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Aquaponics without Fish: Step by Step Guide

Aquaponics is a farming method that essentially relies on fish to grow plants. However, aquaponics can be done without using fish. The function of fish is to provide ammonia to the water that the plants will need to grow.

aquaponics without fish

If you’re doing aquaponics without fish, you will need something to substitute for ammonia. The best options to go for would be:


Without fish, you will have to go for fertilizer or inject ammonia directly into the system. If you’re going for fertilizer, the option to go for should be composed of nitrate plus phosphorus and potassium (NPK). This will provide the plants with all the nutrients they need to keep growing. 

Animal waste

Another option that is not well advised is the use of animal waste. Waste from chicken can perform the same function just as fish waste. When doing so, you need to take count of the quantity you add into the system.

However, using animal waste does pose a problem. With fish, there is no transfer of diseases to humans. This makes aquaponics one of the safest ways to grow plants. However, with animal waste, there is a chance of the spread of pathogens from the waste of these animals.

Aquaponics Without Fish: Step-by-Step Guide

To set up an aquaponics system without using fish, you can follow the steps below

Step One: Get the Tank Together

While there is no fish required, you will still need a tank where you can store the plants. You can still go for a fish tank. Ensure there is enough space in the tank to house the number of plants you can grow. 

Depending on the size of the tank, you could be able to grow multiple varieties of plants at the same time while ensuring that the plants get enough oxygen and nutrients. 

Adding water to the tank is the next thing to do. When adding water, it is important to only go for clean water. You will also have to ensure that you dechlorinate the water before you start using it. You will need to cycle I for 4-6 weeks to ensure to allow the normal bacteria build up in the system.

The bacteria is needed to break down ammonia in the system and produce nitrates needed to feed your plants. This isn’t necessary as you would be providing the nitrates yourself. So you can skip the waiting time and get straight to planting. 

Before that, you will need to include a pump. The pump is needed to properly aerate the system and move the water. The pump could be electrical but this will add to your electrical bills. You could also choose to go for a non-electrical pump like a bell siphon. 

Step Two: Build Your Media Bed

The location of the media bed is entirely up to you. You can build the media bed either above the fish tank or to the side of the tank.

Your media bed or floor table is the container where the plants will grow. For the media bed, you can make use of a large heavy-duty plastic tray or go for a wooden pallet crate. Whichever option you go for, you should build it on top of a stand and ensure that the stand is able to withstand its weight.

When you’ve set up the media bed, you can add a growing media. When choosing a growing media, you should go for one that is pH neutral so it won’t cause problems for the growing plants. Clay pebbles are pH neutral and the best option that won’t affect your water. They also hold moisture well which makes them a great option. 

Step Three: Add the Plants

With the aquaponics farm all set up, it is time to add the plants. There are a wide range of plants to grow in aquaponics, however, if you want success, you need to go for leafy plants.  These plants grow easily in aquaponics. Since you’re not using fish and introducing the nutrient yourself, you could grow fruiting plants in the system. 

You can grow any of the following plants using aquaponics without fish; Basil, Kale, Lettuce, Mint, and Watercress

If you’re up for a bit more challenge, you go for the likes of Beans, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Cucumbers, Squash, Tomatoes, Peas, Peppers, and Strawberries

The best way to get started is to use the plant seedlings that have already germinated. You can place the roots into the pebbles and ensure that they’re able to get the necessary nutrients. 

Step Four: Maintain Your System

Once the aquaponics system has been set up, maintaining it would require constantly providing nutrients. In this case, you will need to provide the nutrients that would come from the fish. 

You will also need to ensure that there is enough oxygen in the water. The plants will need oxygen if they are to grow properly. 

As the plants grow, you will have to test the tank water every week to check the pH and nutrient levels. The nutrients (nitrates, and nitrites) should be within the regular levels which means non-detectable. If so, it means that the plants are getting all the right amounts that they need to grow properly. 

For the plants to grow properly and the normal bacteria in the water to thrive, the pH should be around 6.8 – 7.

The pH tends to fluctuate, so you will have to check regularly to ensure that the proper pH range is maintained. If the pH drops too low, there are several ways you can maintain a healthy pH range. One of the easiest ways to raise and maintain the pH levels of the water is to add calcium hydroxide and potassium carbonate to the tank in powdered form. You won’t have to add both of them at the same time. You can alternate between both options to ensure that the water remains at the right pH range to ensure proper plant growth. 

Overall, growing plants in aquaponics without fish would save you some cost as you won’t have to purchase the fish or spend extra on fish feed.