Quarantine measures during the COVID-19 crisis mean we all need to be creative about using our personal space. Our homes are now our studios, our gyms, our dance floors, our kids' classrooms and more. While many restaurants are smartly strategizing and extending their services from closed doors, it's likely that many of us are using one usual domestic space more than normal at this time — the kitchen. If you're looking for an exciting DIY project to make your culinary footprint more sustainable, venture to build your very own at-home aquaponics system with help from our publication Future Food Today: A cookbook by SPACE10 — a collection, notably, that was just acknowledged to be the winner for Innovation at the 25th Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
Growing vegetables and fish can be demanding activities—unless you combine them. In an almost closed aquaponics loop, nutrients in the fish waste feed the plants, and the plants filter the water so the fish stay healthy. This method requires no fertilisers, pesticides or filters—just a little fish food.
The aquaponics system consists of an aquarium, a grow bed and a pumping system that moves water between the two. Keep in mind that plants with high nutritional demands won’t thrive in a small aquaponics system. The material list may look long, but don’t be intimidated. All it takes to build a functioning aquaponics system is a bit of practice and patience, and a spot in your home with no direct sunlight: you want to avoid temperature fluctuations.
This is optional, but it makes everything look a little nicer. You’ll need:
Wood planks (we’ve used pine plywood scraps)
Screws or nails
A grow bed is a rectangular box made specifically for aquaponics. We’ve used VÄXER from IKEA. You’ll need:
Grow lights (we’ve used VÄXER LED)
Net pots (included in VÄXER)
Plug-in mechanical timer
You should be able to find these elements at your local pet store. You’ll need:
Aquarium gravel and plants (optional, but they’re good for the fish)
Aquarium starter bacteria
Air pump and stone
FISH AND FISH FEED
We’ve used guppies, but talk to your local pet store for further advice.
WATER PUMPING SYSTEM
Water inlet pipe (around 20 cm long and 10 mm in diameter)
Water outlet pipe (around 20 cm long and 18 mm in diameter, so the grow bed does not overflow)
STEP 1 To build the wooden structure, start by laying out the dimensions of your system. You’ll need to account for the size of your aquarium and grow bed. In your design, remember to have the grow bed’s water inlet and outlet directly above the aquarium. Also, make sure you leave enough room to access the aquarium to feed the fish. Optionally, you can build a smaller box in the back to house all the components. Cut the wooden planks to your desired size and assemble them using nails or screws and wood glue. You’ll need to add holes where the grow bed sits for its inlet and outlet pipes. Treat the system with linseed oil to protect it from the water.
STEP 2 Make two holes in the grow bed (A) floor, one on each end, to install the water inlet and outlet pipes. (The inlet pipe is connected to the water pump (D), filling up the grow bed with water, while the outlet pipe will empty the water back to the aquarium, letting the water circulate.) Seal the pipes to the grow bed using aquarium silicone. Tip: make sure the outlet pipe is 2–3 cm below the edge of the grow bed. This will regulate the water level.
STEP 3 Put the grow bed, aquarium and wooden structure together. In your aquarium, install the water pump (D) and connect it to the inlet pipe.
STEP 4 Install the grow lights above the grow bed and set the plug-in mechanical timer (B) to 14–16 hours a day. Set up the air pump and stone (C). Put in the net pots with herbs or greens of your choice. Step 5 Fill the aquarium with water and add the starter bacteria. Let it run for a day or two before adding your fish.