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A Beginner’s Guide to DIY Aquaponics

Posted by on Aug 31 2023

If you’re a keen gardener and a fish keeper, did you know that you can effectively combine these two hobbies? Welcome to the world of aquaponics - a place where you can raise a community of thriving fish while effortlessly growing your own vegetables in a self-sustaining system. An aquaponics fish tank is a great way to get into aquaponic farming on a small scale. In this post, we’ll share how with an aquarium and fish, some aquatic supplies, some plants and a little DIY magic, you can create your own aquaponics system. Let's start by demystifying the fundamentals of basic aquaponics. 

What is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is a method of growing food that is environmentally friendly, cost-effective and yields high-quality plants, fruits and vegetables. The process combines aquaculture or fish-keeping with hydroponic growing methods  (gardening without soil) to create a mini ecosystem that can sustain itself. The fish and the plants have a symbiotic relationship where, in simple terms, the fish provide nutrients for the plants and the plants filter the water for the fish. DIY aquaponics has grown in popularity over the years as more and more of us look for sustainable ways to produce our food in small spaces. This method is ideal for people with lots of garden space as well as those without gardens making it ideal for indoor gardeners 

How Does Aquaponics Work?

In an aquaponic setup, the fish are housed as normal in a tank and the plants are grown in a grow bed, usually above the fish tank. Nutrient-rich water containing fish waste is pumped from the tank into the grow bed. Bacteria in the grow bed break down the ammonia from the waste fish tank water and turn it into nitrite. Bacteria known as Nitrobacter turn the nitrite into plant-available nitrate which feeds the plants. The water, which is now filtered by this process, is ammonia-free and flows via a tube back into the aquarium where the fish can enjoy swimming in freshly cleaned water. This process continues creating a natural closed-loop system that mimics nature and nothing is wasted.

What Are the Benefits of Aquaponics?

As well as being a self-sustaining way to keep fish and grow plants, there are many other great reasons to take up aquaponic gardening. Some of the benefits of aquaponics include:


  • It is a natural and organic alternative to traditional gardening as no pesticides are needed in the process

  • Aquaponics uses up to 90% less water than traditional farming methods

  • No weeding or soil pests

  • You don’t need to water the plants

  • Much like hydroponic gardening, aquaponic gardens have faster plant growth rates and produce higher yields than gardening with soil.

  • Enjoy year-round cultivation regardless of weather conditions

  • With options for creating indoor aquaponics systems, this method is perfect for smaller spaces - think urban aquaponics

  • You can enjoy harvesting healthy and nutritious fruit and vegetables while watching your community of fish thrive.

Considerations for DIY Aquaponics

While aquaponics has many promising benefits, there are some things to consider when getting started.

Do your research - Maintaining an aquaponic system will require you to have a good understanding of the plants you plan to grow as well as the fish you’re rearing in order to troubleshoot any issues.

Be prepared to make adjustments - Achieving and maintaining the delicate balance between fish, plants and bacteria requires regular monitoring and tweaks.

Consider your species selection - Choosing the right fish and plant species is crucial for a successful aquaponic aquarium. Some fish might not thrive in certain environments and some plants might require higher levels of nutrients so it is essential to do your homework beforehand. Tilapia, koi, tetras and betta are common aquaponic fish. Plants that typically grow well hydroponically are good candidates for this kind of setup.

How to Build a Small Aquaponic Setup

If you're intrigued by the idea of cultivating your own fresh fruit and vegetables while rearing fish in a self-sustaining ecosystem, then building a DIY aquaponic system might be the perfect project for you. Let’s dive into the process of creating a basic aquaponic system at home.

Here are the materials you’ll need:

  • A fish tank.

  • A container for the grow bed. Experts recommend this should be the same size as the fish tank or a little bit smaller.

  • Filter media like ceramic balls support plant growth and good bacteria.

  • Aquarium pump to circulate the water from the fish tank to the grow bed.

  • Air stones and an air pump to oxygenate the water for the fish.

  • Fish like guppies and goldfish are great for small aquaponic systems.

  • A selection of plants like fast-growing herbs, spinach or lettuce.

  • A beneficial bacteria starter kit. You'll need beneficial bacteria to convert fish waste into nutrients. Ask us about our bacterial supplements.

  • A water testing kit to monitor and balance nutrient levels. 

1. Tank Setup - Place the fish tank in a suitable location with access to power outlets. Fill the tank with dechlorinated water. Chlorine is harmful to fish and beneficial bacteria. Add the fish, keeping in mind the appropriate stocking density for your chosen fish species.

2. Install the Grow Bed - Drill two holes into the grow bed, one at the side around 3 inches from the top for the hose attached to the pump. The other hole should be at the bottom of the grow bed for drainage. Position the grow bed above the fish tank, ensuring it is level and secure. Fill the grow bed with the aquaponic media of your choice. 

3. Water Pump and Air Stones - Install the water pump in the fish tank.

Attach the tubing to the pump and direct it to the grow bed. Fix the other piece of tubing to the bottom of the grow bed. The water will flow from the fish tank to the grow bed and then back to the tank. Attach the air stones to the air pump and place them in the fish tank for aeration.

4. Cycling the System - Introduce beneficial bacteria to kickstart the nitrogen cycle. Follow the instructions on the bacteria supplement. Monitor water bacteria levels (ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels) regularly. It takes a few weeks for the system to establish a stable nitrogen cycle.

5. Planting - Plant your chosen vegetables or herbs in the grow bed. Make sure the roots are in contact with the aquaponic media. The plants will gradually take up nutrients from the water, helping to filter and clean it for the fish.

6. Maintenance - Feed the fish according to their requirements. Their waste will provide nutrients for the plants. Monitor water levels, temperature, and pH regularly. Prune plants as needed and harvest your produce when it's ready.

Remember every system is unique and adjustments may be necessary along the way. So embrace the learning process, and enjoy the rewards of your sustainable aquaponic garden.

If you’d like to transform your fish tank into an aquaponic aquarium, CD Aquatics can help. We have a range of aquatic accessories to help you build a setup to kickstart your DIY aquaponics journey. Contact us for more information about our aquarium supplies. 

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