You’re listening to Fish Grow Plants—A podcast all about practicing and sharing the love of aquaponics; hosted by Logan Schoolcraft.
Hello, and welcome to Fish Grow Plants! In today’s episode we’ll be talking about the aquaponic process of construction; specifically, the parts and pieces needed to get your system up and running.
Way back before I started actually doing much of anything with aquaponics, I read a lot, daydreamed a lot, and just pondered a lot. One the topics I pondered on a lot was how to actually make an aquaponic system. Not how does the cycle work, but how would I actually construct all the parts and pieces. At one point, I was actually contemplating how to not have a pump to move the water at all…guess my ego was trying pull a perpetual energy and motion machine out of the blue or something.
Nevertheless, all this pondering was good for thinking through issues that I would have to face, create, or modify when I actually built a system.
And for the record, there’s still a lot of things you can’t figure out ahead of time. I learned that one the hard way! Like having extra hands around to help you move big stuff. I’m stubborn enough that I think I can do everything by myself…until I hit a wall and have to break down and ask for help.
Don’t be like me! Do proper planning of your project by looking at what has been done before you, but don’t feel mad, embarrassed, or sad if you have to ask for help along the way. Even if all you need help with is moving a long 2×4 into place. Having help is a good thing.
So what would I like to help you with today?
Construction, of course. And more specifically, the parts and pieces you’ll need, in a general sense to get a system up and running.
In short, this discussion seems to revolve around the themes of buy or build. Said differently, are you going to buy a kit, or build your system DIY style? Either way, you still have to know what you need for a fully functional aquaponic system.
If you’re listening to this podcast, I’m guessing you have a clue as to what you already want, but I’m going to take a step back and clarify a few things just so we are all on the same page.
From the big picture view, an aquaponic system is made up of two primary systems—the aquatic, or fish side, and the hydroponic, or plant side. Easy, right, fish and plants?
Ok, now that we have the big picture flushed out, we can start going into details about each, and how they interact with each other and what that means for construction purposes.
For the fish side, the basics are a food-grade, aka fish-safe, waterproof container that can hold your fish and provide them with the requirements to be happy and productive. In addition to the tank, there will be aerators, pumps, and plumbing connections both entering and leaving this container.
On the plant side, the basics are, again, a food-grade waterproof container to support your preferred growing method (such as deep water culture, ebb and flow, or nutrient film technique). We won’t go into the details of each method here, but the concept is the same for construction—these containers need to be waterproof, have room and support, and be accessible to you for plant related activities such as transplanting, dealing with issues, and harvesting. Some possible accessories here could include aerators, pumps, Styrofoam rafts, heaters, or specialty supports.
As for connecting these two systems of fish and plants together, you’ll have to make sure they are reasonably close to one another, or at least within the limits of your plumbing and pumping capabilities. Sheltered from any bad weather (like hail and lightning) is always a good idea. And in a location that is easy to access for you, but doesn’t get in the way of your normal routine. (Although this is probably soon to be part of that routine.)
Now, with the main overview of the systems held in the back of our minds, it’s time to get back to that discussion about buying or building…
Let’s take a look at buying first.
If you decide to buy a kit, or a system from a reputable supplier, then you’ll have to know what you want and compare it with what is offered in the kit. You’ll be asking questions like:
Is this the size I want?
Is this the shape I want?
How much assembly do I need to do?
What is included in the package? Tools? Spares? Instructions?
Do you offer support, training, or refunds?
Getting all these questions answered is important, but one of the most important, is what is not included in the package. Odds are, you’ll still have to source things like your fish, seeds, substrate materials, meters and test equipment, and many more things that make your unique situation function smoothly.
The key then, is being able to separate out the work and materials provided by the kit vs those that are not provided. Does the kit provide you with the extra time or money to deal with the things you’ll have to handle on your own, or not?
Remember, it’s trade-offs. The kit suppliers can’t do everything for you. If they did, then it wouldn’t be your system. You might as well just go buy your groceries from the store and call it a day.
So what about the DIY, or build your own system from the ground up?
If you decide to take this route, then you’ll need to have that same image of what you want your system to be, but then be able to transfer it into reality by physically putting all the pieces together. Some of the key questions you’ll probably ask yourself are:
Has someone already made a blueprint of what I want to do?
Will I be able to source all my materials locally?
Are there any parts of the build I don’t think I can currently do on my own?
How much help will I need with this construction?
These questions are important, just like if you purchased a kit, but unlike the kit, you have the freedom to create exactly what you want. I will say it’s still a balance of trade-offs. You trade your time in construction for the exact shape, size, and specifications you want. But only you can answer the question, “is this a trade-off I’m willing to take?”
To provide some unsolicited advice here, I’d say do a combination of both. If you really want to get up and going, but you’re not really a construction guru, buy a kit, and flush it out with the remaining parts and pieces you need. By doing this, you start to learn more about aquaponics and the systems; rather than getting stuck on the construction.
If you’re a construction master, by nature, then my suggestion is get a set of blueprints, or drawings that detail a system that already works. That way, you save on having to figure out all the nuts and bolts details, but still get to put the nuts and bolts together.
In either of these cases, the main point is to get you up and running quickly, so you can do as much aquaponics as possible.
Alright, in summary, here’s your take-away task for this episode.
Start by deciding if you are going to buy an aquaponic kit or build your system.
If you’re buying your system, take some time to review several options available to you in the aquaponic kit realm. Then make a list of all the parts and pieces you’ll have to get in addition to the kit itself. While you are at it, try to estimate how much time you’ll have to spend getting your kit assembled and ready to go.
If you are going DIY all the way, take some time to compare your plans and layouts to some prefab plans and blueprints. Make sure you are sizing piping, fittings, and plumbing runs appropriately. No need to stunt your system because a smaller diameter pipe was used without any forethought. And just for grins, you might want to total up all the costs you figure it will take you to build your own system and compare it to a similar size kit. Maybe you can pick up some places to save big when comparing, or you can shave a little more off your price tag by grabbing a good idea from the kit.
Either way you choose to go, remember to stay clear about what you want and why you want it. Keeping that vision at the front of your mind will be the guide you reference to make all your construction decisions along the way. Have fun, enjoy, and create an amazing system!
This has been another episode of Fish Grow Plants—the podcast all about practicing and sharing the love of aquaponics; hosted by Logan Schoolcraft.