Posted on 31 January 2012.
Basically a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics, thus aqua-ponics, aquaponics systems utilize hydroponics while growing fish in a semi-enclosed to fully-enclosed system.
Aquaponics uses the best of both systems to optimally grow plants with natural nutrition. The plants and grow bed medium filter the unclean water and return it to the fish tank. Water doesn’t need to be replaced or removed. Water only needs to be added occasionally due to evaporation and transpiration, essentially sweating by the plants.
Sidenote: If you prefer to purchase a pre-made aquaponics system, there are several good options at Amazon (including the popular AquaBundance Aquaponics System).
While some aquaponics systems can be incredible complex and intimidating, there are several simpler designs available. All utilize a grow bed medium, such as crushed basalt, expanded clay, gravel, or riverstone.
Water is trickled down through the grow bed into the fish tank. The water from the fish tank is then pumped up to the surface of the grow bed. The water is constantly flowing over the grow bed medium.
Advantages of Continuous Flow
Disadvantages of Continuous Flow
- Water flow doesn’t allow plants to receive all the nutrients
- If you choose to permanently flood the grow beds, to a degree, the plant’s roots may become waterlogged.
Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain)
In an effort to mimic ocean tides, you can flood the grow bed and then drain it completely. Copying nature is a great way to build your aquaponics.
When the grow bed is flooded the plants are absorbing nutrients through their roots in the water. Then you drain the water completely letting the roots obtain oxygen.
Advantages of Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain)
- Limits the build up of solids
- Reducing need for irrigation grids
- Plants have greater grow potential throughout the entire bed
Disadvantages of Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain)
CHIFT PIST, or Constant Height in Fish Tank – Pump in Sump Tank, is an unique setup.
This style of system uses a pump in the sump tank that pumps water into the fish tank, the overflow pipe causes the water to flow out of the fish tank, when it exceeds a certain height, and into a grow bed where it drains back into the sump tank. A simple version of this system can be seen on the left, the black pipe pumps water into the fish tank, while water flows out of the white PVC pipe into the the grow bed before draining back into the sump. This system was run with a timer on the pump and a restricted outlet on the drain, this allowed for a flooding and draining action in the grow bed.
Advantages of CHIFT PIST
- No pump in the fish tank
- Water level in fish tank stays at somewhat constant height
- If pump failure the fish tank stays full
Disadvantages of CHIFT PIST
- Need a raised or tall fish tank
- Need a sump tank, short height and a large volume
Simple Flood and Drain
The fish tank sits under the grow bed. Water is pumped into the grow bed via the fish tank, then the water empties right back into the fish tank below.
Advantages of Simple Flood and Drain
- If pump failure the water still drains into fish tank.
Disadvantages of Simple Flood and Drain
- Fluctuating water level in fish tank when flooding grow bed.
- If pump is small the solid waste might cause clogs. You’ll need to do periodic maintenance.
Sump Tank Two Pump
A two pump sump tank system works by pumping water from the fish tank into the grow beds, the water then drains from the grow beds into a sump tank. Within the sump tank is a pump operated by a float valve, as the water level in the sump tank rises the pump switches on, pumping water back into the main fish tank. The float valve switches the pump within the sump tank on and off, the hieght that it turns on can be set so that the sump tank retains a good volume of water, allowing a second species of fish, or young fingerlings to be stocked in the sump tank.
Advantages of Sump Tank Two Pump
- Fresh oxygenated water is supplied to the fish tank several times per hour.
- Can accommodate a large system.
- Can stock sump tank with fingerlings or other species
Disadvantages of Sump Tank Two Pump
- If pump failure, or blackout, and grow beds are full water may overflow from the sump tank. You’ll lose water from the aquaponics system.
- You need two pumps.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
Nutrient Film Technique is a commonly used hydroponic method, but is not as common in aquaponic systems. In NFT systems, nutrient rich water is pumped down small enclosed gutters, the water flowing down the gutter is only a very thin film. Plants sit in small plastic cups allowing their roots to access the water and absorb the nutrients. NFT is only really suitable for certain types of plants, generally leafy green vegetables, larger plants will have root systems that are too big and invasive, or they become too heavy for the lightweight growing gutters.
Advantages of the Nutrient Film Technique
Disadvantages of the Nutrient Film Technique
- Generally only specific types of plants can be grown this way, typically leafy green vegetables
- Heavy plants might be too large and heavy for the lightweight growing gutters
Deep Water Culture (DWC)
Float plants directly on top of the water, perhaps on a floating island, allowing roots to hang in the water. The most common way is to use a floating foam raft in commercial methods.
Advantages of Deep Water Culture
Disadvantages of Deep Water Culture
- Roots can become waterlogged and dirty
First, you need to know that BackyardAquaponics.com offers a “Design your own aquaponics system” with Google Sketchup. You can create your own custom aquaponics design using 3D components.
You’ll need to download Google Sketchup. After installing it you can open the BYAP components.
There are many different ways to set up your own aquaponics. It’s really as simple or complex as you decide. The most reliable and simple method is to use a flood and drain style.
Here are a few aquaponics system plans to get your started:
Floating Aquarium Raft
Add a simple raft that holds plants to your existing fish tank aquarium and you have one of the simplest aquaponics setup.
- Cut holes in a large piece of foam.
- Place some herbs, like mint, into the holes.
- Float the raft on top of the water in your fish tank.
We’ve seen that some edible plants, like green leafy vegetables, don’t do good with this method. The roots become waterlogged and aren’t able to absorb the nutrients or get oxygen. Do research on your plants.
Goldfish and Home Fish Tank Aquarium
Adapt any fish tank for your own simple aquaponics system. Use goldfish, or any fish you’d like, and set the aquarium on a sunny window ledge.
- Get a fish tank and some fish.
- Fill pots with gravel and plant your plants.
- Set up water pump to dump water into these pots.
- Place the pots directly above the fish tank, this way the water drains back into the fish tank.