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How to grow herbs & keep fish for cheap! Easy, small scale aquaponics DIY  RSS feed

 
master steward
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I'm constantly amazed at how expensive the fancy home aquaponics set-ups are, and how tiny.  Here's an example :



It's pretty and all that, but it also costs over $130, for a three gallon aquarium with a pump and some trays! Now, I'm not a master fishkeeper, and my fish-keeping knowledge is only what I've absorbed via osmosis from living with my husband, who is a master fishkeeper and has been keeping fish and helping people with their fish fish for at least 15 years. I asked him to explain how to make a system like this, for a third or less of the price.

===========================================================================

Husband here! Longtime fishkeeper. Just pointing out some ways one might improve upon this concept, take or leave them.

-Size of tank.
You're going to have an easier time doing this cheaper with a slightly larger tank. For around 40? dollars, you can get a setup like this going, depending on how much stuff you already have lying around.
Ten gallon tanks (can be had cheap, used 5 to 10 dollars normally) are going to give you more room for appropriate fish, the trays on top, the fountain pump, and plants to go in the tray. Look for tanks on craigslist, yard sales, thrift stores. A ten gallon tank is a good size because it's more forgiving, requires less water changes, and will allow you to grow a bit more plants on top. And, the fish are happier because they get more room to swim and places to hide.

-Appropriate fish.
Bettas are an obvious fail because you want POOPERS to feed your tiny garden. Bettas have to be fed sparingly or they get bloated and die. You really should only feed bettas once a day, or less, and that makes for teeny little amounts of poop. Aim for something that really poops, but can be happy enough in a 10g tank. I'd start with maybe 9 to 12 white cloud mountain minnows (super cheap, they even get sold as feeders). They are swift fish and can eat a lot in a day, and will make more fertilizer for your tiny garden. White Clouds don't need a heater, they are tough as nails and forgiving of novice mistakes.



Also, you've gotta ask how labor intensive you want this to be. The more fish you have the more water changes you'll end up doing. Granted, the plants will eat the nitrogen-based waste products, but the water will still experience mineral depletion and become excessively soft, or laden with Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) over time, and if water conditions suddenly change (a water change after many months of stability), the fish can die from the shock. A set-up like this is, admittedly, the magic trick a lot of fishkeepers wish they knew about. You won't need to do many water changes (every few days or once a week would be normal for most heavily-stocked aquaria, would defeat the purpose of fertilizing the plants here), but a solid 75% change once a month would still be advisable to prevent the water from becoming too different from your source (tap or well).

Other options for "fish":
  • Random pest snails: These things aren't too pretty, and can get stinky, but they have the advantage of being easy to feed. Also called bladder snails, these can be found in local ponds or picked up in any aquarium shop. Small Ramshorn snails also work, and the same facts apply. Drop in some raw vegetables--like the butt of carrot--every so often, and they'll be happy. Tiny bits of meat on occasion is a good idea also. They're tiny--at most about 1/2 inch, and they breed quickly and will cover the walls of your tank. If they breed too many, you can always feed them to your ducks and chickens--protein and calcium for the poultry=win!


  • Zebra Danios: These are also great and hard to kill. You could stock about 10 in your ten gallon.



  • Rosy Red/Fathead/Feeder Minnows: Many names for the same fish--these are really cheap and very hardy. You could put 3-4 in you 10 gallon, as they actually get pretty chunky



  • Guppies: If you want some pretty fish, you could have 1 or 2 MALE guppies along with your minnows. Don't get females, because they come pregnant and will make tons of babies. Don't get more than 2 males, because they'll fight and try--unsuccessfully--to breed with each other.



  • -The general set-up.
    With cold-tolerant fish like white cloud mountain minnows, you won't need a heater. This will save you money and simplify things for you.
  • Substrate: None needed, barebottom is fine as long as you don't mind seeing your fertilizer. Gravel would be fine, it will hold the poo for you and give it a place to decompose. Sand is fine but you'll need to worry about it getting into the pump if you use it, so I wouldn't advise it, really in this case if you want simplicity.
  • Top tray: This is where it all comes together. You'd want a tray that will fit the top of the tank. I'd use one slightly smaller than the tank's top opening, set it on the lid of tank if you bought one or a solid piece of glass if you're cheap like me. You want it full of gravel for the plants to sit in. Plain, small pea gravel. Some minor plumbing (I use nylon hoses and the gray corner pieces from Lowe's) will carry water from any kind of small fountain pump up to one side of the tray, where it can empty straight into the gravel and fill the tray. At the other end, you'd want a sponge (aquaclear brand is best) up against a series of holes you would drill into the plastic tray for water to leave, so near the top 1/4 of the tray's edge. So the sponge will act as a barrier between the gravel bed and the wall of the tray, and also provide a place for healthy bacteria to live. Also drill an emergency overflow hole somewhere along the tray (higher than the other holes) so that if the sponge and gravel somehow clog up, the water will escape back into the tank and not overflow the tray and create a catastrophe.
        You can use almost any tray that fits and can be drilled without shattering.
  • Water pump: You can find tiny fountain pumps super cheap at thrift stores or new at pet stores.
  • Hose: Take your pump to the the hardware store and look for some nylon hose that will fit on your pump.
    Here's the type of hose to look for
    And here's a picture of a bigger hose and pump. One end connects to the pump and the other end comes up out of the tank and is fitted with a corner connector piece.
  • Corner connector: One end goes on your house, the other end waterfalls into your tray.
  • Food: Feed a quality food that isn't made too entirely of corn or soy. If you go with snails, you can just feed them vegetable scraps.


  • -Lighting
    Place tank where it will get several hours of sun (mostly indirect but that will depend on what you grow) per day, move tank further from light if it grows excessive algae, not that algae harms anything, but it will rob nutrients from your garden and people think it's ugly. You might need to buy a light if sun isn't doing it, that will cost a little, but you can get those used or buy non-aquarium lights like a heat lamp/work light housing with a good sun-spectrum CFL screwed in.

    -Cycling the Tank
    Usually this is a big deal when having an aquarium, but, since you've got live plants, you don't have to worry too much about it. If you want to be on the safe side, and you've got access to someone else's healthy, cycled tank, you can wring out the dirty sponge directly into the new tank's water, the bacteria will find happy places to live on their own and will populate the sponge rapidly. Easy-peasy.


    That's all I've got off the top of my head, feel free to add to the discussion!
     
    Nicole Alderman
    master steward
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    Location: Pacific Northwest
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    Nicole Alderman again, and I thought I'd add something about other fish. I know how a lot of people (myself included) like "pretty" fish. So, I asked my husband if, maybe, Paradise Gouramis would do well in an aquaponics system, since they are hardier than bettas and don't require a heater if your house is warm enough. He said, No:

    "Not Paradise either. Like bettas, they don’t eat enough."

    We looked through a list of other fish for small tanks. He was amazed that most of them were on the list, because a lot of them are very finiky fish. White Cloud Mountain Minnows really are the easiest choice, especially if this is your first time keeping fish.
     
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    Great thread!

    We have had fish in the past so I really enjoyed reading about this procedure and the different fish.

    Since it is so windy here that I can't get outside to plant, I have been experimenting with water. I am interested in learning about growing plants in water.
     
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