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Open Source Aquaponics
  • A few of us in discussion began tossing around the idea of developing an open sourced Aquaponics system.  A well maintained aquaponic system could easily support an entire community.  As noted in this video it is possible to have an enormous food output from a small space.

    Aquaponics is the merging of two food systems.  By combining hydroponics and aquaculture the integrated systems solve each other's problems.  The fish fertilize the water for the plants and the plants filter the water for the fish.  (More posts to come, my chickens need some attention presently.)
  • 37 Comments sorted by
  • I really liked the system in the video. Any ideas on the cost of materials?
  • I think this is a great topic. I look forward to this project and possibly implementing a scaled-down version.

    As far as materials, ferrocement would be great for aquaforms. Pond liner could be used as well, lining the inside of simple lumber frames.
  • Hello guys,

    Nice videos and links!

    I was reviewing laconic_world  post about system size, and I think that we can start the design process with a smaller system than my previous suggestion. What do you think about start small, with a 200sqf(18m2) system? Based on the same source, a system like this could support 50 adult fishes and 44 sqf (4m2) of growing area. I’m ready to start building a test bed as soon as we achieve consensus about the basic parameters.

    What is the theoretical yearly food production of such a system?


    Considering tilapia fish, we can have in optimal conditions a grown rate of approx. 1kg in one year per fish. So, with 50 fishes my yearly yield is max 50kg of tilapia, probably less.


    What yearly yield we can reach in 44sqf?  It depends on a lot of variables, but lets talk about tomatoes first:

    The yearly productivity of conventional tomato crops in Brazil  is 50000kg/ha/ year (, reference in portuguese, sorry). The same source stated the organic tomatoes reacha a productivity of 25000kg/ha/ year. Lets suppose that the conventional yield is our minimal goal. So, with 44sqf, we can expect a yield of 20kg of tomatoes out of the system in one year.

    Which  Aquaponics  technique is the most convenient for this scale (thin film, flush and drain etc)?

    I think that this link and the accompanying discussion in the backyard aquaponics forum is a good start:

    Which materials choose for the tanks and growing beds?
    What is the best material for the growing media? How much it will cost?
    Which pumps and sensors we should need?
    Which plants we can grow in this system? Is it viable to grow beans, lentils, rice, wheat and other grains in this aquaponic system?
    How much energy this system are going to consume?
    How many hours a day are necessary for the management and maintenance of this system?

  • needs chickens. from awhile back it is very much like the phoenix approach of  earthship biotechture.
  • What if we figured out the different tools and technologies, then created  wiki page linking them, then developed the information on each of those pages?

    I'm thinking, aquaponics, hydroponics, aquaculture, greenhouses, biogas, something about detrivores, and if we have them, opensource scrubber, compressor, water pump, water aerator.  What other ideas would we have to integrate into a closed-loop comprehensive food system?
  • Is there a OSE model/template on how to develop an experimental project on the wiki? I found more comprehensive project templates on the wiki, but they did not seem fitting for an exercise such as this. My hunch is to gather all the information available on the wiki and, like @ARGHaynes said, form a main aquaponics experimental project page with a plan for attacking each piece systematically like #Fabiofranca has been advocating. 

    Here are the wiki pages that we have so far related to what you said...add more if you think of them or start the wiki page. Or let me know if I am going in the wrong direction. 

    You did not mention poultry farming but it's are a good source of food and biofuel. Maybe also organic horticulture for pest control. Solar power seems like something it should also be a part of the closed-loop.
    This is all I found related to detribores:

    Here is a project that seems to not have traction yet:
  • I support the idea of working to organize and improve the information on the wiki about food production, specially in closed loop systems. It is necessary and there is a lot of work to be done. Surely I'm ready to help.

    On the other hand, I think  it is also important to start practical experiments, to "reality check" the feasibility of some concepts. I'm quite intrigued, for instance,  about the actual food  production per area and associated costs, in terms of energy and money,  in closed systems. Other issue is the quality of the final product: in the source  ,cited by laconic_world, are some comments about the superior quality of earth grown vegetables.
  • I know that Growing Power in WI has done some of these things, I also read about (I forget who) a natural gas powered aquaponics greenhouse, I know that biogas is similar.

    I do support the chickens idea, I have 15 and I get just short of a dozen eggs a day, I eat 3 a day and sell the rest to pay for their food.

    I have always been hesitant about hydroponics because they rely heavily upon chemical fertilizers dissolved into the water, that is why this idea has interest to me.  By opening the system and incorporating other inputs, nutrient diversity is obtained.  Collecting manure from large animals, digesting/composting it and integrating the output into the hydroponics system should create superior results.
  • Also, while I agree that tinkering in a hands-on fashion is useful with manufacturing, the complexity of this system demands more research.  The biological element makes it much more demanding as does the large financial resources that would be necessary to make something viable.
  • The Urban Farming Guys in Kansas City are developing a low-cost Aquaponics system.  See the website and instructional video below.

    Does anybody know if there has been any contact between OSE and these guys?  They are so close to one another, in the Kansas City area.  I emailed The Urban Farming Guys to tell them a little bit about OSE and ask if they are aware of us, but I never heard back.  It seems like there could be some fruitful interaction between these two groups. 

  • This is a wonderful and much needed effort!

    Suggestion: It would be good to get some prototypes done this summer but the data that could be assembled in a short time could add a lot of value to them, so I agree that a bit more research should be done before any physical prototypes are planned and implemented. Maybe see how much data and planning can be done in 2-3 weeks and then go from there?

    Chickens are definitely great to immediately start out with for any system.

    Idea: I've also heard of an idea for chinampa aquaculture with grates and chicken wire between the islands, then chickens are supposed to eat insects by the raised beds and their droppings fertilize the water. This would be more of a large scale aquaponic system.

    On FeF and the food issue: It looks like FeF has tried food production in the past but it has never really taken off since they are focusing on important machine production and Marcin doesn't really have all the answers yet either. So it looks like this is more of an online and off site OSE project for now.

    Aquaponics overview: It seems like no one has really published a fully documented open source design for a full closed loop aquaponics system, is that the case? If so it's going to take a bit of research and prototyping to produce the first finished design. It looks like with
    aquaponics principles video and designs plus the OSE aquaponics page we have enough information to start with.

    Proposed goals: The final goal is a closed loop aquaponics system. Maybe the first prototype can be basic and use fish food, with plans for expanding into experiments for a closed loop system.

    Proposed plan: We could get some more numbers and build metrics of how much of everything is needed and how it will cycle through the system. Then the design theory should be done enough for an effective prototype. Then we should have someone knowledgeable write up and draw up a basic diagram of the ideal closed loop aquaponics system being planned to visualize what elements will be needed, maybe with the metric numbers listed for scaling. Then the theory and metrics can be used to draw up physical designs for a first prototype, then a bill of materials, and sources for the cheapest parts. Then get the prototype 1 made and tested, and start working on adding parts of the closed loop system. Mmm, I can almost taste the tilapia!

    Question: For optimal production you need tools to measure the system to make sure its running correctly. There's a basic list of things to measure here for hydroponics: Light, pH, Conductivity, Nutrients, Temperature, Water quality. What tools are used to measure those? Where are good places to get those tools?

    Thanks to: laconic_world for that list and and Rasmus for collecting and distilling a lot of great information! 
  • @laconic_world
    > Is there a OSE model/template on how to develop an experimental project
    on the wiki? I found more comprehensive project templates on the wiki,
    but they did not seem fitting for an exercise such as this.

    My recommendation would be to loosely follow the OSE product template to set up a preliminary project.  You can find some ideas on how to start an OSE project at and some tips on how to run one at  Neither of these are "official" OSE policy, but Marcin has seen them and as you can see, they also are a work in progress.

    I'd suggest you collect your aquaponics research into pages of the form "Aquaponics Research/Forms", "Aquaponics Research/Filtering", "Aquaponics Research/Suggested Fish", etc.  Then start your designs in "Aquaponics Design", etc.  Have a look at for one possible way to organize information around a project.  The key recommendation is to shift it to the wiki and start collecting your information there.  At some point, when you feel that you have a critical mass of people/ideas/design/etc. you can apply to OSE (Marcin) to be recognized as an "official" OSE project.

    - Mark

  • @mjn
    Thanks Mark for your good suggestions. 
  • I have given it consideration and I have concluded that in a general farming system, chickens should play a role; but they should not be in an aquaponics system.  My logic behind this is that if the chickens contaminate the water with their fecal pathogens, then there is no barrier or breakdown in place to prevent the herbs from being affected. 
  • I actually learned about your website from it's a really excellent source of guys/girls that have been doing aquaponics for years.  Several of them could give you the realistic results.

    I've started a small system (very small, 4 fish) and am looking into expanding.  I love everything about your open source ideas and would love to see an aquaponics system built around the idea.  All you really need for aquaponics is fish, a water pump, and grow beds with 3/4" gravel in it.  But there are tons of factors that help improve it's efficiency.

    Once you have the ability to shape plastics, then building plastic grow beds shouldn't be much of an issue, as well as plumbing.
    If you can keep a greenhouse above 55 degrees (here in missouri that's not overly simple but obviously not impossible) then you can raise tilapia year round.  

    As a starter system, I would recommend getting a 275 gallon IBC tote or something similar and raise 75 tilapia in it.  Attach at least 275 gallons worth of grow beds (roughly 48 cu ft of grow beds) and just do a syphon setup and constantly pump the water from the fish tank to the grow beds and back (or look into chift pist basically adds a sump tank so that only 1 water pump is needed).  It's a large enough system to get a real world test out of it, and small enough that it can be done inexpensively.
  • In an effort to capture some of the work that's going on in this forum, I have created two pages in the wiki:


    This is all good stuff, gentlemen.  I urge you to start moving factual information into the wiki using these pages as a starting point.

    - Mark
  • Alright, I started a little aquaponics system, I have just now purchased most things, it has run me about $275, I expect to spend another $75.  There is a similar sized system I saw retail for $2750, so though $350 is a lot of money to me, it is a great improvement over standard prices.  Once everything is together I plan to wiki it up.
  • @ARGHaynes
    Great idea, I'ld like to stay posted on how this is developing. I think you might be interested in that guys got a pretty large setup and some good info.
  • compost > nutrients + sun + CO2 > algae > **rotifers** > fish > humans > waste <<<<<<

    **I didn't see rotifers on the wiki, something to consider while I apply for a membership. Those little buggers have eaten a large quantity of my algae.

  • @ARGHaynes
    Take pictures of the parts and sub-assemblies as you go.  That way you can post the photos later when you start documenting it.

    - Mark
  • I will be making a post soon, my little free-time has moved from aquaponics to resolving the raccoon-in-my-coop issue I faced recently.
  • There is a video on this website that I found to be very interesting, though wanting for any information.
  • The original post is taken from Growing Power, a Milwaukee-based non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of available food choices in "urban food deserts".

    I've been there several times, and I've met Will Allen personally.  I've been to several of their paid weekend workshops, to learn more about their urban farming methods, and I'm convinced that implementing some or all of what they are doing is going to be good for FeF.  They easily produce more than enough food on that 3 acre plot to feed a village at least the size of "Dunbar's number" that has been mentioned before.

    I took lots of video footage & pics too, but after my first visit, I think their new corporate sponsors were frowning on the use of video cameras, so I promised not to post my footage on the internet. I can't really share that part, but I can share my experiences and knowledge gained by the workshops.

    IF I get to visit FeF, I'll be happy to show the videos & pics I have to anyone who wants them, but I can't share digital copies of same by promise to Growing Power.

    In one of the workshops, there was an exercise between teems of participants, and we were given an urban scenario, where we had to come up with a plan of action to bootstrap an urban farming operation, similar to what is shown in the video.  One of the major stumbling blocks that came up for all of us, was the division of labor, especially the really thankless parts that still need to be done 365 days a year for any farm to work, and especially for something this concentrated.

    There are lots of thankless and labor intensive jobs in farming, and without a dedicated GROUP of people to pull it off, it will fail miserably, and blow much monetary resource in the process, if not careful.  If it is never in a position to risk capital failure, I contend that it probably was underfunded, and thus also doomed to fail, but on the plus side, if one can effectively market the products that are made from such a setup, it can easily (or rather simply) grow into a self-sustaining part of FeF.

    I think there is a labor shortage, and without solving that, this is likely not to yield nearly as good a results and its potentially capable of.

    I recently got the approval of my wife to have us "take a vacation" in the direction of FeF, with the intent of visiting and actually seeing first-hand what is there, and how they are doing life in general.  Not sure when I could pull it off yet, but it has at least passed the "Board of Directors" approval process, and we fully expect that such a visit would be liken to camping in the rough, if we were to stay overnight...  She's still OK with going :)

    I also think that the living quarters and food infrastructure probably needs to be improved, if for no other reason, than to make it more appealing for the people who are being asked to voluntarily show up to fill the recent job postings, ala the "Dream Team 16", etc.  I do see a conflict with running an active producing farm, and not paying the farm workers, though...  Not sure how that would be handled...
  • @Allen15

    Growing Power was one of the organizations that led to my interest in Aquaponics, then a lot of life got in the way and I have a mess of supplies waiting on me.  Could you post a technical discussion and elaborate on all the minutiae of the Growing Power aquaponics system?
  • I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "post a technical discussion", so I probably don't know how to do that (yet).  Pointers are welcome ;)
  • Growing Power is primarily about producing good wholesome food in quantity, and teaching others how they can do it too.  Some of their workshop classes are more focused on an urban environment, such as the ones that specifically target teaching existing farmers and greenhouse growers how to get a higher profit margin out of growing in a greenhouse environment, and much of that will not be immediately relevant to FeF.

    This is because, for example, they grow lake perch, because the perch in Lake Michigan had long been declared unfit for consumption, and local (high-end) restaurants will pay good money for essentially organically produced lake perch.  This is more about marketing your product to niches, and growing that which will fill those niche markets, rather than growing that which you would like to sustain yourself with.  Another example, is that they frequently grow specialized salad greens for the local "health food" markets, where there is a much higher profit margin, but again, you really wouldn't want to live off of them primarily.

    One other thing that they point out, is that once you garner the trust of the local markets to source some particular items, you pretty much have to keep delivering, with no excuses, or you will have lost that chance, and possibly forever - your reputation will be mud.  Local grocery stores can be convinced to buy from you, but they also need reliable suppliers of produce, etc., and their livelihoods depend upon the reliability of their sources.

    On the downside IMO, because they are kinda setup for making higher profit items as their end-product they aren't really using their aquaponics setup to its fullest extent for variety of sustenance-type foods - there is a higher profit margin in growing other items, with a much higher turnover rate, like alfalfa or bean sprouts, which they can turn over in a matter of weeks per harvest.  They were setup every time I've been there, to grow salad parts with all of their aquaponics systems, as the harvested crop.

    That's fine if you're a rabbit, but not so much, if you are really more into a more mid-western style meal plan.  It has been suggested by many, that one can't properly grow tubers or other root crops with aquaponics, and I don't believe this is true, just true with the way that others have approached aquaponics to date.

    I personally believe that aquaponics would be a good fit when combined with growbeds with enough soil to grow tubers of choice, but one will likely need to change the ratio of planter bed area to volume of water or fish, because your flow rate will have to remain high enough to keep your fish alive, and the planter beds will not filter as quickly as the pea-gravel substrate that is typically used for traditional aquaponics.  I think the entire thing could be combined with some greywater reclamation/reuse too, to become even more efficient.
  • Vote Up0Vote Down
    August 2011
    I think there's a danger of re-inventing the wheel here. There are already many online instructions about how to build aquaponics systems. They mightn't fly the "open-source" banner, but people have posted free plans online.

    Check out 'Farm Fountain', 'Barrelponics' and the Backyard Aquaponics forum.

    There is so much aquaponics information available online that anyone who is serious about building their own system, and has an Internet connection, can find out everything they need to know. It is a solved problem.
  • It's not really a "solved" problem, as there is much more to be learned that can only be learned by doing it, since YMMV quite heavily.  I am a member of the Barrelponics Yahoo group, and there is a saying around there that sticks in memory...  "You really haven't done aquaponics until you've had your first big *fish kill*..." (where you wake up/come home & find that ALL of your fish are now dead for no reason you can discern.  Much to learn about your specific setup to keep your little ecosystem balanced well enough for everything to thrive.

    We don't have to re-invent the wheel or come close, but we should really identify our goals, both short-term & long-term on any aquaponics project, or we will probably fall short of them, and the context of OSE/FeF, that would likely mean that the mistakes would be unfunded and expensive out-of-pocket.  Growing Power has multiple excellent setups, and they do work well for them, but I recognize that their goals don't align well with my own, and may not align well with a FeF-type environment, either.

    There is lots of marketing hype online about aquaponics, as it looks to be trending up, but be careful, as not all of it will (ever?) amount to anything that actually amortizes its own costs.
  • Vote Up0Vote Down
    August 2011

    i havent read this whole post, i will later i promise.

    i was thinking of setting up a small aquaponics in the backyarrd. i was going to be using old bathtubs as the grow beds and am temted to use them as gthe the fish tank aswell or i might use the ICB(??) the big liquid storage containers.

    using as many open source ideas

  • The bulk liquid storage containers (must be food-grade, & completely cleaned out of whatever they might have contained, if it is the least bit toxic to fish) are an excellent choice, if you can get them cheaply.  Many others are doing so already.
  • Vote Up0Vote Down
    September 2011

    ^^ thats them

    yeah you can get them around here for 100 or sofood grade, just need a little modification for insulation

  • I have much much interest in this topic. :) I saw the topic and was going to link... the video that already seems linked, which i'd found via other links.

    I plan to try and rig up an aquaponics system and four seasons greenhouse as near the top priority after getting a house built out of earthbricks...
  • I heard Will Allen speak last Spring at the sustainability conference held at UDC. In addition his incredible results in food production his farming system does quite a lot more: vermiculture, producing tons of soil and fixing carbon there instead of letting it escape into the atmosphere, producing quantities of worms, which can also be sold, training and employing a number of inner city youths, processing huge quantities of organic waste that would otherwise end up in landfills. And I believe his profits are around $100,000 (which all gets invested back into the organization, the surrounding community, and expansion, since it's non-profit). This is all really exciting, but as I believe someone mentioned further up, it's all very labor-intensive. So I was really excited to hear about this project: - which is essentially the same system, except that he's developing open source robots to do a lot of the laborious stuff. And it's in Germantown, MD- which is right in my backyard (when I'm in the US, that is). I'll be there in March and April and I look forward to checking it out!
  • Greetings all.

    Open source aquaponics is coming soon... I'm building the hydroponics troughs now and updating the filtration system.
    This is a smaller system for testing and inspiration (I have limited space at present).  I designed it for use in a temperate environment and as low cost as possible.

    You can check it out here ...

    ~ Golden
  • Hello,

    I designed some systems while working on aquaponics in Thailand and a few more whilst working in the Netherlands. I have drawn some in Sketch-up. How may I post these to share my designs? The first one I wanted to post addresses the problem of media-beds becoming clogged over time and creating dead zones. Mine can be cleaned without having to remove the media. It is also in sections so it can be put together in whatever length the growing area will allow.


  • Vote Up0Vote Down
    October 2013
    In this forum I read the first time about aquaponics. It sounds like a great idea. But I have a few questions.
    If we consider an aquaponics system as enclosed in virtual system boundaries then we could list the things going in and out of the system, right?
    Below I made a preliminary list from what I have learned so far. Please feel free to add, correct my lists and if possible even quantify the items.

    What is going out of the system:
    - in colder climate zones we loose heat through the walls and glass
    - we harvest fish and
    - vegetables
    - we loose some water by evaporation.
    - any waste, remains?

    What we have to put in:
    - sun light
    - pumping energy (if not solar panels)
    - heating (or cooling fans) to control the water and air temperature level to keep fish and plants growing (e.g. in the cold season or cold climate zones)
    - replacement water
    - fish food (so far I have not read what is fed to the fish and how much agricultural area is needed to produce that food)

    Question 1:
    If the fish food is produced outside the aquaponic system is it then correct to provide productivity rates like e.g. xy kg of fish per 100 square meters of aquaponics system? If you put in more food and heat then you can get higher yields until you hit some barrier like bad water quality.

    Question 2:
    Is an aquaponics system possible where all fish food is produced in the system itself? Has this practically been done? How do these systems differ from those using outside fish food?
  • Hello roleic

    There are many greenhouse designs that will use very little heat to keep warm. A Mike  Oehler type is one example. You can have up to 10 cubic measurements of growing area for every cubic measurement of fish area. Some people do 1 to 1 but I would say you want a bit more than that for minimum. This will help keep the water clean. Having some sort of solids collector after the fish would be a great idea too. You can take that solid waste bio-digest it to get energy and then compost it to raise worms and insects then take the resulting castings and place them in a permeable sack into a de-gasser and put that back into the growing area. There will always be waste, either directly feedable or compostable. You can build a Black solder fly farm as well as a worm farm to feed carnivorous fish. You can build vertical algae panels to grow for the vegie fish as well as duckweed ponds, many of these can be stacked so you can keep space at a minimum. I would post some of these designs but the forum will not let me post sketchup files.

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