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A Quick Guide to Diving Into Aquaponics


Don’t let a cold climate or a lack of space stop you from reaping the benefits of homegrown food.  Aquaponics is one way that allows you to grow food anywhere, including indoors.  Besides the vegetables and herbs you’ll harvest, many of the best fish for aquaponics are also edible.

Video – A Quick Guide to Aquaponics

What Is Aquaponics?

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil.  Since there isn’t any soil, nutrients added to the water feed the plants.  The plant roots can get full exposure to the nutrient solution, or have support from gravel, perlite, or similar materials.

Aquaponics is based on hydroponics, but fish provide vital nutrients.  In aquaponics, the plants grow either on top of or next to a fish tank.  The fish produce waste, and naturally occurring bacteria break the waste down into minerals and nitrate-based nutrients used by the plants.  Then a pump circulates the nutrient-rich water to the plants.  In larger systems, food fish live in the tanks to provide an additional harvest.

What Equipment Do You Need?

There are three basic setups:

  • Media Beds utilize planters that are on top of or alongside the fish tank.  There is a pump inside the tank, and lines run from the tank to a watering system above the plants.  If the media bed is above the fish tank the water is automatically filtered through the plants and returned to the fish tank.
  • Deep Water Culture uses planters that float on top of the tank.  This causes the roots to have direct exposure to the water, so it doesn’t need a pump to circulate the water to the plants.
  • Nutrient Film is a cross between the media bed and deep water systems.  In this method water pumps from the tank through plastic pipes.  These plastic pipes have tiny holes drilled in them, and the plant roots grow into the holes.  As a result, the plant roots get the nutrients from the water in the pipes.

To get started in aquaponics see our article on the “Top 5 Easy Aquaponics Kits for Beginners“.

What Fish Do You Use?

If you plan on raising food fish, you can be successful with tilapia, blue gills, brim, sunfish, crappies, perch, barramundi, trout, or catfish.  Non-food fish include goldfish or other ornamental fish, koi, and carp.

What Kinds Of Plants Can You Grow With Aquaponics?

Plants that do well in any system include chives, mint, watercress, basil, arugula, swiss chard, leafy lettuces, micro greens, and kale.  Since some plants have higher nutritional demands they need a heavily stocked aquaponic system.  These include cabbage, tomatoes, cauliflower, cucumbers, broccoli, squash, beans, and peas.  Onions, carrots, radishes, and beets are also popular.

The Benefits Of Using Aquaponics

One major benefit of aquaponics is that you can’t use pesticides – that would kill the fish.  Since fish are so sensitive to chemicals, raising plants in aquaponic systems has to be done organically.  Aquaponics also takes advantage of the natural symbiotic relationship between plants and fish.  As a result, these systems require less overall maintenance for the plants and the fish.  Depending on your preference, you can raise the fish as either pets or food.

Final Thoughts

If you’re short on space or in a colder climate, aquaponics could be a great way for you to get into gardening (and raising fish).  Aquaponic systems are easy to set up and maintain.

Bob Styer

As a child, I hated gardening. That was mainly because Dad expected us to work in the garden every so often even though we thought play was more important. Over the years, though, I've developed a real appreciation for growing things. Whether you're growing plants for food or to enjoy their beauty, gardening can make your life better. Seize the moment!

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