Taking a Hydroponic Garden to the next level is not as technical as you think. The language might be difficult to understand especially if the process is explained to you by someone that is trying to use technical terms like a scientist would use. All you need is 10 items to bring Aquaponics to your Home. The 10 Items needed to start a small Aquaponic Garden are:
- Seed Tray to start seeds
- Grow Light-germination
- Grow tank-move seeds after they sprout
- Media Bed-young plants grow
- Aquarium-fish produce waste
- Bell Siphon-Used to flood & drain the media bed
- Pump-takes water from Aquarium to Grow Bed
- Fish Food
- Test Kit
You feed the fish-the fish poop-bacteria eat the poop & make nutrients-plants eat the nutrients-you eat the plants. The system is inexpensive, simple and easy to understand. Here is exactly what I used for my system. You can buy a kit online or even build it yourself with items hanging around the house. You will need 10 components to start growing organic, healthy food, for your family to enjoy.
How Do I Start My Aquaponic System
1. Seed Kit (Approx. $40.00)
The seeds that are best to start with are leafy garden vegetables like lettuce. After a while you can grow other things like peppers that are basically high protein foods that grow on top of any garden. Seeds are started in plastic trays with cells that can accommodate up to 72 cells for the seeds to germinate. (The trays around $15.00 for 10 kits and 12 cells in each kit ) come with lids to keep humidity in and act as a small greenhouse. The seeds are added to a media called Rockwool the plugs come in 1-inch squares that the seeds sit in
- Soak the Rockwool Plug ( approx.,100 cubes under $15.00) with water and then add a few seeds.
- Add the Plugs to a cell in the plastic tray and fill the tray. Close the lid. These Plugs come with pre-formed holes for the seeds. Once the plants start to root the wool is easy to break apart so you can transfer the plant to the next step.
- Add some sun and time until the seeds germinate than transfer to a 2 inch Plastic Net Pot.
- A Net Pot (approx., $10.00 for 50 pack) will accommodate the seedling in the plug. You can add some vermiculite, rockwool or some other soil media to the Pot. Some Pots have a lid with a slot that secures the young seedling in place. That’s It.
2. Grow Light (45 Watt under $30.00)
Full Spectrum lights are sized by watt bulb and the younger the plant is in the growth cycle and the smaller the garden the less light you will need. If you are growing outside in warm weather you won’t need it. If you are inside you’ll need low watt in the Seeding stage for germination and higher watts in the growing stage. The lights have a coverage area that is controlled by how high you hang the light from the plants.
3. Grow Tank (Plastic Storage Container $10-15.00)
The Grow Tank is home for the Plastic Net Pot that the seedling sit in and slowly become plants. They come in all shapes, sizes, and materials or you can DIY and pre-drill the holes needed to move the system water in and out. A sheet of Styrofoam with 2″ holes called a Raft is attached or floated over the top of the tank full of water that supports the plastic Pots. The Pots float in the rafts while the plant’s roots hang in the water and feed on nutrients delivered by fish from an Aquarium Tank that is another important part of the system until they are ready to be transferred once again to the Grow Bed. Lettuce normally takes 2-3 weeks until the plant and it’s roots are big enough to be transferred.
Media Tank (Approx. $100.00 for 50 Liter Bag)
Once the plants are mature enough to plant they are transferred from the Grow Tank to the Media Bed. The plants are removed from the Pots and planted in the gravel or Clay pebbles for their new home. The Media Bed is filled with these Hydroponic Clay Pebbles found through MyWaterEarth&Sky and Amazon are 100% Natural Clay are a porous base media, where without soil, support the plants for the rest of the duration of their life cycle.
The media also provide a more important part of the system by holding nitrifying bacteria that live in their cracks and crevices where they break down the Ammonia from the Fish waste that is delivered from the Aquarium tank. These bacteria are the lifeblood of the system. The fish in the Aquarium Tank add to waste in the form of Ammonia.
The Ammonia is broken down to Nitrites then converted to Nitrates in the Media Tank by these bacteria. In this form of Nitrates, the plants then use the Nitrates, as food necessary for their growth. The Nitrogen cycle that happens in nature as a constant is complete in your Aquaponic System on a smaller and condensed scale.
5. Aquarium Tank (37-gallon tank Approx. $150.oo)
Here in this tank fish live-eat-produce the waste that is Ammonia that the Nitrifying Bacteria use as food in the Media Bed that converts to Nitrates that the plants use as food that we end up using as food. Because there are no pesticides used and very little water, the product produced is the purest and organic food that we can consume. Plants also clean the air of carbon dioxide and convert it into oxygen.
This system is the most natural way to grow food and conserve energy. Aquaponics is a completely closed loop system. Except for the initial fish food that starts the nitrogen cycle up that is given to the fish. Like all fish aquariums if you don’t filter the water in the tank the fish would die from the Ammonia poising. Your pump or filter breaks down and the aquarium is not cleaned or dumped and eventually robbed of oxygen your fish will die.
In this self-sustaining system, small aquarium tank like this one our MyWaterEarth&Sky’s Recommended Page is a Midsize kit called “Fin to Flower” is constantly moving at a slow rate and pumped into the Media Tank. The bacteria that we talked about filter the water for the fish and the plants use the rest. Nature is the filter. The movement of the water through the tanks provide enough oxygen to complete the process. Pretty Cool!
The beauty of the Aquaponic system Like in “The Fin To Flower System” is that you can use clear containers and actually see the Biosystem at work. You don’t need elaborate equipment to experience the wonderful world of Aquaponics. To be able to see your fish thrive and multiply along with the growth of your garden is really cool. It doesn’t have to be big or complicated. The minimal requirements for the kitchen type system are some fish, a tank, an aquarium pump to bring the water from the tank up to your garden.
A grow light with minimum wattage for indoor usage. Gravity and Mother Nature can take care of the rest. A small amount of testing to keep the water and plants chemically in balance can be done weekly or so because the change if and when it happens will happen slowly. You don’t need to be a scientist to be successful. Here is a very small system that shows the basic setup. It’s neat and tidy and producing 6- 12 plants and is perfect for starting as a hobby. Look at the clarity of the water and the plant abundance and you know the system is running perfectly. A visual test is all you need.
The amount of Goldfish and their size are plenty for this system to be balanced. If they weren’t then the system would fail and the plants would start to show problems. What’s happening in the tank and the garden directly reflects what you are providing in the control of this condensed environment.
6. Bell Siphon (around $20.00)
In Aquaponics, Bell Siphons are used to flood and drain a system without using a pump. It easily adds oxygen to the system and automatically controls flood levels in your tanks. The Bell Siphon allows the Grow Media Bed to flood feeding nutrient-rich water to the plants. Then at a certain level that is set by the gardener, water is flushed out of the bed taking air with it back to the Aquarium where the whole process repeats over and over. The Bell Siphon consists of three components.
- A Shroud that’s keeps the medium away from the Siphon. It’s normally a slotted piece of pipe.
- A Bell that initiates the siphon and covers the Stand Pipe in the Bed.
- A Stand Pipe regulates the water in the Grow Bed and also enables the location where the water is taken out to a holding tank or brings it back to Aquarium to start the process all over again.
The Bell Siphon sounds complicated but it works on a simple principle that doesn’t need to be explained. It will save energy because it doesn’t use power and you can make it from PVC pipe or just buy the piece online for $20.00-$30.00 dollars for a small system. You can use a small electric pump but this will never go bad as long as you keep the media either Clay Pebbles or Rock from blocking the water’s movement. Watch the first five minutes of this video and you will get a great explanation of this natural process by a professional who doesn’t use the scientific language and is easy on the ears.
7. Fish (Tilapia $135.00 for 25 fish) (Goldfish 12 for approx. 22.00)
To keep a balance in your Aquaponic System, you need to determine the type and amount of fish to use. There are a few formulas to guide you through this.
- Tank Size is one way especially if your system is a small inside system. There is no reason to worry about this, just use common sense and add fish as you would in a small Aquarium. If you are moving to a Backyard system that’s a little bit bigger than you have a reason to size the fish population more exactly.
- Biological Surface Media is a measurement of the surface area media needed to filter the fish waste. The more surface area the more nitrifying bacteria can populate the pebbles or rocks that will filter your system. Don’t forget the Bacteria eat fish waste. They live on the media and are fed the fish poop that is Ammonia and they oxidize or convert the Ammonia to Nitrites to Nitrates where the plants take over and consume the Nitrates. For your backyard system take the volume of the bed that is wet or underwater Lx W x H = Volume. It doesn’t need an exact volume. Just a ballpark answer. Take the volume and convert it to Gallons.
- You do this by taking the volume in feet x 7.5 gallons/in a cubic foot. So a 4x8x2 Ft.=64 Sq. ft. of Wet Media Bed. Converted to gallons is 64 cu. ft. x 7.5 gals./cu ft. equals 480 gallons of wet media. The rule of thumb is a one-pound fish needs 6.6 gallons to filter his waste. In this equation your system gets accommodate approximately is 77 fish. This is not an exact science because of all the variations of filter media size and the Bed configuration. So again, ballpark it.
Best Fish For a Small Aquaponic Garden
- The type of Fish is determined by the temperature of your system. If you’re outdoors or indoors. If you’re outdoors then what part of the country will the system be in?
- Tilapia an Ideal fish for Aquaponic Systems this fish like temperatures from 55-62 degrees. They are hearty fish and are high in protein will eat most fish food.
- Catfish are good for Aquaponic System and will help clean up the aquarium. They are hearty and will live in temperatures of 65-75 degrees. They like to eat at night and on the bottom so use food that will sink to the bottom.
- Silver Perch can grow fast but are good in this environment. They are fine in temps of 72 to 84 degrees.
8. Fish Food (5lb Bag & approx. $29.00)
The food you choose for your fish will dictate the health of the fish which dictates the health of the waste which dictates the health of the plants which dictates the health of whoever consumes them. Wow, that was cool. Feed them food high in protein and minerals and are sizes to the size of the fish. Fish pellets come in different sizes for smaller to larger fish. If you size them properly the food chain will be sufficient. Some pellets float and better for larger fish while the small fish stay at the bottom and need food that will sink.
9. Pump ($15-20.00)
The rule of thumb for a pump rating is to able to turn over your system’s volume once every two hours. The pump will take the nutrient-rich water from your Aquarium tank and pump it up to your Media Bed. The pump is a submersible enclosed aquarium pump that should have an adjustable flow rate knob and a lift height that will meet your needs.
10. Test Kit (20-$30.00 with PH Adjustment)
The life of your system is dependent on certain things. Ph and Ammonia are important levels to look at and can warn you of your system failing before it actually does. A spike in Ammonia or a change in Ph can be seen on a color-coded easy to use Test Kit. Just like a pool test kit its easy to use you can adjust the PH and for whatever stage of growing your system is at. A small indoor system won’t need an elaborate kit, a PH pen will do. You can visually see any changes in a smaller Aquaponic System.
So as you can see if you simplify the Aquaponic System it’s not at all hard to understand. It uses the most natural process in nature. The items here needed for the system can be found online and some in your garage. The smaller the system the less it cost.
The outside larger systems and the indoor system work the same. I started my system inside, then when I was comfortable moved it outside in my yard. The main idea behind Aquaponics is to grow food without soil which is called Hydroponics then to go one step further and have fish provide the nutrients normally found in soil or added by the gardener in Hydroponics, for a complete organic natural self-sustaining system that will produce the best organic food you can eat.
How many fish are needed for aquaponics? As a general rule of thumb for a media-based small to medium aquaponics system, for every five 20 to 40 litres of fish tank water you can expect 500g of fish.
How much space do you need for aquaponics? How much space do you need for aquaponics? The general rule of thumb then is – 1 square foot of 12” grow bed needs 6 gallons of water with about 1.5-2 pounds of fish in it. This rough ratio should take care of your system.