Aquaponics is becoming more popular by hobbyists who make their DIY systems with IBC totes.
When building an aquaponics system, you need some supplies to get started.
Of course, some setups require fewer supplies and materials than others.
In this article, I’m going to list the necessary equipment you need to get started with aquaponics.
in short, you need:
- A fish tank
- A grow bed
- Grow media
- Water pump
- Air pump with air stones
- PVC piping with fittings
- Uniseals and/or bulkheads
- A siphon of your choice
- Rockwool seed starting cubes
- A seed starting tray
- Water testing kit
- EC or TDS meter
Before you get your supplies, you need to have a system that has been planned carefully. Basic understanding of how aquaponics works is essential to not waste money on materials. I recommend getting a copy of my book about aquaponics.
The first thing to consider in Aquaponics is to choose the right and most effective place to do it. In Aquaponics, just like in real estate, location is everything. You are looking for a place that has:
- Access to natural sunlight
- Possibility to create a greenhouse
- Is easily accessible
- Has electricity and a water source nearby
Let’s start with a place to house the fish.
Your fish tank is the hearth of your system, without one, aquaponics is not possible.
There are multiple options when it comes to building or purchasing a fish tank.
Most people who are doing DIY setups prefer IBC totes as their fish tank. This is a perfect way to get started for not a lot of money. Search on Craigslist or ask your local farmer if they have an IBC tote available.
If you are struggling with calculating the amount of fish to your growbed, read an article about fish to plant ratio here.
The next most important item is your growbed. This is where plants are located. Your growbed should be 15 inches in height. 12 inches needs to be submerged in the water and one inch needs to be placed on top to weight down the media and keep algae at bay.
Growbeds can be made from anything that can contain water and that is strong enough to support the growing media. Some examples are:
- Top part of an IBC tote
- 55-gallon barrels cut lengthwise
- Plastic tubs from your hardware store
While you can buy media beds online, I recommend searching for them at your local hardware store or on craigslist. If you buy used ones, make sure they are food grade!
Now, you need to fill the growbed with growing media. This is what we will talk about next.
Grow media is used to anchor the plants. It also acts as a place for the nitrifying bacteria to convert ammonia to nitrates. If you want to learn more about the nitrification process, click here.
There are many choices for growing media, the most used are:
- Hydroton (clay pebbles)
- 3/4 inch river rock
- Lava rock
Read this article to learn more about growing media.
Next up, is the water pump. I have made an article on how to select a water pump here.
Basically, you need to consider the head height of the pump before you buy one. For example, a pump that is rated for 400 gallons per hour can only pump 250 gallons per hour if it needs to lift the water 4 feet to reach the growbeds.
You need to cycle the water in your fish tank at least once every hour.
The pump I recommend is this one which can be bought from Amazon.com
Air Pump And Air Stones
Another important item on the list is the air pump. An air pump is needed to provide oxygen to the fish. The air pump should be located in a well-ventilated area, close to your fish tank. Preferably it should be shielded from the elements (rain, snow, wind) to increase its lifespan.
On the other side will be your airstone which will be placed in the fish tank. The deeper the airstones, the less volume that will be pumped.
PVC piping is needed to move the water from your fish tank to your growbed(s).
You also need PVC piping for your SLO (solids lifting overflow). I recommend using 2 inches for your solids lifting overflow and 3 inches for other piping.
I recommend 3 inches for hobby systems. Larger, commercial systems need to go bigger because a biological film will develop on the sides of the pipe which will reduce the diameter of the piping.
Read a post about finding food grade PVC piping here.
Uniseals or Bulkheads
You are going to need some uniseals or bulkheads to connect your system to your containers.
I recommend using a bulkhead for the siphon (bottom of the growbed) and uniseals for the solids lifting overflow.
The advantage of using a uniseal over a bulkhead is that it is flexible and can be used on round containers like a 55-gallon drum.
A bulkhead can only be used on flat surfaces like the bottom of the growbed. A bulkhead is sturdier but costs more.
Read an article about uniseals vs bulkheads here.
Next, you need a siphon. There are two kinds of siphons available.
The most popular one is the bell siphon. The other is a U-siphon.
Siphons are made to create the flood and drain cycle in your growbeds. Once the water reaches the top, the siphon will initiate and will suck up the water quicker than the rate at which the water enters the growbed.
Siphons are easy to make yourself. In case you don’t want to go through the trouble of creating one, you can buy one online.
If you are doing backyard aquaponics with growbeds, you don’t need solids filtration.
If you have the right stocking densities of 1 pound of fish for every cubic foot of growing media, you don’t need a solids filter.
The nitrification and solids breakdown will happen in the grow bed.
Rockwool cubes are essential to start your seeds. They are good at retaining water and have lots of air pockets in them. One and a half inch is perfect for lettuce and other leafy greens.
Seed Starting Tray
You might need a seed starting tray to keep the humidity high when you are germinating seeds.
You do not need to buy it because you can use just about any container you have back home.
Water Testing Kit
This is essential for any aquaponics setup, big or small.
The water testing kit will test the following water parameters:
- pH level from 6 to 8.8
An EC meter measures the Electrical Conductivity of the water. It is also called a TDS or total dissolved salts.
EC is measured in micro siemens while TDS is measured in parts per million.
This meter measures the amount of solids in your source water. If the PPM is over 200 you should look for another source because it contains many minerals (hard water).
It is also used to measure the nutrient strength of your water. For lettuce, you need 0.8 to 1.2 EC.