What Is The Right Aquaponics Floating Raft Material?

A successful aquaponics system requires a mixture of fish, plants, pumps and testing to ensure all the elements remain in harmony.

But one factor that is often overlooked is the use of filters to improve the efficiency and reliability of your system.

The floating raft is widely regarded as one of the best systems you can utilize to remove hard waste and excess fish food. This prevents your pipes from getting blocked and allows the plants to absorb nutrients; allowing them to mature into strong and healthy plants.

If you’re growing crops to consume then you’ll appreciate the power of a good filter.

What Is A Raft Filter?

The basic principle of your raft filter is to remove the solid waste particles which cannot and will not be destroyed by the bacteria present in the tank.

The filter consists of three chambers where the water overflows into the next chamber. The particles sink to the bottom and the compartmental divides absorb any stray bits; allowing the water to move round the system without clogging the pipes.

raft filter for aquaponics

When the clean water goes to the plant beds you can also implement a floating raft system. The main difference with this is that it is not looking to collect debris. Instead it provides a surface to grow your crop which flats on the water; allowing the plants to dip their roots in the water and get as much water and nutrients as they need.

Your Choice Of Material

There are several options regarding the Material used in your floating raft system:

  • Polystyrene Sheets

These are cheap to buy and surprisingly effective in your floating raft system. You can purchase huge sheets of these and cut them to fit the size of your tank or tanks.

This is a good choice as the cost is minimal and the holes can be easily made or enlarged to accommodate your plants.

floating raft aquaponics

What is also great about this system is that you can select a tank large enough to have several different stages of plant alive at the same time. The boards float and will gradually move on the water. By planting seedlings you’ll be able to add more seedlings after they have moved and created a space big enough for the next batch of seedlings.

The plants will gradually float across the raft; becoming fully grown by the time they reach the other end. This allows you to pick them out and then plant new; effectively creating a never ending cycle.

This is actually the option that many commercial aquaponic set-ups use.

  • Foam

This is another option for your floating raft tank. It is not as effective at floating as the polystyrene sheets. Unfortunately the foam will not last for as long as the polystyrene; adding to your costs. In many cases foam is only good for one season.

  • Plastic

Another option, although not one that is used often, is plastic sheets or guttering pipe. This can have holes drilled into it for the roots to dangle in the water.

Plastic will last for a long time but you may have issues with stability and this can be a more costly solution to the material issue.

  • Home Made

In order to keep your costs low you may wish to consider adding some plywood to plastic or even pieces of foam that you have lying round. Providing the material floats it can be put on the water and used to accommodate your aquaponics plants.

However, you need to consider whether the material is likely to rot in the water or not. If it does then you’ll need new material every year which can be time consuming and expensive. This makes it a good option for when you are experimenting with aqauponics but not a worthwhile long term solution.

It is also worth considering what wood you are using. Plywood is glued with glue which contains formaldehyde; it is likely to stunt the growth of your plants and fish; it could even kill them.

  • Organic Styrofoam

If you are concerned about your environmental footprint you may like to purchase organic Styrofoam boards. These work in the same way as the polystyrene boards but are certified to be environmentally friendly.

It is even possible to paint these boards although you’ll then need to face the discussion regarding environmentally friendly paint and whether darker colors are better or not.

White is said to attract more algae which is not good for your system. However, many people consider white as a better color for seeing the algae and maintain that it is not responsible for increased algae production.

The Right Aquaponics Floating Raft Material

The bottom line is that the material you use will depend on what type of setup you have, your current budget and your level of experience.

It is fair to say that polystyrene boards are the cheapest and easiest option in most instances. However, if you are concerned about the environment you may wish to choose organic Styrofoam and if you are simply experimenting with the possibility of aquaponics anything that floats can work.

But don’t forget that you need to consider the effect that your float material may have on your setup; it could introduce undesirable toxins. The same is true for any paint you decide to add to your float; make sure it will not have a detrimental effect on your set-up!

It is also essential to remember that a good raft will float freely inside your trough. Don’t be tempted to narrow the trough in order for the raft to fit snugly and eliminate the potential for algae to form. It may work in this respect but it will not allow the plant to move through the tank as it grows; creating the never ending cycle. Instead you’ll have to keep moving it.

The bottom line is that it is best to invest in some polystyrene sheets and test out your aquaponics setup; you can always upgrade your raft material later if required.

Understanding Aquaponics Filtering Systems

Getting your aquaponics system just right takes time. However, it is worth making the effort to get the system right. Your reward will be a good quality yield of healthy crops with the minimal of intervention from you.

Setting up an aquaponics system is actually fairly straightforward. Unfortunately if you’re not aware of the filtration issues; then you’ll quickly discover that the small pipes moving water round your system can get blocked. This is because the waste particles created by fish are generally small but solid. Without the right help the flow of water is interrupted and the plants cannot get the nutrition they need.

The Aquaponics Filtering Process

Bacteria in your water will convert the ammonia produced by your fish into nitrates which are needed by the plants to ensure healthy growth. Check: What is aquaponics?

This is a natural process which occurs in the wild as well as in your aquaponics system. The plants help to keep your fish healthy by filtering the water and removing toxic elements.

But, not all particles in the system are dissolved. Larger particles of waste and eve left over fish food will be sucked into your pipes. They can then block the flow of water; preventing the plants from getting the nutrients they need and depriving the fish of clean water.

The most likely places to find a clog in your system are the nozzles and piping which carry the water; these are the narrowest parts.

Fortunately this can be prevented by filtering the water when it leaves the fish tank, before it enters the plant base.

Types Of Water Filter

Your fish need clean water in order to remain healthy; this is why it is advisable to filter the water in their part of the system. You can choose between these filters:

  • Swirl Water Features

These are filters that are shaped like small barrels. Inside the barrel is a basket; much like one you would use for your washing. At the base of your basket you can add your choice of filtering material.

swirl or vortex filter

You then allow the water through from your fish tank. This comes in half way down the barrel wall. The fore it arrives with creates a swirl inside the barrel. As the swirl slows the water rises and can go out of the tank and into the plant bed through a pipe at the top of the barrel.

The key to this approach working is that the barrel is large enough to create a good swirl. The high level of flow allows the larger particles to sink to the bottom of the basket and stay there; preventing the hard particles from blocking up the system.

  • Raft Filters

This type of filter looks a little like a raft floating in a large tank.

The large tank of water is split into several sections. Water from the fish tank flows in at the top of the first chamber; where you’ll need to place three types of filter.

raft filter for aquaponics

It is normal to use large foam pieces as the filters; these will trap the larger waste particles and even dirt particles; allowing clean water to move onto the next chamber. The majority of the waste simply floats to the bottom of the tank.

The water only moves between chambers when it overflows. It is a good idea to use two foam pieces to create each wall; this will ensure that you can remove one for cleaning without affecting the next one.

Once the water has been through all three chambers it is clean enough to be pumped back into the plant tank.

Again, the water must be removed from the top. Entry and exit at the top is important to ensure the particles which have settled are not dragged into the plant tank.

It is important to note that the raft system is one of the best you can install but it requires a fairly large tank. You will also need to shut the water off periodically in order to remove the sludge which starts to build up at the bottom of the tank.

  • The Mechanical Filter

It is possible to adapt the above systems to fit your specific needs or even to purchase a pump that is designed to filter water and remove certain materials. However, these are generally very expensive and may not produce any better results than the filters mentioned above. After all a mechanical filter simple applies the same technology as the swirl filter; but with power behind it.

One way of achieving this is to get a pair of tights and cut several sections out of them. These can then be secure over the inlet and outlet pipes of your filter. The tights will be an extra filter, preventing the larger particles from getting into your small pipe work.

You’ll need to empty the tights periodically to ensure they don’t become the source of any clogs.

The Bottom Line

Solid waste particles are heavier than water and will settle given the opportunity. This makes it easier to remove them and protect your system. However, it is worth noting that you can reduce or even eliminate the amount of particles in your system just by following a few simple rules:

  • Don’t over feed your fish; this will prevent fish food clogging your pipes.
  • Don’t use the cheap fish food; it won’t help your fish and it will increase the amount of waste.
  • Don’t have too many fish! Always calculate fish numbers based on the size of the fish when they are adults. Too many fish equals more waste than the plants or your system can handle.

If you are not sure about the quality of your fish food or the filters simply take a look at the roots of your plants. If they are slimy and grey or brown then there is too much debris in the tank; you need to reduce and change the fish food. Getting this one factor right should eliminate the need to add any filtration system unless you’re planning to go into large scale production.

Lava Rocks For Aquaponics

black lava rocks for aquaponicsThe principle behind aquaponics is that the system will take care of its own needs. In return for monitoring the water and perhaps adding a few essential nutrients you’ll have a gradual increase in fish stock and excellent plant growth.

The increase in fish quantities can be used to service more plant beds or you can simply consume them; depending on your tastes and what fish you have chosen to use.

However, the real trick to getting such good results is in taking the time to set your system up properly. You’re probably aware of the need to create nitrates in your water before you add the plants; this simply helps to ensure the whole system starts working straight away.

But, you may not have heard about using lava rocks for aquaponics; they can make an excellent grow media.

What Is The Grow Media?

The fish are kept in their own tank and their water is pumped through to where you are growing your plants. The water needs to be available to the plants but also to circulate back to the fish; ensuring the cycle keeps going and both the fish and the plants are healthy.

It is possible to place boards on the water and position your plants so that their roots are constantly in the water. However, there are several risks with this method; including the plants being unable to absorb nutrients if there is any dirt in the water. The dirt will stick to the roots.

This is why most people who use aquaponics prefer to have a growing media.

The growing media is simply the material that the plants are placed into. The water should be able to be accessed and absorbed through this media but the roots do not need to be in the water at all times.

Why Lava Rocks for Aquaponics?

red lava rocks for aquaponics

A rock base is ideal as the growing media for your aquaponics system for several reasons. However, before we continue it is essential to understand that you should use crushed lava rocks. They should be between 8mm and 16mm in size. This is small enough to make planting easy but large enough to ensure there is plenty of air flow round your plants. Air flow is essential for the healthy growth of your plants; their correct function will help to keep your fish alive and complete the cycle.

There are several benefits to using lava rock:

  • Light

Lava rock is very porous which makes it exceptionally light in comparison to most other rocks. The reason for this is that lava rock is actually not rock at all; it is frozen foam; the air bubbles were frozen in place as the molten lava cools quickly. This makes it a great choice for your grow bed as it is easy to create a layer of lava rock just above the water base.

  • Easy To Locate

You’ll probably be able to find lava rock in a store near you; you may even find it in nature. Lava rock is surprisingly common and takes virtually no effort to collect and bring back to your plant beds.

It is also one of the cheapest materials you can get for your plant bed.

  • Porous

The fact that lava rock is either frozen foam or rock with plenty or air pockets reflects its ability to allow water through. This is because there are many tiny holes in the rock which have been created by the molten lava cooling so quickly.

Being porous means that the rock will allow your plants to get the nutrients and water they need without having the roots hanging in the water.

  • Doesn’t Affect pH Levels

Surprisingly lava rock is pH neutral. This means it won’t affect the pH of your set up. This is important as an incorrect pH will prevent your plants from growing properly and reduce the yield that you’ll get.

Getting the pH level right is important; that’s one of the reasons why lava rock is such a good choice.

Precautions When Using Lava Rock

Of course there are a few things to be aware of when using lava rocks:

  • Dirt

The main issue that you should be concerned with when using lava rock is that it is a very dirty rock. It is essential to clean it thoroughly before you add it to your aquaponics system.

Dirt can quickly cause issues in your pipe work and coat the roots of your plants; preventing them from absorbing nutrients.

You can’t wash lava rock too much!

  • Issues With Planting

It is possible that your plants will struggle to find their way through the lava rock to get the nutrients they need. Providing you use the right size lava rocks this shouldn’t be an issue but it is worth monitoring.

Other Options

If you are unable to get lava rock then you may wish to try one of these other growing media’s. Most people acknowledge that lava rock is the best option but these can be a good second choice:

  • Expanded clay

Expanded clay pebbles are even lighter than lava rocks. They also are able to resist mold and fungi. You’ll find it easy to dig through them and they will allow plenty of water flow. However these are generally a very expensive option.

expanded clay pebbles

  • Coconut Coir

This is a good choice as it is pH neutral and very light. However you should be aware that it is high in sodium. If you use it then you’ll need to choose a suitable product that will help you lower sodium levels in your tank.

Coconut Coir is also anti-microbial. This means it could kill the good bacteria in your tank; which is not good for your setup. This is a good choice when added to a gravel base and closely monitored.

coconut coir for aquaponics

  • River stone

River stone can be purchased at your local store and is generally round making it easy to root your plants. Providing you don’t go for anything too small it shouldn’t be an issue to the pipe work in your system. However, river stone is heavy. If you want to keep your grow bed above the water you need to have strong supports!

river stone for aquaponics

Lava rock may not be the first growing media you think of but it is certainly one that should be on your list; it is surprisingly effective at aiding plant growth without being too expensive. If you are just starting out, you should try growing watercress. It’s easy and fast growing.

Flood And Drain Aquaponics – Any Good?

The Flood and Drain Aquaponics design is the most used system in the world amongst all the Aquaponics systems. This system consists of the flood and drain grows beds, the fish tank and the pond pump that has a great role to it. The design gives you the detailed steps to follow to get an appropriate flood and drain design.

aquaponics flood and drain

The flood and drain grow beds are placed exactly to where it can directly drain water into the fish tank. The process of flooding and draining of water is being controlled by a certain timer. The pond pump that is placed in the fish tank carries the water into the grow beds. The pond pump will automatically stop carrying water into the grow beds if the certain pre- determined level of water has already been reached. And by then, the grow beds will drain back the water into the fish tank.

The flood and drain Aquaponics design is being used by many because of its simplicity and it is cost effective. These are the very reason why most people use it. There are also disadvantages of using it but most people ignore those disadvantages simply because they do see the benefits of using the flood and drain Aquaponics design.

Flood and Drain Aquaponics– Specific Details

In creating this flood and drain Aquaponics design, you have to dig a few centimeters of soil so that you can put your fish tanks right under your grow beds. In that way you can then do the cycle of flooding and draining. You should also put into consideration that the flooding and draining system will cause lack of water in your fish tanks for a couple of seconds. Putting up this flood and drain Aquaponics design is quite hard but of course if you will only follow the procedures well then perhaps you can do it properly.

Also make sure that you will plant your plants in clay pebbles because soil is not recommended. You do not want soil to be present in the fish tank. Soil can be easily washed away by water. That is purely the reason why you have to use clay pebbles. And you also have to make sure that you do place the tubing in the right position. That should be very well observed in putting up the flood and drain quaponics design. This is simply because your tubing is the one having the key role in making this flood and drain cycle to be a successful one. For when the tubing is not properly placed, there is a great possibility that the fish will die due to lack of water. These things should be put to mind so that your flood and drain Aquaponics will work just fine.

How Big Can an Indoor Aquaponics System Get?

Indoor plant growing is known to have a positive effect on people. Generally plants produce oxygen as their by-product of photosynthesis that people inhales for their normal functioning of their body. There is no question why house plants have become so popular in most homes today. People are discovering that some food crops do very well indoor.

indoor aquaponicsIt makes sense that if you’re going to grow plants then grow those plants that will create other benefits as well. Those that can produce fresh food and at the same time, help to decorate your house. Indoor aquaponics allows you to do this very effectively and without the hassles of fertilizing, potting soil and watering.

Indoor aquaponics involves growing of plants and rearing of fish indoors. The two live in a symbiotic relationship with each other. Fish produces a lot of wastes. Fish waste is full of the nutrient that plants love. In a typical fish tank, water is circulated through a filter that removes these materials from the water tank. Failure to this will make this waste accumulate to levels that can be toxic to the fish. In aquaponics, plants uses this wastes from fishes hence no need for its removal. For more information about the aquaponics cycle click here.

Plants filters the water and makes it clean again for the fish. So with Indoor aquaponics, water can be recycled over and over. Fish continually produces wastes with nutrients that the plants uses hence water in the tank remains clean all through.
Plants don’t really need soil to grow, they just uses soil to get nutrients and water out of it. If you give plants nutrients and water directly in a closed setup like in a room with sufficient lighting, then you can by-pass the importance of soil in plants growth. You will be in a position to avoid those tiresome activities like digging, soil conditioning and getting your hand dirty hence be in a position to produce food crops and fresh fishes indoors which are naturally made and free from any toxic substances.

Aquaponic system is very common in closed system like in a greenhouse, or outside if the climate allows. It also works great indoors. An advantage of indoor aquaponics system is the ability to control the climate to meet your system needs. When outside, the weather will determine what you and when to can grow. But in an indoor setup, you can control the surrounding temperature and eliminate common garden pests. No more snails, gophers, weeds,slugs,or any of those pests commonly found in gardening system

With aquaponic systems, you can grow more food in a smaller space. You can alternate crops and make a nice contrast that is quite decorative in your home. And imagine being able to pick fresh organic produce right out of your living room.
In conclusion, Indoor aquaponics heavily depends at fish (they are the ones supplying the foodstuff for your plant life), you’ll need to take proper caution of them to make certain that the system can provide suitable results. What this means is that you’ll must ensure that the water provides the ideal temperature, PH stages, light in addition to your required amount of oxygen to help your fish inside a healthy environment. Just, overseeing the liquid and feeding a fish is all you’ll need to do to be prepared to grow vegetation from your aquaponic system.

Build A Vertical Aquaponics System

Vertical aquaponics can be built at any size. The smallest size could be small enough to fit indoors or even large and made for outdoor use only. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to construct a vertical aquaponics system with flood and drain.

Step 1
First identify two similar sized plastic tanks as the size and shape of these will depend on your frame. They will need to be in the region of about 50 gallons in size. Be mindful that the plastic is not toxic and nor were any former contents. They need to be dark in colour to reduce build up of algae. One of these tanks will form the Fish Tank and the other the grow bed. The ratio of the size between tanks is important to ensure the correct balance in the nutrient cycles. More information about making an aquaponics fish tank.

Step 2
You will need to erect a frame onto which your tanks sit. The exact nature of this frame will be dependent on the size and shape of the tanks.

Step 3
bell siphonCreate a Bell Syphon to the aquaponics. A bell siphon should be made of two open vertical pipes to allow water drain into them. The outer pipe is called the siphon pipe and sits over the standpipe by use of gravity. Ensure the siphon pipe cap is not sealed at the top. It is better to have too tall of a siphon pipe a than one that is short.

Step 4
The grow bed will need to have a drainage outlet which will connect to the bell siphon. We also advise that you add an overflow outlet in case of a malfunction with the bell siphon. Cut a small hole at the tank base and insert the bell siphon. Then connect a quarter inch pipe from the base of the grow bed. This pipe will feed into your fish tank when the system is set up. Ensure you use appropriate plumbing fittings in order that there are no leaks.

Step 5
Place the grow tank onto the frame and then position the fish tank below the grow bed. Ensure that the outlet from the base of the grow bed feeds into the fish tank. Also, fit the overflow pipe in place, and that too should feed into the fish tank. You should be in a position that the Grow Bed tank sits over the Fish-tank. A pipe feeds from the grow bed (base of the Bell Syphon) into the fish tank. Your overflow pipes also need to feed into the fish tank. It’s always a good thing to maximize the oxygen levels in the water so the more the water can be aerated when returning into the tank the better so keep this in mind.

Step 6
Add the grow bed media to the grow bed. Setup grow beds so the maximum water flood level is at least 25mm (1 inch) below the top of the grow bed media. This helps prevent algae as most algae needs water and light to grow. Your bell siphon will need to be adjusted to the correct height.

Step 7
Add the pump into the fish tank and, using a flexible hose connect up so that the pump feeds the grow bed. You will need to ensure that the pump has an ability to pump the volume of water in the fish-tank at least once every hour. Also ensure that the pump has sufficient power to lift the water to the height of the grow bed.

Conclusion

aquaponic vertical gardening

Different plants grow well in Vertical aquaponics, you can use this system indoor too. These include leafy varieties such as lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, okra, various peppers and even certain spices. But you’re not only limited to the green leaf products you can also grow many other plants like beans, strawberries, peas, melons and sweet potatoes. With its roots dipped in the water, almost all plant can obtain the mineral salts it needs to grow quickly and well using this type of gardening style.