How I build my own Backyard Aquaponics System
Aquaponics in Your Backyard is something that just about anybody can do even in the smallest space. Supply your own food with little effort.
You can also have a look at do it yourself coffee, check out the eBook
With Aquaponics in Your Backyard you can create an almost (you will probably still need to add fish food) self sustaining food source, using fish as your fertilizer, you can grow vegetables herbs or flowers. space is not an issue and water is recycled with very little loss. You can have the fish that you eat supplying your family with both meat and veg all year round. Here I will show you the steps I took in building my own backyard Aquaponic set-up. So you too can see how easy it is to supply your own food.
What got me started in Aquaponics?
One afternoon after shifting piles of dirt into what was going to be a 3 tier garden myself and a few friends were sitting around having a few beers and discussing my project, somehow after a bit of banter I mentioned how cool it would be if the bottom tier was actually a fish tank. After the expected ribbing about why not put a moat around the whole house etc. We got onto discussing it in more detail, as detailed as a few blokes drinking beers can get anyway.
Since I was already using waste aquarium water to water the pot plants it wasn’t much of a stretch to see how I could possibly reroute the water for a much larger tank into some filter material and possibly plant plants in this material similar to hydroponics.
So we sat around redesigned the whole 3 tier garden and the next day I was busy removing the dirt from the garden to set up tanks and filter beds.
Since I’m the sort of guy that just gets in and has a go before really knowing what I’m doing. I find this type of learning a lot of fun.
While doing this it occurred to me that I couldn’t possibly be the only person to think of doing something like this and during a break I went inside and I did a Google search on “growing vegetables and fish” which revealed a huge amount of information about Aquaponics and the rest is history which is outlined below.
To start out I decided to revamp the entire yard, None of this is necessary though, if your thinking of doing this for yourself. First I started by concreting the yard area where the tanks will go. I had decided to build along the fence which was already a huge planter box. I will be using ICB tanks, they can be found cheaply from many sources and since they often hold “safe” materials they are easily converted to a fish tank and grow bed for your plants. Since they are only 1 metre x 1 metre you can cut the top 200 mm off of the tank for the grow bed. I built the supports around the tanks and then sat the grow beds on top. This whole project is not finished by a long shot yet. I will be building deeper and bigger grow beds for more filtration of the fish waste and to be able to plant larger plants. Starting my Aquaponics system Setting up was more work than I anticipated. Nearly As soon as I had started the rain started and stopped my work for a few days. the picture shows the amount of work that has been halted, hopefully a lot of progress will happen once the rain stops After the rain stopped I was able to get some progress happening. I have done most of the work here with the help of me, myself, and I, on a couple occasions a mate came over to tell me how wrong it all was going and held a pole to ensure it was straight. Other than that the mess is all mine I have managed to lay the first strip of concrete for the tanks to stand on as you can see from the pictures there is a lot of mess. Thankfully my partner is a very patient lady and I can get away with this mess. Slowly but surely I am making progress, it seems a long way off before I can think of raising fish and growing vegetables. Since we live on a very small block 380 sq meters for house and yard. Things do get very cramped and messy, not to mention the amount of dust I create, I have been told that somehow I have created a bigger mess than when I started The last 2 bays are nearly done, not much more to go now and I can start building the supports for the grow beds. The last 2 bays.
It now starting to look more like it should, nearly finished the last bays
Just managed to finish the major bit of the last 2 bays, only the retaining wall and some concreting around the edges and the step to do now. Next day the rain started again and hasn’t let up for 2 days, hopefully the concrete was hard enough not to wash away.
Just so you know it is a lot easier to get an Aquaponics project of your own up and running than the one I’m doing. You only need about 1.5 square metres and you can create one for about $400 or even less if you can source your tank from somewhere that you can either get it cheap or free. It is possible to just make a sleeper box and line it with pond plastic, same with the grow box. Then all you need is a pond pump with luck you could possibly setup for under $200 Not bad for something that can produce a lot of virtually free food.
Back to what I am building. I have almost finished the tank structures (rained for a week and then I managed 2 days and it rained again. I shall have one tank and grow bed filled with and ready to start setting up the plumbing this week (thank you rain LOL) I still have a lot of concreting to go as I am renovating the entire back yard at the same time. As soon as I have finished the tanks and plumbing I will be building a bar by the kitchen window, I will need somewhere to sit relax and enjoy all that BBQ’d fish
I have the first 2 working tanks in place water is flowing, all that is needed now is the grow media The grow beds have now been filled, just $25 from local landscape supplier for 200 kg of “Autumn Gold” pebbles up to 20 mm in size. For now there are only beans and Pak Choi, it is still in testing phase. The plan is to add some corn along the back of the planter in the next couple of days. 2 Weeks later and the beans are coming along nicely? Corn has been added, it is 2 weeks since I planted the corn? and they are sprouting nicely I have also added cabbage and cauliflower To get the system to “cycle” I have added 40 feeder fish, they will get the process of wastes to nitrates for the plants started, it doesn’t matter if they die but they look like they are doing well? Soon I will get the fish I want to keep and those feeder fish will be their first meal. Its been 2 more weeks now and I have added 40 more feeder fish, The growth will be much faster once I have the fish that I will be growing for food as there there will be more fish waste for the plants to process as this is a new set-up with no nitrates established it takes a little longer for the plants to grow as fast as they otherwise would. That’s Pak Choi in the middle beans on the left (flowering already) with corn at the back and capsicum on the right, Tomatoes have been planted seeded across the front to grown down the front of the box but they haven’t sprouted yet, The seeds were out of date so they may not sprout, you can see the Young cabbage next to the Pak Choi in front.
Things have progressed slightly I have 1 tank for holding water to replace evaporation on the fish tanks and I have 1 other tank to act as a sump tank when I complete the last part of the system as this part will be quite large it will need the two tanks to keep the water level in balance.
So far I have 100 silver perch in 1 tank I will be moving some to another tank as they grow there are 2 grow beds filling and draining from this tank so far, we have harvested some Pak Choi and beans from the main grow bed, there are cucumbers and cabbages and capsicum growing and nearing time to harvest.
A third tank is coming on line as I test methods for filling and draining grow beds.
after adding the silver perch there was a further ammonia spike (too much feeding too quickly ) this led to some of the fish getting stressed and some didn’t make it, I estimated we lost about 20.
Some water changes were done and an additional grow bed was added and now everything has settled down
The fish are doing fine now and the plants have taken off growing almost visibly.
I am in the process now of adding extra grow beds for the Aquaponics System. This has the added benefit of more media surface area which means more bacteria cleaning the water of ammonia from the fish waste. Also there will be a larger area for plants.
There are some draw backs too, one if which is more water is moving around the setup causing the water level in the fish tank to vary quite a bit.
I will be allowing the water to fluctuate in 3 of the tanks as they have their own pumps and the water level falls to a level that the fish can cope with for the few minutes that the water is at its lowest level.
The last tank will have a much larger grow bed, as such this one will need a sump tank to keep the water level stable in the fish tank.
I am making the these extra grow beds from treated pine sleepers and lining with pond liner
This one is 3 sleepers high which really means its 550 mm deep and 1100 mm long and 600 wide and will hold about 300 kg media.
I lined the grow bed with corflute which I found as scrap.
corflute is available pretty cheaply from Bunnings, I used it because I felt better about using liner if I was to be sure it wasn’t going to be punctured by a stray splinter while putting it in,
Today I added 40 barramundi to one of the tanks
The grow beds and tanks have been cycling nicely. I will be testing the water every day for a while to make sure everything stays stable
I will have to find a way to easily grade the fish as the barramundi are quite aggressive and will eat each other rather readily.
So far so good, it’s been a few days and no dead fish, they aren’t eating very much may take a while for them to settle down
Its been a couple of weeks now and I have lost a few barramundi I guess i will have to be more careful about their care seems they are a bit more fragile than I was lead to believe.
I will be experimenting with solids removal over the coming few weeks. I like to keep things simple and easy to change if it becomes necessary,
At the same time I like to experiment with ways to make things work easier, things like, I would normally use a bell siphon to drain the grow beds but on my last grow bed I used a simple over flow siphon.
This works by having a pipe close to the bottom of the grow bed up to the height you want your water to be and then coming out the side of your tank down into the fish tank. Like an upside down U.
The water fills until it starts to over flow, a reducer in the pipe speeds up the water and the siphon begins draining the tank until the water reaches the bottom of the pipe in the grow bed, allowing air in and stopping the siphon. This works really well and so far seems very reliable.
One draw back that I can see is, it is difficult to adjust the height of the water level once it is set since you need to fit the over flow through the side of the tank, your pretty much stuck with the same water level from then on.
95% finished plants growing fish doing ok looks like it will be exactly what I want.
After a few weeks it became apparent that I would need to rework the grow beds to make better use of the area and to have a more aesthetic looking setup.
Work got started and I completely changed what was there before.
Its never too late to change things that are working just fine!
Although I had fish already and everything was working as I wanted it too I had decided that if I change the grow beds and build longer timber framed grow beds then I could get more filtration and have higher fish numbers with more safety than if I use the upturned ICB tops that were cut off, as it was, I could only have 2 tops per fish tank and I was thinking of combining 2 fish tanks per setup, as this would allow me to keep pumps out of the “main” fish tank thereby eliminating the risk of pumping the fish tank dry.
On a few occasions I had had some leaks or something else go awry and the tank had pumped down to the level of the pump, luckily I had placed the pump onto a crate to keep it off the bottom which left enough water in the tank for the fish to survive until I came back and found the problem fixed it and replaced the missing water.
I then decided to join 2 tanks with the fish tank always being full. the pump would be placed into the second tank and the height of this tank would fluctuate while filling up the grow beds I intended to keep going with flood and drain grow beds. Grow beds that I could easily change to constant flood if I decided to. The second fish tank could be populated with yabbies and maybe other things that wouldn’t mind very low water levels if that was to happen again.
So the new set-up is, first tank stays full and over flows into the second tank, second tank pumps water to grow beds, of which there are 3, these grow beds empty in the first tank completing the cycle.
This is a very simple setup and works fine so far, I have enough filtration to clean the water and I can always add bio filters if I find I have to. I now have 2 of these set-up, 1 has approx. 50 silver perch in it the other has about 60 jade perch in it, the second tank (pimp tank) with the jades has some red claw yabbies. I am amazed that despite having only small holes on the SLO overflow, somehow fish manage to find their way into the second tank, I guess the holes are just not small enough.
With the PVC tubes as homes for the yabbies it is very hard to catch small fish darting around without knocking everything about, I have decided to leave the fish in there, they will probably get less food than the others but I think they will survive if the yabbies don’t get them.
This is now how it looks, very much different from when I started. Although it is much tidier and also have more filtration which is good. I could have used the space a little more efficiently but then I have to remind myself that I did not start out with this is mind and it has been adapted from what was already there.
There are now 2 x fish tank and linked pump tanks which is at this time 1 with 60 jades and pump tank with yabbies (fresh water crayfish) and 1 with 50 silver perch and the pump tank does not have anything yet I will be adding something in there when I can decide what I want to put in there.
There is a tank at one end from which I will attempt to use a NFT system. This system will run along the back of the whole set-up and then across the front back to the tank.
once setup I will have a better idea of how much NFT I can use as I have yet to setup filtration and not sure how much space that will use.
I currently have a spare tank at the far end for water storage to top up any tank that will need more water due to evaporation and what the plants have used, it is surprising how much water a plant can use in a couple of weeks.
currently the major plant is a giant tomato plant.
In just 35 days we have collected 12 kg of tomatoes and there are still more ripening, there is also another tomato plant starting to fruit. Hopefully the weather will not get too cold to cause them to not ripen.