Every aquaponics system includes a few basic components. Here's a rundown on what you'll need!
First, you have to decide what kind of fish you want to raise, which largely depends on where you live. If you live in a warm environment, choose fish that thrive in warmer water. You can manipulate a colder environment by building your aquaponics system inside a greenhouse that traps heat inside.
Common species for aquaponics systems include tilapia, trout, koi, catfish, carp, perch, barramundi, and goldfish. Some systems include mollusks and crustaceans. That said, certain fish are considered invasive, in part because they grow so rapidly that they tend to overwhelm an ecosystem.
Once you decide what species you plan to raise, it’s time to choose which plants to grow. Most people successfully grow herbs such as basil and mint, and leafy vegetables such as kale, lettuce, and chard. It’s also possible to grow fruit, including blueberries, tomatoes, and pomegranates. The general rule of thumb: The more nutrients a plant requires to grow, the bigger and more productive the aquaponics system needs to be.
Some people arrange their aquaponics system vertically, while others set it up horizontally. It really depends on the available space. The most important thing to consider is that you have enough water for your fish; the more the better, so they have space to swim comfortably. The tank could be a clean, recycled food barrel or a glass aquarium. Whatever you use, it’s important to monitor how quickly the fish reproduce and perhaps sell the fingerlings when you’re at capacity. You want your tank to be clean and humane – not only for the welfare of the fish, but for your aesthetic enjoyment as well.
An aquaponics system requires an aerator to provide oxygen for the fish and a pump to send water from the fish tank to the filtration system to the grow bed and back again (unless you use gravity for the water’s return journey). Solar-powered pumps will take your aquaponics game to a whole new level of sustainability and reduce your energy consumption. You also need PVC pipes to pump the nutrient-dense water through (make sure they are non-toxic before installing).
The grow beds can vary in structure and appearance, but one popular option is to use shallow wooden boxes lined with pond liner and perlite, gravel, or another soilless medium with excellent moisture retention and enough structure to provide plant support. An optional addition would be a bell siphon, which allows water to fill the grow bed to an optimal level, then uses air pressure to rapidly drain that water at the right time to prevent the roots from drowning.
Once you collect all the components, construct your system in a flat area that receives plenty of natural sunlight. Depending on your particular climate and the fish you choose, you should monitor temperature accordingly. Tilapia, for example, prefer water temperatures ranging from 23 to 32 degrees. Temperatures below 21 degrees inhibit growth, and anything below 13 degrees could kill them.
It takes practice to get the balance right, but once you do you will enjoy the delicious benefits of a sustainable system that provides year-round sustenance and nutrition.