Types of Aquaponics Systems

Types of Aquaponics Systems

Media Filled Beds

Media filled beds are the simplest form of aquaponics, they use containers filled with rock medium of expanded clay or similar. Water from a fish tank is pumped over the media filled beds, and plants grow in the rock media. This style of system can be run two different ways, with a continuous flow of water over the rocks, or by flooding and draining the grow bed, in a flood and drain or ebb and flow cycle.

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT).

In NFT systems, nutrient rich water is pumped down small enclosed gutters, the water flowing down the gutter is only a very thin film. Plants sit in small plastic cups allowing their roots to access the water and absorb the nutrients.

Deep Water Culture (DWC)

Deep Water Culture, works on the idea of floating plants on top of the water allowing the roots to hang down into the water. This can be done in a number of ways. This method is one of the more commonly practiced commercial methods. DWC can be done by floating a foam raft on top of the fish tank, however a more common method is to grow the fish in a fish tank and pump the water through a filtration system, and then into long channels where floating rafts filled with plants float on the water surface and extract the nutrients.

Which Style is Best Suited to Me?

There are the basics of aquaponics, it really can be as simple or as complicated as you like, if you want to start off small and simple take a piece Types of Aquaponics Systemsof polystyrene, cut some holes in it, stick some mint cuttings or water cress cuttings through the holes, and float it on the surface of an aquarium or pond, within no time you’ll end up with a mass of floating herbs, and you’ll have cleaner water for your fish. The flood and drain media bed system, also requires minimal maintenance.

We are going to concentrate on the media bed style of system, you can mix different styles of system but for the moment just straight media filled beds will do. Even with just straight media beds there are a number of different ways you can run the system.

In NFT systems, nutrient rich water is pumped down small enclosed gutters, the water flowing down the gutter is only a very thin film. Deep Water Culture, works on the idea of floating plants on top of the water allowing the roots to hang down into the water. DWC can be done by floating a foam raft on top of the fish tank, however a more common method is to grow the fish in a fish tank and pump the water through a filtration system, and then into long channels where floating rafts filled with plants float on the water surface and extract the nutrients.

There are the basics of aquaponics, it really can be as simple or as complicated as you like, if you want to start off small and simple take a piece of polystyrene, cut some holes in it, stick some mint cuttings or water cress cuttings through the holes, and float it on the surface of an aquarium or pond, within no time you’ll end up with a mass of floating herbs, and you’ll have cleaner water for your fish.

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Importance Of Fish To Your Aquaponics Home Garden

 

Fish are the power house of an aquaponics system, they provide the nutrients for the plants and if your growing edible fish, then they also provide protein for yourself. Keeping fish may be a little daunting to some, especially those without any prior experience, however you shouldn’t be discouraged. Keeping fish in an aquaponic system is more simple than keeping aquarium fish, so long as you follow simple guidelines then growing fish from fingerling size, to ready to eat fish can be extremely simple.

 

Choosing a fish species

There are many different species of fish that can be used in an aquaponic system, depending on your local climates and available supplies. Our local climate in Perth, Western Australia, allows us to keep Rainbow Trout through winter, then a warmer species like Barramundi during summer. There are also a few choices for year round fish that we could grow, but they often take a longer time to mature. If you live in a cooler climate you might be looking at growing Trout all year round, or perhaps another locally produced fish species. In warmer areas of Australia people generally grow Barramundi, or Jade Perch year round, in most warm areas throughout the world Tilapia is the fish of choice.

In deciding what is the best species for you to grow, you should take a few factors into account, most importantly is what you want from your system. If you don’t want to eat your fish then you probably won’t want to grow edible fish, or you may want to grow an edible fish that can live year-round in your area, so that you’re not having to harvest fish out seasonally. The second most important factor is ‘What’s available?’ You need to be able to buy fish to stock your system, even with species such as Tilapia that breed readily, you need to get your broodstock in the first place.

 

Here’s a list of useful aquaponic species with a few details about each

Barramundi

Barramundi are often grown in aquaponic systems through the warmer months of the year. Most growers will buy fairly mature stock so that they can harvest larger fish, at the end of the growing season. Barramundi that is grown in an aquaponic system has an exceptionally clean, crisp taste. Growing your own Barramundi excites guests and is the envy of neighbors. They provide a decent harvest at the end of the season and are one of the more majestic species of edible fish.

Barramundi

Catfish

There are many different species of catfish around the world that are well suited to aquaponics. Channel catfish are the most widely farmed aquaculture species in the United States, and they are available in many areas of Australia. Catfish don’t have scales so they need to be skinned, they are quick growing and have a good food conversion ratio.

Catfish

Carp

There are many species of carp that could be very well suited to aquaponics, unfortunately because of their reproductive capabilities, their tough nature and ability to readily adapt in many areas of the world, carp have become noxious pests to native waterways and the environment, and as such they are not easily obtainable, and often there are high fines and fees for keeping them. In most western cultures carp also have a fairly poor reputation, as an eating fish, however, carp is still the most widely cultured fish in the world as it’s grown throughout most of Asia.

Carp

Goldfish

Although some people may group these with the carp, I’ve decided to cover these separately as most people refer to them as goldfish, and this is what they will be sold as, at local pet shops or fish suppliers. Goldfish are generally pretty tough and make a great addition to an aquaponic system. In many areas they will breed in a tank, although they generally need plant cover within the tank to breed.

Goldfish

Jade Perch

This native Australian fish is worth a special mention here, as it has the highest levels of omega three oils of any fish species in the world. In fact it’s so high in omega three oils that growers are trying to breed the oil out of them, they are trying to breed a less oily fish because they’ve found people don’t like the high oil content.

They require warm water and consume an omnivorous diet. Very well suited to an aquaponic system, they grow quickly and fingerlings are readily available in warmer areas.

Jade Perch

Koi

Once again, another species of carp, but better known as “Koi” rather than carp. Koi are very common within many Asian communities and they are often found in large ornamental ponds. For those who love Koi, an aquaponic system is a great proposition for stocking the fish.

Koi

Murray Cod

Murray cod are a magnificent native Australian fish, known to grow to enormous sizes in their native habitats, their tank culture is still in reasonably early days. Murray cod are grown in recirculating aquaculture systems, and can also been grown in aquaponic systems, hopefully this fish will be utilized more over time because they are quick growing, and a great eating fish. One of the downfalls is that they must be kept at high stocking densities, and kept well fed otherwise they cannibalize each other.

Murray Cod

Silver Perch

Silver perch are a good allround native Australian fish that grow well under a variety of conditions. Perch are omnivorous and will happily eat green scraps as well as Duckweed and Azolla. They grow within a wide temperature range, though they’re not as fast growing as many other fish, taking 12-18 months for fingerlings to grow to plate size.

Silver Perch

Tilapia

The second most cultured fish in the world, and extremely popular in Aquaponics systems. They are an ideal species for aquaponics for many reasons. They are easy to breed, fast growing, withstand very poor water conditions, consume an omnivorous diet and are good eating. The only downfall for some people will be that Tilapia require warm water. If you live in a cool area you are far better off growing a fish species that will grow well in your temperature range, rather than trying to heat the water. Tilapia are also a declared pest in many areas.

Tilapia

Trout

Trout are a great fish for aquaponic systems where water temperatures are a little cooler. Trout prefer water temperatures between 10° C and 20° C. They have extremely fast growth rates and excellent food conversion ratios.

Trout

Other Species

There are other fish species which are quite suitable for aquaponics, that might be available in your local area. In Europe many different species of carp are grown, within the United States such species as Bluegill are often available, while in Australia we also have a number of other native species like Sleepy cod which would be suitable.

Other aquatic animals that can be incorporated into an aquaponic system are fresh water mussles, fresh water prawns, and fresh water crayfish. Mussles are a filter-feeder, and do a great job of helping to clean the water, they will happily grow in flooded grow beds, or can be incorporated into fish tanks. Crustaceans make a nice addition to an aquaponic system and there are a few different species available depending on your location and water temperatures.

For those in tropical areas there’s Redclaw, a fast growing native Australian species, and for those in cooler areas there’s Yabbies or Marron.

Yabbies breed readily, given the right environment and the correct water temperature, as well as long daylight hours. They also grow fairly quickly, but they can be prone to fighting and cannibalism when stocked very densely.

 

Numbers of Fish

This can be quite a hot topic of debate amongst people who practice aquaponics. Stocking levels of fish within a system can be as high as many intensive recirculating aquaculture systems, however the higher the stocking density the higher the likelihood of things going wrong. In very heavy stocking densities you need to keep a constant eye on all water parameters to be sure that conditions are kept at the optimum.

If you lower the stocking levels of fish then you lower your levels of risk and stress. Growth rates of plants in lightly stocked systems can still be very impressive, this eight bed system was stocked with only 70 fish, thats less than 9 fish per growbed. The fish tank is 5000L and there’s a 1000L sump on the system. The fish in the system at the time of taking this photo were trout and they were around 300– 400g. The plant growth in the eight beds was fantastic. A wide mixture of plants were grown in the beds.

 

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easy diy aquaponics 2 Growing Media

Running Your Aquaponic Home Garden System

 

There are a few common methods of running your aquaponic home garden system. You can flood and drain it by using a timer on the pump to switch the pump off and on, while a standpipe in the grow bed controls the flooding level. You can flood and drain it using an auto siphon within the grow bed and running your pump continuously. You can also run the system with a continuously flooded grow bed using a standpipe in the bed. We have been running some trials of these three different methods.

At the time of writing this our trials have been running for over 12 months and in reality there’s been little difference at the end of the day between the three different systems. There were some differences in the early period but after 12 months there really is very little difference between them. This being the case I would recommend running your IBC system continuously flooded as we have set up our IBC system on this website.

Chift Pist

Chift Pist systems are popular amongst the aquaponics DIY sector with many people. Water is pumped from the sump tank into the fish tank, this causes the water level in the fish tank to rise, flowing out into the grow bed. The Easy DIY Aquaponicsgrow bed then drains into the sump tank before being pumped back to the fish again. Uses either an auto siphon within the grow bed to flood and drain the grow bed or run with the grow bed constantly flooded.

A SLO (Solids Lift Overflow) is normally incorporated into these systems, This means that the overflow pipe in the fish tank goes right down top the base of the fish tank where it will draw solids up from the bottom of the tank and deposit them into the grow bed.

Not often set up with timers on the pump unless you have a very large sump as it requires a large capacity to top the fish tank and fill the grow bed in a pumping cycle. Not the simplest method of setting up a system because you have to incorporate a sump tank in your design.

Advantages

  • Pump is in sump tank away from fish and wastes
  • Water level in fish tank remains constant
  • Great if you have a tall fish tank
  • Larger water volume because of sump

Disadvantages

  • Extra equipment required (sump tank)
  • Must have tall fish tank or stand
  • can take up larger footprint
  • limited running methods (no timer possible)

Simple Flood and Drain

Simple flood and drain can be done a couple of ways, you can either have a standpipe in the grow bed and timer on the pump, or you can use a siphon in the grow bed. The debate over which method is better is a hotly debated topic and I think the answer is fairly simple, that each has advantages and disadvantages. Personally after playing with siphons on a few different systems I decided a long time ago that I didn’t want to use them, so all systems I make, use standpipes.

Easy DIY Aquaponics

Advantages

  • Simple Design
  • Only two major system components
  • Great if you have a tall fish tank

Disadvantages

  • Pump in fish tank
  • Water level in tank fluctuates a little

What are standpipes you might ask?

A stand pipe next to a drain fitting, then sitting in the drain fitting. By changing the length of the standpipe you can adjust the flooding level in the bed. If you want to flood the grow bed to make caterpillars or slugs come up out of your media, then slipping a slightly longer piece of pipe over the end, or just a coupling fitting you can enable the bed to flood, causing all the pests to come up out of the media. If your media level in the bed drops over time then you can cut a little off the stand pipe, lowering the flood level in your bed.

There are two small holes in the bottom of the stand pipe, this allows the water to slowly drain out of the bed when the pumps off, hence the flooding and draining action.

Constant Flood

Looks a bit similar to the one above? Yes that’s because it is basically the same as the flood and drain system above, except that when you remove the timer from the system the grow bed remains constantly flooded.

Most importantly if this is getting a little confusing for you don’t worry about it, it can be difficult to conceptualize exactly how these things work, if you follow through our simple building and installation steps you’ll be able to build yourself an IBC aquaponic system in no time. If you ‘d like to learn more about the different methods of setting up and running your aquaponics system, then join the forum, you’ll find lots of information on the forum.

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Dealing With Pests And Deficiencies

 

There are a few different methods of dealing with any pests and/or diseases in your system, of course most of these require no petrochemical based sprays as these are generally very toxic to fish and also possibly the beneficial bacteria within the system. Caterpillars are easilyEasy DIY Aquaponics controlled by applications of Bacillus thuringiensis, this is a natural soil borne bacteria which is available around the world under a number of different brand names. Often organically certified the spray is safe for aquaponic systems.

For sap sucking insects you can use chilli and garlic sprays, these are often available commercially now a days, however they should always be used in moderation, as excess and over spray is never good.

For moulds and fungus on plants you can use potassium bicarbonate sprayed onto the effected plants. Potassium bicarbonate is available under a number of different brand names around the world. It also can help a system by adding potassium, something often lacking in a system and the bicarbonate helps to keep the pH up, as most of the time pH goes down in mature systems.

If slugs are a problem, a small saucer filled with beer will attract them and they easily drown, making disposal simple and effective. Colored sticky traps work well for thrips, aphids and whiteflies and are a good way to monitor visitors to your aquaponic system.

Dealing With Deficiencies

We have found that generally supplementing for plant deficiencies is not necessary when using good quality aquaculture feed, the systems here at our display center rarely receive any supplements, perhaps once or twice a year we might dose our systems with seaweed extract if we see some deficiencies. Deficiencies can be difficult to diagnose, thankfully there are a number of sites online which can help you diagnose particular deficiencies with images. One of the simplest ways to deal with any deficiencies is by the addition of seaweed extract. Seaweed extract is available under a number of different brand names around the world, it can also come in a powdered form or as a liquid, sometimes extracted by boiling, but often considered better if you can get liquid extracted by crushing rather than boiling as you have the advantage of getting added elements like humic acid.

Seaweed has very high levels of most micronutrients and minerals. Some other things you may want to add if the relevant deficiencies are showing in your plant growth. Chelated Iron, readily available in powdered and liquid form. Potassium bicarbonate for potassium deficiencies, so long as your pH is not high already. Be sure your pH is not high before you try and add elements to fix a micronutrient problem.

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