Setting up a backyard aquaponic system is very much a direct approach as long as you have the fish that continues to generate the waste which becomes the nutrient for the plants growth and the choice of vegetation that act as the natural filter so that the water can be cleaned and filtered before returning to the fish tank. I’ve seen before hobbyist using vegetable filter in their koi pond and have even written an article on it so basically the process is very much the same applied to aquaponics. Whichever it is, the choice on whether you intend to use it to rear pets or focus on breeding food fish like trout, catfish, tilapia or even prawns, these all depend entirely on what you want. Some people use it to generate supplementary income and based on how you plan and automate the common tasks during construction of the system, overall it can require very little amount of work to operate while most people actually use it mainly as part of their hobby. There are different types of setups created by individuals and basically the idea is to combine all the processes into a one single unit that is not only ergonomics, utilizes the least amount of energy but is also easy to operate with low level of maintenance.
Let’s look at one of the examples shown here with the diagram depicting a system, designed and constructed by Andy YingSan who owns a small backyard aquaponic. As you can see here, the movement of water is actually driven by gravity flow starting from the buffer tank located from the highest elevation flowing down to the plant beds and then finally to the fish tank. As the water passes through the beds, the nutrients coming from the fish waste with mainly all the nitrates will be readily absorbed by the roots and consumed for the growth. The slow water flow movement also allows microorganisms residing among the roots to play the vital role to further breakdown the organic waste so that it can be readily adsorbed by the plants itself and some of these microorganisms that get carried away with the water also serve as a food source for the fish to survive. The filtered water after having removed of the nitrates and whatever impurities is usually clean and since it has wide surface area exposure, the water will also contain the oxygen needed by the fish.
The fish tank located at the lowest elevation is similar like any other home aquarium systems. Basically you can keep any type of fish in it but if the objective is to create a food production supply for commercial purposes, then catfish, trout or tilapia will be ideal choices. The tank should not be overcrowded with the assumption that once you have the plants, these will be able to take care and absorb all the waste. This is because there is always a certain limit as to how much the plants can take and also there is no general rule of thumb to determine the best ratio of vegetation to fish. However as a rough guide, what I’ve seen before is that if you have two units of 3 by 3 feet of vegetation, this should be enough to support a 100 gallon tank that houses 4 to 5 fish. Filter is not an accessory compulsory for this type of aquarium as the plants will act as natural vegetable filter while the role of air pump to provide aeration has been taken care of by the top sprinklers and movement of the water. Once the water overflows out from the aquarium, it will be transferred via a specially-made aquaponics pump going back to the highest elevation. All in all, this is a perfect example of how symbiotic processes work in the natural outside environment.
One of the advantages of using this system is that, first of all, the whole setup can help save precious natural resource which is water. In terms of energy consumption, basically apart from the electricity needed to operate the pump, you don’t need anything else even for the fish tank aeration because as mentioned earlier, the movement and flow of water will take care of all that. Nowadays, there is also an advanced aquaponic system based on solar power which is totally environmental friendly. Apart from that, there is also savings in terms of maintenance cost because the plants will extract the food supplies which are the nutrients present in the water, so you don’t need fertilizers for that and this will be a perfect opportunity to grow organic vegetables. Somehow for the fish, part of their diet will comprise some of the microorganisms that get washed away by the water and if the whole setup is located outdoor, there will be extra supplement coming from the bugs and flying insects that dropped to the water. Of course, you will still need to feed the fish in moderate amount to provide for their daily needs. Having mentioned all that, don’t forget that with the success of the program, the produced fresh vegetables and fish is not only enough to support a small household consumption but with large-scale production, it can even translate to become a viable business plan.
If you are interested in this field of study, you can also check out the online manuals or attend aquaponics courses/workshops offered by certified professionals. There are even DIY start-up kits complete with all the supplies which I’ve seen offered by stores specializing in this area. Thus, if you are an environmental-conscious individual with the objective to produce the best eco-friendly system, using solar powered and then producing organic foods, then definitely aquaponic is the best option for you. If you are serious about setting up your own system, then let's go further about Aquaponic Requirement and Technical Aspects