Aquaponics Farming in the Greenhouse – a Full Guide

Introduction to an aquaponics farming in greenhouse

Aquaponics farming is a system of soil-less growing that uses fish to create a fertilizer that can be recycled continuously throughout the growing system. These greenhouses for the aquaponics system can be used in cold, moderate, and warm climates and will protect crops from extreme weather conditions. Commercial aquaponics greenhouse presents an opportunity to do all three, while also being financially profitable with high-value, year-round produces. While an enticing opportunity, planning a commercial aquaponics greenhouse needs a detailed business plan and a clear understanding of your goals. In this article we also discuss below topics;

  • Can a commercial aquaponics greenhouse be profitable
  • How to build an aquaponics greenhouse
  • Commercial aquaponics greenhouse
  • Aquaponics greenhouse setup
  • Aquaponics greenhouse design

A step by step guide to an aquaponics farming greenhouse  

Greenhouses are used to grow flowers, vegetable plants, fruits, and transplants. Greenhouses use a fairly low amount of water and energy as compared to conventional farming, which by protecting the plants from the weather assists them to grow more productively and also makes the situation very cost-effective. The advantage of using the greenhouses is to modify a specific micro-climate and to make the growing season longer. Then, this is because the plants are protected from the harsh conditions of the weather elements such as the sun, wind, and even rain. The disadvantage is the loss of water to the ground when trying to provide it for their growth. It does not matter how carefully the irrigation is done, any water poured to the plants will eventually reach the ground and seeps into the soil and hence being lost forever.

A guide to aquaponics farming greenhouse.
A guide to aquaponics farming greenhouse.

Aquaponics greenhouses are a growing trend used in controlling the environments for the growth of different food. They still need the same heating and cooling as those of the regular greenhouses. Aquaponics greenhouses are efficient and economical as they allow the growing of vegetables and rearing of fish in a small space. The popular fish used in the aquaculture system is tilapia due to its capability to breed well, grow very fast, and have the ability to habituate in fluctuating conditions such as the pH level, temperature, and oxygen changes. Aquaponics grow beds are essential and, therefore, a lot of factors should be considered when getting one for the system. An individual should be able to understand the ratio of the grow bed and the fish tank.

Basic components for aquaponics farming in the greenhouse

Every aquaponics system will include the components listed below.

Tank – A well-tuned aquaponics system can support one pound of fish per gallon of water. When starting, however, it is better to plan on stocking one fish for every 10 gallons of water to make sure the system doesn’t fall out of balance. Most do-it-yourselfers start with a 55-gallon barrel or a 225-gallon square bin; two standard sizes of food-grade tanks that are easy to come by recycled from the food industry.

Growing Beds – The growing beds are the areas designated to grow the plants. There are two different basic styles used in aquaponics, media-based beds and beds that grow directly in water. Each style comes with its advantages and disadvantages, but they share common components.

Selecting the material for the growing beds is an early part of the aquaponics system. When selecting the material to use as the growing bed, the first main consideration is to find non-toxic and inert materials. Since aquaponics systems have fish and plants, the material needs to be non-toxic for the health of the system and the health of the consumer. The growing bed material must be inert, which means the material does not leach or put materials into the system. This is important because leaching material it can gradually change the chemical composition in the aquaponics system. It is a good idea to avoid unlined metals, uncoated concrete, and recycled plastics, which all have the potential to leach. The growing beds are perhaps the best place to start when designing the aquaponics greenhouse system. Normally, a 1:1 or 2:1 (growing bed to fish tank volume) ratio is used, depending on set design. The growing beds take up most of the space in the greenhouse.

Pumps – The pump can collect the water that drains from the grow beds and put it back in the tank (if the grow beds are below the tank), or it can be located in the bottom of the tank and used to spread the water over the surface of the grow beds (if they are elevated above the level of the tank). The beds need a network of PVC pipes on the surface to distribute the water from the fish tank. There is one more critical piece of hardware to make an aquaponics system work and you need an aerator to give sufficient oxygen for the fish.

Temperature maintenance for aquaponics farming in the greenhouse system

Two separate temperatures are important to monitor in aquaponics. Both are determined by the species of fish and plants chosen but differ in the way they are controlled.

The first temperature to keep track of is the air temperature level of the greenhouse. The air temperature level is determined by the plant’s needs at seasonal conditions. Air temperature levels can be controlled using common greenhouse practices of heaters, fans, shade cloth, and other methods. Refer to information on the crops being grown to determine the best cultural practices to have the greenhouse set at the right temperature level.

The second temperature level to keep track of is the water temperature. Then, this is determined by the fish species. Some fish species will prefer warmer or cooler environments, so it important to know in what conditions the selected species thrives. It may be a good idea to select fish species from similar climatic zones as the greenhouse. This is simply as it can be easier to keep water temperatures close to the surrounding areas. Fish that thrive in those temperatures must require fewer temperature inputs. Providing the ideal water temperature level removes potential stress for the fish. To control the water temperature level in smaller fish tanks, a traditional aquarium heater can be used. Larger tanks will need different methods such as swimming pool heaters or in-floor heating. It is important to look at ways to retain heat by insulating the fish tank and areas where cold spots might develop. Like many components in the aquaponics system, doubling up and having a back-up is a good way to help prevent problems in the case of one heater malfunctioning. Avoid overheating the water in the aquaponics. It is easier and affordable to heat water than it is to cool water. Another reason to avoid excessive temperature levels is warmer water holds less dissolved oxygen.

The plants for the aquaponics greenhouse farming system  

Some food plants are easier to grow in an aquaponics system than others. Anything that is harvested as leaf lettuce, kale, arugula, spinach, basil, and dill, etc responds very well to the nutrients found in fish water and can usually is grown without added nutritional supplements. It is possible to cultivate species grown for their fruit as well as vegetables that require supplemental fertilizers, which are available from aquaponics suppliers.

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Putting an aquaponics and greenhouse system together

First, you will need a sunny space to set up your aquaponics system. If you’re not building it inside a greenhouse, you’ll want to get everything together in early spring, so you can stock the fish as soon as the water temperature hits 21°C. Stock the fingerlings first and then start seedlings in flats of potting soil at the same time. By the time the seedlings are big enough to transplant, the fish must be producing enough waste to support the growth in the grow beds. Then, the vegetables themselves have little to do with cleaning the water for the fish and this occurs in the growing medium. So the water needs to circulate through the grow beds for the sake of the fish, and whether plants are growing in them or not.

Year-round aquaponics greenhouse production

Growing year-round with aquaponics greenhouse is very achievable no matter where you live. A properly designed greenhouse or indoor growing environment with climate controls will help you achieve your growing vision. There are lots of options well suited for various climates from residential sunrooms, geodesic domes, passive solar greenhouses, commercial and traditional greenhouse structures, and warehouse or indoor growing spaces. Each of these options has proven out their viability and we will discuss the various styles, plans, components, and growing environmental considerations.

Tips for designing an aquaponics farming in the greenhouse

Some quick tips for designing aquaponics greenhouse;

Locate grow beds in sunlight; fish tanks in shadier areas

If fish tanks are in direct light they can get too hot during the day, lowering the dissolved oxygen in the water, which can kill fish. Fish tanks are easier to heat than to cool, so it’s imperative to avoid overheating your tanks. Also, if tanks are uncovered, direct light on the water can facilitate unwanted algae growth. You’ll want to place all grow beds in the maximum light for optimal year-round growing particularly to increase production in the winter season. For this reason, passive solar greenhouses and that have an insulated north wall and glazings facing the South are a perfect fit for aquaponics. Fish tanks will stay stable temperature-wise against the North wall, the greenhouse will be a warmer year-round environment overall, and beds will get full light.

Insulate your greenhouse

Create a super energy-efficient greenhouse system that minimizes temperature fluctuations.  Then, this is a good strategy when dealing with any greenhouse, but important in an aquaponics greenhouse, where you do not want to keep the air temperature and root temperatures stable, but the fish tanks as well.

If in cold climates, using a hardier fish species such as perch or koi that don’t require warm water temps will reduce heating costs. Though, remember that an average uninsulated and unheated greenhouse will be the same temperature inside as outside. In many areas, traditional greenhouses aren’t used through the winter season because the heating expenses make it cost-prohibitive.

How to build an aquaponics farming system in the greenhouse

There are many aquaponics systems out there – raft, NFT, media beds, wicking beds which take on a myriad of shapes and sizes. You don’t want to limit yourself by building a greenhouse system and then discovering that it cannot accommodate the aquaponics system you want. An aquaponics greenhouse should not meet the needs of your system but increase the performance and productivity of your system. For example, a well-designed aquaponics greenhouse must have an insulated South knee wall up to the height of the grow beds. Then, this protects the root systems from getting too hot or too cold.

Building an aquaponics greenhouse may not be easy, but it could be effective especially if one is trying to save on capital. An Aquaponics greenhouse system can be built at just a fraction of the cost that would be used to purchase a pre-built one. Several designs have been carefully drawn out depending on the design of the greenhouse and the size that the individual may prefer. One does not need to be a builder to put up an Aquaponics greenhouse. All an individual could need are greenhouse secrets and they are prepared to take the task.

Best aquaponics growing beds

The tank at the top must be higher in the direction of the fish food tanks and the growing bed should be lower in the area lower towards the fish tank. A hole must be cut at the bottom of the top bed (the end that is angled downwards) to allow the 1 inch PVC pipe to let the water flow from the top bed to the bed at the bottom. Another whole must be cut in the side but at the bottom of the bed for the 1 inch PVC pipe to let the water from the aquaponics to flow back to the tank.

The building of the entire aquaponics system as well as constructing the greenhouse kit can be economic. Then, there is the option of purchasing the entire kit, and depending on the individual, they may decide to assemble the greenhouse kit personally and cut on the costs of labor or put it up for them that include setting up the aquaponics tanks.

Steps for design aquaponics farming in the greenhouse

Instructions on aquaponics greenhouse design;

Three main different types of styles can be used in designing the Aquaponics greenhouse. They are;

  • Deepwater Culture (DWC),
  • Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) and
  • Media-based

The first two styles are a bit more expensive and it is highly recommended that beginners should begin with the media-based. There are many reasons why the media-based style is the best such as; it is easier to learn and understand the processes to be used and it is cheaper. The media bed is advantageous because it can perform several tasks that are required. It could perform all three filtering tasks that include mineralization (the breaking down of solids to a liquid state), mechanical (the removal of solids), and biofiltration.

Aquaponics greenhouse makes nutrient-rich water from fish waste and this will serve as a food source for the plants. Then, the system works by evenly distributing the used fish water to different crop beds. The water contains fish waste that will be used up by plants and the water will be returned once more to the fish tank via a pump.

Step 1) Decide the Aquaponics farming style for the greenhouse

There are three main versions of an Aquaponics are Media Based, Deep Raft, and Nutrient Film Technique. You must decide on what fits your purpose more and what is right for your budget allocation. If you want to make Aquaponics in your backyard then use the Media Based Style. But if you are aiming for crop production then Deep Raft and Nutrient Film technique are better for you.

Step 2) Slightly Slope the Floor Down

Aquaponics system is a water run environment, then you have to slope the floor down so that excess water will drain downward. And, make sure that all the tanks and the grow beds are properly aligned.

Step 3) Consider Bricks or Masonry for Insulation

Good insulation is the key to retaining solar energy and you have to insulate all the parts of your greenhouse to maintain the heat inside especially in areas that are not glazed. Then, these materials function well but need insulating barriers between it and the soil. It is better if you can use pumice rock to insulate as this will allow water to seep through the ground.

Step 4) Install Fish Tanks

You are advised to use tanks made of polyurethane to achieve the balance of the controlled environment. Then, the ideal ratio of each tank to grow bed is one to one but you can have one tank to two grow beds. Each tank can contain 700 to 800 gallons.

Step 5) Grow Beds

Still made from polyurethane, the grow beds should be at 10-15 feet high from the ceiling so that adequate sunlight can be taken. And, the height will give the plants more space to grow. The height of the beds will depend on your preference. It should be level with your hips so that you won’t need to stoop down or reach higher.

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