Aquaponics also works indoors. This soilless food production where you simultaneously rear fish and plants is very versatile; growers may set up their systems within their homes. To have a productive aquaponics indoor, you should possess fundamental knowledge about the different techniques you can utilize and how to build them.
How does aquaponics work?
Aquaponics is a food production system that combines aquaculture with hydroponics. The principle is straightforward. Large tanks are used to raise fish. The fish defecate as they are fed, and the water eventually fills up with their ammonia-rich waste.
Eventually, this ammonia-rich water is piped out of the tanks and cycled throughout the farm's hydroponics section. The water will ultimately return to the fish tanks filtered to start the process again.
Which aquaponics technique suits an indoor setup?
The three widely-known aquaponics setups suit well with indoor gardening. These are the media based aquaponic,s nutrient film technique (NFT) and deep water culture (DWC).
The media-based system comprises a grow bed filled with grow media into which the vegetables are sown. These mediums could be expanded clay pebbles, gravel, and lava rock. The water from the fish tank is forced or gravity-fed into the grow beds, allowing the plants to consume the nutrients.
Indoor media-based aquaponics is possible using a simple aquarium tank. Here, you can use a container to hold the medium you prefer. By using a simple tubing system, you can connect your aquarium and the media bed. Here is a sample video of a 10-gallon home aquarium turned into an aquaponics media bed.
Nutrient film technique
Also known by its acronym NFT, the nutrient film technique is an aquaponics technique in which plants are grown in long pipes. Water films pass through each channel regularly, supplying oxygen and nutrients to the vegetable roots. In NFT, the vegetable roots dangle in nutrient-rich water. Since there is no flooding or draining, the water circulates throughout the system.
See this video to learn how you can set up an in-house nutrient film technique.
The nutrient-rich water is circulated through long canals at a depth of about 20 cm in a Deep Water Culture (DWC) method. This aquaponics system is also called the raft method or floating system since rafts with plants float on top.
Plants are supported by net pots within holes in the rafts. The plant roots are immersed in nutrient-rich, oxygenated water, absorbing significant amounts of oxygen and nutrients.
Watch this instructive video to learn more about the construction of deepwater culture aquaponics.
Why construct an indoor aquaponics system?
- Consistent food supply: Once you have successfully set up an indoor aquaponics, you will enjoy a steady supply of healthy foods such as fish and green leafy vegetables. Moreover, you are confident that the foods you use for your dishes are fresh because you are well aware of the process of cultivating them.
- Clean, breathable air: One of the advantages of having an indoor aquaponics garden is that the plants produce clean, fresh air. Plants that filter the air supply regularly are beneficial to your and your family's health.
- Conserves water: Aquaponics is known as a sustainable means of producing food. One proof of this is the system's capability of using limited water in sustaining the fish and plants present.
- House decoration: Having indoor aquaponics enhances the interior design of your homes. Even more, fish inside an aquarium are recognized as effective in alleviating stress and anxiety. A 2019 study may be used to support such a claim.
What are the disadvantages of an indoor aquaponics setup?
- Expensive electricity bills: You need to constantly recirculate the water within the aquaponics system because this is responsible for sustaining the fish and plants. For this to happen, pumps are installed, and these must run without interruption. Consequently, electricity is running continuously to support the pumps. This situation usually translates to an expensive electric bill.
- Susceptible to pests and diseases: One advantage of commercial or greenhouse aquaponics is that the environment is controlled, contributing a lot to protecting the fish and plants from diseases. However, in indoor aquaponics, the setting is different. Since most plant diseases are airborne, they can easily reach your growth damaging your yield.
What are the steps for indoor aquaponics?
For media based aquaponics:
Step 1: Plan the design of your fish tank.
To save some money, you might be able to repurpose a regular acrylic aquarium depending on the size of the tank you choose. On the other hand, the majority of individuals prefer to utilize huge barrels or food-grade containers with opaque sides.
It is required to set up the tank like a regular fish tank, leading to dechlorinating the water and letting it cycle for 4-6 weeks before adding any fish. Such a situation allows the bacteria to multiply, ensuring enough to break down the ammonia and nitrites into the nitrates required to nourish your plants.
Do not forget to place a pump to push the water outside the fish tank.
Step 2: Construct your grow bed.
This component houses your selected plants. You may place it atop the fish tank or beside it. Be sure to use durable materials for your grow bed, such as a heavy-duty plastic container. Connect your grow bed to the fish tank via PVC pipes.
Following the construction of the grow bed, fill it with growing media. The popular choice here is clay pebbles. They have a pH of 7.0 and will not alter the pH of your water.
Step 3: Add the fish.
There is a variety of fish that you can use for aquaponics. One rule of thumb is that the aquatic animals are freshwater types. To know what fish are suitable for aquaponics, read this post. (Link here.) Do step 3 once the tank has cycled properly.
Step 4: Plant your growth.
Plants with a lot of leaves do well in aquaponics systems. Read this post for the list of plants that do well in aquaponics. (Link here.)
Step 5: Do routine maintenance for your system.
This last step is essential since it will prolong the components of your indoor media based aquaponics. Some of the things you should always do are the following:
- Check for the quality of your water - temperature and pH range.
- Assess the condition of your fish.
- Inspect the growth of your plants. To be familiar with the common plant pests in aquaponics and how to deal with them, visit our post about pests.
- Look for any damages in your system, especially on the plumbing and pumps.
For nutrient film technique (NFT):
Step 1: Measure the space you will be utilizing for your system. Afterward, decide whether you will buy or build a rack to hold the NFT grow pipes.
Step 2: Cut the appropriate length of PVC pipe for the grow pipes, then drill or cut holes every few inches for the actual grow locations. Ensure that you bore a drain pipe hole in the bottom of the lowest grows pipe hole in the system.
Step 3: Connect the drain pipe to this hole and place its other end to drain the water into the fish tank. Do this step once the rest of the pipe system is put together.
Step 4: Mount the grow pipes to the frame with a level to ensure stability and allow for adequate water flow.
Step 5: Determine the correct length of the rubber hose or small PVC tubes and fittings of the system. One end is connected to the fish tank's water pump, while the other end is connected to the grow pipe's highest point.
Step 6: Put water into your system, followed by measuring its pH level.
Step 7: Run the pumps and observe any issue in your system. Look for leakages or cracks.
Step 8: Conduct the proper cycling of your system before adding the preferred fish.
For deep water culture (DWC):
Step 1: Drill holes at the bottom of your net pots.
Step 2: Bore to the raft your will be using. The standard material used here would be styrofoam boards. To achieve consistency, draw grid lines that adhere to your hole spacing strategy. 6′′ x 6′′ inches is the recommended hole spacing (center to center).
Step 3: Set up the aeration system. The air hose should be long enough and wide enough to fit in the reservoir's middle, where the air pump will be installed.
Step 4: Place water in your tank. Check the appropriate pH range for the plants and fish.
Step 5: Once you have cycled the system, add your choice fish along with the plants in net pots.
One remarkable quality of aquaponics is its versatility. This approach works even if there is only a small space available, the insides of our homes included. This article has facilitated you in understanding how indoor aquaponics works. Building your home-based system should not be much of a challenge.