There are plenty of guides to creating small indoor gardens, but none are as fun or mesmerizing as a mini-aquaponics garden! If you’ve been looking for an excuse to get a beautiful fish tank to boost your home’s tranquility, this may be the ultimate reason. Or, maybe you already have a fish tank and wonder how you can cut down on the use of chemicals in your tank. Let’s explore the eco-friendly practice of aquaponics to benefit yourself and your fishy friends mutually.
What is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics is a form of hydroponics, with the biggest difference being that it does not use synthetic nutrients to nourish plants. Instead, aquaponics uses the dirty water from a fish tank and runs it through the root system of a hydroponic garden setup. The plant’s roots absorb nutrients from the water while simultaneously removing harmful substances before returning the water to the fish tank. It’s a natural alternative to chemical and charcoal filters with the added benefit of boosting your garden’s health. Aquaponics can be as simple as a tabletop tank with a few decorative plants & goldfish to massive indoor vertical crop and fish farms capable of feeding an entire city.
Building a Small DIY Aquaponics Garden
Depending on the space you have available, there are many commercially available prefabricated tanks available, or you can build a low-cost addition to an existing tank. Freshwater tanks are best for producing gardens with edible produce (herbs, small vegetables, lettuce). In contrast, saltwater tanks can produce edible plants (New Zealand Spinach, common ice plant) or serve as a non-edible garden.
There are countless setup designs that utilize a wide range of creative uses for bins, plastic totes, and more. For the most minimal setup, all you will need is:
- A fish tank and fish
- A small container with holes on the bottom that can sit directly on top of the tank
- A water pump and tube long enough to reach the top of the container
- A small, spongy tank filter to catch solid fish waste
- Grow media like clay pellets or gravel
Submerge the pump in an appropriate place inside the tank. Ensure there is a hole in the container that is large enough to run the tube to prevent crimping due to the container’s weight. Place the container on top of the tank, run the tube up, and place the spongy filter at the end of the tube. Next, fill the container with the growing media. Start the pump and make sure the container is draining properly to avoid overflowing.
A Few Tips to Keep in Mind
You may need to experiment a little to get a good water flow/drain ratio. You want the flow to be strong enough (and the holes in the container to be small/large enough) to create a small puddle in the container’s bottom, but not so strong that it fills the container. As your plants grow, the roots may clog up the holes in the bottom of the container. If this happens, you can make the holes larger, so the roots begin to grow into the fish tank water. Your fish will love nibbling on the roots, too!
The water flowing down into the tank mimics the sound of rain, which is calming to both humans and the fish. Play around with designs to create eye-catching displays for your home, patio, or garden. Lastly, don’t forget to clean/replace the solid waste sponge filter as needed to avoid solid waste leaking into the grow media and creating unpleasant smells.