Setting Up A Simple Aquaponics System

How to setup an Aquaponics System ? This post I try to briefly explain a very simple setup, its important to start simple so that we learn and progress as time goes by.


It is not advisable to start with complex or large system. It is also ridiculous to start with a tiny system, it’s only meant for show case and school projects.

Size of Fish tank and Grow beds are the two determining factor in Aquaponics, in theory the size of grow bed is directly proportional to the size of tank used.  A 1:1 ratio is a rule of thumb, however smaller grow bed to tank is acceptable but not the other way round for obvious reason where insufficient water available to grow beds and fish.

What Tank and Grow Bed size to use ? Try : Here

In the illustration I recommend a 100 gallon tank and a 2’ x 3’ grow bed for a start. This size is an estimate but it’s roughly there.

Simple 2 Growbed Over Tank with Bell Siphon

It is best to start with a simple water management system, shown above the raised grow bed using a Timed Flood and Drain or Continuous Flow Flood and Drain setup. This is the easiest to make and the least can go wrong. As you progress, this system can be adapted to make use of more growbed or fish area utilizing various method of water management with minimum changes as example in photo and diagram below.

  • Timed Flood and Drain make use of stand pipe and leak (drip) hole
  • Continuous Flood and Drain make use of a Siphon.

More Growbed Over Tank with Bell Siphon

Here is the sketch.


For a start, I do not recommend any system with lots of moving parts or those with Sump Drain reason being the extra pump and parts is just additional item to fail or need maintenance. It is too much for beginners to worry about. 
In above diagram, Timed Flood & Drained or Bell Flush system, water are fed to the grow bed by using a single pump, estimate about 800 ~ 1200 Liter/hr 14 ~ 20 watt power rating (on Timed Flood and Drain you can use smaller pump), and water returned to fish tank are by gravity. A tiny drip hole is needed in the stand pipe on both this methods, this to ensure during pump “OFF” operation water are drained slowly, to promote the Aquaponics process.

If 25 mm siphon is used, a recommended 1000 l/h water flow for each siphon for its operation. If you have 2 growbed with individual siphon then its 1000 x 2 l/h pump total capacity is needed.

Bell Siphon

Growth medium use normally gravel or Hydroton (LECA) which is popular now, roughly 10 ~ 20 mm in size, not too small and not too big. 


Gravel Growbed

Hydroton Growbed

Small pebbles can cause water logged and bigger could be difficult to handle while planting. Gravel height should be about 1” above water level, or the stand pipe height initially,  with time as the plant grow this water level can be adjusted lower by using a shorter stand pipe.

Timed Flood and Drain, use timer that readily available, most people set it at 15 minutes ON and 45 minutes OFF continuously with some changes to cycle during night time. Bell Flush system, the pump is switched ON continuously during the day and switched OFF at night, however it can also be run continuously 24/7.

I switch OFF at night for power saving and noise issue, with pump OFF its advisable to have an aeration pump running to ensure oxygen are sufficient.

Below is a diagram of  CRAFTS, for installation where you need more growbed and fish area as you progress and don't want to add complex rearrangement but modular in approach.



What Fish to use… ?

For those that like ornamental fish, KOI is a good choice, common gold fish also another option. These fishes are hardy and able to tolerate varies water condition.

For those that want fish for the dinner table (like me), its depend on your area, over here in  hot humid rainy equatorial climate I recommend;

Barb families, Perch, Mansheer, Gourami, Tilapia (Red Variety is best).

I don’t recommend Catfish and Snakehead, they are predator fish and also they are air breather.

Air breather like Catfish, Snakehead and Climbing Perch (Puyu) will tolerate extreme water condition, as such you will not learn much on how to manage water of an Aquaponics setup.  However they are the easiest to get you started.

Fish like Tilapia is quite hardy, but they still need dissolve oxygen, so using these types of fish will make you conscious of water quality and oxygen content.

What Plants to use ?

Again depending on your region and whether you are using a Green house or not. Most leafy vegetable were grown, there are cases where carrot, beet and radish were use. Tomato is a common vegetable for Aquaponics.

On plant I leave it to your imagination.

Note :
  • How to make a single barrel Aquaponics set : Here
  • CHOPS is not a simple system but check : Here
  • CRAFTS - Constant Return Aquaponics Feeder Tank System : Here
  • Ornamental Set - A smaller Option : Here
This page will be revised over time to take into consideration various improvements on either methods or material used for Aquaponics.

55 comments:

  1. way use timers they are great problem i had chinees timer once and it went on fire i went to Saudi for Omrah and my made called the neighbors and they put it off. I think it is would be better to use small amount of water going to the grow bed and fast flush the water using your ball valve

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, any electrical equipment may fail. Some fail passive other may be active (like causing fire).

    Pump could have problem too, so I guess its best to get a good Timer and Pump, some Chinese brand are good.. We just have to figure out which one :(

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hey man, I was just reading over your aquaponics system and I was wondering if I'm trying to incorporate an aeroponics system and aquaponics system what would be the ratio of PVC medium vs. fish tank? So I'm going to use pvc pipes to grow produce and the use of a flowing water systems instead of a grow bed with a flood drain system. in other words, do you know whats the equivalent length of PVC I could use (or how many plants i.e. lettuce/strawberries/tomatoes I can be grown)in a 100 gallon tank?

    ReplyDelete
  4. @Kevin, In TFT system ( PVC Pipes) its limited only by the number of fish. Water is not hold in the pipes it will flow out continuously.

    Therefore once you setup the tubes, water will remain constant.

    Just ensure during pump off the 100 gallon tank don't overflow. Even if its over flow just have an overflow pipe ready.

    I would recommend 4x10ft tube for a start and add more tube once you are comfortable with the setup. 1 ft spacing is recommended, but can be reduce to 8~10 inches depending on plants grown.

    In TFT system, the growth media is very important so that it do not clog the pipes/tube.

    Hope this help.

    Affnan

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is just To let you know that I have included This Page in http://aquaponics-digest.blogspot.com/

    Best Wishes
    Bruce

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Affnan, Thanks for this professional explanation on setting up a simple aquaponics system. I was still little confused at some points even you explained very well with images. Can you please share some video for us gardeners easy understanding? Like some basic stuff at http://www.squidoo.com/aquaponics-4-you-how-to-aquaponics-indoor-growing-system or http://www.aquaponicshowto.com/. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi WMANOBLE, thanks for dropping in. There are a few videos that I made for siphon, on Aquaponics as a sole topic I never did yet. However there are plenty of posting on youtube by others that's equally as good.

    Anyway, if I made a video on Aquaponics as a subject, I'll keep your posted url in mind.

    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Affnan,
    I've been reading your blogs and have a few questions. I started a 100g system a couple months ago and want to put some kind of solids removal device onto it. I read your blog on a pvc solids prefilter and wanted to know how well it was working for you. I have very limited space and this looks like a good option. My system consists of 3 grow beds, 2 with pea gravel and bell siphons, and one floating raft bed with a 100 gallon tank. My second question concerns how long to run the pump, currently it runs 24/7 with is working fine, but I read that you shut off the pump at night, do you feel it has any effect on the ability of the bacteria in the grow beds to act as a filter. Do your grow beds dry out over night and if so wouldn't that kill the bacteria in the bed and reduce its filtering capacity? I would love to save some money on electricity if it wouldn't have any negative effects. Great blog, keep up the great work, also love your vids, Thanks Chris

    ReplyDelete
  9. @Christ

    First the easy one..

    I switches off the pump don't see any negative effect just don't forget to turn on the aeration pump during this period, I don't see any negative effect after doing it for 4 years. The only problem may be your location the daylight is longer and varies from month to month if this is the case, try using some kind of a photo switch to turn off the pump when there is no daylight.

    Turning off the pump at night will reduce your pump maintenance and increase its life. It will also save electricity and noise issue at night.

    On, prefilter. I don't use it any more, after brief trial it work but that will add more chore to do and cleaning the growbed once maybe in 2 years or more is not a big issue for me.
    You may need a filter for your raft bed but not the gravel growbed. The raft system may need a better filter to ensure no solids get through.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks for the advice, I may try putting together one of your solids filters and see how it goes. I have lots of plants outside that could use the fertilizer that I could collect from it as well. So far I haven't had very many solids collect in the raft bed, but the system is only been running since the end of April and I only have 10 small tilapia in the tank so far, I'm sure as they grow more solids will start to accumulate.

    ReplyDelete
  11. dear chris, if you need a working example of a filter you may visit my blog at www.mahfudzaquaponic.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  12. Mahfudz, Thanks, looks good

    ReplyDelete
  13. let green the earth with natural and organic method...cheers !!!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Affnan, where do you purchase your blue tanks?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Calladus, those tub are locally purchase here in Malaysia from Aquarium shops. In your area I'm not sure, try same I guess.

      Delete
  15. Hey Affnan, I want to know more kinds of plants that i could grow in a bell flush system, and how i grow these plants for the first time (whether i use seeds or what). Also I want to know what other kinds of fish i could grow, how do i feed them, and how many times a day??
    Thank you

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Mostafa, most leafy plants and fruiting veg will do in bell flush system. Its depend on your locality and that varies. You can start with planter box or sowing tray then transfer, for cheaper veg I sometimes just sow direct, its all depend on whether the seed will sink to bottom of gb or not.

      I've tried various fish found in my area, Tilapia is one species which is popular as food source and widely use. They are easy to rear and breed without much problem. Other fish like cat fish and perch are use in some places. Australian like to use Perch, because its naturally found there. Goldfish and KOI is an option if you like ornamental fish.

      Feeding, I base on monitoring fish behavior don't over feed. Start with feeding a little at a time over a 5 minutes period until the fish don't eat. Take note of this and use this amount as baseline for future feeding and increase as the fish grow. This takes time and practice, and I'm confident most people after doing it for few days they will be able to judge the amount.

      Affnan

      Delete
  16. Hi Affnan!

    We are building a ibc aquaponics-system using a 1000 liter ibc, 1/3 for growbed, so the fishtank will contain about 500 liter. What pump would you recomend/liters per hour? We´re going to use a bell siphon.
    Andy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One Standard size bell siphon with 25mm or 1" standpipe will work with about 750 ~ 1000 lt/hr pump capacity. If you use the 20mm or 3/4" it will need even smaller flow rate about 500 lt/hr. So its all depends on size of siphon.. you can always use "bypass" to divert excess water like most people do.

      Delete
  17. Salam! I stumbled upon your site by chance and I am so amazed here! Do you have teaching coursesor conduct public lectures on the subject? I am very new to this, but I knew a few KL-ites who are enthusiastic about sustainable living. We'd be very, very happy to visit you and learn from you. How do we get in touch about this?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Salam Kelefeh, I am currently shutting down my setup due reason that already posted here. I am located in Shah Alam, situation now not that good for any visitation. At the moment I don't conduct any classes, however for short talk or simple lecture its not a problem.

      Affnan

      Delete
    2. Thanks for the email address.

      Delete
  18. Aloha Affnan!

    I am very glad you found an alternative location for your systems. I live in Oakland, California. Your site has been very helpful to me. It gave me an idea of how to build a ebb-and-flow system. I have have linked your website on mine, and am wondering if you would add my site (www.thegrowing.org) to your list of Aquaponics Links in the US.

    Your link to at my site is here: http://www.thegrowing.org/wiki/index.php/References

    Cheers.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Affnan,

    Peace and good health to you and your family!

    From someone who has been researching aquaponics for the last couple of months, I want to thank you for your posts and explanations here and for your videos on youtube. I have an idea to share with you and would appreciate your feedback. I'm thinking of using coconut choir in containers with vermi-compost as they do at Growing Power here in Wisconsin. The containers will rest on a constant flow growing bed of river rock, wicking up the fish effluent. My idea is to reduce depth and weight of the growing bed while maximizing the surface area per barrel over below grade fish ponds. I want to use polyethylene barrels cut down the length of one side only. Continuing the cut bisecting the tops and bottoms, and cutting across both top and bottom at right angles, I want to form a set of 4 quarters connected side by side. I will then use a heat gun to soften the sides of the barrel adjacent to the cuts so I can bend them open. The ends will be trimmed to control the water level and allow connections between barrels. Multiple barrels can be arranged end to end as shallow growing beds elevated over long fish ponds. I want to support each row of growing beds on 4 sloped 1"X6" wooden rails (wood decking), with metal bailing straps slung across the rails supporting each barrel.

    My biggest concern is the weight of the water and river rocks supported within these relatively flat plastic barrels. I don't want the entire thing collapsing into the fish ponds beneath them, and I'm no engineer. If you can picture what I am describing, I wonder how many metal straps will be required to support each barrel? I've seen half barrels deformed by water pressure when the sides weren't supported. By sloping the rails slightly, I could use the steal bailing straps to support the bottom of each quarter, passing them over each of the railings and securing their ends to the outside railings. The outer railings will be pulled inward by the weight of the barrels resting on the bailing straps, snugging them against the sides and keeping them from collapsing. I'm concerned about how to secure the bailing straps to the wooden rails as well. Steel bailing straps aren't particularly wide, so I need a fastening method that won't weaken them too much, and I may need to be able to adjust them to level their barrel as the support system settles. I wonder if you or one of your readers may have a suggestion for securing the straps to the rails? Finally, any suggestions as to how frequent the posts supporting the railings will need to be? Consider that it will need to support containers of plants resting on the river rocks as well as the water flowing through the system.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Soccer Insider, thanks for your comment ans what a long explanation.
      From what I can deduce you are building a cascading constant flow aquaponics growbed with growing pots of coconut choir.

      Those slopping 1"x6" if you can make some plywood contour to the shape of the growbed these may help in securing them to the railing. This way you may not need those bailing straps to hold the growbed in place.

      It is hard to visualise correctly but these are the best I can do, at the moment.

      Cheers.

      Delete
  20. Salam Afnan

    Do you have an idea of A cooling system and at the same time can be a heater for aquaponic system that can manage temp between 25-30 degree centigrate.

    Thanks for the nice blog.
    Qasim

    ReplyDelete
  21. salam ,

    abg affnan sya baru je nak menceburkan diri dlam penternakan dan penanaman secara aquaponic ni. mslah yg sya hadapi ialah sya tidak tahu dimana unttuk sya dptkan clay ball untuk tanam pokok tersebut. untuk pengetahuan abg affnan sya tingal dekat klang. berharap sangat abg affnan dapat sertakan nama dan alamat kedai jika ada..

    yg brharap,
    danial

    ReplyDelete
  22. It was so heart warming to see your harvest. I too would like to have the same system like yours. Any hope of you elping me set up one? Thank you

    ReplyDelete
  23. How many tilapia could i expect to raise with a hundred gallon tank?

    ReplyDelete
  24. Chriss, I go for 1 fish to a gallon of water.

    ReplyDelete
  25. You have a great blog. I am thinking of trying it out. May I ask if type of gravel you use?
    I mean to ask if limestone is ok. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Thank Robertan for your comments
    I use ordinary nursery lawn gravel that easily obtainable from garden nurseries, I think its limestone. Normally limestone will make water PH high, this could be a problem depending on type of plants you grow.

    River pebbles are ideal but could be expensive, many other type of media can be use all depends on availability in your area. You can try out what ever you could get first on a smaller scale before embarking on bigger setup.

    I use gravel about 10 ~ 20mm aggregate Limestone, so far so good. However I wish I could use something lighter to make it easier to handle and support.

    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  27. Hi Affnan , first of all I have learned a lot of things from you , so thank you very much.
    I want to ask you about the siphon , in my system the siphon is taking 10 minutes to fill the grow bed and 10 minutes for the water to return to fish tank , do you think this is ok or should I make adjustment to prolong the time where the grow bed is empty .
    sometime the siphon is not working properly , i.e it fail to start the siphon effect and the water remain running from the GB to the Ft at the same rate , until I interfere manually to make it start siphoning ,do you think that this will affect the growth of plants , because the growth in my system is not good , although it has been running for 6 months now.
    My third question is about shutting off the pump at night , is it better to shut it while the GBs are full or while they are empty , because you know there are bacteria and this may affect them.
    Thanks again
    Asaad

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Asaad for your query.
      10 minutes to fill is ok but it should not be 10 minutes to drain. Siphon action act like toilet flush, so draining should be a short time depending on gb size.

      Without knowing how your setup look like, I am unable to eloborate on why the siphon fail.

      I normally switches pump off at night. Its best to have water drain out from gb during this period. I made a small leak hole to ensure gb drained during pump off. Leaving plant root submerge underwater overnight is not a good idea.

      Hope this help.

      Delete
  28. Hi Affnan ,
    You know what , I modified the system from fill and drain to continuous flow ,until I figure it out .I will post some pictures and I hope you can help me finding out what is the problem with the siphon .
    Great thanks

    ReplyDelete
  29. If for first attempt with aquaponics. What is your recommendation for the suitable grow bed media? thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Keep it simple, any size 15 to 20mm aggregate pebble/gravel/rock will do. River pebbles are best but difficult to get. Exotic media like Hydroton are expensive and make sure non-floating type, floating Hydroton is useless.

      Where I am at I can't find a non-floating Hydroton yet, I need to try them out. As mention earlier, rock pebbles sold at Garden Center will do for a start.

      Delete
  30. Hi Affnan, thanks for sharing your valuable experience with us. After doing much research in the net, I finally got my small scale system commissioned 3 days ago. I have 2 2x3x1 ft plastic trays with one one on Constant Flow & the other on Ebb & Flow system. The item I find most difficult to source is the growbed. What type of growbed u r using that is readily available in Malaysia?

    I also find the river pebbles which is abt rm1.00 per kg to be pretty costlier as it requires abt 70 kg to fill a 2x3 growbed. Some friends were advising me to use bricks or crusher runs (stones use for road construction). Will they work?

    What about seedlings? Do u plant them directly into the growbed? If u do, what's the technique?

    Sorry to bother u with so many questions. Tx.!

    Regards,
    Jayson

    ReplyDelete
  31. Hi Jayson

    Those tub I got it from : http://www.ehkaquatics.com/

    Road construction lime stone will work, however the ph will be a bit high, you will need to address this issue. I sow directly onto grow bed, due to the type of pebbles I use varies in size they hold those seeds. You could use tissue paper to hole individual seed and plant them in the grow bed, be sure water reach the tissue otherwise it will harden and seed will not sprout.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Hello Affnan,
    I need your advice about tanks to use for my first aquaponic system. I've sourced around town and found (thus far) that these are the only sizes available:
    a) 165x110x61 cm^3 (5.4x3.6x2 ft^3)
    b) 114x71x44 cm^3 (3.8x2.3x1.4 ft^3)
    c) 100x66x30 cm^3 (3.2x2.2x1.0 ft^3)
    d) 76x47x22 cm^3 (2.5x1.5x0.72 ft^3)

    What combination should I use as fish tank and grow beds? (a) seems too big for a beginner. I'm hoping to use (b) for fish tank and 2 pcs of (c) as grow beds although I'm not sure if (b) is deep enough; would the fish suffer with the levels going down to less than a foot? Is it viable for tilapia? I appreciate your opinion as you have a great deal of experience in this area. Thanks.

    Felix

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. B should be about 100 gallon and C is 30 gallon each, C with media should take 15 gallon water at most so 2 of C will take 30% of tank water if both activated simultaneously. B & C combi is good.

      Delete
  33. Hi Affnan. I am considering using a float switch to control the pump and then use valve to control the flow of water from the settlement tank into the grow bed.This way, would the siphon system be necessary?
    Akin, Lagos, Nigeria

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In this case not necessary because you are making either drip or continuous method. Putting a siphon in it will not harm anything if you want to test it out.

      Delete
  34. Very very helpful. Thank you so much!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am glad you find it helpful, I hope I can help others on trying out Aquaponics the easy way.

      Delete
  35. I have been researching how to build a simple (cheap) Aquaponics system. Could a bathtub be used as the fish aquarium? I know where one is sitting in the woods.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Any container big enough can be use, seen many people use bath tub as fish tank, go ahead use it.. give it some life.

      Delete
  36. Hi Affnan,

    Just wanted to thank you for helping everybody by sharing what you know. This world needs more people like you.
    I wish you and your family the very best.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Hi Affnan,
    Thank you for sharing this, i've learned so much! i'm trying to start my own too and i just bought some guppies to start off, since i have no clues in planting vege and fishes. I'm doing it small using deep water culture, am wondering whether did you get any kits to test the water?

    Btw if im going to get tilapia fry from subang, do i also need to de-chlorine the water to rare them? can i rare them together with my guppies?

    Thank you so much!!
    Audrey

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Water test kits you can get from most Aquarium shop, Tilapia fry is seasonal at most shop. The may have or they may have not.

      If water is left in the tank for few hours, no dechlorination required.

      Delete
  38. Hi Affnan,

    Honestly speaking, I fall in love since my very first time heard about this amazing Aquaponics system last October. Now, am deciding to start with one small size as I already had 4 M x 10 M semi intensive fish pond here in Riau province Sumatra Indonesia.Hope you could kindly give me your guidance start from its design,installation,etc.
    Thank you very much.
    Regards,
    Iqbal Singh (iqbalsingh1061@gmail.com)

    ReplyDelete
  39. Deae Affnan,
    Thanks for your blog information, I am from saudi arbia.Please give me the information about seeding in the aquaponics.
    How can I put the seeds in the aquaponics I can put the seeds directly or not.
    Please advise me, Awaiting your reply.

    regards
    Nizar Muhammed

    ReplyDelete