Transitioning from Hydroponics to Aquaponics

Posted by Amy Storey on November 7, 2014

Alive fishThere are three ways to transition from hydroponics to aquaponics.

So you're growing hydroponically and want to switch to aquaponics.

Why?

Maybe you have a rare niche market to sell fish. Maybe you want to prove that it can be done. Maybe you want to raise fish to eat yourself. Or maybe you are just fascinated with fish (a large part of our decision to grow aquaponically).

Whatever the reason, the switch from hydroponics to aquaponics can be intimidating, but it doesn't have to be.

This post is to help you get an idea of how you're going to do it. Let's look at our possibilities.

Each switch-over method applies to a specific situation, so read through all of the methods and weigh the pros and cons of each.

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Method 1: Entire system switch-over

The basic steps of this methods are:

1) Drain system and replace all water

2) Plant seedlings and hang towers

3) Cycle for 6 weeks

4) Add fish

The problem with this is that you have to go through a regular cycling period (6 weeks), replacing all your water.

You're going to see a dent in your production during this cycling period, before the microbes are established fully, and your nitrification is less than ideal. You are starting with mature plants, however, which can be convenient.

Decrease in production: Yes

Draw back: Significant decrease in production during construction and cycling period.

 

 


 

Method 2: Temporary Dual Systems

The basic steps of this methods are:

1) Construct aquaponic system on side with at least a few towers. (Ideally these would be inoculated.)

2) Cycle aquaponic system for 4-6 weeks, depending on if it was inoculated.

3) Move hydroponic towers to aquaponic system.

4) Deconstruct hydroponic system.

Another option is that you build your aquaponics system on the side with some towers in it (the BSA is important to good cycling). Already-inoculated towers are ideal, as they provide a "kickstart" to microbial populations. You will let the new aquaponic system cycle independently of your already-running hydroponic system, and put your hydroponic towers in it once cycling is complete.

In this method, you never cease production. The downside of this is that you are going to have some equipment that isn't used. We've observed, however, that it is still the most cost-effective option. The money lost with the equipment from the hydroponics system that isn't used (not all that much, really, seeing as hydroponics systems are cheap to begin with) is much less than the money lost if you stop (or see decrease in) production for 6 weeks.

Avoiding this loss in production is the main benefit of this method. (If you're a hobby grower, and production isn't all that important, then this might not be the best option for you.)

A common concern with this method is with transferred fertilizer. Will the nutrient solution that's in the towers as they are transferred from hydroponic system to aquaponic system harm your fish? If you were to drop a fish into a hydroponics system, it would be very unhappy. Hydroponic fertilizers and fish just don't mix well. But since ZipGrows have such high percolation, they don't actually store much water. A few tablespoons, maybe- certainly not enough to harm fish in a system with hundreds of gallons of water.

Decrease in production: No

Draw back: Some unused hydroponic equipment and space.

 


 

Method 3: Permanent Dual Systems

The basic steps of this methods are:

1) Construct aquaponic system on side with at least a few towers. (Ideally these would be inoculated.)

2) Cycle aquaponic system for 4-6 weeks, depending on if it was inoculated.

3) Move hydroponic towers to aquaponic system.

4) Use hydroponic system as treatment system.

The last option is that you keep both systems, grow primarily in your aquaponic system, and use your hydroponic system as a "treatment" system. A treatment system can enable you to grow more consistently, as well as serving as a backup system should catastrophe strike the other.

Say you have 20 towers of basil in your aquaponics system, and they are showing signs of an Iron deficiency. If you have a hydroponics system next door, you can move those towers over to your hydroponics system and treat the deficiency right away rather than waiting for iron levels to stabilize in your aquaponic system.

If you keep a treatment system, you will want to reserve space in each system for crops in need of treatment.

Decrease in in production: No

 

Draw back: Some unused space in each system.

 


 

Don't get hasty!

Don't make the decision to switch without thorough research first!

There's a lot of versatility in hydroponics that isn't present in an aquaponic system.

Fish are sensitive to toxins and many chemical compounds that aren't a problem in hydroponics.

You have to research the nutrients you use and the pesticides you use.

 

Topics: Hydroponics, Aquaponics

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