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When creating your system, or simply diving into the learning process, the term aquaponics grow beds will pop up a lot. And it should, since the grow bed and fish tanks are the two most important components of the gardening system.
But what exactly is it? It’s just the general term to whatever container you choose to hold your plants. There are important tips to keep in mind when considering the size and materials needed.
If your creating your system for home use, you’re going to literally be living with the unit, so appearance may someday become an issue. Certainly, you can purchase an already crafted specifically labeled structure from a garden supplier. But you can also make one yourself or convert/recycle an abandoned container that has been forgotten or is just collecting dust. In either case, material of that container is a major concern.
The unit must be light enough to work well with the aquaponics fish tanks base without adding too much extra weight and stress to the aquatic life. Fish stress out easily, and that reduces their life span. It also must be strong enough to support your adult plants, their root systems, the media chosen for the grow bed, and the water that will nourish your plants. That can be a substantial amount of weight once the plants reach maturity.
The material should be light resistant as too much light can cause algae to breed in the grow media and essentially steal the nutrients from your plants. The material must be free of toxins and heavy metals that can break down and change the pH balance of your water. And, of course, the container must be waterproof. The most common materials used are plastic, wood, and fiberglass. But concrete can also be used IF it’s water tight and sealed properly. However, if weight is an issue, it’s often best to keep use lighter materials. Rubberized epoxy and liners come in handy for ensuring the materials remain secure.
You can combine several plants into a single container if they’re small enough. Bigger plants such as melons, cauliflower, and trees, however, may need their own aquaponics grow beds. In either case, starting off small is essential. Typically, the beginner’s ratio should be 1:1 – 1 plant to 1 fish. As you become more experienced, that can increase to 2:1 – 2 plants per fish. The first ratio is to acclimate to the needs of your aquatic end, and the second is to provide extra nutrients for your plants. Beginners tend to lose more fish at first due to the necessary learning curve of creating the system. The point is that beginners may have smaller grow beds than experienced owners, and that’s just fine.
Most of the time, for space and easy containment purposes, some are set directly on top or otherwise perched somewhere over the fish tank. Choosing a structure that’s too large for the tank can prove itself a hazard to you and your marine life. The last thing you’ll want is to find that your bed tipped or fell into the fish tank one day. That type of destruction is such a waste, especially when it can be so easily avoided. So start small. You can always size up later.
There are pre-made systems on the market that sell for anywhere from $300 – $10,000. Obviously most of the cost there is due to your lack of involvement. But typical do-it-yourselfers, even beginners, can save a bundle by just doing a few things themselves. One of the simplest cost cutters involves creating or obtaining your own.
So, how much can you save? Let’s put it this way: a simple grow bed can be made with treated materials and liners. Even a large bed can cost under $100. Many people start off smaller and can create their beds for around $30. And if that’s still too much to handle, a simple opaque rubbermaid container or generic equivalent can be found on sale at IKEA, WalMart, or even your local grocery store for around $10. While those inexpensive options may prove ineffective for larger yields, they’re often fine options for a small starter system which is often all a beginner really needs at first.
In conclusion, your aquaponics grow beds should be resistant to light and water; strong enough to hold your adult plants, grow media, and nutrient–rich water; and lightweight enough to not put unnecessary stress on your fish tank. Remember you can always upgrade later as your experience grows. In fact, few people stick with the same size garden or the identical set up as family size and life changes occur. So don’t be worried about starting off small. Discovering the need to upgrade for a higher yield is always a better option than wasting precious resources due to poor planning or stubbornness.
More info here about aquaponics DIY system design
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Image Credit: Ladylong via Flickr | https://www.flickr.com/photos/ladylong