There are basic components that every aquaponics system will need, regardless of the type of aquaponics system you set up. There can be some variation in what you actually use for each component, usually dependant on how much money you want to spend. You will need the following for an aquaponics set-up.
A tank for the fish
You can use an aquarium, a pond or pool, a used food-grade container, a barrel or drum; basically anything that will hold water and can hold fish. The size you need will be dependant on the type of fish you are going to keep and whether you want them as an integral part of the system or to grow out as food.
Trays for the plants
What you use will be determined by the type of system you set up, so you need to make this decision first. There are three types of aquaponics systems - media-based, NFT and deep water or raft. Depending on the system, you could need rain guttering, half barrels, Styrofoam sheets, PVC pipe or channels, buckets or plastic containers. These need to be deep enough to hold between 6 and 12 inches (15–30 cms) of growing medium or water.
Again, this will be determined by the type of system you have. Aquaponics systems do not use soil so you need to have something else to support the plants as they grow as well as hold some water, if you are using a media-based system.
A water pump is needed to circulate the water from the fish tank through the growing medium and back to the tank.
An air pump is needed to aerate the water in the fish tank to achieve good levels of oxygen for both the fish and the plants. It works by taking air from outside the system and pushing it into the water. Sometimes air stones are used in conjunction with the air pump to further break up the air bubbles and provide even better oxygenation.
Tubing is needed to carry the air and water through the system. Water pumps generally use half inch tubing while air pumps are set up for quarter inch tubing. Plastic tubing is available in both clear and black; choose the black for your aquaponics system as it deters algae from growing and clogging the tube. Drip irrigation systems use quarter inch tubing and this is very satisfactory for aquaponics; it is very durable and cheaper than what you buy in aquarium supply stores.
Some systems require a timer to manage the turning on and off of the water pump, as with an ebb and flow system. In a home aquaponics system, the timing is generally in half hour increments.
Whether you need a bio filter or not may depend on the type of system you have. An aquaponics system is just like an aquarium; good bacteria need to build up to convert dangerous toxins from the fish waste into less-harmful nitrites and nitrates. Gravel in the bottom of the fish tank is effective or you might need a separate biological filter. If you have gravel as part of your aquaponics system, this can act as a bio filter too but you would have the problem of needing to allow the bacteria to build up again after every time you clean your growing medium.
You can choose from a wide range of plants to grow in your aquaponics system and will have fun experimenting with different types. Start off with easy ones like herbs, leafy greens like spinach, silverbeet and lettuce, strawberries or broccoli. Again, the type of system you use can influence the type of plants you can grow. Most experts advise against trying to grow root vegetables like carrots, radishes and potatoes.
Fish are the other part of the process that makes aquaponic gardening work. You can choose to have decorative fish like goldfish or cichlids or to grow edible fish species like trout, carp or tilapia, the most common farmed fish worldwide. Research the available fish species in your local area because it is important to source fish that are suited to your climate.
These are the basic components you will need when you set up your aquaponics system but remember, what you actually need could depend on the type of system you decide on. Start small so you can learn the art and science of aquaponics before investing too much time and money. As you gain experience, you can add more tanks and grow the size of your aquaponics garden.