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An aquaponic system that involves tilapia or p...

Aquaponic System at Growing Power (Image via Wikipedia)

This is the first of a series on how to design an aquaponic system literally from the ground up. Now, the truth is that there is a wealth of information available on the internet that can help you in this process, I have endeavored to trim this massive amount down to the bare bones of what is needed to design (and later build) a small scale balanced system on your own. As a teaching tool for this class, I have created a system design that utilizes the 275 gallon IBC totes and can be installed in a modular manner. We began the class by discussing the “general” ratios that are needed to have a balanced system, and then we will continue by going through this design fully from start to finish.

Important Considerations:      The first and most important thing that you will have to ask The plant bed in an aquaponic systemsyourself relates to your goals. Specifically, your goals for the aquaponic system. What I mean by this is do you have a desire for a great amount of fish production or would you rather have a larger production of vegetables. If you want vegetables, do you want mostly leafy greens (salad mix, spinach, etc) or do you want fruits (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, etc.)? This will affect your choice on a number of facets.

Next you have to consider the basic operational ratios — now, please keep in mind that these are provided to you as a suggestion. In my experience, any system that uses these ratios is pretty much assured of working as designed. It is very possible to “push” these one direction or another to achieve a desired goal, but this generally required specific attention to a component or even the addition of specialized designs. I would not recommend that any beginner stray from the provided guidelines.

Stocking Density:    1 Lb of Fish to 5 gallons of FT

English: Introduced fish from a lake in , . Id...

Mozambique Tilapia (Image via Wikipedia)

Now it is very true that your final stocking density will be determined by the species of fish that you choose to raise and the climate that you live in — but this ratio is a good rule of thumb. Additionally, it is important to know that you can use any size container as your fish tank (from a 5gal bucket to a swimming pool), but your amount of grow bed will be determined by the stocking density of your tank.

Fish Tank to Grow Bed:     1 gallon of FT to 2 gallons of GB 

Hydroponics with leafy vegetables.

NFT tubes of Lettuce (Image via Wikipedia)

Aquaponics growing leafy greens, with chard in...

Swiss Chard (Image via Wikipedia)

With your grow beds, it is necessary to have enough solid substrate to fully facilitate the breakdown and detoxification of the fish waste. This is the most critical thing in an aquaponics system. As a very good friend of mine says all the time, “You can never have enough biofiltration.” This ration works appropriately when media filled beds are considered. If you wish to run Deep Water Culture(DWC) or Nutrient Film Tunnels (NFT) grow systems, then you will need to significantly alter your ratios.

Converting Cubic Feet to Gallons:     1 Cubic Foot = 7.5 Gallons

A portable aquaponics system with watercress

Portable System at Growing Power (Image via Wikipedia)

This is probably the most useful thing that I remember when it comes to designing any type of aquaponic or related system. This allows the easy calculation of volume from any custom built structure, no matter if that is a modified IBC Tote or a Blue Barrel or even a pond liner in a wooden frame. I think that it is also important to note that in terms of calculating the necessary amount of GB to FT — you will need to use the TOTAL VOLUME of the grow bed.

In the next post, we will begin to discuss some of the considerations that come with any specific design. We will use a basic general IBC tote system as the example and work through the construction, tank/bed support systems and the necessary plumbing (pump size and piping).

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  1. annejohnsons Reply October 15, 2012 at 3:36 am

    This is amazing. Amazing as plants are much healthier and well-propagated compared to using soil. This is simply amazing.

  2. dexter lloyd Reply November 12, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    Can you assist me with a design layout for an aquaponic system using a 1600gallon fish tank,showing the pipe size,pumps,aerator size,and stocking density of fish with the dimension of the grow bed.Or if possible recommend a system that I can import and put together for use in trinidad west indies.
    I look forward to hearing from you soon.

  3. Steven Fu Reply April 18, 2014 at 1:52 am

    I totally agree. With DWC and NFT you need all the biofiltration you can get. But with a media-based aquaponics design you don’t need it. But then it’s less cost effective in a commercial scale but not impossible. Thank you for sharing and a great article by the way…cheers!

  4. Chris Tipton Reply December 4, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Very interested in some design ideas. I would like to mainly use for garden but the fish would be great also

  5. B Cook Reply March 18, 2015 at 6:41 am

    People seem to focus on the fish tank/water system the most in aquaponics/aquaculture. While its a big part, and likely the main reason people get into it, its only half the system. Im developing a system that uses wicking beds with soil, not hydroton or DWC/NFT. COED CHOP2. Hopefully will be able to publish it soon, but need to test it out first.

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