It is a bit difficult to know where to start when tackling your first Aquaponics project, but here is a list that might give you a few ideas.
1. Find out all you can about Aquaponics.
There is lots information on the web. Conduct a search on Google for “Aquaponics” , and you will turn up a lot of reading material. There is a lot of good information, but a word of advice. Take note if the person giving the advice is actually doing Aquaponics, and is not some “armchair general”.
Our DVD “Aquaponics Made Easy” is a good place to start. It presents in an easy to follow format with 90 minutes of viewing.
Another source of good information is the Practical Aquaponics Forum. There you will meet people who are starting out , and some that are actually running successful systems. The “Practical Aquaponics Forum” is like a Knowledge Base” , ask questions and get answers.
2. Decide how big your new Aquaponics system should be.
Two questions need to be answered here. One, how much money can I realistically afford to purchase equipment? And two, Where can I put my system?
A mini starter system can cost as little as a few hundred dollars, or a good sized domestic system can cost up to seven thousand dollars. It may be better to start with a smaller project that is manageable both in money terms and in physical size/space. Once you have the small system running well, then it is not too hard to upsize. Make sure you can manage the system you decide to start.
I started with a 230 litre tank as my fish tank, and I built a vertical tower from 90mm pvc pipe as a grow bed that produced a nice crop of strawberries. Looking back now I am very glad I started with a small system even though at the time, I wanted to rush out and buy a big tank and really get stuck into a big scale project. There’s heaps to learn in the early stages and I strongly recommend starting small.
Later, when you have mastered the small system you can then better decide just how big you really want to go, and the small sized equipment will not go to waste you will find. It is easily sold or passed on to someone else.
Whatever you decide, make sure there is room for expansion. Once you experience the amazing growth of the vegetables and see the fish growing, you will want more....Aquaponics is adictive !!
3. New or second hand equipment?
A good way to get started is to invest in a factory made Aquaponics kit. The good part about a ready made kit is that everything has been worked out in advance. You can be sure that you will have good results first up. The kit manufacturer has thought out and tested each model of kit to ensure that everything about the kit is balanced. The pump and pipe work , tanks and grow beds will all work together as intended. You will also enjoy lots of backup advices and warranty on the hardware.
It is also possible to get a system going using recycled materials.
Fish Tank:- IBC’s are available in most places in Australia. An IBC in good condition can usually be obtained for a couple of hundred dollars. An IBC is 1M x 1M x1M which has a total capacity of 1000 litres. Make sure the IBC has not been used to transport some dangerous chemical.
An IBC is an ideal size for a domestic sized Aquaponics system fish tank. Fibreglass fish tanks are available from our website. Fibreglass is very strong, long lasting and food safe.
Poly rainwater tanks are made in all parts of Australia. Many people purchase a suitably sized rainwater tank and cut the top out of it to make a fish tank. Some Poly Tank manufacturers in rural areas make poly cattle watering troughs, and some of these are made to a suitable size. Remember the fish are much more comfortable with a bit of water depth. Tanks that are too shallow are not conducive to fish happiness. It is good to have a water depth of at least 550mm.
Suitable Grow Beds are a little less common to source, and suitable products harder to find.
Strawberries grown in a tower made from 90mm PVC pipe.
We have fibreglass Grow Beds at www,aquaponics.net.au if desired.
If you wish to use recycled materials, old bath tubs are ideal for grow beds. A friend of mine placed an advert in the local paper asking for old bath tubs and he had more than he needed. Picking them up and getting them home was the hardest part.
See our article regarding Grow Beds.
It is ultimately false economy to buy under-capacity and low quality pumps. I have seen people short change themselves by buying a low quality pump. If you feel you want to go down that road, buy two and have one on standby. Pump failure can spell disaster for your fish.
Pumps obtained on internet auction sites can be good, but more than likely they are a no-brand pump with minimum warranty, fitted with plastic bearings that will flog out early. By purchasing a good quality pump with one or two years warranty, with ceramic bearings, your money is not wasted, even if it turns out that the pump is too small as your system expands. You will always find a use for that pump, perhaps on a mini test system or on a Nursery Tank .
The last word on equipment....Whatever you decide to do, make sure you do it very well. Purchase the best equipment you can afford and assemble it in a tradesman like manner. A shoddily built system will inevitably lead to disappointment and failure.
4. Which species of fish will I use?
In Australia we are blessed with wonderful native species that are very suitable for tank culture. Possibly the easiest and most forgiving species is Silver Perch.
These are available from Fish Hatcheries all around Australia and can be purchased in small quantities (say 20 fingerlings upwards) from most hatcheries for around $1.00 + GST per fingerling. Quantities below 100 fingerlings may cost a little more
A list of east coast fish hatcheries can be found on our website in the FAQ section..
In the US and Europe the most common species in use in Aquaponics systems is Tilapia .There are several variants to this species, but enough to say that the fish is very suited to tank culture and is good to eat.
Raise a fish species that is suitable to your local area, one that will most likely not need an excess of heating or cooling as the seasons change. The cost of heating can become a problem to the economics of home systems.
Contact your state Fisheries Authority for information regarding suitable fish species for your area.
A typical IBC. Be sure to protect the IBC from direct sunlight. Many of them quickly degrade from exposure to UV.