Can you give me some tips on setting up a small and inexpensive aquaponic system?

Q:

I’ve been doing some research on aquaponics and I am intrigued by the idea. Is it possible to go about this method of gardening on a small-scale indoors? How should I go about starting up a system on a budget for the first time? Thanks!

A:

Aquaponics, which is the use of a live fish farm to feed the hydroponic garden set-up, is a great way to garden that helps conserve water and maximizes yields organically. To do things right, it takes a lot of space, so outdoor spaces are ideal for aquaponics, but for the urban dweller, this system works really well in small spaces, too, and is a great way to produce food year-round.

To get started with aquaponics on a small-scale indoors, you can find used aquariums at thrift stores for only a few bucks. Add to this a sturdy, 10- or 20-gallon rubber tote and lid for about US$5 and a small submersible electric pump for about USD$25, and you’re almost all set. You’ll also need some plastic hoses, which cost pennies a foot, some hose clamps and zip ties, a compact fluorescent light used to grow aquatic plants for about USD$50, some fish, some gravel, fish food and some small hydroponic net cups intended for a deep water culture system. You can get all of this for under USD$150, which leaves you with a small, simple system that works well and uses only about an eighth of the water of a normal garden of the same size.

To take your system to the next level, some people use solar power to help run their pumps, lights and other items, making their aquaponic gardens totally green. These systems typically have a 12 volt marine-style or other rechargeable type of battery hooked up to a small solar panel sitting on the windowsill charging away. This requires a little bit more investment upfront, but the savings add up over time. The batteries, cables, power inverter and solar panels can be purchased at your local auto parts store, and detailed instructions can be found online as well.

In an aquaponics system, the fish live and feed in the aquarium. As they do their thing, the tank’s nutrient-rich water gets transferred up to the plants, providing them with the nutrients they need. The water then flows back down into the aquarium and the cycle repeats every 30 minutes or so. There are other steps to take that help establish a healthy garden, such as installing a simple filter system made from a piece of panty hose from the dollar store at the pump’s entrance, which will help stop larger particles and fish from being sucked up into the pump. Making sure the water flows from one point to the next, without having any failures along the way, is the key to having an automatic timing cycle that can operate properly without constant supervision.

Urban dweller have small spaces to work with, but having the ability to grow year-round indoors with a windowsill garden or the above-mentioned aquaponic system is a worthy endeavor.

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Written by Jeff Walters
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Jeff Walters is a former marine who spends most of his time outdoors fishing, hiking, hunting and gardening. He is a self-educated former martial arts instructor, published author, hot rod enthusiast and co-founder of many outdoor-related websites. His current focus in on green energy and learning how to live a sustainable lifestyle.  Full Bio