Aquaponics like it's better know cousin hydroponics is a form of growing plants in water. The difference between the two is that in hydroponics fertilizer needs to be added in, whereas in aquaponics fish are grown to produce natural fertilizer that get's pumped up to the plants. This not only keeps the plants healthy, but it filters the water for the fish, and eliminates the need for a busy gardener to remember to add fertilizer. In this project I built a miniature version that can fit on a table in ones home.
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Step 1: Background
Aquaponics is not a new development. As early as 1100 C.E. the Indigenous people of mexico were building rafts called Chinampas which they would float in lakes. On these rafts they grew many of the plants they ate using the silt where fish waste would sink to fertilize and sometimes small fish. Today large scale enclosed aquaponics tanks are being considered as more environmentally friendly way to raise vegetables. The reason for this is that during the process of making man-made fertilizer many harmful chemicals are released into the air. Not only this, but these fertilizers are commonly overused in large traditional farming areas. The runoff from these farms then leaks into the water way causing the chemicals to eventually make their way to the river and from there to the Gulf of Mexico. Fish cannot live in water with a high amount of Nitrate (fertilizer) and as a result a dead zone exist in the gulf and continues to grow.
Aquaponics works better because now not only do you not need to waste as much water by putting it in the ground, you also eliminate man-made fertilizers. Instead the fish waste (ammonia) gets transformed into nitrite and then into nitrate by naturally forming bacteria in the aquarium rocks. This is okay because it is then immediately pumped up to the plants above which take out the nitrate and put it back into the fish tank. The water is never allowed to flow into the ground water, and never has the chance to get into the river.
Step 2: WHAT YOU NEED
5-10 gallon tank
fish tank gravel (enough to cover the bottom of the tank one inch thick)
Small fountain pump that can lift 30-50 gallons of water per hour (this can be found in the Home Depot garden section)
3 ft. of plastic tubing
Air pump for 5- 10 gallon tank Air stone
3 ft. of air tubing
Food safe plastic container that can fit on top of the tank
Fish and plants or seeds (I chose kale)
Drill with 1/4” or 3/16” bit and 1/2” bit
Scissors and or knife
Electrical tape or glue just in case
Step 3: Setting Up the Tank
To do this it is the same as setting up any fish tank.
- First set up the tank in the location you want it. (trust me you don't want to have to move it later)
- Add the aquarium gravel and water
- then connect your air pump and air tube to the air stone in the place indicated on the instructions
- connect a separate tube to the water pump (you might need to glue it in place. I used J.B Weld)
- plug everything in and make sure it works. You might want to leave it running for a day or so to make sure it everything continues working smoothly
- To add your fish set the bag in the water for at least fifteen minutes so that the fish can get used to the temperature then let them out.
USE GOLDFISH THEY PRODUCE MORE WASTE
(I made the mistake of getting tropical fish and they barely keep the plants alive.)
Step 4: Preparing Your Pot
- locate your storage/Tupperware container
- use drill to make approximately ten holes in the bottom. Holes should be 1/4 of an inch diameter. (more holes = more water flow from the plants to the fish tank so apply as needed)
- make a hole in the side large enough for the tube connected to the water pump to fit through.
- run tube around the inside of the container
- I used a knife to cut holes along the sides or the container above and below where i wanted the tube to be. I chose to put a little above the middle of the container so that the water could trickle down through the rocks.
- zip-tie the tube to the sides of the container.
- cut holes in the side of the tube so that the water comes out around the entire sides of the container.
- fill with washed pea gravel up to the tube.
Step 5: Adding the Plants
For this step I bought plants that had been grown in dirt originally. if you do this you will have to wash all of the dirt out of the roots. I would not suggest this because it was time consuming and broke the roots. Instead you should buy seeds and grow them in the pot. Just sprinkle them in and they should grow fine. (the pea gravel will stop them from falling into the fish tank)
Step 6: The Next Few Weeks
For the next few weeks you should monitor the pH level and the liveliness of the fish. Possible problems with this can include too much or to little fish waste caused by amount or type of fish. Lack of sunlight can also be a problem easily fixed by adding a grow light.