Any scuba diver can tell you of the floral beauty beneath the sea. While these plants are indeed aesthetically pleasing, many are also potent sources of nutrients and effective forms of medicine. Amazingly, these organisms are largely fueled by fertilizer from fish excrement. In fact, fish are key in the practice of aquaponics: an aquacultural system whereby the waste from fish feed the plant roots which, in turn, cleanse the water.
This optimal ecological habitat requires knowledge of how to build an aquaponics system. Once completed, such a structure can yield generous vegetation while breeding a variety of valuable fish.
1. Select a Location
Choosing a spot for an aquaponics system depends on a number of factors. For one thing, growers must consider the matter of scale. If you want to make a business of it, you probably need more space than if this is more of a hobby. Secondly, outdoor placement is feasible–and successful–if you live in a climate that is relatively warm throughout the year.
Considering these realities, aquaculturists are left with three options for location: inside the home (in a sunny corner), outdoors in the yard or inside a greenhouse (yet another thing to construct). Once this is resolved, they are free to take the next step in how to build an aquaponics system.
2. Collect the Components
If you have fish, you need a tank. Moreover, you need a tank that will support an ecological balance. This means that, for every fish you have, you want 10 gallons of water. If the grower is just starting out and not sure about the future, a 55-gallon barrel will do nicely. For the more committed, there are square bins that hold well over 200 gallons of water. Taking it to the next level, an above-ground swimming pool also works as a tank for the most ambitious.
Atop the tank will go the grow bed. In this container is the growing medium like perlite or tiny gravel (never soil) so a wooden box of very modest depth is well-suited to serve. Since the water must circulate from tank to grow bed to tank again, a submersible pump that can move 100 liters per hour is necessary. Likewise, PVC pipe is the essential conduit through which the water can go back and forth. Finally, an aerator gives the fish the oxygen they need. These are the basic units for how to build an aquaponics system.
3. Assemble the Pieces
Beginning your seedlings in potting soil, they should be mature enough to transplant when the fish are large enough to emit sufficient waste. In the mean time, arrange the PVC pipes in the grow bed, drilling quarter-inch holes at six-inch intervals. These perforations indicate where each seedling will sit. Lay the pipes parallel to one another, leaving about a foot between them.
Connecting the pump to the piping is conditioned on whether the grow bed sits atop the tank or beneath it. This will determine whether the pump moves the water from the tank to the grow beds or vice versa. Since how to build an aquaponics system is about constructing a self-sufficient entity, the juxtaposition of pump and tank are subject to experimentation.
4. Select the Fish
As with the above steps, deciding which kind of fish to use proceeds from numerous circumstances. The temperature of the tank may accommodate only certain species. The question of whether you will breed the fish for food begs for an answer. Furthermore some fish are unavailable – even illegal – in some jurisdictions.
Popular among students of how to build an aquaponics system are tilapia, trout, catfish, koi, bass and goldfish. each species comes with its own specifics. For example, trout need more oxygen whereas bass can tolerate higher temperatures. Koi and goldfish are considered inedible.
5. Selecting the Plants
Aquaponics is good for any number of plant species. Yet certain crops lend themselves optimally to this type of farming. Leafy greens, especially, benefit from fish effluent in terms of prolific and speedy growth. Lettuce, cabbage, spinach and kale are all hungry for nitrogen but need little of the phosphorous macronutrient. Fish waste is full of the former and lacking in the latter, hence the good fit for these greens. Still, those considering how to build an aquaponics system will find that a wide variety of vegetables do just fine under these conditions.
6. Maintenance and Adjustments
Aquaponic systems are carefully calibrated. By the same token, operators should monitor them with equal meticulousness. For instance, the aerator must run constantly and maintain the appropraiate oxygen level for the tank inhabitants. In the same way, caretakers should program the pump so that the water is clean without over-saturating the growing media in the beds. You can feed the fish manually or install automatic feeders–just confirm the best schedule by which to dispense the provisions.
7. Bear in Mind the Challenges
Before embarking on an aquaponics system, you do well to consider the disadvantages. These set-ups consume quite a bit of electricity and cost a small fortune to do right. Fish do not come cheaply, either. Beyond these financial burdens, aquaponics systems are complicated and multivariant, a euphemistic way of saying much can go wrong. Many people prefer professional installation and maintenance. While these services are convenient and stress-free, they also present their customers with a pricey bill when all is done.
In many ways, aquaponic systems reveal few flaws. They grow vegetables without harming soil; they feed plants without resorting to chemical fertilizers; and they afford fish a clean and healthy habitat without disrupting their peace.
Although the infrastructure for aquaponics can be difficult to construct – and sometimes perplexing – these regimes are both productive and gratifying. With the capacity for year-round farming, they can even be profitable. Those enthusiasts with the time (and money) to invest often marvel at their abundant harvests of fish and flora. Of course, as with any demanding endeavor, you best count the cost.