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A multitasking garden: setting up aquaponics at home

April 23, 2016

If you are looking for more than lettuce greens and tomatoes from your home food garden, this may well be the solution: Over the past decade or so, inventive gardeners have come up with a marriage of horticulture and fish farming. Through aquaponics, or aquaculture, a gardener raises edible fish as part of a hydroponics system that grows vegetables and herbs without soil. Per square foot, aquaponics can be one of the most productive forms of agriculture, and is a perfect example of a a self-sufficient assembly of plants and animals that functions like an ecosystem, producing food for people without creating waste products or pollution.

The water from the fish tanks can be used by the plants as a soluble fertilizer, while the plants filter the water for the fish. There are dozens of different kinds of fish that can be used for small or large scale production.  An aquaponics system that is functioning well can produce veggies every three months and a generation of fish in 9 months to a year.

Costa Rica’s tropical climate also favors production all year round, and varieties of fish such as tilapia and guapote are available here in the country. As in hydroponics, there is a tremendous savings in water use, since water is recycled again and again.

First off, find the right place for your garden. Poor lighting will result in poor growth of the plants, so it’s very important that the site receive good morning sun. The site should receive 6-8 hours of sun daily. This usually means the eastern and southern exposures of the home. One negative aspect of aquaponic systems is that they tend to cost a lot to get started, but you can save money by using recycled plastic contains for growing beds and fish tanks.

Hydroponic systems also need careful attention to the quality of water for the fish. So let’s look at some of the different types of do-it-yourself aquaponics systems that gardeners can choose from for the home. There are plenty of tutorial videos and instructions online to help you set up your own aquaponic system.  Here are a few examples:

A mini-garden container and aquarium setup is a nice way to start and a great project for the kids. Hook up the tray or container for lettuce or a tomato with a growing media, then connect to the aquarium with a small pump. This simple system helps the family learn how to manage the water quality for the fish. Remember to place the growing unit in a sunny area. See Aquaponics Journal.

Vertical wall growing containers and a plastic barrel fish tank. In small areas it’s not top hard to attach containers to a sunny wall and connect them to the fish tank via irrigation tubing and a small pump. Once again, you can save by using recycled containers filled with the appropriate growing media.

Plastic barrel fish tanks and growing beds.  These days it’s easy to acquire these reused barrels at Costa Rican estañoneras or barrel depots found in every town.  These blue barrels can be cut in half length-wise to make two garden growing beds and another barrel to raise the fish in. This system is less expensive and works in small areas. PVC pipes connect the growing beds with the fish tank and a pump circulates the water.

Greenhouse hydroponics with larger fish tanks for continued food production. As you can imagine, the more fish you want to propagate, the more growing beds you will need to filter the water. In theory, a well-tuned aquaponic system can support one pound of fish per gallon of water. When starting out, however, it’s better to plan on stocking one fish for every 10 gallons of water to make sure the system doesn’t fall out of balance and the fish will have more room to swim.  Open water systems need screening to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in the system, like Aedes aegypti, which can carry dengue, chikungunya, and Zika viruses.

Finally, there are several enterprises in Costa Rica that offer complete construction and maintenance of aquaponic systems. For example, in our hometown of San Isidro del General, local school Escuela del Valle has just received a donation of an aquaponic system that will act as a living laboratory for the students. Jim Gale of Permacube Revolution is putting the final touches on the project which includes aquaponics and more.

It’s good to see that these types of educational programs are being started across the country to help our youth to become highly skilled in the art of home and community food production. When we can save money, eat healthier food, and help improve our environment, it’s a good step toward redesigning the habitats we live in. Here’s a directory of aquaponics supplies and services.


Aquaponics Aquacasa

Our Aquaponics System In Costa Rica – Survival Gardener

Nor Cal Aquaponics – Our Work

Hydroponics Costa Rica – aquaponics systems

AGROVERDE, 2438-2326, mineral salts, nurseries

AMACIGOS DEL SUR,  8819-8635, hydroponic products

CASAGRI,  2261-0266, seeds, irrigation supplies

EL SEMILLERO,  2221-2983, seeds

ENCHAPES ORNAMENTALES, 2276-7772, volcanic rock

KAF INTERNACIONAL, 2448-4597, materials for greenhouses

LABORATORIO DR. OBREGON, 2761-0668, biological controls

LA CASA DE LA SEMILLA, 2223-2501, seeds


POLYMER (Francisco Martínez), 2231-4455 /2231-4988, plastic products


TRISAN, 2290-0050, seeds

YANBER S.A. 2257-9020, plastic products

Read more of Ed Bernhardt’s monthly Home Gardening columns here.

For more information on tropical gardening – naturally – visit Ed at http://thenewdawncenter.info/blog.html or contact him at thenewdawncenter@yahoo.com. 


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