Penny-Pinching Tricks for your DIY Aquaponic System

In Aquaponic Engineer, Uncategorized by Aquaponic GuruLeave a Comment

Having an aquaponics system is fulfilling and cost effective but it can be daunting when you’re creating your first DIY aquaponics system. Here is a complete guide full of useful tips and hints would have made my experience a lot more enjoyable and would maybe have allowed me to create a better system with less money.
There are numerous questions that dance around in everyone’s mind. What plants should I grow? What fish are best for my climate?  How expensive should my aquaponic system be while still keeping costs under my budget?
The aspects we are going to talking about include:
  • Fish and Crustaceans
  • Fish food
    Fish Food
    Fish Tanks
    Maintenance Costs
    Water Temperature and pH Levels
    Filtration Systems
    Growbed and Growpots
We’ll be highlighting all of these topics with tricks which could save you a buck on your way to creating the Aquaponics system of your dreams.
Fish and Crustaceans
Our first tip is about the little critters that keep your system thriving. There are tons of options when you’re deciding which type of is right for you.  So many factors go into choosing the most cost-efficient species of fish and crustaceans, but we’ll highlight a couple which is great for indoor personal aquaponics systems.
Tilapia are probably the most popular type of fish for aquaponic enthusiasts, and there are real reasons for their popularity.  They are resilient, have a great temperament, and are widely available.  They may not be the cheapest fish on the market, but they thrive in indoor systems and outdoor warm weather systems. You won’t need to replace Tipia regularly, they breed within the tank.  Make sure to harvest them regularly to avoid overpopulation in the tank.
If you want to make your tank a bit more efficient and clean, you can add some crustaceans to the mix.  With a higher budget, you can add some more expensive creatures like lobsters and oysters.  But when you are just starting out freshwater prawn is the cheapest option.  Just make sure you don’t overpopulate your tank, they tend to cannibalize each other when they run out of sustenance.  Some Aquaponic enthusiasts use the crustaceans not only to clean the tank but also as a food source for the fish, which may help a bit with your food budget, just make sure the crustacean population is not decimated!
Fish Food
The bills for fish food can start adding up quickly. Many more experienced Aquaponic enthusiast have pivoted away from the classic store-bought fish food, to avoid these unnecessary expenses.  One method is growing your very own insects, they are high in protein and can easily sustain your fish population. Cockroaches, beetles, different species of flies and worms are all suitable options for fish food. Worms are easy to grow in bulk, we’ll take you through some steps you can grow some yourself!Worms housing should be kept in a room between 40 to 90 degrees, in a box 2 feet deep and 3 feet long. If you want to grow them in your bedroom that’s your prerogative but we would suggest a shed or basement. In your box you should be getting bedding,  this could be a newspaper, magazines, or printer paper.  On top of the bedding add a gallon of soil. Purchase two pounds of worms, you can feed them every week.  They can eat a variety of things, but to keep things simple you can stick to plant-based scraps from your own diet.  In a couple of months, the worm population will have grown exponentially.  You can harvest a third of worms, using them as fish found for a few weeks.
If flies are more your style, creating a larva incubator is easy and fun.  For the purposes of Aquaponics, Black Soldier Fly Larvae is the best type of food, and the fish absolutely love them!   Watching the little maggots eat and grow is fulfilling and adorable!  If you’re handy with woodworking this may the move for you.  Create a 5 feet deep, 6 foot by 8-foot box which is lifted from the ground by legs.  There should also be a cover on the box and a ramp leading to a hole.  Place a bucket on the ground, under the opening after the ramp.  Buy a couple of pounds of BSFL larvae and place it in the box.  Now here’s the easy part.  The larvae will basically eat anything! Throw vegetables, fruit, or any type of food scrap into the box.  When the larvae get big enough by instinct they will climb the ramp to try to get to a higher spot.  They will reach the top of the ramp and fall into your bucket.  These larvae are ready to be fed to your fish!
Fish Tank
When trying to decide on the tank, you can spend exorbitant amounts of money.  Instead, we suggest using a thick plastic tub which you can buy for about $30 online or any big box realtors. If you are looking for a better-looking tank, you can opt for more expensive fiberglass.   These tend to run in the hundreds of dollar range, but make the aquaponics system a bit easier on the eyes, this is especially important if the system is part of your home’s decor and charm.  There are tons of options for the tank, concrete, poly fiber, and plastic just to name a few.  The most practical may be plastic for its plastic. But if you’d like to see the fish swim around, fiberglass may be the best option for you!
Running the System
The major cost associated with keeping your aquaponics system operating is the electricity cost of operating the pumps. One option to offset the operating costs of the system is to install a solar unit. This option is only feasible if you plan on keeping your Aquaponics system for a couple of years if this is only a temporary plan you may not save enough money to justify buying a complete solar unit. Assuming you are in it for the long haul, you can grab a unit from Home Depot for about $280. Over a couple of years of running the system, the unit will pay for itself!
Water Temperature and pH Level
The quality of the water is one of the most important aspects when it comes to maintaining a successful aquaponics system. The entire circulation is pivotal on the fact that the water is of high quality and consistent. It is important to make sure that the water in which your aquatic life live in, and also the water that your plants will use is its best it can be. Two major factors to consider are water temperature and pH levels. When looking at a DIY aquaponics system, sometimes maintaining these two qualities may be expensive and difficult, but there are a few ways to save an extra dollar.
Maintaining temperatures is important for both your critters and also your plants. The ideal temperature for your water is between 18-30 Celsius and this might be difficult to keep depending on your natural environment. Places with polarizing weather conditions will have a hard time keeping temperatures within the range without proper costly equipment. To remedy this, there are two affordable options. If you are working on your first DIY aquaponic system, chances are it is smaller than your average system because you are just dipping your toe into the hobby. From this, building an indoor system might be your best option because the indoor temperatures will naturally keep the tank water comfortable. If this is not an option for you, there are actually very affordable ways to build your own small greenhouses online. Of course, buying an aquaponic greenhouse or a greenhouse, in general, is going to be very expensive. With a little time and elbow grease, you can make a sizeable greenhouse for a fraction of the price!
In terms of pH level, the ideal level you want is around 6-7. Around this level, the acidity of the water is the most neutral and the most comfortable for the majority of aquatic life that might be used in your aquaponic system. In a perfect world, the acidity would not fluctuate, making your life a lot easier but unfortunately, that is not the case. A home remedy to raise pH levels is to add baking soda to the fish tank. This method does that come precision and consistency because people tend to add a lot more than they think they need. A home remedy to lower pH levels is vinegar. By adding vinegar to the fish tank, ionization occurs and bacteria within the water metabolize this acetate and release carbon dioxide as a result.
Of course, the best way to keep track of your water quality is to use different types of test kits, all of which are very affordable and easy to use.
Filtration System
Another part of the system is of equal value is the filter system. Having an efficient, cost-effective filtration system is important so you can ensure that your aquaponic setup is as productive as it can be. When it comes to filters, there are tons of different kinds you can purchase specifically for aquaponics rigs but they can be a bit pricey, especially for any DIY system. There are a few ways you can save money on the filter that will be the glue on what keeps your aquaponic system running.
First, you can actually use socks and rocks like a good filtration system as long as the water constantly flows through it. By putting the rocks in the socks and aligning the apparatus with the flow of the water, the fish waste and excrements should naturally be filtered. Although it might seem out of the ordinary and a bit bizarre, utilizing whatever you can around the house to make your system run is definitely a way to save some extra cash.
If you feel like socks and rocks is a little too rudimentary, another affordable filter is standard aquarium filter floss. This material can be found at virtually any pet store and it is extremely affordable and cost-effective. By placing the floss where the water flows through, the excrements and unneeded materials will be filtered out successfully and effectively. There are tons of different kinds of aquarium filter floss but as long as your aquaponic system isn’t too complex and detail oriented, any of them should work perfectly fine!
Lastly, if your DIY system a lot bigger and is more complicated and you are looking for an affordable and very efficient method, building a swirl filter might be the best move. The way a swirl filter system works is that there is a constant whirlpool-like motion within a barrel. By having this, the heavier particles within the flowing water will settle at the bottom and then needed liquid will keep flowing throughout the system. The physics of the centrifuge motion will prevent any damaging or hindering materials to enter the grow bed. There are dozens of tutorials online on how to make a DIY swirl filter for your aquaponic system but nearly all of them use giant plastic buckets/barrels and PVC piping. The size of the barrel will depend on how big your system is, but the building process is the same, just at a larger or smaller scale. Check out ways to build your own swirl filter online if you want a cheap and affordable way to build your own!
Grow Bed and Grow Pots
Calculating a grow bed or grow pots that are the right size for your aquaponic system is vital when considering exactly how you want to set up your own DIY rig. Depending on the size of your own system, beds and pots can be quite expensive, especially if you are thinking about buying one that is specifically made for aquaponics. With that being said, there are numerous do it yourself tactics on how to build your very own grow bed or grow pots that will work just as well as any commercial or retail one that you buy online.
If you have a small or beginner sized aquaponic system, especially with a fish tank, a common thing some aquaponic amateurs do is to create styrofoam cut out that aligns perfectly with the perimeter of the tank. From here, cutting out a specified number of holes you want for your grow pots is easy. As for your actual pots, you can use a whole array of cups. Some individuals use plastic cups, paper puts, styrofoam cups, or any shape or object that you can find around your house that work well as a grow pot. It is essential that you do, however, create holes in the lower part of whatever you are using in order for the roots and plants to grow properly.
If you have a bigger aquaponics system or decide to use a grow bed instead of pots, you can easily use a plastic bin of some sort that is able to maintain and store all the plants that you intend to grow. Again, it is important to make sure that the bin is properly fitted and able to circulate so that your plants grow efficiently. Between jolly rigging, your own grow area and purchasing one online or in a retailer, there is not much difference. As long as you build it with detail and care, the only difference between the two is that you save hundreds of dollars!
Either way, creating your own grow bed or grow pots is a great way to save money and also a great addition to any DIY aquaponics system!
Related Questions
Is it worth investing time in solar energy and creating my own food supplies?
Yes! Many Aquaponic enthusiasts have been able to keep the operating margins exceptionally low by employing some of the methods highlighted in this article such as installing solar units and creating growing food supplies like worms and larvae. If you see yourself in the aquaponics, whether you are moving houses soon or you would just like be in the Aquaponic space only for a short period of time you may want to stick with buying food, and paying for your electricity.  Creating a self-sustaining infrastructure for feeding your fish can be labor intensive, but definitely has long term benefits.  As far as solar energy goes, the unit will pay for itself over time.  Keep that in mind!
How big should my DIY aquaponics system be?
The size of your DIY aquaponics system is entirely dependent on your preference! A lot of people tend to start off with a smaller system using a traditionally sized fish tank because it is the easiest and most affordable. However, there are some who want to go above and beyond and create larger systems. Either way, there are surely DIY tips and tricks to help you save money when creating your very own system!
What should be my water to fish ratio?
The classic rule of thumb is one fish for every 5 to 10 gallons of water. In basic terms stick to this ratio.  If you overpopulate your tank you may see your fish start to struggle, or with some breeds begin to cannibalize themselves. Having too little fish may result in a very ineffective and inefficient system. Make sure to research the exact ratio recommended for the fish you eventually choose!
How often should I check my water quality?
When it comes to water quality, you should have a thermometer measuring the water at all times. In terms of checking the pH level, ideally you want to check the levels every two weeks but checking them every three weeks does not hurt. The test kits are in abundance and are always accessible in any hardware store. If you do see any noticeable changes or drastic anomalies within the tank, be sure to check your water quality as soon as you can to avoid any future issues!
Altogether, building your very own DIY aquaponics system can be a very challenging and complicated experience, However, the results of having one are rewarding in it of itself. Many enthusiasts are proud to boast about their homemade aquaponics systems and you can too if you keep the tips and tricks you read here in mind. There are many different intricacies when it comes to a successful and efficient system, but when taking expenses into account, it makes the entire process even more difficult. In the end, there are tons of way to save money on your aquaponic system that being able to have one at an affordable price should not be an issue at all!

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