How to build an aquaponics system step by step
An aquaponics system is one of the most sustainable ways to home-grow organic food produce. The system involves a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics in one integrated ecosystem. Once you’ve set up your aquaponics system, there’s very little maintenance or effort required on your part. But what are the steps to building an aquaponics system. Let’s take a look…
What are the steps to building an aquaponics system in 15 seconds…
There are five easy steps to building an aquaponics system. These include: 1. Building the fish tank (or aquaculture system); 2. Building the plant media bed (or hydroponics system); 3. Adding the fish and water to the aquaponics system and turning the water pump on; 4. Adding the plants to the hydroponics system; 5. Maintaining and monitoring your aquaponics system and feeding your fish.
What are the steps to building an aquaponics system?
An aquaponics system is quite a simple process and is based around the nitrogen cycle, which is referred to as nitrification. One of the key ingredients of an aquaponics system is the nitrifying bacteria (or Nitrosomonas). Without the bacteria, the system simply wouldn’t work.
The nitrogen cycle begins with fish waste, which is mostly made from them defecating in the fish tank. The next part of the nitrogen cycle is where ammonia is automatically generated from the fish waste as part of the rotting process of this waste.
The nitrifying bacteria break down the ammonia by the process of oxidisation, first into nitrites and then into into nitrates. These nitrates are naturally dissolved into the water and carried in solution directly to the plant roots.
The aquaponic plants draw the nitrates from the water, which feeds the plants and cleans the water at the same time. This makes the water safe to return nitrate-free back to the fish tank.
If you want to know how to build your own DIY aquaponics system and grow your own home organic produce of vegetables or fruit and fish, let’s take a look at the five-step process to do so.
The five easy steps are as follows:
#1 Step – Putting your fish tank or aquaculture system together
The first step is to put your fish tank together, which is the aquaculture part of your aquaponics system. You’ll need to decide on whether you’re keeping the fish purely to create the ecosystem, which will enable plant growth. Or alternatively if you intend to harvest the fish as well and produce two organic crops.
The fish in the aquaculture will require a certain amount of space. So depending on the species of fish you decide to keep, this will determine the size of the tank you need. But also, the size of the fish tank will determine the size of your plant bed, which is in the next step in building your aquaponics system.
#2 Step – Building your media bed or plant container which is your hydroponics system
The media bed is the plant container where you’ll grow your plants. This is the hydroponics part of the aquaponics system. The size of your plant bed will be determined by the size of your fish tank. The bigger the fish tank and the more fish you have, the larger the media bed and the more organic plant produce you’ll be able to grow and harvest.
You will need to fill your media bed with an inert pH neutral medium. The choices are to use gravel, growstone or clay pebbles. It is this material that will hold your plants in place and allow the flow of water between the roots of your plants.
#3 Step – Adding your aquaponics fish or aquatic animals
Before you add your aquaponic fish or aquatic animals to the tank, fill it with water. But make sure the water is dechlorinated first (Note: Tap water contains chlorine, which must be removed or it could adversely affect your fish).
Now turn the water pump on to pump the water between the fish tank and the media bed and back. When you’re satisfied your water is safe to put your fish in, carefully place them in the water.
A good tip is to acclimatise your fish by immersing the container with the fish into the water tank before you release them. This way the temperature of the water in the container will equalise with the water in the tank. That way the fish won’t be shocked if the water temperature in the tank is starkly different to the container they came in.
#4 Step – Adding the aquaponic plants
Once your aquaponics system is cycling, which means the water is flowing from the fish tank to the media bed and back, you can add your chosen aquaponics plants. It’s best to add seedlings to an aquaponics system rather than seeds that have yet to germinate. This gives your plants a head-start of growth.
When you plant the seedlings into the media bed, make sure the roots reach far enough down into the nutrient rich water. This will allow the roots to draw the nutrients (i.e. nitrates) they need from the water to clean it before it’s returned to the fish tank.
#5 Step – Maintaining a healthy aquaponics system
One of the best things about an aquaponics system is the very low maintenance required.
You will need to monitoring the pH levels of the water, which should be kept to be as pH neutral as you can. The best level is somewhere between pH 6.8 to 7.0. So long as the process of aquaponics is working as it should, the pH levels should be perfect for the fish and the plants to thrive.
You will also need to test the levels of ammonia, nitrites and nitrate. The levels of ammonia and nitrites should be almost non-detectable if the nitrifying bacteria are doing their job properly. The levels of nitrates should also be low if the plants are taking this up into their roots as they should be.
You will also need to feed the fish, and depending on the type of fish you have, will depend on the type of feed they require.
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