Bryan suggests starting small. These are the basic elements of
an aquaponics system, whether it’s for a large greenhouse or an
8' x 8' system:
* A healthy environment for the fish (a tank);
* A system to deliver water to the plants (plumbing);
* Enough bacteria in place (which takes time for the fish to
* Rafts for the plants in the deep water container;
* A pump to cycle the water;
* Worms in the media beds to filter the water (plus their
worm castings also create great nutrients for the plants).
A simple backyard system could be set up for use in the spring
and summer with a shade cloth tented over the fish tank to
keep birds from dropping their “bombs” when they fly over.
Some people set up an aquaponics system in their garages with
lights, a heater, and a small pump.
The Pests and Problems
Since the Central Texas Aquaponics greenhouse has soft walls,
Bryan sees the occasional frog or grass snake. Frogs are a problem because they lay their eggs below the rafts, which hatch
into tadpoles, which eat the plants, which morph into tiny frogs
who hop around eating things they’re not supposed to. Rabbits
also can get inside and, without any predators seeking them in
such a safe environment, they quickly find out that the greenhouse is a pleasant place with a lot of food. That can potentially
mean that they invite their family and friends for a dinner party,
and that leads to all of them moving in.
You really can’t help it when the insects get in, Bryan says. No
matter what you try to do, insects are going to get inside. “The
occasional grasshopper will land on your back and catch a ride
inside or a fly will zip in when you’re closing the door.” The key
is to be present as often as possible to spot any insects, snakes,
or friendly rabbits before they get out of hand.
Lessons Learned the Hard Way
Although there seems to be a lot of work involved in maintaining a commercial aquaponics greenhouse, Bryan has fun, too.
While some incidents may not have been fun at the time, they
certainly bring laughs now, he says. One of Bryan’s tips is that
even if someone tells you how or why something works, do
your own research. Someone told Bryan once that his tilapia
were too young to breed “and they weren’t—and they did.”
At the time he didn’t have a flow valve installed and one of the
baby “fry” got sucked into the water pumps, somehow made it
through the media beds (which are rock beds), and ended up
in the deep water containers where the rafts and plants are located. If it hadn’t been for the frog eggs he was trying to remove
(another story for a different day), he would not have found the
two five-inch fish swimming in the water.
Needless to say, Bryan and his cousin spent the better part of a
day wrangling freaked-out fish into a corner of the water bed,
flipping them out of the water with a window screen (which
he’d removed from the house), and his cousin caught them in a
salad bowl! No fish were harmed in the telling of this tale—or
in the actual incident! They were safely returned to the fish
tank. Lesson learned. And now Bryan has flow valves installed
Another lesson learned is that procrastination is best avoided
when possible. If you see a problem that needs to be fixed, fix it
when you see it. As Bryan discovered, he hadn’t properly protected an air pump and, when the rain and cold weather blew
in one night, the air pumps were set off at 2: 30 in the morning.
He was working in the dark, in the rain, in shorts and a T-shirt,
trying to rejuvenate an air pump so his fish wouldn’t die. He
was in mud up to his ankles and absolutely freezing, he said. If
he’d fixed the issue earlier in the day, Bryan knows, he wouldn’t
have had such a wild experience that night.