How to build an aquaponics system

Inspired by FARM:shop to build your own aquaponics farm? Here’s how to get started.

1. Pick your tank
For of ease and efficiency, a kit is probably the best place to start. Aquaponics UK sells a FishPlant Family unit for £499 (pictured left) which is “large enough to provide a couple, or small family with plenty of fresh salad, and stocking up to 3.5kg of fish. Yet small enough to fit into a small garden, greenhouse or even indoors.”

For the more adventurous, there are plenty of resources out there if you want to build a DIY tank. If you have been lured by the idea of a larger system, bear in mind that a 1,000 litre tank and two 600 litre grow bed will require 200 square foot. It’s best to start small, and build up to a bigger system.

2. Where to put your tank
Finding flat ground is possibly the most important part of positioning the tank. When you’re building a system that relies on water flow, it’s best not to tamper with gravity.

There are lots of other things worth considering though. Make sure that there is a reliable source of electricity nearby for plugging in the pumps, and also remember that the noise from the pumps can be pretty loud, so pick somewhere where the disturbance will be minimal.

Consider whether the tank should be inside or outside. Inside, it’s easier to regulate temperature, but then there’s better natural light outside – and grow lamps can be expensive and tricky to rig up. Of course, the other thing to bear in mind is whether the floor can withstand the weight of the water, particularly if you’re using big tanks.

3. Choosing plants
While some plants thrive in even the most basic system, others have higher nutritional demands and require a well-established aquaponic system. Examples of good starter plants are chard, kale, lettuce, pak choi, basil and chives. When starting out, it’s best to go with these over tomatoes, peppers, peas and broccoli, which all require more nutrients and more care.

4. Choosing Fish
Tilapia is a common choice because they are low-maintenance, fast-growing and young “fingerlings” are available all year round. They are also resilient to disease and can even tolerate short cold spells. Tilapia is also a tasty fish for those who are considering harvesting the fish for the dining table. Alternatively, ornamental fish also thrive in aquaponic systems. Koi carp are a popular choice, and goldfish make a cost-effective starter fish.

5. Research
A basic aquaponics system requires minimal intervention. Once it’s set up, just feed the fish daily and check the water levels weekly and that’s all you have to do. The likelihood though is that once you’ve got hooked on a basic system, you’ll want to learn more, build more and harvest more.

There are endless websites, books, journals and blogs dedicated to aquaponics. From technicalities such as the Top Five Best Water Pumps and the Top Five Best Grow Lights, to online UK aquaponic fish food retailers and associations like the British Aquaponics Association.

Aquaponic Gardening, by Charlie Price
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Aquaponics, by Meg Stout
Aquaponics at Home, by Amber Richards
Aquaponics for Beginners, by Susan Burnetter

The British Aquaponics Association (BAQUA)
Aquaponics UK
Aqua Allotments
Blog: Urban Growth – Garden Aquaponics in the UK

Backyard Aquaponics
Nelson & Pade Aquaponics Journal

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