Takeaway: Become an aquaponic farmer is not hard. Most people don’t understand how easy it is to build aquaponics systems.
Aquaculture can be really confusing at first. When I started researching aquaponics (about 15 years ago) All sorts of questions came up. What is the difference between aquaponics system and hydroponics? Do I have to use chemicals? Can I build a Cheap Aquaponics System? And that is just scratching the surface. What I found was that the flexibility in these systems are wide and anyone with any skill level can grow food at home.
what is Aquaponics
Aquaponics is a mixture of aquaculture (raising fish for food) and hydroponics (growing with water). This is a perfect marriage once you find a balance. Bacteria is really the star of the show and is also the reason that the longer you have your system the better is gets.
source: Ryan Somma Flickr Creative Commons
These growing setups can be indoor aquaponics system or outdoor system and is really flexible. Professional aquaponics systems are really expensive but you can make a cheap Aquaponics System for home use.
Aquaponics system use the fish waste to feed the plants which in return clean the water for the fish. I’m making it sound really simple but may be tricky at first. I don’t want to scare you off but I do want you to get a good understanding of what it takes.
Aquaculture is raising aquatics food. When most people think of aquaculture they think about growing tilapia but there are many other fish that can be grown in all sorts of temperatures. Even shrimp and crayfish are a good option in the right climate.
Raising fish for food is a good option for it’s food value. Some of the nutrients we crave can be fulfilled by consuming fish. These aquaponics systems can be built inexpensively using repurposed tanks or you can even purchase kits online.
The success of an aquaponics system really depends on the water filtration. Keeping the water clean and keeping ammonia levels from getting too high.
What is hydroponics?
Hydroponics is growing plants by adding fertilizers and adjusting the waters PH to get your plants to grow. These systems can be either organic or non-organic.
The toughest part of hydroponics systems is the constant monitoring. Whole systems can be damaged or even destroy your plants by adding an excess of fertilizers, salts or ph adjustments. This is why most hydroponics farmers use equipment to monitor the water.
Combining Aquaculture and Hydroponics
Aquaponics systems are the best of both worlds because combining them takes care of the two biggest issues they have.
- Aquaponics systems depend on cleaning the water
- Hydroponics systems depend on properly adding fertilizers to the water
Know you can see how combining the systems should in theory work great. It’s also possible to create a cheap aquaponics system where you don’t have to use expensive additives like in hydroponics or expensive filtration of aquaculture.
When you get into growing fish and plants for home use why not take the aquaponics system indoors. The fish you choose to grow also depend on water temperature. Small systems with above ground tanks are really hard to maintain temperature. One way to inexpensively maintain temperature is to setup the system indoors and preferable underground. Basements are a perfect place to raise fish because the temperature is stable.
Some other good points about bringing your aquaponic systems indoors are;
Outdoor Aquaponics System
Building an aquaponics system outdoors is also possible. I have used both systems and the best part of keeping the system outdoors is not having the high humidity in the house (This could be remedied by using an exhaust fan.)
I was able to build a cheap Aquaponics System in my greenhouse by using a pool liner. I just dug a 4’x4’x4’ hole in the ground and put in a pool liner. I used some planks to go across the top and this is where I had my growing container for my plants. The growing container had a screened hole in the bottom for the water to drain. All that was needed to complete this aquaponics system was to add a $25.00 water pump which took the water from the fish pond to the growing container via a hose.
This was a really cheap Aquaponics System that worked without issue for 3 years. I found that the balance was kept by the fish and plants. When I had less plants I might lose a fish but if I didn’t have enough fish my plants would start to yellow. When the balance is met everything works great!
In the colder seasons when most of the aquaponics plants would die the fish would also stop eating. This works out well because the fish make less ammonia keeping the water cleaner. Then in the spring when I would replant the fish would again eat more and make more fertilizer.
This was a natural sustainable system for home use but would not make enough food to sell. If you wanted to produce more from this type of aquaponics system then you would need to heat the water over the winter to keep the fish eating and plants growing.
Items needed to build a pond system
- Cheap Intex pool liner or other pool liner
- Old rug or tarp to line the hole before putting in your liner
- Pond pump and hose (my recommendation )
- 1/2 plastic 55-gallon drum (top portion so you have the cap hole for draining)
- (2) pieces of treated 2x4 that will sit over the pond and hold the growing bed (my choice )
- Media which can be anything from crushed brick or my favorite river rock
So, if you are thinking about building an aquaponics system I say go for it. The longer you stick with it the better your chance at success. An aquaponics system will give your homestead another option for growing food you may not otherwise be able to get.
You won’t have to break the bank by building a cheap aquaponics system. Anyone with any skill level can either build an aquaponics system indoors or outdoors depending on your situation. Even apartment dwellers can use fish tanks and grow lights for an indoor aquaponics system. Don’t be too concerned about the details most people make it seem much harder than it is.
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Lindsey Hyland grew up in Arizona where she attended University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture. She has supplemented her formal education by working on various organic farms, including spending a semester abroad in India.
Growing and/or raising just about anything gets her excited. She is especially passionate about environmental justice and low-tech, sustainable ways to better run small-scale farms and homesteads. Lindsey started Urban Organic Yield to discuss gardening tips and tactics.