Choosing the Right Size for Your Aquaponics System

Aquaponics growing leafy greens, with chard in...

Aquaponics growing leafy greens, with chard in the forefront. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Aquaponics is the combined culture of fish and plants in recirculating systems.  Nutrients generated by the fish, either by direct excretion or microbial breakdown of organic wastes, are absorbed by plants cultured hydroponically.

Fish provide most of the nutrients required for plant nutrition. As the aquaculture effluent flows through the hydroponic component of the recirculating system, fish waste metabolites are removed by nitrification and direct uptake by plants, thereby treating the water, which flows back to the fish rearing component for reuse.

One of the biggest and most important decisions you will make regarding your aquaponics system will be its size. You will need to ask yourself what your goals are. Is this just a hobby to grow a few vegetables at home? Are you planning to make money selling vegetables on a small scale? Will you be selling the fish too as a food source?

All these questions will affect your decision. The rules and fundamentals will apply regardless of the size of your system. The aquaponics system has a few rules that must be adhered to if it is going to be successful. The rules though not set in stone, have to be closely followed and maybe adapted a little here and there.

If you’re setting up a system at home and using an aquarium to hold the fish, you will want to stock the correct amount of fish. 1 inch of fish per gallon of water. If you add too many fish, the overcrowding will lead to stressful tank conditions for the fish and they will die.

If you’re planning a bigger system, of course you will use a much larger container and will have more fish. However, since some fish are much larger than others, a container which holds 15 goldfish may only be suitable for 5 to 7 tilapia. It all depends.

It’ll also be helpful to know roughly how much feces will be produced since your plants will need sufficient nutrition. A study conducted at the University of the Virgin Islands found that for about 60-100 grams of fish food consumed per day will effectively sustain 1 square meter of plants in a raft aquaponics system. This will probably hold true for a system using a media bed too. So, you’ll need to do the math here on your own time.

If you have plans to scale up your system in future, you’ll need to plan ahead of time. Many enthusiasts who start out small often have their system setup in a small room or garage. Later on when they see they are successful with their aquaponics system, they may wish to scale up and make it a bigger operation.

However, because they started off in a small location, there are space constraints. They’ll need to shift their setup or build a new one or do whatever they need to. Whatever the case, it will be a hassle. It’d be wise to setup in a place where you have enough space to expand in the future should you see the need to do so.

There is a ton of information available for aquaponics beginners and experts alike. Learn whatever you can about aquaponics and you will be able to make better choices and be an expert. Get a few books on the subject. Find a video course online about aquaponics and understand the concepts. They will serve you well in the long run.

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