How to Build an Aquaponics System (Step By Step)

Seriously, who in their right mind would want to be taught how to build an aquaponics system? There’s a lot to take in like buying the right fish tank, acquiring the grow bed, getting the right fish, obtaining the proper aquaponics design plans, etc. I could go on and on, so here’s the real truth…

how to build an aquaponics system

I kid, okay? Sorry! I’m actually a big fan of aquaponics gardening. I’ve been doing it for almost a year or so, and it has been an awesome ride so far. Growing great-tasting organic vegetables in minimal space without experiencing back aches, and without caring what the current season is, or the current weather conditions are is just fantastic.

Furthermore, it’s not that difficult to get a simple system up and running. Believe me; basic aquaponics setup is quite easy. I’ll be talking a lot more about this but please bear in mind, I’m not a complete pro or anything.

As I said, I started dipping my feet into the world of aquaponics just less than a year ago, and it’s all going well for me currently because I had a ridiculously thorough program that got me on the right track from the get-go. It’s actually one of those written guide plus video training programs, and the thing shows you exactly how to build an aquaponics system step by step. Check out the image below if you want to know more about it.

aquaponics diy plans

Just a heads up that it’s a paid program, but it has a 60-day refund guarantee in case you think it sucks haha. I love it though because the instructions are easy to follow, and it offers practical advice and tips that will genuinely help people who are interested in setting up their own aquaponics system.

In other words, with this program at your disposal, you can get started from A to Z without scratching your head trying to figure out the proper process and procedure. It’s all laid out nice and clear, so you can just dive in and build your own aquaponics right off the bat—well after you’ve gathered the proper materials and equipment, obviously! And of course, the program has you thoroughly covered when it comes to materials and equipment.

Also note that the program author can be contacted via email and that guy has promptly answered several questions I’ve forwarded to him. Okay, enough about that program! My aquaponics exploit in the last 10 or 11 months has been utterly fulfilling! Now I’m eager to share some sweet info about basic aquaponics setup, grow bed, fish selection etc.

What is Aquaponics?

As I’m sure you’re aware, aquaponics is a gardening system that melds the concept of hydroponic gardening, which is basically a no-soil method of growing all kinds of plants, and the concept of aquaculture. The latter by the way is a culture that requires you to dress up as an aquatic animal.

So to engage in hydroponics, one has to wear say, a walrus costume, while planting vegetables without using traditional soil.

wearing a costume while gardening

Okay, sorry, stupid joke. Aquaculture is basically a farming method of various aquatic animals and aquatic organisms, and it can be done in ponds, water tanks, lakes, etc.

Thanks to the combination of both concepts, we get aquaponics—an approach that enables you to simultaneously grow plants, as well as fish efficaciously. This approach can be done using a tank that measures less than say, twenty square feet.

There’s an old aquaponics saying that expresses the following:

“If you mess with the fishes, you mess with the vegetables (and you don’t want to eat vegetable-less meals)”

What this means is that in order to achieve gardening results that will make you smile from ear to ear, in addition to providing healthful organic veggies for your entire family, taking proper care of the fishes in your aquaponics system is virtually compulsory. After all, the fishes are responsible for feeding the plants. In other words, the fishes are like the bosses because this gardening system is so highly dependent on them.

The fishes need to be treated with the utmost care and one of the ways to do that is by ensuring the pH level of the water is perfect for them. Also the water temperature has to be set just right, the oxygen amount must be adequate, and of course, the fishes must be properly fed as well.

There’s no need for you to do any body aching tasks typically associated with traditional gardening. Using the aquaponics approach, your primary tasks is to make sure the fishes get their foods and keep an eye on the water condition. I believe this is one of the simplest gardening methods around and if you do it right, you will be amazed with the outcome.

Trust me, if you’ve been doing gardening for some time, you’ll appreciate not having to bend your back and your knees in order to grow, care and maintain your precious veggie plants. Caring for your aquaponics fish and vegetable plants is much easier on the body because you get to position your fish tank as well as netting pots at your waist level. Indeed, most tasks can be done at waist level and to me, that’s a massive plus.

Build Your Own Aquaponics – If You Fail to Plan, You’re Planning to Fail

Before putting together a basic aquaponics setup, you need to plan things out a bit. There are a number of key aspects you should be aware of such as selection of plants and fish, aeration technique, the position of the pots and most important of all, the location of your aquaponics system.

You can have the best aquaponics design plans in the world, but if you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail!

ben franklin's legendary message

Those are the words Ben Franklin used to psyche himself up before discovering how to build an aquaponics system step by step. Heed those words and soon, you too will have a working aquaponics garden just like our legendary founding father Ben Franklin.

Okay jokes aside, let’s talk a bit about the most important key aspect which is location…

Location

An aquaponics garden system can be constructed anywhere you want. You can build one in your yard, in your garage, even in your house. As long as there’s enough space and the location’s temperature is appropriate, you should be good to go. Take temperature for instance. If your house is situated in a cold locale and you wish to build your own aquaponics system outside the house, then you need to ensure the insulation is adequate.

You also need to cover it properly because when you put a system outdoors, you risk exposing it to all sorts of harmful stuff that are outside the house. A variety of bad substances could find their way into the tank and they can be damaging to your aquaponics system.

Adequate lighting is also vital. Your home windows must be fairly big, that is if you plan on putting together a system indoors. What if all your home windows are on a rather smallish side? No problem, just get a simple artificial lighting system for your homemade aquaponics and you’re golden.

The next key aspect is aeration…

Aeration

Obviously without oxygen, your aquaponic fishes won’t be able to live and thrive. This means some kind of pumping apparatus is required for aeration purpose. Do keep in mind though, that the lack of pump apparatus or equipment does not mean you won’t be able to obtain proper aeration.

There are a number of methods for obtaining optimal aeration sans fancy aquaponics pump setup, but whether they can be effective or not, hinges on the types of fish you plan on using to run your aquaponics gardening system. And that brings me to the next key aspect…

Fish Selection

Many people like to use carp, catfish, tilapia and trout for their aquaponics. Personally, I like using tilapia. They grow pretty fast and compared to other types of fish, they are not easily affected by things like dissolved oxygen levels, pH and waste growth, temperature fluctuations, etc.

Requirements differ from one fish type to another. Certain variety can be cultured with reasonable ease, while some are a little harder and require just a bit more effort. Don’t forget to perform a thorough check on your state’s law. Some states do not allow certain varieties of fish to be kept and bred.

Plant Selection

Most plants—to a degree—can withstand varying environmental conditions so plant selection is quite simple, really. It depends on you—what sort of plants do you wish to grow once you’ve entirely grasped the mechanics of conceiving your own aquaponics system? Do you want to grow green leafy vegetables? Perhaps, you would like to grow various herbs such as coriander, basil, parsley, etc? How about beans, cauliflower, chili, tomatoes, etc?

The choice is yours! Now, on to the last key aspect…

Pot Placement

I recommend positioning the pots at your waist level for two simple reasons. The first reason is purely out of convenience as it prevents you from having to bend over when you’re examining your plants, or when you’re harvesting your produce.

The second reason is to help you save some space because you get to put the aquaponics fish tank right under those pots. I know these are just common sense reasons, and several aquaponics design plans I’ve come across also suggest waist level pot placement.

Check out the best design plans along with complete, easy-to-follow instructions here (PDF + Videos)

Launching Your Aquaponics Gardening System

Clearly the goal of every aquaponics gardener is to have their plants and fish attain excellent balance and synergy with one another. Such goal hinges upon the bacteria that are responsible for breaking down wastes produced by the fish, and then converting those wastes into fertilizers which are crucial for nourishing the plants.

One of your responsibilities as an aquaponics gardener is to establish the growth of the bacteria and ensure that they are able to flourish. If the bacteria prosper, then your plants will prosper too (and you too will prosper because you get to eat healthy organic vegetables derived from your very own aquaponics garden).

Now, time as well as patience is vital. You have to wait out for the bacteria to grow and flourish. While you wait it out, you need to keep on providing the proper care and maintenance. Do these things correctly and the bacteria will grow and flourish for sure. Once bacteria population gets to the desired level, plant as well as fish growth will come around, and you’re going to be all smiles when that happens!

Once you drop the fish in the tanks, their wastes will begin generating ammonia. The water surface in the tanks will then be occupied by Nitrosomonas bacteria. These bacteria are responsible for changing ammonia—which is actually toxic to fish as well as humans—into a chemical compound known as nitrite.

Now, these nitrites are also poisonous, though you want them around because they can pull in yet another type of bacteria called Nitrobacter. Thanks to the emergence of Nitrobacter, those toxic nitrites are then transformed into yet another chemical compound known as nitrates. These are the good stuff!

Nitrates won’t hurt your precious fish and these substances act as fertilizers for your aquaponics plants to chow down and grow. But how do you know whether nitrites have already been converted to nitrates? That’s easy. Once the levels of nitrites along with ammonia have decreased to under 0.5ppm, that signifies the presence of the ever so wonderful nitrates.

It signifies that your DIY aquaponics has officially launched and working towards growth! And that also signifies you now possess the knowledge to put together your very own system, so you should give yourself a pat on the back for launching your system successfully. Take note however that nitrates will usually emerge around a month or 6 weeks tops. That’s why I stated earlier that being patient is important.

Fish in Aquaponics

In aquaponics gardening, you not only get to grow veggies, but fish as well. So you get to eat both vegetable and fish that you grow yourself, which is fantastic, right? Now a lot of folks I know tend to have this preconceived notion that growing fish in their own backyards is a tremendously difficult endeavor. That is not quite true, ESPECIALLY if you grow them in an aquaponics system.

a carp in an aquaponics tank

Not only will you have the chance to grow plenty of fish thanks to a properly established aquaponics system, you also get to grow those omega 3 loaded creatures without costing a lot of money. How’s that possible?

Well, you see, you do the water recycling and the veggies you’re growing will be nourished by fertilizer derived from wastes produced by the fishes. What the veggies will do in return is aid those fishes by filtering out their water. As a result, you don’t have to go out and buy any kind of filtering rig, which often cost quite a decent amount of money.

I expressed earlier that I personally like to use and grow tilapia in my aquaponics system. Their speedy growth along with near fuss-free breeding protocol are what makes them such a popular choice among many DIY aquaponics gardener. If you do plan on using tilapia in your aquaponics setup, take note that approximately 26 to 32°C is the ideal temperature to help them grow and thrive.

Although tilapia are actually capable of living at temperatures under 26°C—even at 20°C in fact—it is best that you provide the most ideal temperature so that they’ll grow quicker and be in first-rate condition. Another popular choice would be carp as they are similar to tilapia in terms of growth rate and level of robustness.

Fishless Aquaponics

This is a technique for launching an aquaponics system without utilizing any fish. As I’ve already mentioned before, the fishes are placed in the tanks and they’ll generate ammonia right away, but since this technique doesn’t use any fish—not initially, at least—artificial ammonia is used in its place. For this technique to work, aquaponics cycling kits are required, and all the necessary instruments for launching your system can be obtained from the kits.

After launching your system, you have to let it run for a while until the volume of ammonia as well as nitrites get down to…how much ppm again? Scroll up to the last 8 paragraphs if you can’t remember the answer…yeah what? Ah! That is correct—0.5ppm, you clever person you! You can drop the fish in your aquaponics tank once nitrites and ammonia get down to below 0.5ppm and the bacteria are flourishing.

Why use this technique? It is used in order to prevent fish from being prematurely sent into the afterlife. The preliminary spikes of ammonia may cause them to die, plus this method provides you the opportunity to bring down the levels of ammonia and nitrites quickly so that bacterial growth can be accelerated.

There are a number of methods for accomplishing this including applying higher ranges of temperatures. Shoot for temperature ranges like 77 to 86°F and bacteria growth will surely not take too long to occur.

Another growth acceleration method would be using pH of around 7 to 8. Get some air stones plus a type of water jetting device for the purpose of oxygenating your aquaponics tank. Yet another method would be the use of bacterial colonies which can be purchased.

If you can’t find them, then gravel obtained from an already set up aquarium that’s healthy, and clear of disease will do the trick. Such gravel is loaded with bacterial colonies that we’re looking for.

Tutorial Guides That Are Supposed to Teach One How to Build an Aquaponics System Step By Step, but Failed Miserably

Aquaponics Design Plans for the Beginner

aquaponics design plans for the beginner ebook

When you download this ebook and check out the first few pages, you’ll witness some excellent photos of various DIY aquaponics systems built by several enthusiastic homeowners. The book opens with a full page picture of a guy standing proudly next to his homemade aquaponics garden and giving the thumbs-up…I, however, am giving this ebook the thumbs down!

The aquaponics design plans are really lame and they don’t cover sufficient step-by-step description so that absolute beginners can follow easily. The instructional images don’t help matters as they are quite dark and fuzzy.

I’m annoyed that the author had pictures of people showing off their aquaponics systems in glorious, color detail on the first few pages of the book, but the instructional pictures and diagrams which are supposed to benefit beginners are downright awful.

A video is also included with the ebook, but instead of showing a beginner step-by-step on how to build an aquaponics system, the video talks about the history of aquaponics, its advantages, etc. To be honest, I sometimes appreciate this kind of video, but I just couldn’t get into this one, especially when the instructional pictures and text in the ebook are bad. This one’s totally forgettable.

The Art of Aquaponics: Learn to Build a System in Your Backyard

the art of aquaponics program

This is the first downloadable, build your own aquaponics guide I encountered. After skimming through the details on the book’s site, I became fascinated with the concept of aquaponics gardening and couldn’t wait to download it. Unfortunately, I’m sad to break the news that the author did a shoddy job with this guide.

So what’s wrong with it? Well, first of all, there aren’t enough detailed instructions that are specially geared for newbies. Without beginner-friendly instructions, of course you would expect the guide to make you scratch your head many times and feel lost, and you would be spot on about that.

I still ended up searching for specific details regarding planting seedlings in the aquaponics float, methods of ensuring my plant roots receive as much nutrients as possible, along with clear diagrams and instructions that clarify everything so I can get my system up and running with little chance of failure.

Thankfully, I found that Aquaponics 4 You guide and that program was what l needed to construct my system and get it operating like a boss. Anyway, the second thing I dislike about the Art of Aquaponics is that the author loves harping about himself.

He boasts about how he figured this and that all by himself, how he’s making a wonderful income selling fish and veggies procured from his precious aquaponics garden, how he’s improving people’s health because his aquaponics vegetables are organic, blah and blah…

Sure it’s great to learn that he’s smart, can figure things out on his own and the veggies grown in his aquaponics setup are healthful for people, but how about actually helping people who spent money on your program?

How about providing easy to understand, easy to follow instructions so that beginners who can’t figure things out on their own can benefit? After all, that’s the reason we got the program in the first place…Well, good thing I got my money back!

A Newbies Guide to Basic Aquaponics Setup

a newbies guide to basic aquaponics program

If nothing else, A Newbies Guide does a good job of covering in extensive detail topics such as fish and plant selection, as well as plant nutrients. However, there’s just way too much info on those subjects, and not nearly enough when it comes to instructions to help you build your own aquaponics.

There are drawings and diagrams in the guide, but they are not that clear which is unfortunate because newbies obviously need these to be as clear as day in order for them to succeed. The accompanying written instructions also lack clarity. They don’t explain things in a step-by-step manner, so I’m puzzled as to why this is called a “Newbies Guide.”

I would say this is more of an informative reading material about choosing plants, fish and supplying the proper nutrients to the plants in your aquaponics system. The guide is accompanied with a couple of how-to videos, but they are too short, the camera angles are bad, and the presenter’s prowess in explaining things is virtually next to none.

It’s a real shame that the videos never really add up to anything worthwhile. Overall, this is pretty shabby program on building your own basic aquaponics setup. Don’t waste your money on this.

Build Your Own Aquaponics The Fuss-Free Way!

build your own aquaponics manual

I was hoping this guide might provide top-tier aquaponics design plans along with useful, newbie-friendly tutorials so I could put together a system without fuss. No such luck, apparently! Once I opened the guide on my iPad, I discovered that it contains only 18 pages of content and as you would expect from such a thin resource material, there’s not much helpful info that you can get out of it.

Illustrations and diagrams are obviously lacking as well. I don’t understand why anyone would slap together such a thin reference material for constructing an aquaponics system, and then call it “fuss-free.” Obviously it will be a massive fuss for people who are inexperienced because of the scarce detail.

They will require reference material that dishes out plenty of crystal-clear images, illustrations and diagrams accompanied by easy to understand explanations—throwing in some well put together tutorial videos wouldn’t hurt as well. Regrettably, this guide offers none of those things and so, as a reference material for building your own aquaponics system, it offers little to no value.

Detailed, Nicely Instructed, and Easy to Follow Reference for Constructing DIY Aquaponics Garden

complete diy aquaponics garden program

For some reason, I was pretty convinced that this program was going to suck badly. I’m not sure why, perhaps it’s because of the lame, cheesy title, or maybe because the cover looks hopelessly crappy. Heck, perhaps it’s because I’ve been let down by those other aquaponics DIY guides. Because of them, I kind of developed a preconceived notion that most guides concerning this subject provide minimal value.

Whatever the reason, this program made a bad first impression but in the end, it won me over due to a couple of reasons. The first reason that won me over was the details of the program which I thought to be quite irresistible. It claims to explain everything, every instruction in step-by-step detail, inclusive of video tutorials that demonstrate the process of constructing a homemade aquaponics system also in a step-by-step fashion.

The second reason is which I’ve already stated earlier, is the promise of a 60-day money back guarantee in case the program doesn’t live up to my expectations. Well, the program truly delivers and I’ve had a really terrific learning experience because of it. When it comes to providing the ins and outs of putting together your own DIY aquaponics system, it gets no better than this.

John Fay’s Aquaponics 4 You is a tour de force of a tutorial guide that’s presented in a manner that someone with zero knowledge of aquaponics will understand. Although it contains a respectable amount of detail, one can still go over it at a pleasant pace without lingering on any one topic. I love the aquaponics design plans and construction diagrams which are done to perfection, along with chock full of details that I’m sure beginners would surely appreciate.

Now, the real value of the program comes in the form of the included step-by-step video instructions. Unlike other guides or programs that provide shoddily produced videos that barely teach you how to build your own aquaponics system, Aquaponics 4 You’s video tutorials are excellent.

They helped me out a lot and because of their easy to follow format, I was able to put together and launch my own aquaponics system in a relatively short period of time. The other guides and programs made me feel lost and confused, but this one put me right on track and guided me bit by bit from start to finish.

First-class build your own aquaponics programs such as this one proves that any beginner can do it as long as the instructions are well explained, comprehensive and easy to follow. It’s well worth the investment.

details red button

How Many Fish to Stock?

That will depend on many different factors. The fish species, how big the growing beds are, how big your tanks are and to what size you let your fish grow. For home DIY aquaponics, a good rule of thumb is 66 to 88 pounds of fish per 250 gallons, which is about 1000 liters.

You would not want more fish than that, unless you have some extra filtering to keep the water in a healthy state. You can start with one fish per 2.5 gallons (10 liters). So that is about 100 fingerlings in a 250 gallon tank.

You could safely start with some more, as there are always some fingerlings that will die. There is not much you can do about that. When you reach the 66- to 88-pound stage in your tank, you should start harvesting the bigger ones. After all this is one of the main purposes of putting in the system in the first place.

Your aquaponics fish don't all grow at the same rate and by taking the bigger ones out first, the others have a better chance to grow. This way you have fresh fish on a regular basis and the tank will stay in the 66- to 88-pound range.

To restock them, you could have a smaller tank attached to the main one and start growing your fingerlings in there until they are big enough not to be eaten by those, who are still left.

Do not overstock your tanks as that usually leads to problems. Do not over feed them as that puts extra strain on the system. If you use fast growing fish like trout than you need to start with a smaller number as overcrowding would become a problem.

They also grow at a different rate, but the difference is not as great as with some other species. Of course there are those, who will grow attached to their fish and look upon them as pets and just do not have the heart to kill them.

If you think that could be you, go for goldfish. They grow according to the number of fish there are and they do not keep growing and they are probably the easiest of all aquaponics fish to look after as they can cope with most conditions.

There are three types of fish, Herbivores, Carnivores and Omnivores. Herbivores eat mainly plant matter; Carnivores will only eat fish or meat. Omnivores will eat both plant food and fish or meat. I know! I know! This general info…duh!

Anyway, several breeds of freshwater fish are suitable for holding in a fish aquaponics tank. There are several things one needs to know, when choosing your fish. Omnivores are the better type to use.

Fish That Are Suitable For Aquaponics

The Jade Perch

The Jade Perch is a very good choice, but they are a bit difficult to purchase outside of certain countries such as Australia. Also they like warmer temperatures.

They stop feeding when the temperature falls below 15 to 16 degrees Celsius, which is about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. They will become inert and will die.

So if you live in an area where it gets cold, then the Jade is not suitable for aquaponics, as you would have to heat the water. They do not breed in tanks, unless treated with a certain hormone. The flesh of the fish is very palatable.

They are easy to feed, if you throw a lettuce in the tank and come back the following day, all that there will be left are stalks and roots. They also eat duckweed, which is easy to grow.

All you need is an old bathtub, it will need some nutrients, some water from your fish tank is ideal. It thrives in stagnant water so try not to disturb the water.

Tilapia

They are classified as an invasive species. What this means is that you should be careful not to release them in the wild. And once again, check your state’s law.

They would compete with the native species for food and that can have a negative impact on the native species. Tilapia can survive in holding tanks, they live quite happily in the tanks, but some heating may be required to keep the tank at a consistent temperature.

Tilapias belong to a group of cichlids that are found all over the world. They breed quite well in a closed system. They are easy to feed as they feed primarily on aquatic vegetation. They eat the same food as the Jade Perch.

White Bass

The White Bass is a carnivorous fish and is an excellent fish for the table. It will feed on smaller fish, insects and will also eat small crabs. You can feed it worms and you can also give them meat, such as animal hearts. Fish pellets are also available.

During the spawning season in the wild a white bass can lay as many 900,000 eggs. Once the eggs are fertilized, the eggs are left to fend for themselves. They can grow up to a length of fifteen inches, although the average size is more like nine inches.

Crappies

Crappies have a delicately flavored meat and it can adapt very well to an aquaponics system. They take at least a couple of years before they mate and will have the ability to reproduce.

Once the male partner has fertilized the eggs he protects the spawning site from those who would like to feed on them. They are a carnivorous fish and need to be fed with insects and small fish a tank with larger fish as they will make a nice meal for them.

Grass Carp

Grass Carps are a herbivore and have been released in lakes to control the weed growth. This has become a real problem, because of nutrients run off from farms. They grow to about 20 inches (50cm) and are quite good eating. Being herbivores they are quite easy to feed as they eat all sorts of plant matter.

Rainbow Trout

There are several different types of trout, rainbow trout being just one of them. Trouts are carnivores and you feed them the same as for the White Bass. They only survive in cold water, no higher than 14 degrees.

The difference in growth rate is not as great as with the other species and they can grow to a really good size. Goldfish are omnivorous, but do not usually finish up on the dinner table.

However they are still a great fish to use in an aquaponics system as they can withstand changes in temperatures that other species cannot tolerate. They are very easy to keep in an enclosed environment. As they are omnivorous they are very easy to keep.

One advantage with omnivorous fish is that you can feed them a floating feed and you can see the amount they eat and so the problem of over feeding is less likely. By providing them with some artificial plants like grass, they will breed quite easily.

Stuart Jones
 

My name is Stuart Jones and I'm the guy responsible for most of the content on this website. I'm a horticulturist with over 25 years of experience in gardening and garden plants. To bring color throughout the year, I regularly grow a wide variety of plants, bulbs, flowers, shrubs and trees. Oh, and let’s not forget the fruits and vegetables to ensure the fridge is always stocked!

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