Tips For Starting A Backyard Aquaponics System

If you’ve never tried it before, aquaponics may seem overwhelming, but it is really quite simple. Aquaponics is the art of farming with fish. Aquaponics is derived from two words – aquaculture, which is fish farming, and hydroponics, which is growing plants in water without any soil.

Aquaponic makes use of fish waste to fertilize plants. It is a cycle where the water from the aquarium, containing fish waste, moves to the plants. The plants soak up the fertilizer and send clean water back into the aquarium for reuse.

The Principle of An Aquaponic System

Before Aquaponics beginners set up their system, they have to understand the principles that govern it and make it work. Once you understand the basic principles, you will be able to set up the system of any size. You can construct a small system for home use or a big industrial one, according to the space that you have.

First of all, decide where you will place the containers. Choose an airy and sunny location so that the plants can grow well. Sure, you are not going to use any soil here but the plants still need air and sunlight.

Secondly, decide what kind of fishes you will use. You can have goldfish or any other ornamental fish, or you can keep trout or tilapia that you can eat.

Third, you have to maintain the water quality. The water should be free of chlorine and therefore, if you are going to use tap water, then either buy a water treatment solution from the aquarium shop or leave the water open for a week to de-chlorinate it.

Finally, you need bacteria that can convert the ammonia, which is released by the fish, into nitrite. The plants use fertilizer in the form of nitrates. To grow bacteria, you will need a large surface area. Add rocks, gravel, an old filter or sponges from an old aquarium. This will enhance the process of bacteria formation that is essential for converting fish waste into plant fertilizer.

If you have understood the basic principles, you can now start setting up your own aquaponic system.

Aquaponics For Beginners – Setup

You will need the following to set up an Aquaponic system. Of course, you can buy a ready-to-use kit but it will be expensive. Alternatively, you can also do it yourself at home, and you will have a running system at a fraction of the cost. To set up the system, you will need the following:

Components of the Aquaponic system

  • A 20-gallon fish tank 2.5 lbs gravel for fish tank
    3 – 4 watt water pump
  • Plastic tubing of 3 feet length to be fit to the outlet of water pump
  • Air pump to be fit in fish tank
  • Air stone
  • Air tubing of 3 feet length for connecting the air stone to the outlet of air pump
  • A 3″ to 8″ deep container for plants bigger than the fish tank
  • Garden pebbles to fill the plan container pH kit to test the pH of water
  • Ammonia detection kit
  • Fishes and Plants

Tools Required

  • Electrical Tape Scissors
  • Drill machine with ¼” and ½” bit
  • Component Explanation Fish Tank

Beginners typically start with a smaller setup. Until you get some experience, you might want to start off small and work your way up. You can use a fish tank made of plexi-glass, glass, or any other container. You can also use a bucket, a plastic tub, or even a barrel. You will need approximately 10 gallons of aquarium water to support 1 to 2 sq. ft of plant container area.

Gravel For Tank

The gravel will be the home for bacteria, which convert ammonia to nitrite for plant fertilizer.

Tubing and Water Pump

The function of a water pump is to pump water from the aquarium to the plant container. The plants will absorb the nitrates and send the clean water back to the aquarium. The tubing will be connected from the water pump outlet to the top of the plant container.

Air Stone, Air Pump and Tubing

The air pump is used to oxygenate the water of the fish tank. The tubing will connect the air stone and air pump and will be at the tank’s bottom. You will need the air stone to increase oxygen in water.

How to Setup Aquaponics System

  1. To assemble the aquaponic system, wash the aquarium and the gravel, and place them at the bottom. Drill 1/8″ holes at the bottom of the plant container at a distance of 2 sq. inches for water drainage.
  2. Drill a 1/2″ hole at a back corner of the plant container. Fix the tubing using a silicon sealant and connect it to the water pump. The tubing should be long enough so that you can loop it inside the plant container. Fold the end and seal it using the electrical tape. Puncture holes at a distance of 2 inches in the tubing.
  3. Fill the plant container with garden pebbles.
  4. Fill the aquarium with water. Plug the pump and check the water movement into the plant container and back into your fish tank.
  5. Check the pH of the water using the pH testing kit.
  6. De-chlorinate the water and then, add fish into the aquarium.
  7. Add plants to the plant container.

Your aquaponics system is now ready for use. You can plant leafy vegetables, herbs, tomatoes and any other plants of your choice.


Photo by Mananasoko