First Try Aquaponics System

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Introduction: First Try Aquaponics System

This is a quick cheap and easy way to get some practice at producing your own food. Aquaponics is great because it lets you grow healthy fish and plants faster than normal and with little maintenance.
My reason for building this project was to get practice and learn about any problems that will come up before making a bigger system.

Step 1: Get Materials

Materials:
-Steel cart and some steel bars
-Plastic bins that cover about the same area as the cart
-Larger, deep plastic bin
-Water pump with a roll of tube that fits it
-Bag of pea gravel
-Plastic colander
-Scrap plywood
-Gallon milk jug
-Whatever type of fish and plants you will want

Tools:
-Welder
-Hot glue gun
-Water proof glue
-Knife or scissors
-Shovel

Step 2: Make the Skeleton

Make it look like the picture. Your pieces will be different than mine so I'm not going to write out specific lengths and sizes.

Once the frame is made cut and attach the milk container. Cut across the handle, cut a big opening in the handle side, and cut a small opening near the top of the other side. This will be a funnel for the water coming out of the grow beds. Attach it to the frame with a zip tie through the handle and around the steel bar.

Lay the plywood pieces on the horizontal steel bars. These will support the cat litter boxes.

Step 3: Make the Grow Beds

Drill a hole about 1/2" to 1" in diameter in the lower corner of both grow beds. Make sure you do the opposite corner on each one so both of the beds can drain into the funnel.

Cut the plastic colander into fourths. Glue 1/4 of it over each of the two holes in the grow beds to keep the gravel from flowing out the hole. You don't need the rest of the colander.

Support the back of the drain funnel with zip ties from the corners of the grow beds.

Wash the pea gravel with water and put it in the grow beds. Then rinse it more until the water coming out is clear.

Step 4: Add the Fish Tank Stuff

Center the fish bucket on the lower part of the cart and tie it on.

Cut three pieces of hose: one to go from the pump up to the grow beds, and two to branch out into the beds. Drill a hole every couple inches on the two branching out hoses, and plug one end of each of them with hot glue. Connect all the hoses with the t-fitting and plug the pump on to the end of it's hose. If you pump can't lift the water high enough, shorten the hose as much as possible.

Zip-tie the air pump on to the cart somewhere. Tape a rock to the end of the air hose for an anchor and drop it into the fish tank.

Step 5: Put in the Plants and Fish

Decide what type of plants you want to grow. I just took what was available, dandelions, blackberry, and raspberry plants from the yard. Dig them up, clean the dirt off of the roots, and put them in the pea gravel.

Get a few fish. Mine are largemouth bass from a nearby lake. I made this choice because they are easy to catch. The main problem with these is that they jump out, so you need some type of a screen to put over the tank if you use them. I originally wanted to use perch or bluegill but the perch weren't biting and the bluegill were at a lake 20 minutes away. Make sure the aerator is on before you put in the fish so they don't die.

Step 6: Update + What I Learned



What I learned:

-A lot of the plants die after being transplanted into the system. Smaller, less established plants seem to do better. If they survive the transplantation they do very well. Make sure they get plenty of light, and keep the pump on. That helps a lot.

-The fish don't like to eat at first and are very picky about what they are fed. But after a week or two they eat better and will agressively take chunks of worm. A food source for the fish is one of the big things that needs to be worked out ahead of time, which I didn't do.

-The pea gravel must already have lots of bacteria because the fish didn't die from ammonia like some people thought they would.

-The fish love hiding spots and shade. They pack in so tight that it is hard to tell if they are all still in there. They also love to transcend their world and enter the relm of men (jump out of the water). So put a screen or lid of some kind on the tank to keep them in. I think each fish will only do this once though because they haven't done it since the first couple days.

-The whole thing seems very easy so far. Anyone can do it.

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    52 Comments

    So the fish feed the plants and the plants feed the fish, Amazing.

    Thanks for the instructable. Very interested in starter aquaponics. Saving this for later use! : -)

    Buy from a fish farm; have them deliver the fish live, it is legal.
    Fish from a farm generally are healthy.
    Wild fish can carry parasitic flatworms or disease.
    I caught a 1,lb Large Mouth Bass with a three-foot tapeworm in it.
    You can get catfish, trout, bass, salmon and many other spices from a farm.
    Most places outside of flood zones permit controlled pond release.

    3 replies

    I have a serious question about this, if the flatworm resides in the digestive tract and I assume you remove that before consumption is there really any risk of getting worms?

    Yes but one mistake in cooking and the flat worms are in you.

    There eggs are throughout the body if you cook them well it kills the eggs but one mistake.

    It is always best to play safe.

    I will do that when I build the final version.

    You could try growing duckweed in your system. It is high in protein and can be fed to the fish.

    5 replies

    Thank you for your suggestion. I have thought about that a little before and when I build a full size version a tank for duckweed has a good chance of being included.

    Do you know how you feed it to the fish? That is what I have not figured out for sure. Do you gind it up and feed it to them as pellets, mabey with some other thinks mixed in?

    I'm not really sure actually. I saw an aquaponic system at an urban farm in Buffalo that used duckweed to feed the fish. I'm guessing they made it in to some kind of pellet...?

    I enjoyed your post and hope to try this out at some point when I have more space. Thanks!

    Tilapia are herbivores and they just eat the duckweed whole, you must grow it in a separate container or they will eat it all.

    Most herbivorous fish will gladly eat it fresh with no processing at all-just dump it into the fish tank. The duckweed is best grown separate from the fish. I've usually kept a pretty good crop going for both fish and turtles. It doesn't need more than a couple inches of water but does like a large surface area to spread out (and fill) in.

    When you grow it, do you just get some from a swamp and put it in a swimming pool and watch it grow? Or do you have to put in dirt and fertilizer and stuff?

    some more suggestions,

    - you need to run your system to start the nitrogen cycle. don't add plants or fish immediately. if you want them to survive.
    - check your water quality. a simple test will be leave a glass or water where it can get sunlight, with few days you can see algae growing, then its safe, Note this is a crude test.
    - your drain system can be improved. the water level in your grow bed will be low. you have to plant the roots deep. or you can use a bell siphon to raise the water level and drain completely.


    nice reading your post,

    Really great 'ible, thanks. A comment directed me to The Urban Farming Guys website which was very helpful, too.

    By the way, how much did this cost? Its seems it was mostly cheap or scrap/salvage material.

    2 replies

    The only things that costed money were the clear tubing, the gravel, and the welding wire. + I paid like $2.00 for the pump but that was a long time ago so I am not counting that. ~$5 total cost in money.

    Awesome! If I can find a cheap pump and cheap fish and plants to start me off, I might have a go ;-)

    I love the aquaponics idea you should check out this link if you haven't already you may get some good ideas and they do it on a larger scale too. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfR9nDsvBk8

    2 replies

    Great job on the website. I went there and learned a ton. Thanks. Also thanks for this instruct. Got me to thinking.

    Same :-)

    Thinking of doing my own one of these...

    what do you feed the fish? I've seen "bio sphere" aquariums where they put snails and certain plants in with the fish in a sealed container. Would this work for your system? I agree with the previous comment about the air pump being redundant, so long as the water pump runs 24/7 or often enough to water the plants and give air to the fishies. nice instructable, I like the pea gravel idea I've been growing with hydroponics for over twenty years and have never seen pea gravel used. Please let us know how this turns out! P.S. you might want to get a high range ph test kit, they're available online or at your local pet store (plants and fish require a certain ph range for optimal health)