An aquaponics system is an excellent way to grow both fish and plants. Aquaponics systems are easy to maintain and are low-cost compared to other growing methods. Determining which type of system will work best for your situation requires an understanding of the available options. Each setup has its own benefits and requirements. Three of the most common systems are ebb and flow setups, vertical farming, and deep water culture systems. This comprehensive guide will give you the background information you need to determine which system will work best for your growing goals, budget, and space.
Ebb and Flow
In this type of aquaponics system, pumps or a series of pipes is used to control the water flow to and from the hydroponic plant bed. It is also commonly referred to as a flood and drain system. The process involves flooding the plant bed, which is usually made of an unmovable medium like gravel, and ensuring all the roots are covered in water, and the plants have the opportunity to absorb the moisture and nutrients they need. This process is generally accomplished using a pump to flood the water into the hydroponic bed. The water is then allowed to flow back through the system to the fish tank, leaving the roots temporarily water free or at least with minimal water. An ebb and flow aquaponics system can be set up indoors or outdoors. Upkeep involves making sure that any related filters and piping remain free from clogs or blockages and that the pump continues to function properly.
The flooding and draining process benefits the fish in the system, by removing waste contaminated water from the fish holding tank. The plants are then able to purify the water before it is reintroduced to the tank. This keeps the tank cleaner than some systems, helping to keep the fish healthy, encourage their growth, and reduce disease concerns. Additionally, the system maintains proper hydration and oxygen levels to the plant roots, which is essential for vigorous plant growth and hearty yields. This is one of the most efficient and effective aquaponic setups.
In an aquaponic system where vertical farming is in use, the hydroponic plants are grown in a series of vertical beds, which are connected to the fish holding tanks by piping. Pumps are generally required to ensure the water flows through all levels of the plant beds. The pump draws the water from the fish tank and pumps it up through the levels of the garden, delivering the nutrients through the vertical columns. Gravity helps return the water back down to the fish tank after the plants have filtered it by absorbing nitrates and other waste materials. This aquaponics system can be used indoors or outdoors, and is a popular option for greenhouses and alternative growing spaces. Keeping up a vertical system requires monitoring the pump or pumps for proper operation and ensuring the piping does not become clogged or blocked.
Vertical farming offers many benefits, but the most obvious one is the ability to grow more food in less space. These highly efficient setups provide the opportunity to double or better the number of plants by simply adding another layer of pipes and beds. These systems use the same amount of water as other types of aquaponics systems, making them even more cost-effective. In addition to growing more plants, a vertical system can support a large number of fish, because the additional plants can filter out even more waste. This additional filtering also means cleaner tanks and associated benefits like better fish health and growth. When looking to do more with less space, vertical aquaponics is a perfect solution.
Deep Water Culture
One of the most common forms of aquaponics, deep water culture systems involve fish tanks topped with floating rafts of hydroponic plant beds. The system can be setup so that the floating beds are directly on top of the fish tank or may involve the use of pipes and pumps to move water between the tank and the floating beds. The hydroponic plants may be grown in a medium like lightweight gravel, but this is not required. The plants can be placed directly onto the beds, with their roots in the water. Since the roots are constantly in the water, nutrients are absorbed around the clock and water is continually purified. The process can be used in indoor or outdoor applications. Outdoor systems can take advantage of fish tanks, but are also used on natural bodies of water, including ponds and lakes. Upkeep involves monitoring the plants and fish for proper health, and little else.
One of the primary benefits of deep water culture aquaponics is the low startup costs because the systems do not require special pumps or piping. The floating beds can be made from low-cost foam, and if a natural body of water is being used, no tanking is necessary. This method also requires very little upkeep, making it a good option for those who do not have a lot of time to invest. The number of plants and fish grown in the system are only limited by the size of the tank. This type of system is also generally very good at keeping the water clean for the fish, although as the number of fish grow more plants will need to be added.
Identifying which of these systems will work best for you requires considering what you want to accomplish and where your aquaponics system will be located. Although all systems can work indoors, deep water systems are more common in outside spaces. Additionally, deep water does not require any pumps or piping. They can also take advantage of natural bodies of water for gardening. Vertical setups provide the highest plant yield, making them a superior option for commercial applications or anyone trying to grow a larger number of fish and plants. Ebb and flow can be used in almost any condition and is also very efficient traditional aquaponics setup.