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Your aquaponics fish tank is one of the two main components needed for your DIY system. So, of course, it makes sense that it’s often the subject of great discussion and concern. But it doesn’t have to be.
In fact, deciding upon your tank can be the easiest part of creating your system. There are, however, general rules you need to apply to the decision in order to achieve ultimate system success.
Your tank must be secure in order to function correctly and serve as a stress free container for your aquatic life sources. Therefore, it must be strong and sturdy enough to hold the water and life required to nourish the grow bed above. Water will be flowing to and from your fish tank to your grow bed, so that extra weight can affect flexible materials. You may appreciate being able to easily move your tank around, but your fish won’t. Stress is a common factor in the health of marine life, so don’t waste your time and money if you’re not going to care for these animals. If you’re serious about your system, choose a sturdy container.
It goes without saying, but the container must be waterproof. This also means that being water tight is a mandatory requirement. It’s a shame to get everything set up only to find at the end that your recycled tank leaks. But that happens quite often. Marine grade silicon and gaskets can help prevent that. If you’re recycling a container, test it before purchasing your fish.
Beware of Toxins
Some materials – such as metal, untreated lumber, and certain plastics – can contain or leech toxins into the water. The only toxins that should enter the water are from the fish waste that will be used by your plants. Anything else will kill your fish supply and potentially your plants as well. If reusing plastic containers, be certain that they NEVER held any type of chemical. Chemicals can sink into plastic and release slowly. At the same time, ensure your materials are inert and do not affect your system’s pH balance. Metal containers are notorious for rusting or leeching toxins into the surrounding water. That harm the fish, the plant life, and our bodies. So metal containers should not be considered for aquaponics grow beds or fish tanks.
So then, what should you look for regarding your tank? The size should be dependent on the type of system you’re creating. A simple beginner’s ratio is 1:1, meaning stock one fish per plant grown above in the grow bed. As experience grows, however, that ratio can rise to 2:1 – two fish per plant. The extra toxins created by the fish waste can cause the plants to flourish exponentially. But wait until you know your fish will survive before spending the time and money on the extra marine life. Also, depending on which fish you select, you may simply need to permit enough time for natural reproduction to occur. And, oh yes, it will happen.
Many people reuse common items for theirs. Of course empty glass tanks are common, but so are old bathtubs and unused pools or ponds. If you are not recycling an item you have access to and intend to purchase a tank specifically for this purpose, there are some things to consider. A round or oval tank may be more beneficial than a squared off unit. This allows more of a continual water temperature without the worry of dead zones – those corners where cold patches and toxins settle and lead to aquatic suffocation.
Regarding depth, opt for a wider container over a deep one. Of course, it should be deep enough to encourage your fish to roam freely, but a wider and shallower tank allows better gas distribution within the water. This results in less stress on your fish.
The location is important as well. Warm and cold water fish react differently, so keeping a tank full of cold water fish in a sun lit or overly warm area is just a waste of time and money. However, your fish should only see enough light to be able to distinguish whether it’s daytime or evening. Otherwise their internal clocks get all wonky and you’ll have a tank full of half-dead stressed out critters. If too much light filters into your tank, algae will form and create extra toxins that will destroy your system.
Best Design for Your System
Your optimal Do-It-Yourself aquaponics system design can be anything you choose. Run with whatever calls to you and fits your lifestyle. However, the flood and drain gardening system is one of the most common and easiest options for beginners. It can also be attractive and large enough to continue using after your experience levels increase.
The pump and drain is a basic system which doesn’t require a sump pump. It works for 1:1 and 2:1 ratios, and it’s easy to create and maintain. In this design, the tank sits on a flat level, deck or ground, and the grow bed is above it on a frame. A pump and siphon connect the two in order to exchange nutrients and clean water. And it’s that simple.
Certainly you can opt for a complicated system if that’s what you really want. But for basic home users, the flood and drain system is the easiest option. There are no bells and whistles, and you have complete access to your grow bed and shallow aquaponics fish tank. After all, your fish aren’t going to care how fancy your system is, so why should you?
Image Credit: Cara Harpole via Flickr | https://www.flickr.com/photos/caraharpole