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Start Your Home Aquaponic System

What is th best home aquaponic system for a beginner?   Through out our site there is plenty of talk about filters (biological and solids) and heaps of examples on how to DIY these for yourself. Adding filtration does add  complexity however, is not  is out of reach of the average home aquaponic (ist).

Adding filtration, separating fish from plants and various other additions, will without a doubt, give you more production.  The additional filtration and control will certainly provide you with a more productive and sustainable system, the inclusion of these are not necessary if you are just starting out.  It is best to stick to the following basics to get it right.

The Basics of a Home Aquaponic System

My personal choice for aquaponic beginners is to start with the following:

  • Fish tank up to 500 liters.

    Generally animal water troughs work well.  They are mostly virgin plastics, UV stable, durable and inexpensive.   Simple 500 liter, open top shallow tanks for $220.  You can find these types of tanks at most rain water tank suppliers or agricultural supplies.  If you have the space go for 1000 liter tanks, they are easier to manage.

  • Media grow beds around 2m2 to 4m2

    Depth of the beds is not important but starting at 150mm and up.  One of the simplest and inexpensive grow beds will be hydroponic trays.  They are light weight and generally come with a frame.  If not a “qubelok” frame or blocks and sleepers can be used.  Most of the hydro trays are around the 2m2 mark in size, so 2 or 4 of them will be perfect for a small home aquaponic system.

  • You can use gravel

    Gravel is cheap compared to expanded clay. Gravel is heavier than expanded clay, so consider your supporting frame and costs.  The expanded clay is a better choice if you can afford it. Shallow hydroponic trays (150mm) will require less media than deep grow beds.  Cost and weight are the only two considerations between gravel and expanded clay.  Depth of the bed will have no impact on growth.

  • Small water pump running continuous flow

    2000 liters per hour pond pump will often do the job.  Smaller pumps lose significant flow as the pumping height increases.  More pumping capacity is better.  Simply triple your pump size and be cautious with pumping heights.  Pond pumps are often only suited to a small fountain, they are not suitable for pumping through pipes.

  • Inline or Submersible Pump?

    The best pump is in-line (outside of the fish tank) not submersible.  Inline pumps will prevent earth leakage, reduce the vibrations and stress for the fish.  You can put the pump in the tank with the fish and it will work.  To avoid clogging and reducing flow, the pre-filters on submersible pumps will need cleaning often.

  • Fish numbers no higher than 5 to 10

    Keep the fish numbers low.  You will have acceptable plant growth with 5 to 10 fish in 500 liters.  This number is not many fish, but you will not need much to grow your veg.  When you are beginning, the hardest part is growing the fish. Keeping fish at a very low density will see you with less disappointment and stress.

  • Pumping water

    Best pumping configuration is up from the fish tank to the grow bed and gravity back to the fish.  This is one of the most simplest systems to plumb and is consistently proven successful. Plumb the pump to deliver water to the grow bed and a small standpipe in the grow bed to return water by gravity. The grow bed will need to be higher than the fish tank.  Try to keep your poly pipe or pvc plumbing a minimum size of 25mm and you will be fine.

Home aquaponic systems are simple to understand, build and operate. No solids filtration, no bio filtration, no aeration and minimum plumbing. You will want to have a small solar pond pump in the tank for backup running continuously like a fountain.  Local hardware have these for around $200

If growing fish to eat is not the thing for you, you end up with a small pond to toss some koi in and you will still grow veg at very low cost and effort. Or if you don’t much like it at all you have not broken the bank with a great deal of equipment, tools and inflated priced kits.

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14 Comments

  1. Profile photo of stevebakker

    Hi Paul

    I’d like some help with supplementing Iron – wasn’t sure of the most appropriate place to put this question so please fell free to move it as you see fit 🙂

    I have a 2,000 home system made of 3x IBCs and have been increasing the Iron supplement that I add to it over the last few weeks and have seen a big improvement in the plant growth – this tends to confirm that my system has been deficient.

    The supplement that I am using is Liquid Iron. It contains:
    * 31g total iron per litre
    * 25g/l iron sulphate
    * 5g/l Iron from DTPA chelate
    * 1g/l Iron from EDDHA chelate

    In my 2,000l system starting from 0 Iron in the system I estimate that I would need to add something like 500ml of this to get to approx 1ppm iron – is that correct? And can you suggest what the min and max Iron levels should be?

    Then I would need to top-up the iron as I add water – approx 300l/week is added due to evaporation and cleaning – so approx 60ml added when topping up

    Then to replace the iron that is consumed by the plants (and perhaps other parts of the system consume some iron too?) This i should do by testing the Iron level to determine what it’s dropped to and then do a similar calculation to determine how much to add?

    Interested in your comments on all of the above – if I’m on the right track – and also to hear of the most cost effective way to add Iron – what I’m using is a supplement from an aquaponics store that is costing $15/500ml. Looking in the gardening section of a hardware store I can see Iron supplement powder that costs much less but don’t know if there is any downside to using this instead or is there another product that you use for this that might work better or cost less for me?

    thanks!
    Steve

  2. Profile photo of stelios

    Hallo Paul,
    what kind of solar water pump would you suggest?

    • Profile photo of Paul Van der Werf

      If it is just for back up a small pond pump solar kit will do the job if you dont want to set up all the solar gear. Or a simple boat bilge pump. The bilge pumps are not rated to run continuously. If you want a solar pump running continuously I have heard suggested brushless 12v pumps are the go but you will pay for them. If it was a larger solar set up I would use an inverter and go with standard 240/120v pumps

      • Profile photo of stelios

        Thank you for your quick answer. I think solar aquaponics could be another article.

        • Profile photo of Paul Van der Werf

          Absolutely. As I get further with out garden at home, I will write more about it as it runs on solar.

  3. Fantastic resource, so glad to have found your work.
    Can I just continually flood the media, or do I have to raise and lower the level to bring O2 into the media? Guess I.could just use a timer to turn the pump on and off, but eould prefer to leave it running.

  4. Hi Paul,just a quick one on autosiphoning i there a good diagram or vid on how this works and are they necessary?

    • Profile photo of Paul Van der Werf

      Not that I know of. Not a fan really, they are far too unreliable and lack control. My preference is for water level sensors and 12 volt control valves.

      Regards
      Paul

      • Hi Paul
        Could you be a bit more specific about the type of valves you use?
        Commercial control valves are really expensive, and the low cost irrigation valves I have looked at are pilot operated and need higher pressures to open?

        Thanks
        Geoff

        • Profile photo of Paul Van der Werf

          Hi Geoff,

          The basic irrigation solenoid control valves from a hardware store do the job nicely. You are not running high water flows but you will need the larger ones (about an inch) to do the job. A garden irrigation control panel will control the times on and off.

          cheers
          Paul

  5. Do you have a starter kit setup like what you have spoken about?
    For a newbie this would be great as it looks a bit overwhelming when I have to purchase everything in singly.

    • Profile photo of Paul Van der Werf

      We can kit together the smaller parts you need and we can do the tanks and trays but we find the shipping for the tanks and trays to be prohibitive. If you can source tanks and trays locally, if you are not local to us in Brisbane, then we can put together the rest for you.

      Regards
      Paul

  6. Great information…question.? Do you need sunlight light on the fish for them to grow properly..? I’ve had tropical fish for years and learnt about using nature to help with filtration. where the water flows through certain media allowing bacteria to collect on porus noodles that brake down ammonia & nitrates + plants in water + no less than 8 hours of light. So would you be able to apply this theory to Aquaponics and have the lights or just have the set up outside.? Thank you for the great information and hope you can find the time to answer my question. :))

    • Profile photo of Paul Van der Werf

      Hi Sue and thanks.

      No the fish do not need sunlight and much prefer the shade or dark. If you were using water plants are part of your nitrogen filtration, then yes you would need light. But the fish and the bacteria do not need it, nor do they want it. You can and will need lights for your plants of course if they are inside or in an area with low light. So the fish tank can be inside or under the growbed in the shade and the grow bed in full sun.

      Regards
      Paul

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