1. Home
  2. Agripedia

Aquaponics Gardening: Benefits & Step-by-step Guide on How to Get Started

Historically speaking, the practice of aquaponics appeared on record in China in 500 B.C. when a politician named Fan Lee wrote about it in a detailed study titled, "The Chinese Fish Culture Classic".

Shruti Kandwal
Aquaponic systems are more water-efficient than hydroponic systems, which is another difference.
Aquaponic systems are more water-efficient than hydroponic systems, which is another difference.

What could be better than producing a harvest of vegetables using a hydroponic gardening technique based on water? Raising fish can do the menial tasks for you! Yes, aquaponics is all about creating a gardening system where fish live out their regular lives in a tank or synthetic pond, eating, pooping, and swimming. The fish waste then serves as fertilizer for plants whose roots are submerged in the water.

According to research, the system is characterized by a symbiotic relationship. The plants are fed by the fish, which enables them to flourish and reproduce. To keep the fish healthy, the plants then clean the water. The third leg of a symbiotic triangle is comprised of beneficial bacteria, sometimes known as microbes. By converting fish waste (ammonia) into nutrients that plants can absorb (nitrates), they help in feeding the plants.

What distinguishes aquaponic gardening from hydroponic gardening?

Although the two systems may appear to be very similar at first glance, it is safe to say that there is something strange going on beneath the water's surface. When it comes down to it, the fish are what distinguish hydroponic gardening from aquaponic gardening. While aquaponics uses to fish for fertilization (through feces) and relies on nature to balance the nutrition, hydroponics depends on human intervention to create nutrient- and fertilizer-enriched water to grow plants.

A hydroponic garden is simple to make on your own, but an aquaponic system is a little trickier because you're also raising fish in addition to your crops. The accountability, oh my! It's important to think about the additional responsibility and liability of this kind of fish-based gardening, regardless of whether you're a vegetarian who intends to give the fish their best life until nature decides their time is up or a pescatarian who plans to consume the fish you raise.

Aquaponic systems are more water-efficient than hydroponic systems, which is another difference. The fact that the water may be used for longer periods of time is the main reason behind this. Compared to an aquaponic setup, which only requires this to be done once a year, a hydroponic setup requires that all of the water be flushed out and refilled every three months.

Is aquaponic gardening right for you?

The age-old technique of aquaponic farming might be a perfect choice for you if you live in a region with particularly nutrient-deficient, poor-quality soil or if you simply don't have access to yard space at all. However, just because a technique has been around for a long time doesn't imply it will seamlessly fit into your current lifestyle. First, there will be a large rise in the price of energy used to power the filtration system. If you have access to a renewable energy source, such as solar panels, this might not be a problem, but for people who only get their electricity from the electric company, those costs could add up quickly.

An aquaponic system can be as simple and compact as a jar on your kitchen counter that contains your preferred plant above and a betta fish below.
An aquaponic system can be as simple and compact as a jar on your kitchen counter that contains your preferred plant above and a betta fish below.

Even though the fish take care of feeding the plants, the system still needs regular maintenance. You won't set this up and then disappear, only to come back to a garden abundant with vegetables after a few weeks. Researchers state that although claiming to be their own natural ecosystems, these gardens are actually man-made and maintained by us. This project takes a daily commitment of time.

You may come to the conclusion that the ritual of sinking your hands into the dirt and breathing in the earth's pungent smell is what you enjoy most about gardening. The appeal of working in the dirt is a great motivation to take up gardening. For a moment, think about the fishy smell of recirculating pond water you will instead smell as you take care of your aquaponic crops. We don't want to scare you off, but you need to understand the space and water requirements, as well as the equipment needed, to decide if aquaponic farming is suited for you.

Space requirements for aquaponic gardening

An aquaponic system can be as simple and compact as a jar on your kitchen counter that contains your preferred plant above and a betta fish below. Or, it might be quite expensive and as large as a 200-gallon fish tank with a 4-foot by 8-foot grow bed. All in all, no matter how much or how little space you have, you can always find something that works.

In the end, how much and what you want to grow will determine how much room your system needs. The next step is to confirm that the size of your fish tank matches the planned size of your grow bed (s). A modest desktop aquarium will not be large enough to hold the 5-pound Nile tilapia you intend to raise for a potential dinner. The fish must also be the exact fit for the tank you select.

Water requirements for aquaponic gardening

Recirculating aquaculture systems, or RAS, is another name for an aquaponic farming setup. According to Food & Water Watch, the operation is a closed loop, so the water within is continuously cleansed and reused. As a result, it is an extremely water-efficient technique of farming that uses not more than 10% of the water needed for conventional agricultural activities. Additionally, a RAS does not produce the contaminated wastewater that soil-based farms do.

It may appear to be much more than what you're used to seeing drip out of your irrigation hoses because you're working with a massive tank of water, but in reality, it's much less. A research compared the amount of water needed to cultivate a single head of lettuce in a field with a RAS system (2 gallons) (16 gallons). These figures increase to 600 gallons for the aquaponics system and 4,224 gallons to grow the same quantity of lettuce in the earth when multiplied by the 300 heads of lettuce they can actually produce. You instantly know the significant change in usage.

The type of equipment needed will depend on the size of your system.
The type of equipment needed will depend on the size of your system.

While raising a crop or fish, you are simultaneously growing vegetables using much less water. Who among gardeners using soil can top that? An aquaponic system's water recirculation offers a clean and ecologically sustainable environment.

Equipment requirements for aquaponic gardening

The type of equipment needed will depend on the size of your system. You'll also need a water pump, an air pump, and PVC plumbing with fittings, starting with the fish tank, which is the most important factor and without which aquaponics is impossible. It is possible to construct your own tank from scratch if you're a dedicated-DIYer, but this would undoubtedly take a lot of time. We advise the novice DIYer who is eager to avoid mistakes, in the beginning, to let this be the simple part.

A grow bed, growing medium, Rockwool seed beginning cubes, and a seed starting tray are required for the growing of plants. You have many options to consider in this area, and a little education will go a long way. A growing medium serves as a kind of substitute for soil, giving plant roots security and structural support. There are both natural and synthetic possibilities, such as coconut coir, lava rocks, clay pebbles, and expanded shale. Although not the cheapest option, clay pebbles are regarded as the best. Your final decision will be influenced by your financial situation, the plants you wish to grow, and your personal tastes. Your shopping list will also include a water testing kit for controlling pH levels.

How to set up an aquaponic gardening system?

We may presume that if you've come this far into the article, then you definitely want to set up this at home. Here's how to start customizing your home system. We suggest building your tank first, then dechlorinating the water within by allowing the pumps to circulate it through the filtration system for 4 to 6 weeks. The media bed, also known as a flood table, will then be assembled next to or above the tank; here is where the plants will grow. Make sure the support framework for the media bed is solid enough before adding your preferred growing media (clay pebbles, coconut coir, etc.).

When your grow bed and tank is ready and the water has had time to oxygenate, it's time to familiarize the fish to their new surroundings. Koi, goldfish, and tilapia are the most popular fish. Goldfish are known to create the most waste, or food for your hungry plants, while tilapia are thought to be the easiest to raise and care for.

Speaking of plants your seedlings are the last part of your initial aquaponic garden setup. Since leafy crops have been found to be the simplest to produce in aquaponic systems, you may want to start with lettuce, basil, or kale to increase your chances of success. Place the roots of the seedlings carefully in the clay pebbles so that they touch the water and can absorb the nutrients they require to grow.

What plants should you grow in your aquaponic garden?

We all know how well leafy veggies grow. There are many plants that are ideal for aquaponics, whether you want to focus on crops or flowers. Cucumbers and tomatoes are among the plants that will grow well in this type of garden, but most of the typical home garden crops will also do well. Ginger and basil are excellent choices, as are peppers, onions, beets, chard, orchids, and a wide variety of other vegetables and fruits.

Your biggest choice may be deciding what you don't want too much of and then keeping with a single plant because plants in an aquaponic system typically develop quicker and produce a better yield of fruits and vegetables. Jars of spaghetti sauce can only take up so much space in the pantry, right? Particularly mint will expand at an astounding rate to the point where it tramples on its neighbors' space and chokes them out. 

Of course, not everyone will be a fan of the aquaponic way of life. Some plants are better off being left in the soil because they have very particular pH requirements that are challenging to meet in an aquaponic system's water. 

Best practices for aquaponic gardening

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), there are a few essential criteria that will ensure you maintain a successful aquaponic system. Take your time choosing a fish tank. Among the most resilient materials are fiberglass and inert plastics like Polyethylene and Polypropylene, which won't corrode. FAO advises circular tanks since they are simpler to clean.

To ensure healthy fish and bacteria, the water must have dissolved oxygen and be constantly moving. (Plants also benefit from it!) These factors make water pumps for circulation and air pumps for proper aeration essential. Consider the water as the system's lungs; just as people depend on air, everything that lives in it—fish, plants, germs, etc.—depends on clean water. According to FAO, dissolved oxygen, pH values, temperature, total nitrogen, and water alkalinity are the main variables to monitor when it comes to water quality.

Avoid overdoing it with the fish; limit your overall quantity to a sustainable amount. When you discover uneaten fish food waste, remove it from the water right away to prevent it from decaying and harming the ecosystem as a whole. Then, the next day, reduce how much food you distribute. Plan your grow beds last in the same way that you would your backyard garden. Do your research to find out which vegetables thrive in close proximity to one another and take into account how long it will take for each crop to germinate, grow, and be ready for harvest. The FAO emphasizes the value of always keeping a supply of young fish and plants.

Test your knowledge on Shaheed diwas (Martyrs' Day) by taking this quiz. Take a quiz
Share your comments

Subscribe to our Newsletter. You choose the topics of your interest and we'll send you handpicked news and latest updates based on your choice.

Subscribe Newsletters