The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Do it yourself aquaponics

diy aquaponics

If you've been thinking about gettng started with permaculture why not try a simple aquaponics set up?

You take advantage of the fish waste by having the water pumped up to a reservoir holding the plants in place with some sort of medium like sand or gravel that easily drains.

Photo credit goes to the who has a great section on his experiences with do it yourself aquaponics. If that floats your boat you might want to check out this short video from permaculture expert Sepp Holzer and his impressive pond set up in Austria.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Have you seen's website? I think there is also something similar there ... I know when I saw it I started thinking how the whole thing could be set up to run out of a fish tank.

Thank you for your posting. I'm just starting my own blog and am amazed at the level of hours needed to research to be able to write informative articles! And I really like what you post :*)

Comment by Cindel :*) Sun Mar 27 08:47:22 2011
One of these days, Mark will probably get his way and we'll give something like this a try. I have a weird, knee-jerk reaction against hydroponics. The soil is just so complex that I can't imagine we'd get all of the micronutrients in a hydroponic setup. But I'm looking forward to being proven wrong. :-)
Comment by anna Sun Mar 27 11:34:56 2011

Any micronutrients that you know of that don't dissolve in water (and if so, how do plants even absorb them)?

If not, it should be doable to feed plants properly with aquaponics.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sat May 5 16:54:07 2012
Roland --- Yep, I don't really believe aquaponics can produce quality food either. But, I'm interested in aquaculture as a way of perhaps growing alternative chicken feed. Maybe water snails? It'll definitely be fun to play with anyway. :-)
Comment by anna Sat May 5 17:56:04 2012

Personally I think it should be able to work, hence my question.

My assumption was that solid nutrients and those that don't dissolve in water will not reach plants, unless the plants (or their symbionts) come into direct contact with them.

If the nutrients that plants need dissolve in water, they are probably actually transported to the plants roots by water. If that is the case, it shouldn't really matter if the plants are planted in soil or in another medium (or even without medium), as long as there is nutrient-rich water.

Of course I'm simplifying things here. But am I wrong about the basics?

Comment by Roland_Smith Sat May 5 18:07:10 2012

Roland --- Ah, now I understand where you're coming from. :-) Some micronutrients are much more water soluble than others --- that's why certain ones leech out of soil in heavy rains while others don't.

That said, the real reason I think you'd have micronutrient problems in an aquaponics setup is because you're counting on the fish to provide all of the micronutrients the plants need. In a soil situation, there's quite a micronutrient buffer due to minerals in the bedrock ending up in the dirt, but water is likely to only have a few micronutrients in addition to the ones that are excreted by the fish. In essence, you're setting up a very simple closed loop in the water, while, in soil, not only are micronutrients added in your compost and mulch, but also deep-rooted dynamic accumulators can suck up those that leech into the subsoil.

Another factor to consider is that mychorrizhae are responsible for bringing several nutrients to plants, ones that aren't very soluble in water. Those fungi wouldn't be present in water, so crops that require mychorrizhae are less likely to do well.

Comment by anna Sat May 5 18:55:54 2012

Have you seen the old in ground pool that was converted into a complete hydroponics green house system? He raises talapia in the partially filled pool and pumps the water up to chickens and vegetables. Pretty amazing, if you ask me.

Comment by Heath Sat May 5 19:39:32 2012

With aquaponics you have to manage both fish and plants. Maybe organic hydroponics would be more to your liking because it uses microorganisms to convert organic fertilizer into the inorganic nutrients that the plants need.

From what I've read sofar, it seems that aeroponics can be en even better alternative than hydroponics because it requires less nutrients and much less water. On first sight I see no reason why one shouldn't be able to use aeroponics with a nutrient solution created by breaking down organic fertilizer with micro-organisms.

OTOH, this might be just my bias talking, since as an engineer I tend to prefer technological solutions. :-)

Comment by Roland_Smith Sun May 6 06:14:11 2012
Would it be possible to put a thin layer of soil on top of the gravel in an aquaponics system to provide a desirable place for earth worms to live . The worms helping the plants through vermaculture, and possibly being a food source for the fish, even if only occasionally. Would the soil slip through the gravel and be a problem for the fish? I'm new to all this but am currently composting using some vermaculture and soon will be building a small aquaponic system. Just looking for some feedback so i don't harm/waist any fish. Thanks
Comment by Tyler Smith Sat May 26 20:14:58 2012
Tyler --- We're still in the research stage too, so unfortunately I don't have any advice for you. Maybe you'll try it out and check back to let us know how your experiment did?
Comment by anna Sun May 27 11:19:50 2012

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