the water.

Dutch Buckets

Dutch buckets are nothing but the goodness of media beds combined with the drip irrigation method. These are perfect for growing big crops or fruiting trees. They grow beds, and water trickles down on a timer. Around two inches of water is left at the bottom to grow the plants. The timer is turned on at least three times a day, each time for a minimum of 5-10 minutes. The drain returns to the sump.

Deep Flow Technique (DFT)

Deep Flow Technique is almost like NFT but the water level is slightly higher than NFT. The grow pipes are filled with water as they touch the bottom of the cup. DFT is an ideal technique for beginners. And since the roots are immersed in water, they provide oxygen to the roots as you do in the DWC system. Air stones are used for oxygenating plants.

How Does an Aquaponics System Work?

The aquaponics system is a bio-integrated system that includes both aquaculture and hydroponics. Both complement each other perfectly. However, aquaculture produces waste which, if not cleaned, can turn harmful to the plants. 

At the same time, plants cannot grow in pure water as they are deficient in nutrients and need artificial nutrients to compensate for the deficit. The synergy will produce a perfectly harmonious rearing system for plants and fish if both are brought together. This is what happens in the system:

  • Fish fed with proper food at the correct intervals excrete ammonia as waste into the water. Although too much waste is toxic for fish, they are genetically designed to resist high amounts of nitrates. 
  • Bacteria growing in the fish tank and grow bed converts ammonia into nitrites and nitrates. 
  • Plants absorb nitrates and trace elements as nutrients. In addition, the plant roots cleanse water for the growing fish. 
  • The grow medium in the grow beds filters the water further. 
  • The water is filled with nutrients for the growing fish.
  • The system is aerated with oxygen with an air pump and also during dry spells. Oxygen is vital for both plant and fish growth.

The cycle continues to produce high yields of vegetables and fish. 

Where Can You Use an Aquaponics System?

Aquaponics come in all shapes and sizes. These are available in relatively small setups, from kitchen benches for growing herbs to larger systems to grow lettuce and silver perch fish. Some of the most common applications of aquaponics systems include:

  • Small-scale aquaponics system for domestic use
  • Semi commercial and commercial aquaponics
  • Educational aquaponics
  • Food security interventions and humanitarian relief.

Types of Fish in an Aquaponics System

  • Catfish
  • Tilapia
  • Carp,
  • Bluegill
  • Brim
  • Sunfish
  • Crappie
  • Koi
  • Pacu
  • Goldfish
  • and various ornamental fish such as tetras, guppies, angelfish, mollies, and swordfish are the aquaponics fish you may want to try.

Types of Aquaponics Plants you can Grow

  • A small aquaponics system can grow lettuce, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, mint, arugula, chives, watercress, basil, pak choi, radish sprouts, and wheatgrass.
  • A larger aquaponics system can cultivate tomatoes, beans, peppers, squash, cucumbers, broccoli, peas, cabbage, and cauliflower.

Advantages of Aquaponics

Aquaponics has several benefits to its credit.

  • Aquaponics is environment-friendly as it uses low power and water.
  • No chemicals are used. It does not require pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
  • Little chance of pests and diseases.
  • Enhanced crop production per square foot as compared to the traditional form of farming.
  • One can grow many types of aquaponics fish and crops.
  • Most plants are easy to grow and provide higher yields.
  • Fish farming brings additional growth.

Disadvantages of Aquaponics

Aquaponics systems have a few downsides as well.

  • Startup costs and investment is high for the system and technology.
  • A failure in several components can lead to massive loss. 
  • Power usage is more as compared to traditional farming.
  • Maintenance is high
  • Must be installed professionally

To Sum Up

It is no wonder why aquaponics is such a popular method these days. The system’s abundance of nutrients supplements the surrounding ecosystem and keeps everything running smoothly. Today, you can even find a ton of information to help you build your aquaponic system if you’d like. However, you can find only so much on the internet, and this guide aims to fill in those gaps.

aquaponics experts

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.