With those unfamiliar with aquaponics it is the same concept as hydroponics except the nutrients is supplied by fish or other aquatic animals. A more in depth description of aquaponics is that the waste fish excrete ammonia (NH3) is converted by one type of bacteria to nitrite (NO2) then another group of bacteria converts the nitrite to nitrate (NO3) these nitrates is what is used in fertilizer and what we are using to grow our plants. IMPORTANT: this bacteria cycle (called Nitrification) is critical to this system and is often disregarded, without these bacteria the plants can't use the fish waste to grow. now to the construction.
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Step 1: The Fish or Other Aquatic Creatures
you have to choose the fish you want to grow. if you wish to eat the fish tilapia and catfish do really well just visit the local pet store for tips on fish and what they require
what i used: i used goldfish because there easy, inexpensive and look quite nice (they grow pretty big) and some turtles that were getting to big for their tank
Step 2: The Grow Bed
the grow bed is where all the magic happens.you want a well draining container filled with a very porous (lots of tiny air holes, think of a sponge) material to put in the container for the plants to grow in. we want it porous for two reasons one so it can absorb water for the plants to use and the second so the bacteria has a nice cozy home to produce the nitrates we need. expanded clay does well perlite is also very good, in a pinch you could use dirt or orchid moss but it might not grow as well
what i used: I used a old recycled material planter we had around and took the legs off and filled it with expanded clay pellets
Step 3: The Plants
Last but definitely not least the plants. kale, lettuce, mint, basil pretty much any leafy vegetable or herb does great in aquaponics fruiting plants like tomatoes and beans or roots like carrots and potatoes are tricky and require some practice (the roots will be smaller but produce much more then soil grown root vegetables)
What i used: clippings from a already grown tomato plant just stuck in to the clay
Step 4: Optional Biofilter
the bio filter is a controversial part of the aquaponics system, in short it is the ideal growing area for the nitrifying bacteria. but they get quite expensive
what i used: i have had great success using gravel in the pond/tank and a porous growing medium
Step 5: TLC (Tender Love and Care)
caring for the setup is easy just monitor the fish and plant growth. watering is almost nonexistent setup a pond pump in the tank/pond and pump water into the grow bed for 15 minutes every hour (a garden timer is a great investment) doing this conserves water and there is no runoff as the water just drips back into the pond and is reused
Step 6: In Conclusion
setups like these are fun to build and cool to see work and grow. I would highly recommend building one before buying to see if you want a system, plus it is a heck of a lot of fun :)
Runner Up in the
Low Water Gardening Challenge 2016