Aquaponic Gardening Rules of ThumB

Many of our Aquaponic Gardening Community have pointed out that we need some basic rules-of-thumb for aquaponic gardening. Why? Because the beginners among us could use some help getting started without spending weeks researching what to do.

Nothing we say below is set in stone and there are exceptions to almost every one of the listed rules-of-thumb given certain conditions. However, they do offer a set of generally accepted principles that, if adhered to, will put you on the path towards successful aquaponic gardening.

One final caveat. These rules are intended for media-based backyard or hobby systems only. If you intend to get into commercial aquaponics, first please read Commercial Aquaponics: 10 Things to Consider Before Taking the Plunge. Then please seek a professional training course that will help you design an optimal system that has a chance to generate a profit.

Let’s get started

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12 Ways Aquaponics Differs From Hydroponic

When I was preparing and starting to think about the notion of ‘selling’ aquaponics, the first thoughts in my business school-trained brain were about target markets. How is the typical buyer of home aquaponics different than the typical market for these hydroponic businesses?

That thought, however, was immediately crowded out by a second, more basic thought. In order to sell aquaponics to a hydroponics customer, you really need to understand how aquaponics differs from hydroponics – which leads me to the point of this article. How does aquaponics differ from hydroponics? Let me count the ways:

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How to build a vertical aquaponic system step by step

Posted on October 19, 2013 by Garden Prepper October 19, 2013

You can turn a small yard, a corner in a community garden or an unused space in your home into a thriving vertical farm for vegetables and fish. A household-sized vertical aquaponic system can fit into a 3ft by 5ft (1m x 2m) area and feed a family year-round. Sean Brady, the aquaponics projects coordinator at the Center for Sustainable Aquaponics and Nourish the Planet in Loveland, Colo., showed us how to build a system from scrap he found around the greenhouse.

More food, less water
A vertical aquaponic system grows vegetables without soil in columns above a fish tank. It is a water-efficient and space-saving way to garden and raise fish. By growing vertically, you can produce about twice the amount of plants as you can with a hydroponic system of the same area. One five-foot tower can produce more than 200 heads of lettuce per year. And it uses a small fraction of the water needed to grow crops in soil.

Mutual benefits
The aquaponic system puts fish waste to work as fertilizer for crops. A small pump draws nutrient-rich water from the fish tank to the tops of the vertical columns. The water trickles down through the roots of the plants, gathering oxygen from the air as it falls back into the tank. The system is mostly enclosed, with little to no waste and no need for fertilizer or pesticides. And, if you do it well, you won’t have to clean the fish tank much.

You would have to replace lost water as needed, power the pump and feed the fish. It might not be too hard to power one of these pumps with a small solar panel or some other renewable energy. If anyone has an idea, please share.

This is how to build Sean Brady’s low-cost vertical aquaponic system. All the photos are his

You can use the following materials or swap out anything for whatever you have on hand. Brady built this system from scrap he had around the greenhouse. We’re including pictures of other, fancier systems that he built out of similar materials to show the diversity that this kind of build affords. Measurements are in feet and inches. Sorry, rest of the world.

15-20 ft. of 4-in. diameter PVC or ADS
Four 4-inch elbows
Four 4-inch T connectors

*Two 50-gallon drums
*15-20 ft. of pex tubing, or aquarium tubing
*Plastic cups
*Strips of cloth, such as burlap sack, cable ties or another fastener
*Scrap wood
*Two rolls of electrical tape

One water pump – the size depends on how much flow it would need. An aquarium pump is enough to keep the flow going.
One air pump (optional). The system can aerate itself but it can produce more if it has an air pump.

*Power drill or hand drill
*1-in hole saw
*3-in hole saw

Build time: About two hours.

Recommended plants and fish:
Leafy vegetables, tomatoes and herbs do well in these systems. So do flowers. You can experiment to find which do well and fit your needs.
Tilapia and trout do well, they grow quickly and they’re delicious. More info about the fish types and plants from the writer of Backyard Liberty.

Cut the pipe into six 1ft. sections for the sides and two 14in. sections for the ends.
Drill two 3in-diameter holes in each of the 1ft side pieces.
Drill a 1in-diameter hole into the side of one of the end pieces.
Tip:You can use any kind of durable plastic or pipe, not just what’s pictured.

Assemble the pieces with electrical tape.

Cut the vertical pipes to the length that suits you.
Drill 1in-diameter holes in the vertical pipes, evenly spaced.
Insert the vertical pipes as shown.
The photo on the right shows the mostly finished structure to give you an idea of how it looks.

Perforate the bottoms of the plastic cups and place them in the holes you drilled in the side pipes.
Cut a piece of 1in-diameter pipe to insert into the 1in hole in the end pipe to make a drain.
The drain should pour into one of the 50-gallon drums.

You can use two 50-gallon drums like these or any other kind of container that holds water for fish. You could even scale this down and put it on top of an indoor aquarium.

Cut the tops off below the rims.

This is the assembled garden structure on top of the drums, seen from two slightly different angles.

Adjust the structure’s balance and support its joints with wooden boards. You could tilt the structure slightly toward the drainpipe to improve the water flow.
Most systems will have vertical columns of equal height, but these are cut at different heights to show the range of options available.

Seed the plants in these. Put them in the cups and the holes in the vertical columns.

The final steps are not pictured, but easily explained. Cut strips of burlap or some other material, fasten them to the tops of the vertical pipes and drape them down the inside of the pipes. Stuffing the pipes with cloth like this will give the plant roots something to latch on.

Next, cut and assemble the tubing so that you can pump water from one barrel up to each of the four vertical pipes. You could also pump water from the barrel that receives drainage to the barrel that feeds the system.

These systems can scale up to commercial size, too. Brady and his colleagues at the Center for Sustainable Aquaponics set up this greenhouse for leafy vegetables, herbs and fish.

Another view of the commercial greenhouse.

This arrangement portrays some of the creativity and even the beauty possible with an aquaponic system. Among its features, there is a rocky waterfall into the fish tank and a drip-irrigation system watering soil-free plants in a rock bed.

These are different views of the above system.

Our guide Sean Brady shows what these systems can produce. He’s holding a trout here.

A very nice and easy way to start your aquaponic system and start growing the most organic vegetables and fresh fish. Alec Deacon, a very good friend and experimented prepper, explains step by step how to install this systems with a full and detailed tutorial that includes video as well.

Click to read more articles about aquaponics systems.

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What is Aquaponics ?

Posted on October 1, 2013 by Garden Prepper October 1, 2013

Aquaponics is a system for farming fish and plants together in a mutually beneficial cycle. Fish produce wastes that turn into nitrates and ammonia. These aren’t good for the fish if they build up too much, but they’re great fertilizer for plants.As the plants suck up these nutrients, they purify the water, which is good for the fish. Many cultures have made use of this cycle to grow better crops and nurture the fish as anadditional food source. Rice paddies in the China and Thailand have used aquaponic techniques for years. The Aztecs developed a system of building floating islands for food-plants such as maize and squash. Fish propagated around the islands, leaving their waste on the lake bottom, where it could be collected to fertilize the plants.

Modern aquaponics is slightly more high-tech, but it’s still an efficient and environmentally friendly way to produce food,organic food. Fish are kept in large tanks and the plants are grown hydroponically; that is, without soil. They are planted in beds with a little gravel or clay and their roots hang down into the water. The water is cycled through the system, so that it collects the “waste” from the fish; then it’s pumped to the plant beds, where it is filtered naturally by the plants and can then be returned to the fish tanks. Unlike traditional farming methods, no chemical fertilizers are needed for the plants: they all come from the fish-waste. It also tends to be organic, because the use of pesticides would be damaging to the fish.

Once the system is set up, only a little extra water is needed to make up for evaporation, because the same water is constantly recycled. This is a great improvement on traditional plant-growing, which consumes a lot of water. Many types of plants can be grown in aquaponic farms (whether commercial- or home-sized), especially leafy plants and herbs. The most commonly used fish is tilapia, although many others are also suitable.

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