Which Aquaponics System Is The Best?
The aquaponics system is an easy way to have fresh vegetables all year round with minimal effort. Some of the most popular systems are rafts, grow beds, deep water culture (DWC), media beds, and NFT (Nutrient Film Technique).
We will discuss which aquaponics system is the best for you based on what type of plants you want to grow and how much time you have available to maintain them. We’ll also give a brief intro about what these different systems entail to help you decide which one might work best for your needs.
We’ll review each one in detail below! Let’s get started!
What Determines Your Choice In An Aquaponics System?
Each aquaponics system is good, but the best system for you is the one that fulfills all your requirements based on certain factors, namely:
- Space: It’s important to consider how much space you have, what size and type of aquaponics system will work for your needs. It also depends on who is going to use the produce from it and its purpose (i.e., home consumption or commercial purposes).
- Crop type: You have to match the system design with different crops. For example, temperature ranges, nutrient demands, and growth rate are important factors in designing an aquaponics greenhouse for each plant you want to grow.
- Environment: The temperature fluctuations of the annual, seasonal, and daily weather will significantly affect how you design your system. Are they inside or outside? Do you want to absorb heat, or do you need to exchange it for something else?
- Technical capabilities: When designing a farm, you must consider who will be using it and how much knowledge they have on aquaculture.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
The Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) is an aquaponics growing technique that takes advantage of the nutrient-rich water flowing through a horizontal pipe. This hydroponic method works well in some environments, and plants are planted on top with their roots in this thin film of water.
It is best for:
The NFT aquaponics system is best for commercial growers. Not only are they space-efficient, but the labour costs are also low. Since they can be grown on a vertical shelf plane, it makes crops accessible and easy to harvest.
Grow plants such as:
Leafy greens and other hydroponic crops. NFT or Nutrient Film Technique is most popular is best for growing fast-growing plants like lettuces, as well as other lightweight perennials. These plants are best suited for this design because their root masses cannot clog the channel, and their lightweight can be supported easily through these channels.
The plant roots in an NFT system absorb more air than water, making them vulnerable to extreme fluctuations of heat or cold weather conditions and potential diseases caused by fungal infections.
- The plants receive a nonstop supply of nutrients, water, and oxygen
- Water flows continuously over the face of a stone, washing away loose dirt and helping to prevent fungal growth.
- The roots receive plenty of air because part of the root system is exposed to oxygen—this helps prevent root rot.
- As plants grow, the more extensive roots can block off access to water, which may lead to nutrient deficiency for all the other plants.
- The thin film of water running through the NFT channels makes it subject to temperature fluctuations, quickly cooling down or heating.
- If the pump fails, plants will quickly wilt and die.
- Larger plants with bigger root systems are not suitable for this type of gardening.
In the media bed form of the aquaponics system, plants are supported by rock media such as gravel or expanded clay (hydroton). The nutrient-rich water floods and drains from the bottom to give nutrients and oxygen while acting as a mechanical biofilter for wastes.
It is best for:
People with zero expertise. It does not require a background in aquaponics or engineering. You only have to pay for the materials, and they’re easy to get, so you don’t need much money either. The system also works well on a small scale. Because if something goes wrong with one of your plants (such as disease), then you can just make another pot instead of buying an entirely new aquaponics system.
Grow plants such as:
Fruits: The media supports plant growth like soil, producing large root mass plants such as fruits. You also have to make sure the medium has enough nutrients for these plants or to grow healthy and strong. It’s not a space-efficient option because it requires more labour input than hydroponics systems that use water instead. But commercial usage is difficult with this method.
- The grow media filters out the fish waste, keeping your aquarium water clean.
The Media-bed aquaponics system supports a wide variety of plants.
The media filter out debris, preventing it from returning to the tank.
Using recycled materials such as second-hand fibreglass frames, old bathtubs, or plastic containers to construct media beds is allowed.
To avoid the potential for anaerobic conditions, you may want to clean out your medium regularly.
Media beds are usually heavy and require a solid structure to hold them.
Deep Water Culture (DWC)
Raft systems use floating rafts to suspend plant roots into nutrient-rich and aerated water. The plants flow their root directly into a pool of water about 1 foot in-depth, requiring more advanced aquaculture techniques for filtration since there are no media to capture the solid wastes.
It is best for:
The rapid growth of plants in a raft system makes it an appealing option for beginner aquaponics gardeners. The most stable system type is the commercial production method. This process has more water than other types of aquaponics, so it’s less likely to have drastic nutrient and temperature fluctuations. Large-scale, commercial aquaponics system that are designed for mass production often use this system.
Grow plants such as:
Deep culture systems are perfect for growing anything that doesn’t have to flower, including lettuces and lots of different herbs. These plants grow super fast and healthy, plus you can also grow tomatoes, peppers, or even larger fruits like squash!
- Nutrient uptake from the nutrient solution is higher, leading to accelerated growth. For example, it takes 30 days for lettuce to grow instead of 60 in soil.
- By aerating the roots, plants can absorb nutrients and water faster, resulting in a higher cell growth rate.
- There’s very little need for fertilizer in DWC as the plants are submerged directly into the nutrients.
- Low on maintenance
- If the air pump breaks, there is only a small window to replace it. If the air pump doesn’t work for long timescales, plants will rapidly decline.
- Small aquatic systems have high fluctuations in nutrient concentration, water level, and pH.
- If there is a power out, or there is a pump failure, the roots of plants could be flooded with low-oxygen nutrient solution and drown.
- Over or under calibration can quickly happen in small systems with a smaller scale.
Vertical Aquaponics System
Vertical aquaponics is one of the most popular and rapidly growing methods of growing plants without soil. Vertical farming uses a method called NFT, or nutrient film technique. In this system, crops grow in long narrow channels that allow water to flow past their roots but prevent them from touching it directly.
It is best for:
Saving space: The vertical aquaponics system is an affordable solution for growing your food if you don’t have enough space. There are two options when getting a vertical design for your greenhouse: you can either build it from scratch or purchase one that is already made.
Grow plants such as,
Vertical aquaponics is a great way to grow lightweight plants with limited space, like leafy greens and herbs. However, the unique design of this system is not ideal for growing larger feeding plants because PVC pipes cannot bear the weight when heavier foods such as tomatoes are grown vertically in an aquaponic garden. Grow salad greens and herbs together to have the freshest produce straight from your garden.
- Vertical farming is a way to ensure that you get consistent crop production throughout the year.
- It saves resources like water, fertilizer, and labour.
- The hydroponic growing process uses only 10% of the water required to grow crops.
- For the light to be visible, it requires lots of energy.
- It requires more skilled labour.
- The narrow channels are more prone to clogging.
- The startup cost of a vertical plant growing system is high.
When it comes to choosing the best aquaponics system, you should consider your needs and limitations. For example, if space is a constraint for you, vertical farming might be a good option. It can help maximize output while taking up less ground area. If time efficiency is essential to you, then an automated system may work well because they require less labour than traditional soil-based techniques do. Consider these factors when deciding which of the types of aquaponics system will work best for your farm.