How to Build a Self-Sustaining Aquaponic System?

Food is one of the essential things for preparers because you won’t survive long without it. Building reserves is an excellent way to ensure adequate food for short-term emergencies, but in the long run, even the strongest reserves will be depleted. The best solution is to find a source of healthy food that will never run out; this requires growing your own food.

When considering growing your own food, most people think it requires plenty of land, daily watering, meticulous care, and constant pest control; generally working conditions and requirements that most of us cannot access in a failure scenario.

There is an alternative to gardening and outdoor cultivation; is an option that can produce an endless supply of organic, chemical, and GMO-free food in any space with minimal labor requirements. This magical system is called aquaponics and all preparers should make sure they are comfortable with it.

What is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is an innovative combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. It involves creating a simple, self-sufficient plant and fish ecosystem that provides an indeterminate source of fresh, healthy vegetables and protein for you and your family.

How does it work?

The process works on the basis of the nitrate cycle. Fish waste is broken down in the water by nitrogen-fixing bacteria and converted into nitrates and nitrites; too much nitrogen in the water will kill fish, but plants can use these specific forms of nitrogen for food.

The aquarium water is pumped into the hydroponic plant bed where the plants get nitrogen from the water; then the filtered water is returned to the aquarium. The basic principle is that the fish fertilize the plants while the plants clean the water for the fish.

The system is completely self-sufficient, except for the requirement to add fish food and the occasional maintenance of the water chemistry. The only time you need to interact with your aquaponic system is when it’s time to harvest all the ripe vegetables.

Benefits of home aquaponics system

The best thing about a home aquaponics system is that it can be built in any size to suit your living space and consumption requirements, so even in a small space, your survival plan may include an option to grow your own food source. In fact, once it’s set up, you can just forget about it; watering is not necessary, as the water is constantly recycled.

This also makes it a very efficient system as both water and fertilizer are recycled and not lost in the soil. Despite the low maintenance, an aquaponic system ensures a high-yielding culture because the plants are constantly supplied with the necessary water and nutrients. It is the perfect system for those with busy lifestyles or working families.

Why you should choose aquaponics

First of all, using aquaponics means no unnatural chemical fertilizers are needed. They become obsolete, unlike traditional hydroponic systems.

You can also avoid the complexities of compost management that come with regular gardening. Why? because it is agriculture without land.

This can be a game-changer if you have bad or dirty soil or even no soil! This means you will get a lot fewer weeds in your garden and the ones you do get are easy to eradicate!

Aquaponics is efficient. It’s the best way to produce a lot of food in a small space. And it is extensible. This makes it perfect for becoming more and more self-sufficient over time.

The simplest aquaponic systems allow plants to grow on the fish on floating mats. As a result, you only need space for a small aquarium and a limited number of pumps or pipes to get started. Such a compact configuration makes home aquaponics ideal for small spaces.

I have seen systems for families on backyard decks and apartment roofs. Or with an indoor light source, you can install one indoors; away from the weather, pests, and prying eyes. Finally, aquaponic systems produce both nutritious vegetables and proteins; the perfect combination for a basic meal.

This is difficult to do with a hydroponic system alone. Why? because most vegetable proteins (i.e. beans) require a lot of nutrients and space. With aquaponics, fish is your source of protein. And as we all know, fish is one of the healthiest sources of protein.

aquaponic system 2

How to plan your first aquaponic system

Before you start ordering supplies for your DIY aquaponics system, you should have an idea of ​​the scale.  One of the advantages of aquaponics systems is that they are easily scalable.

If you are short of fish or vegetables, you can add another tank or enlarge the current one.

If you are inundated with food, you can harvest a full tank setup. Freeze or you can produce the surplus and reduce your system accordingly.

That is why IBCs (intermediate bulk containers) are popular tanks for aquaponics. These are easy to find and often already have sanitary facilities.

The standard shape is a simple cube design. It also has an integrated paddle base which makes the system sturdy and easier to move than other tanks.

1. The provisions or supplies

The first thing you need to build a home aquaponics system is an aquarium.

Any size is suitable, from small bedroom aquariums to specialty fish ponds. And with the natural plant water filter, you can store fish with a higher density than normal. But аgаіn, I rесоmmеnd starting wіth a ѕіnglе IBC container.

In addition to the aquarium, you also need a vegetable growing container. These containers are not as big as the aquarium, but they should be sturdy. Why? because they have to bear the accumulated weight of growing plants and products.

A wide, shallow tray is ideal because plants don’t need deep roots for this setup.

Finally, you will need some plumbing supplies and a pump. This moves the water from the aquarium to the planter.

Now the best designs take advantage of gravity. You do this by placing the plant tank higher than the fish tank. This allows clean plant water to be drained back into the tank in a natural way.

It is best to size the pump for a quick transfer, which will flood the plant tank. Then turn off the pump and let the water run slowly into the aquarium. This will keep the roots watered regularly, but will prevent rotting. You don’t want the roots to be constantly underwater.

A garden-sized pond pump works for large or medium-sized systems. But it is a chore for everyone except the smallest systems. Unless your system is huge, you’ll want to look for industrial-sized pumps.

You also need a timer for the pump. This allows you to automatically schedule several cycles per day.

You also need separate culture substrates for plants and bacteria. Unlike traditional landscaping, this setup doesn’t use soil.

Remember that the plants get their nutrients from the fish waste. Therefore, your growing medium must be somewhat durable and inert; the ground is neither.

Look for a quickly permeable material such as gravel, coarse sand, or even coconut coir. Expanded clay balls are also a common growing medium, although they are more expensive.

For bacteria, look for aquarium filter media or filter fiber. These ensure sufficient water movement and a sufficiently large surface. Both are necessary for a bacterial colony to thrive.

first aquaponic system

2. Which fish and plants?

Finally, you need to obtain the organic components of your system: the fish, the plants, and the bacteria.

Bacteria are simple – it’s the same strain for all water temperatures. But the choice of plant and fish depends on the temperature. They must be strong enough to withstand environmental conditions (i.e. temperature changes).

So keep in mind the temperatures that your plants and fish will live in all year round. This is especially true if you are planning an outdoor system in winter climates.

Hеrе аrе ѕоmе basic water temperature guіdеlіnеѕ fоr fish аnd рlаnt ѕеlесtіоn:

Hot water tanks

With hot water tanks, choose a species of fish that can survive small amounts of dissolved oxygen. Tilapia, channel catfish, and yellow bass are good options.

When starting a system for the first time, you may want to use feeder fish, such as goldfish, to establish water chemistry as these are inexpensive to replace. After you establish proper water chemistry, you can upgrade to edible fish.

The ideal fish should be one that reproduces well in captivity, grows a decent size, is edible, and something your family will enjoy. Also, the fish chosen must be freshwater fish as the marine environment is not suitable for plants and the water will be shared.

When stocking your tank, very young fish called “fry” are the cheapest, but take the longest to feed the water as they produce very little waste; Fingerlings, fish that have developed functional fins and scales, are more expensive but take less time to balance water chemistry.

Recommended varieties

There are many types of fish that will work well with a home aquaponic system. Goldfish are hardy, ornamental, cold-water fish that reproduce well in captivity but are not particularly desirable for consumption. It is probably best to stick to varieties that are edible and enjoyable as this will bring the most enjoyment to your family.

Tilapia – A popular choice as they breed well in captivity, they are large in size and hardy in terms of water conditions. They generally prefer hot water, so you may need to install a heat source in the tank. Tilapia eats plants and duckweed, which can be grown directly in the tank or high-quality fish food, can be used. Nile tilapia is grown commercially and produces white meat with a mild, lean flavor; they usually reach plate size in four months.

Yellow bass feeds aggressively and also multiplies quickly. They also taste great and are easy for beginners to handle.

Cold water tanks

In colder waters, many of the same fish will work. But perch is temperature resistant, just like channel catfish.

Trout – These fish are fast-growing, cold water suitable and follow a carnivorous diet of insects, mollusks, worms, and feeder fish (you can choose to raise them yourself or buy them pelleted food). The downside to trout is that they are less hardy and require very pristine tank conditions.

It is best to leave the trout for more established aquaponics systems. They are ideal once you have mastered a stable and oxygen-rich water system. That’s because trout is more sensitive to fluctuations in water chemistry.

Catfish: Channel catfish and blue catfish are the most common species used for consumption as they grow quickly and are a good source of vitamin D; however, the catfish must be peeled before being eaten, as it has no scales. Because they feed on the bottom and are large enough not to be the prey, they generally do well with other species.

Channel catfish also have fast-growing characteristics. But you have to remove the skin without flakes before cooking, which is tricky. And they don’t tolerate overuse very well.

Crappie – they are smaller fish with good taste, resistance, and easy to breed. However, they take two years to reach maturity to reproductive age and the tank cannot be filled with larger fish as they will eat your types of fish.

Carp – These fish adapt to changes in the environment and reproduce well in captivity. Typical species raised for consumption on fish farms are big-headed carp, grass carp, muddy carp, and crucian carp

Largemouth Bass – These hardy cold-water species are popular as game fish. The taste of the younger (smaller) fish is preferable to the larger fish because of the difference in the diet; this means that they can be consumed before they are fully developed. A carnivorous fish, largemouth bass feed on shrimp, insects, and small fish.

Compatibility / Multiple varieties

When it comes to mixing the variety of species in your aquaponic system, keep in mind that some fish species can live together, while others prefer a monospecies environment. If you hang out, make sure to choose fish with the same temperature requirements and water conditions.

3. Choose your plants

You should choose the plants for your system based on their nutritional value and your family’s tastes, as well as their compatibility with the water conditions. Plants that require a pH much higher or lower than 7 are not suitable because highly acidic or basic water will not support fish life.

Some plants naturally grow faster, such as beans. It is good to have variety in your garden so that you always have ripe vegetables to eat.

Foliage plants, such as lettuce and herbs, do quite well in aquaponic systems and are the easiest to grow. Fruit plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, and beans, require a higher concentration of nutrients and therefore work best with a well-stocked aquarium.

Plants can be grown underground, but the hydroponic substrate makes it difficult for the tuber to get a typical shape.

The bottom line is that in hot water systems, consider leafy greens with warm weather. Varieties such as lettuce, peas, and basil are the best. All these vegetables do well in tanks of warm water and produce a quick harvest.

Thick leafy greens are best along with cold water fish. Kale, spinach, bok choy, and Swiss chard tolerate or thrive in colder climates.

Plant-fish relationship

The balance between the plant and the fish ratio in your system is the biggest challenge; It is essential that you have the right number of plants to filter your fish waste, as well as enough fish to provide your plants with the correct nutrients. The water ratio is 1: 1 for the water in the grow bed and the water in the tank. The general plant to fish ratio is four plants per pound of fish, but it may be necessary to adjust for fish and plant species.

To properly maintain water chemistry and achieve a healthy system, a water test kit is a must. Once you find out, the system can be expanded to increase your food supply by simply adding another grow bed and adjusting the water volume in your tank. You can also add multiple tanks for variety.

How to build a DIY aquaponic system

Once you’ve planned your system, it can be tempting to buy it all at once and get started.

diy aquaponic system

Make sure to get the system online slowly and step by step. It takes time to get everything going. Instead, follow these simple steps. That way you increase your chances of establishing a healthy and productive aquaponics system.

1. Location

Choose your location carefully. You don’t want to disrupt your system once it is up and running. Even the smallest systems are difficult to move without completely disassembling them. And exercise adds stress to plants, fish, and bacteria.

Find an area with a lot of light (unless you plan to use artificial lighting). If your location has a lot of suns and high temperatures, use a shade screen to reduce excessive water heating.

You also want good access for cleaning. And don’t forget that water is heavy too. So make sure you have a stable surface to build on or things sinking or shifting on you.

Tank leaks or failures can cause both environmental damage and total loss of the system.

2. Configuration of tanks and pumps

Once you have your location, it is time to set up your tanks, pumps, and pipes. Most DIY aquaponics systems use gravity discharge from the plant to the aquarium.

This means that the plant tanks must be placed at a higher height. But that can take the form of high benches, shelves, or even a hill.

Be creative and use what works best. Make sure that your pump can pump the water up to the height difference called head.

While setting up the pump and plumbing, check for leaks and check all fittings.

Finally, add an air pump and stone to the aquarium to provide dissolved oxygen. When all leaks are under control, you can put them in the growing medium and fill the water to the correct level.

If your water has been chlorinated, give it plenty of time to dissipate. It is harmful to your system. So do this before introducing your bacteria, fish, or plants. You can speed up the process by circulating the water through the system.

At the same time, turn on the air pump and let it run full time. Due to this aeration of the water, chlorine can escape, and dissolved oxygen is introduced. Let this work for a few days to make sure that all the chlorine has been removed.

3. System cycling

At this point you can introduce plants and bacteria to the system, but not fish. Both types of bacteria are present all over the environment. But іt саn bе helpful tо gеt a starter tо hеlр еѕtаblіѕh thе colony.

Most aquarium stores can provide you with more than enough to get you started. You can get a source of pure ammonia from the supermarket to grow your cologne.

At this point, you will need some basic water testing supplies. This allows you to determine whether the ammonia is converted to nitrite and then to nitrate.

If you are successful in the complete conversion to nitrate, you can add your plants. Then let the system run for a while before introducing fish. In this phase, bacteria convert ammonia into plant food. And the plants clean the water. This helps reduce the impact of the fish due to a change in water chemistry.

4. Add fish

Finally, оnсе уоu hаvе a colony оf bacteria аnd уоur water parameters аrе ѕtаblе, уоu саn add fіѕh.But add them slowly so they can get used to the temperature and chemistry of the water.

Never randomly throw fish into a new tank, the abrupt change can shock or even kill them. Ask your fish supplier for suggestions on the best way to acclimate your chosen species.

5. System maintenance

Once your aquaponics system is up and running, it doesn’t need a lot of ongoing maintenance. Of course, the fish need food. You will need to test the chemistry of the water from time to time. But one of the best indicators of the health of the system is the cultivation of healthy plants and fish.


A home aquaponics system is a viable and sustainable solution to an inexhaustible food supply and a positive step towards developing a self-sufficient home. The versatility of the system, coupled with its efficiency, makes it a good choice for any home as it can be a reliable source of food (proteins and vegetables) in almost any room and climate.

While the concept may seem overwhelming at first, there are many resources and studies to get you started and maintain your system. Once you’re up and running, you’ll have a reliable, profitable food source you can rely on.