Prepper’s Guide to Aquaponics

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If you are prepared to support yourself and your family through sustainable practices due to the probability of unexpected circumstances, then you definitely want to take advantage of the practice of aquaponics in your own home. Even if you aren’t actively prepping, taking control of your own food sources is an excellent way to save money, and take advantage of the health advantages this practice provides.

Check out our guide to aquaponics to help you understand the basic process and help you get started.

What Is Aquaponics and How Does It Work?

Aquaponics combines the practice of aquaculture and hydroponics, defined as raising fish or plants (respectively) for personal or commercial food use. Both practices are ancient, and provide the means to have a closer relationship and control over your food sources.

Aquaponics takes these two simple practices and combines them to highlight the best results of both. Because of the nature of water recycling and filtering practices both take advantage of, they are a natural choice to use together. Water waste from fish farming is the perfect fertilizer for plants, which helps filter the water before sending it back through the system for further filtering and reuse in fish holding areas. Essentially, you have a completely self-sustainable process that is supportive for food production.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Aquaponics?

The advantages of creating a DIY aquaponic setup far outweighs any issues you may have with the systems, and it is important to truly understand why taking the time to set something like this up is worth the effort. It does have a few drawbacks, however, and so you want to be sure to have all this in mind in order to be prepared when making your decisions.

Pros of Aquaponics

Aquaponics plants growing in metal pipes with circulating water right up on fish pond, permaculture farm project

If you already are actively involved with producing your own food sources, and have organized various survival gear for personal use, this project is truly a supportive measure for your own uses. Take a look at the many benefits this practice takes into account:

Environmental Friendly

Since the system is self-sustainable, you are reusing and filtering water and nutrients to turn them into something you can directly use for energy. This helps keep you from depending upon outside sources, and lowers your overall carbon imprint.

Natural Fertilizer

No longer look to buy chemical fertilizers or wait on organic compost solutions to be ready. Fish waste in water is a quick and efficient fertilizer for your plants, which provides an initial filtration before you filter and recycle it back into the system.

Money Saving

Not only are you growing your own food sources, you are creating a system that, once up and running- will save you money in the long run. You will not have to buy certain foods, continually purchase and prep growing spaces, purchase fertilizers, and in some cases, will not have to buy fish food either.

Easy to Maintain

Electronics controling aquaponics system that combines fish aquaculture with hydroponics, cultivating plants in water under artificial lighting

A well built, running aquaponic system requires very little effort on your part concerning maintenance or care. Rather, your energy can go back into harvest and replanting to continue the process. In fact, the most time you’ll spend once everything is up and running is fish cleaning and processing. Be sure to have a good knife for this to help it go even faster.

Space Efficient

The beauty of these systems is that you can basically make them into what exactly you need and in whatever space you have available. There are plenty of space-saving solutions and options for use with both fish and where you are growing your plants. This makes it conducive for urban situations as well.

Can Be a Source of Income

If you have ever grown your own produce before, then you know how quickly surplus food stuffs can add up from just a few plants. This is true of an aquaponic system as well, and if you have frozen and stored all you can- you can easily consider selling your extras at a local farmer’s market or through other local sources.

Cons of Aquaponics

Of course, as with anything, there are some pitfalls to be aware of. Knowing what could go wrong, or what to watch for, can help you minimize these issues, and be prepared for how to approach the situation in advance.

Crop Choice is Limited

Aquaponics Farming

There is not a huge amount of fish species you can take advantage of, and even then, you may have further limited options due to the space you have. The same is true of the types of plants you can grow in a hydroponic system.

Initial Cost Can Be High

Although aquaponics will save you money in the long run, the initial cost of setup, materials, and stocking can be expensive. You will want to price out your needs in advance to help determine which is best for you.

High Electric Consumption

If you choose a fish species that requires a specific water temperature, you’ll need to invest in a good tank heater. You’ll also need an electric source for a constant filtration system. Both of these require a continual draw on your electricity, and depending on where you live- this can add up.

Might Have to be Professionally Installed

Depending on your own knowledge and abilities, and the size of the system you want to set up, you may need to hire a professional for various work. You will need a nearby electrical outlet, and if you don’t have one, you will need to have that professionally installed. If you are dealing with a larger fish holding tank or pond system, that is another cost you may need to consider.

Unexpected Failure

Generator for emergency electric power. With internal combustion engine.

Another thing you need to be prepared for is an unexpected failure. Losing power temporarily isn’t going to cause any issues, but long-term neglect of the filtration system or losing power for long periods of time will eventually allow waste to build up and essentially poison the water system. Have a backup plan, and make sure you have something in place for when you are away for long periods of time.

Three Components of Aquaponics

This is actually a great project for beginners to get in on since aquaponics is easy to research and begin planning. If you have been wondering how to build a system, then you will be happy to know there are only 3 major components that will require your attention on a regular basis.

Plants

Obviously, the entire point of an aquaponic system is to provide the means for a sustainable food source involving both plant and animal life. Plants are incredibly important for the system since they naturally filter and absorb the nitrates in the water from fish waste- and utilize it as a fertilizer. This removes the dangerous aspect of waste that can be toxic to fish.

The plants sit in a grow bed, preferably an opaque container to avoid algae growth. Various choices can be used for this, including plastic tubs, insulating foam, or even pvc pipes. ‘

Fish

Fish aren’t just a food source for you, they are essential for feeding your plants as well. Be sure to choose the fish species that works for the size holding areas you are using. Remember, your fish will be living in a dense population, which can be approximated at about 2 gallons of water per pound of fish. You may need to do a bit of trial and error to get the proper amount of waste for quick plant growth without creating issues for your fish.

The best fish tanks have space for fish to grow and support the type of plant containers you are utilizing. If you are moving water through the system, you will need to have space for that as well- so be sure to take that into account.

Bacteria

Nitrosococcus bacteria is responsible for the process of ammonia oxidizing into nitrites in water. Then, the bacteria Nitrococcus further oxidizes it into nitrates- which is then used by plants as a food source. Although this can be naturally present, you can also add it to your system with the use of a biofilter.

Types of Aquaponic Systems

There are multiple options you will want to consider before making a final plan for your setup. Various systems deal with the containers and means to grow your plants. Many of these options are dependent on the space you have available for the entirety.

Media Based Aquaponics System

This idea uses media filled grow beds, more similar to a traditional garden bed idea. This allows you to utilize more dense schools of fish that produce higher levels of waste. The media provides a higher degree of filtration and helps catch solid wastes. It also will use soil based bacteria and even red worms to help break everything down further.

Floating System

A floating system uses grow beds that float on top of the water source (foam board and styrofoam is popular for this) and allows the plant roots to grow directly into the water and uptake the nutrients they need.

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

This is very popular for smaller grow areas and uses ‘gutter’ like grow beds that washes the nutrient rich water over the roots of your plants. Less water is needed overall, but you do need a dependable water pump.

Hybrid Aquaponics System

This is a combination of media based and a floating system where both are separate from one another, and water is pumped through each to create a cyclic set-up. This can be stacked or spread out over a flat surface with alternating fish and plant beds.

DIY Systems

Indoor Mini Aquaponics System

Obviously, you can work out your very own DIY system for horizontal, vertical, or any other space utilization you can think of. If you have a specific area you need to place the system in, you may want to get creative. Check out some cool ideas to help you get started.

Home Aquaponics Kit Systems

If you really want to do this, but aren’t sure how to get started, you can also take advantage of home aquaponic kits. These generally include everything you need, or list specifically what you need, and provide the diagrams and instructions for it all. Just be sure to take a close look at what the end result looks like and what space it needs for effectiveness.

Getting Started

If you prep already, then you know the importance of having all the tools you need in place before getting started with a new project. As a quick overview to help you get started, take into consideration the following:

Environment

Ask yourself if your environment is proper for an aquaponic system. If you plan on growing year-round, then you will need an area that has climate control and lighting. If not, you’ll need to take into account the environment you are growing in. Certain fish do well in various climates, including cold climates, so plan accordingly. It isn’t outside the realm of possibility to pump fish water from an outside source to an indoor greenhouse setup either.

Materials

PVC pipes in construction site

Other than the fish, plants, and bacteria, think about the best holding tanks and plant-growing system. Then, take into account what framing (for stacked systems), or tubing (such as PVC) you’ll need. A water pump and filtration system is often tied in depending on how you decide to build your set-up. You will also need aeration for fish health, pH testing abilities, and possible means to help balance water as you get everything settled.

Building

Mentioned above are the building materials you may need. Think about if you are building your planting boxes as well, or frames. Also, if you are using prefabricated ponds or pond liners, you will need materials to get those settled.

Cycling

Also mentioned above are the filters, pumps, and aeration needs for your system. The larger your system, the more you will need. Also think about your fish tank design to ensure you are providing the proper means for water movement your fish will need.

Maintaining Your Aquaponic System

Maintaining your system, once working properly, is not a difficult task. First and foremost, you need to take care of your living organisms, plants and fish alike. Mainly, you want to feed your fish properly every day. Some fish eat plants, allowing you to grow your own feed- which makes this an even more sustainable option.

Ensuring your plants are getting all the nutrients they need is also important and you will need to regularly check for pH and ammonia/bacterial levels. Adding fish may be needed if not enough waste is being produced, or a filtration system added if the plants are not able to handle the amount of waste produced before it cycles back into the fish tanks.

Temperature checks may also be needed depending on your fish species. You’ll also need to check for plant health and insects. You definitely do not want to have any insects feeding on your plants.

As for the system itself, cleaning out any filtration you have in place and making sure your pumps and aeration is working properly will also need to be checked periodically. This type of maintenance requires very little effort, however, and quick spot checks with a closer look every few weeks is generally enough to keep everything in working order.

Conclusion

Hopefully this quick overview has provided you the knowledge you need to decide whether aquaponics is a system you want to add to your overall prepping set-up. Even if you aren’t a prepper, it is a great solution to taking control of some of your own food sources, and is an environmentally friendly process.

Simple to maintain, the most work you’ll do is planning and creating the system- but even that isn’t difficult. And what you get out of it can even become a source of income on top of an excellent, nutrient rich, healthy food resource for you and your family.

Let us know what questions you may have below, and, as always, please share!

 

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