Aquaponics Designs & Aquaponics Plans
Aquaponics blends aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soilless growing of plants in a water-based, nutrient-rich solution). A simple aquaponics system involves using a grow bed for plants, and aquarium for raising fish. These two components work symbiotically to create an effective aquaponics system.
Some people opt to buy aquaponics kits, while others design their own aquaponics system. If you wish to design your own, you need to:
- Choose the type of system you want to implement
- Buy the necessary components for your aquaponics plans
- Build it!
Before formulating your aquaponics plans, let’s review some considerations, then look at the most effective aquaponics system designs. Lastly, we will review which components you will need to purchase to build your own aquaponic system.
Benefits of using Aquaponics Kits
Aquaponics kits are a fantastic educational tool for the classroom. They also make attractive displays in the home and office, and require very little maintenance when compared to most other systems. Besides being interesting, fun, attractive and easy to operate, did we also mention aquaponic kits grow wonderful plants?
Here are a few of the key benefits of using aquaponics kits:
- Extremely easy to set up and maintain – no weeding, no chemicals, less water and pests
- Space-saving, energy-efficient, sustainable, and fast plant growth
- Fish waste provides the only nutrients needed, thus only inexpensive fish food needs to be purchased
- Attractive addition to the home or office, and educational for the classroom
A Few Things to Consider When Purchasing an Aquaponics Kit
Aquaponics is not a good choice for growing potatoes, carrots, radish or other root vegetables. Since fish tanks use electricity to operate, there will be some cost associated with that. And don’t let any chemical touch the aquaponic ecosystem, as this will ensure your fish will die, rendering the system non-operational.
What types of Aquaponics Kits are available?
There are various aquaponics kits to choose from. Do you already have an aquarium tank? If so, there are aquaponics kits which retrofit on top of your aquarium, instantly creating an aquaponics system. If you do not already have an aquarium, you can buy one separately, and then add an aquaponics kit once your new aquarium is in place.
Another option is to buy an aquaponics kit with an aquarium already built-in to the system. These can be elaborate or very simplistic, depending on how big or small you want your aquaponic system to be. With that said, let’s that a look at some of the most popular aquaponics kits available. Here’s a quick reference table followed by detailed descriptions.
Below are the most common designs used in planning an aquaponics system:
Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain)
Ebb and Flow is the most popular design used aquaponics. For beginners who are creating their aquaponics plans, consider using this type of system. It’s simple to implement, and results are typically very good. Let’s see how this technique works:
- a grow bed is placed above an aquarium, which allows for gravitational draining
- plants grow in a media-filled bed (such as clay pebbles)
- a submersible pump is placed in the fish tank, which pumps water into the grow beds
- to regulate the amount of water being pumped into the grow bed, and to drain this water back into the reservoir (fish tank), either a timer w/ standpipe, or a bell siphon are used
- a timer is used to turn on/off the pump – for interval flooding – and a standpipe is a drain placed in the grow bed to allow water to return into the fish tank
- a bell siphon (or auto siphon) is placed in the grow bed to automatically regulate the ebb and flow of water, and to allow draining back into the fish tank (no pump or electricity are needed to operate a siphon)
- when making the decision to use a timer-based system vs. using a bell siphon, there are no rights or wrongs and the decision is up to you
- when using a timer, running the pump (flood) for 15 minutes, then turning off the pump (drain) for 45 minutes is effective
- since a siphon is self-regulating, no timer or electricity are required if you choose this method
A Continuous Flood (or Constant Flood) aquaponics system has essentially the same design as Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain). However, no timers or siphons are used. Instead, a pump continuously floods the grow bed with water, and then recirculates it back into the fish tank.
While this aquaponics design is certainly simple, results can be mixed. Most aquaponics enthusiasts prefer the Ebb and Flow because many plants benefit from periods of dryness. With that said, there are fewer costs involved, and Continuous Flow is extremely low-maintenance. Beginners have the option of starting with this type of system, then adding a timer or siphon when they are ready.
Deep Flow (Raft or DWC)
Deep Flow, also referred to as the Raft System, is a Deep Water Culture (DWC) technique in which plants are floated within a foam raft, and roots are suspended in nutrient-rich water. Any solid waste is filtered before water reaches the plants. Often, the raft tank is separate from the fish tank, and water flows continuously between one tank, through filtration components, and then into the second tank. Other Deep Flow methods simply use one tank to both store fish and raft plants.
This method is popular with commercial aquaponics growers, as plants can be maintained and harvested with ease. Apart from an aquarium tank, filter, and maybe an air pump or air stone, Deep Flow is a simple aquaponics system. Some DIY aquaponics enthusiasts simply punch holes into Styrofoam cups, insert a plant, and float atop a tank. However, note that Deep Flow is not recommended for fruiting plants or those with large roots systems.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
Nutrient Film Technique is another aquaponics system which is better suited for smaller, leafy green types of plants. NFT works by flowing a thin stream of nutrient-rich water down enclosed channels or gutters. Plants sit in small net pots or plastic cups, and their roots are nourished and hydrated by the nutrient-rich water as it passes by the root zone.
Much like Deep Flow, water continuously flows from the aquarium, through filtration components, then through the NFT channels where the plants are grown, and then back into the fish tank. A separate bio filter is necessary in this type of system. While NFT may work well in larger commercial operations, a Media-Filled Bed aquaponics plan – like Ebb and Flow or Continuous Flow – is more suited to the hobbyist.
Essential Parts Needed for your Aquaponics Plans
So, you are ready to make your aquaponics plans. Designing an effective system will require buying the essential components. We have combed through some of the most popular parts for creating an aquaponics system, and listed them here to give you some ideas for implementing your aquaponics plans:
Flood Trays / Flood Table / Grow Trays
These are used as grow beds to hold plants. The size of your fish tank – and the amount of fish you raise – will determine how many plants you can grow. The larger your aquarium, the larger your flood tray should be. Remember that a standard ratio to begin with is one fish per one plant (1:1).
Aquaponics Fish Tank
Using a traditional glass or plastic fish tank will work well, especially for smaller systems. Stock tanks, barrels, and tubs are also utilized in aquaponics. Larger systems are especially well-suited for these circular-shaped tanks. To learn more about aquaponics tanks, see our page on this subject. Here are a few options to consider.
You may already have a table, concrete block, or something else to use for supporting your system. Just make sure any table or shelving is large enough and sturdy enough to hold the grow bed (and fish tank, if necessary). Some support structures will need to be altered to accommodate your unique set-up.
Most aquaponics plans involve using a water pump. These pumps ensure that water is continually flowing throughout your aquaponics system, drawing water from the aquarium up into your grow trays. Here are a few of the most popular models to guide you with your aquaponics plans
Air pumps and air stones are used for providing oxygen to your fish tank. It’s better to have too much oxygen than too little, so size-up when in doubt. Here are some of the best-selling air pumps.
Tubing is frequently purchased in conjunction with pumps. This helps to facilitate aeration and circulation within your aquaponics system.
Siphon and piping drains
An essential component of your aquaponics plans if using a system like Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain), bell siphons and piping drains allow for water to drain back to the aquarium. Here are a few examples of these items.
Timers may or may not be required for your aquaponics plans. If you are using a standpipe in your Flood and Drain design, you may need a timer. Some timers are very basic, while others are highly programmable. We recommend a good, programmable timer if you plan on frequent flooding.
Your grow medium provides support, aeration, and drainage of your Ebb and Flow and Continuous Flow aquaponic system. If your aquaponics plans include utilizing either of these systems, grow media will be required. Clay pebbles and growstones are some of the most popular mediums used in aquaponics. For more choices and information about grow media, please see our related page.
Here’s a quick infographic we created, outlining a great DIY barrel aquaponics system that’s great for beginners.