Aquaponics Fish Tank Primer – Startup And Care Guide


Gardening at home to produce self-sustaining food has become a popular activity the world over. What began as an interest to start herb gardens has quickly turned into the creation of indoor vegetable patches. Unlike the traditional vegetable garden, an Aquaponics Fish Tank can provide both vegetable options and fish options to your diet. Sounds interesting? Aquaponics has been around for ages as a commercial farming technique. However, this does not mean you can’t implement it for home use. Here is what you need to know.

What Is Aquaponics and How Does It Work?

Aquaponics is the combination of hydroponics and aquaculture. The system functions through a symbiotic relationship where the vegetation on the grow beds clean and filter the fish’s water. In return, the plants feed on the waste discharged by the fish in the tank.

Aside from the fish and their excrement, microbes play a vital role in providing nutrition for the plants. All these beneficial bacteria tend to gather in areas around the plant roots. This same bacterium then converts the collected fish wastes and solid particles into material that the plant can utilize to grow. The result is a perfect merger between gardening and aquaculture.

When it comes to sustainable aquaculture, organic plant production, and water consumption, aquaponics is quickly revealing itself as the best option. The plants use the recycled fish waste as fertilizer, and the recirculated water in this closed system results in reduced water consumption.

Benefits of an Aquaponics Fish Tank

By now, you’re probably wondering if diving into aquaponics is worth the trouble. Are there benefits to starting an aquaponics system, or is it a passing fad? Here are some of the tangible benefits you can reap from the system.

  • Aquaponics lets you grow your own food throughout the year by managing growing needs and making full use of your growing area.
  • Compared to traditional gardening, an Aquaponics Fish Tank uses approximately 90% less water. More importantly, the water is recycled, eliminating the need for constant changes.
  • Gardening is often more enjoyable in aquaponics since no soil is involved in the setup. No dirt means fewer weeds, bugs, and typical garden nuisances to manage.
  • Thanks to the nutrient-rich water fed to the plants 24/7, vegetation grows much faster in the aquaponics system.
  • Aquaponics can turn into a commercial endeavor for generating income.
  • Indoor gardening with aquaponics eliminates the need for large land areas, which are not available to everyone.
  • If you’ve been worrying about harmful chemicals or fertilizers in your food, an aquaponics system is for you. Using this method, you can grow your own all-organic, all-natural food.
  • Give yourself and your family better food security and independence by growing your own food with an aquaponics fish tank.

Three Main Components of Aquaponics

Now that you know the advantages of an aquaponics system, it’s time to look at the three main aquaponics components. These are the basics that every would-be aquaponic gardener should know.


Plants for Aquaponics

For many people, growing plants is the primary reason for setting up an aquaponics system. However, the same plants play a vital role in maintaining the overall cycle of an aquaponic system. The presence of plants ensures the water system is clean and oxygenated. More importantly, the plants act as a filtration system. They absorb nitrates in the water, cleaning and redistributing it back to the fish in the tank.

Selecting the right plants to grow in your system is also crucial if you’re eager to see your system succeed. Choose plants that are easy to raise and are well-suited to your climate and location. First-time growers would do well to avoid picking plants that tend to be nutrient hungry. (Plants that need lots of nutrients to grow.) One example of this is the tomato plant. Until your aquaponic system is fully established, easy-to-propagate plants such as lettuces, herbs, and leafy greens are a great choice.

Once the fish in the aquaponics fish tank system have grown, you can begin adding fruit-bearing plants like peppers and tomatoes. In aquaponics, a gardener uses pipes, grow beds, and floating rafts as planter boxes. If you’re utilizing grow beds, ensure the bed containers are sturdy and the cultivation medium can hold the plants as they grow.

Aquaponic gardeners who opt to use floating foam must ensure that the foam is buoyant and lightweight enough to keep plants upright. Keep in mind that the base you choose should hold the plants as they continue to grow. Net pots are a great option because they allow root systems to expand and absorb sufficient nutrients while keeping the plant in place.


Just like plants, fish play an integral role in an aquaponics system. It is, after all, the fish waste that acts as an organic plant fertilizer. Like the plants, the right fish can make a huge difference when trying to achieve maximum output from your fish. Selecting disease-resistant, readily available fish that you can raise easily is the best thing to do.

You can raise ornamental fish like koi and goldfish, but you can also go for edible options like catfish or tilapia. Many home aquaponic setups tend to favor goldfish and tilapia since both are known to be hardy.

Fish for Aquaponics Tank


Aquaponics Tank Bacteria

No aquaponic setup is complete without the presence of bacteria in the system. Bacteria is a necessary addition since it works to turn fish wastes into nutrient-rich food for the plants. The mixture of fish waste, ammonia, and bacteria in the aquaponics fish tank creates nitrites, which transform into nitrates. It is the nitrates that are then beneficial in the growth of the plants.

Types of Aquaponic Systems

There are a few different types of aquaponic systems. Having a clear idea about what each style entails can help anyone get started on their aquaponic journey. It can also help you decide which method will work best for you.

Media-Based Aquaponics

Also known as Flood and Drain, a media-based system is the most common in aquaponics. Commercial farmers, backyard home growers, and indoor gardeners all use this kind of setup. Media-based systems use planting media, like expanded clay pebbles and gravel, to grow the plants. This type of media flawlessly filters solid and ammonia-based waste. The designs of this system are efficient and straightforward. Great for beginners, this setup also has an initial low cost.

The media-based system is composed of a grow media-filled grow bed. Users can plant vegetables into this bedding. Plants have access to the nutrients through a gravity flow that leads into the grow beds. Aquaponics grow media is inherently porous to allow a more extended holding period for the water. In turn, this creates a more efficient nutrient uptake. Grow beds in this system serve as both a biological and mechanical filter. Grow beds also act as breeding grounds for nitrifying bacteria, giving the plants space to grow.

Flooding and draining the grow beds is a practice that involves the use of a bell siphon. The siphon drains out the water when it reaches a certain saturation level. Once water gets to this point on the grow-bed, the siphon drains the water from the bed. The process forces oxygen back into the beds for the benefit of the plants and the microbes. Necessary nutrients are provided to the plants, thanks to this regular and continuous cycle.

Raft System

As you may have guessed, the raft system uses aquaponics raft boards to allow the plants to float on top of the water. This system is also known as a floating system or deep water culture. The water continuously flows from the fish tank to the filtration process and then to the raft where the plants are grown before it is brought back into the fish tank.

Many gardeners utilize the raft system because it encourages plants to grow much faster and produce more crops.

Nutrient Film Technique

Plants grown in a long narrow channel are using the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) method. Nutrient film technique is a hydroponic approach to gardening adapted to aquaponics. This system implements PVC pipes with streams of shallow nutrient-filled water flowing through them. Holes along the length of the pipe act as pockets for the plants. Water flows through the channels and distributes oxygen and nutrients to the roots of the plant. Once the water reaches the end of the channels, it is pumped back into the tank.

Because it’s more expandable than other methods, NFT is the favorite system of commercial aquaponic farmers. Furthermore, it is also an easy favorite in urban areas where food production and limited spaces are considerations. Unfortunately, the technique is pricier to set up and is not ideal for locations without access to ample suppliers.

Hybrid Aquaponics Fish Tank System

As you may have guessed, the hybrid system is a combination of several types of aquaponic systems. Many commercial aquaponic farms tend to use the hybrid approach because of its optimal use of space and overall efficiency. Each aquaponic process can work well but is dependent on the design you use, how you build it, and how you maintain the system.

DIY Systems

Professional aquaponic systems can be pricey. However, creating your aquaponics system using a DIY approach can cut the costs down. Additionally, when you reuse or repurpose on-hand items, you effectively reduce the cost of start-up. All this method needs is a little bit of creativity and a small submersible pump to get your aquaponics setup started.

Starting an Aquaponics Fish Tank

Now that you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to get your hands dirty. Whether you opt to DIY a simple aquaponics fish tank, build a fancy rig, or buy a ready-made aquaponics kit is all up to you. Getting started will require a little bit of patience (see step #2 below). But once you’ve decided what to do and how to do it, you will be harvesting your crops in no time.

Step 1: Building the System

Once you have gathered all the necessary materials for your aquaponics system, you can begin building it based on the design specifications. Before you add plants or aquatic life into the tanks, run the system. Check to see if there are any leaks. Look into the flow rate and drain rate to see if both are functioning correctly.

Step 2: Cycle Your Aquaponics Fish Tank System

You are probably eager to stock your system with plants and fish but before you do, ensure that your system is healthy. You can do this by cycling your system to establish needed bacteria. The process of system cycling converts fish waste (ammonia) into nitrates that plants need to thrive in an aquaponics setup. Once you have completed a successful system cycling, you can add fish and plants. Here are two ways you can cycle.

Cycling Your Aquaponics Fish Tank With Fish

  • To get started, add your choice of fish into the tank. Remember that your fish will be the primary source of ammonia for your system. Refrain from feeding the fish for the first 24 hours. After which, you may begin to feed them lightly for a couple of days.
  • Allow the bacteria to populate naturally, or use a bacteria starter to speed this process up.
  • Conduct a water test daily using a water quality tester. Check the nitrates, ammonia, and nitrite levels. Nitrites should be below 1.0ppm as they will multiply over time. Ammonia, however, should retain a ppm that is below 3.0.
  • If ammonia goes beyond 3.0 ppm or the nitrites shoot past 1.0 ppm, replace a third of the tank with new water. High ammonia or nitrite levels can cause the fish to suffer or die.
  • During the first 10-15 days, the ammonia level in the tank should steadily increase. High levels of ammonia occur because the tank’s bacteria have not established quickly enough to begin a nitrogen cycle.
  • Twenty-five days into the cycle, the nitrite level should reach its peak.
  • You will be able to tell that the aquaponics system has completed a full cycle when you find nitrites in the aquaponics fish tank. Water tests should also indicate drops in both nitrite and ammonia levels. Readings should be below 0.05ppm. Lastly, regular feeding of the fish should no longer increase ammonia levels.
  • Once you have achieved a full cycle, you can then add more plants and fish.

Fishless Cycling

  • The first step is to add bacteria to your aquaponics fish tank.
  • Add a liquid ammonia solution for aquariums until you get a reading of 4.0ppm.
  • Check ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels by testing the water in the tank.
  • Make necessary adjustments such as the addition of ammonia until it reaches 4.0ppm levels.
  • When the ammonia and nitrite dip below 0.5ppm, then the cycling is complete. Another indicator is the presence of nitrates.
  • Stop adding ammonia and begin adding plants and fish to the system when the full cycle is complete.

Maintaining Your Aquaponics Fish Tank

As long as you’ve got a plan in mind, maintaining your aquaponics fish tank is easy. These are the things you need to do:

Feed the Fish Daily

Aquaponics Fish Tank

Common sense should dictate that fish need to eat daily. Regularly feeding them twice per day keeps them healthy and happy. Bear in mind that the system only works when all components are in optimal working order. Thus, feeding your fish quality fish food and monitoring their behavior can ensure a higher success rate.

As a rule of thumb, fish should be fed only with what they can consume within a 5-minute time frame. Remove any uneaten food from the aquaponics fish tank. Neglecting to remove uneaten food can result in various issues. The formula 20 g of fish food per meter of raft floating area should help you calculate how much food is needed by the system.

Regularly Check the pH Levels

The pH level of your aquaponics fish tank plays an integral role in determining whether your system setup has worked. Weekly checks of the pH level are a must. A neutral range of 6.8 to 7.0 is the ideal pH in which plants, fish, and bacteria thrive.

You can decrease the water’s pH level by utilizing pH down liquid. These are products that generally contain food-grade phosphoric acid. Add a little pH down at a time until you reach the correct pH level.

Similarly, when your pH is too low, you can make some adjustments with a liquid pH up solution. Carbon potassium hydroxide and potassium carbonate are two primary components found in these products. Just as you did with the pH down, start by making small adjustments. Add in small increments until the pH is at the correct level.

Ammonia and Nitrate Levels in Your Aquaponics Fish Tank

Make it a habit to also check the ammonia levels weekly. Note down any issues that arise and may become problematic. For instance, a sudden increase in ammonia level may indicate the presence of dead fish.

Check nitrate levels monthly. Nitrate must not exceed 150ppm. Off-kilter levels may indicate that the plants are unable to absorb the nitrogen released by the bacteria. This issue can be solved by either harvesting some fish or adding more plants.


Maintaining an ideal temperature in your aquaponics fish tank is for the benefit of the fish. Even with regular fish tanks, it is common practice to keep the water temperature in check. Failing to monitor the tank’s temperature can cause health issues for the fish and, in turn, the plants. Keep the temperature at the correct range by using an aquarium thermometer. Doing so will ensure the health of your fish and the bacteria that live in the tank.

Maintain the Plants

Like any regular garden, you must spend time tending to your plants. Inspect plants for insects and disease. Harvest crops to keep balance in the system and to encourage the growth of new crops. An overgrowth of vegetation will wreak havoc on the natural balance the plants and tank need. Harvesting crops when they are ready ensures that this does not happen.

Aquaponics Fish Tank Primer – The Wrap-up

When you have the right components for your aquaponics fish tank, you can create the best setup suitable for your space and end goals. By carefully planning out your aquaponics system design before getting started, you will make the entire process a lot easier. Keep in mind that some trial and error is a normal part of the process, and that’s okay. It can lead to the discovery of a new skill or the addition of knowledge.

To conclude, aquaculture and aquaponic gardening can vastly improve our population’s health and the overall health of the planet. When implemented in an eco-friendly manner, it can help provide a sustainable food source for many people. While it may not eliminate world hunger in a blink of an eye, it is a step in the right direction.


Frequently Asked Questions for Aquaponics Fish Tanks

Most designs are suitable for off-grid operations, as long as a solar panel system is available.

Not a good idea! Pesticides will kill bugs, but they can also kill the fish in the tank. Use alternative eco-friendly means to control bugs.

You can set up an aquaponics system in a greenhouse, but it isn’t necessary. Many people use grow-lights and set up their system in a spare room or garage.

The size of your tank will dictate which fish you can use to some extent. Tilapia is the most common food fish used in aquaponics. They are best for warm climates, are fast-growing, and are not likely to easily catch diseases. Other edible fish you can grow are catfish, trout, and bass.

Not much. The typical system uses an air pump and a water pump. Together these pumps typically use a total of 23watts. In most areas, this adds up to a monthly cost of about $3.00.


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