How Aquaponics Works

Home Aquaponics

Just imagine -- your own rooftop aquaponics system.
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Aquaponic systems are definitely a force on the larger industrial and commercial food production scene. But in reality anyone can implement aquaponics basics into their backyard gardening. Whether you set up a system on your patio, your apartment roof or in your backyard, a properly operating aquaponics system can provide food for an entire family.

It'd be pricy to set up a full-scale, commercial-sized aquaponics system. But backyard gardeners can set up an inexpensive aquaponics system using recycled materials. For the backyard vegetable gardener, aquaponics can offer many benefits. These systems use much less water than a conventional garden, and you won't lose much water through evaporation. Your plant harvest definitely will be organic because you can't use chemicals -- they'd harm your fish. Additionally, aquaponically farmed vegetables grow much faster that those grown in a conventional garden. It's been reported that cucumbers can be harvested in as few as 25 days when seedlings are transplanted from a conventional garden to an aquaponics system [source: Growfish].


What basics will you need to get started and bring food production into your own backyard? The actual set up of your system will vary greatly depending its size and the space where you're setting it up, but here are some of the essentials:

  • An energy efficient pump. One pump is needed to move water from the fish tank to the grow bed. Water then can be returned to the fish through the tubing by gravity flow.
  • A tank for your fish and a grow bed medium with hydroponic components. A grow bed is the vessel you put your plants in. Red Scoria is a type of grow bed that is frequently used. Be sure to rinse it thoroughly before use so that it doesn't harbor ammonia or clog the system.
  • Tubing to transport water to and from grow beds. You can either use a constant flow or an ebb and flow system. The constant flow system produces lower dissolved oxygen at the root zone, so you'll need some aeration -- the circulation of air to increase oxygen levels -- of the water in the fish tank. You'll also have to remove solids such as fish waste and extra feed that isn't filtered out by the gravel. However, a constant flow system can enhance ammonia levels in the water, allowing for better nitration and higher growth rates. The ebb and flow system, on the other hand, improves oxygen at the root zone and saves energy because water doesn't have to be pumped constantly. Basically, you'll need to choose a system based on the nutritional requirements of the type of fish you're raising and the plants you're growing.
  • An aquatic water heater controlled by a thermostat to maintain water temperature in the system. Depending on the fish and plants you're cultivating, you'll want to maintain a temperature of between 70 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit (21 and 30 degrees Celsius).
  • Clay or gravel for grow bed. While the bottom of the plants' roots hang in the water, the plants themselves rest in a clay or gravel grow bed medium that helps to filter the water. These materials offer plant support, produce high plant growth yield, offer optimal water buffering and act as a biofilter.
  • Test kits to check the pH of water in the system. The optimal pH level in a system is 6.7 to 6.9.

On both a small and large scale, aquaponics definitely offers an environmentally beneficial way to cultivate fish and plants. For more information on other plant and garden concepts, visit the links on the following page.

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More Great Links


  • Backyard Aquaponics.
  • "Backyard Aquaponics How-to." DIY Aquaponics Inc.
  • Boutwell, Juanita. "Aztecs' Aquaponics Revamped." Gippsland Aquaculture Industry Network
  • Diver, Steve. "Aquaponics -- Integration of Hydroponics with Aquaculture." National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. 2006.
  • Matson, John. "Angling for a Better Way to Farm Fish -- and Vegetables, too." Scientific American. August 28, 2008.
  • "NOAA Aquaculture Program." National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.