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Ultimate Guide to Vertical Aquaponics Farming

A 4th aquaponics derived from the nutrient film technique? What exactly is vertical aquaponics?

Aquaponics is a versatile eco-farming technique that any grower, farmer, or hobbyist should try at least once in their life, and for those who’re forced to work in limited spaces, then vertical farming for your aquaponics plants could be a perfect solution that allows you to get the most out of this sustainable, home ecofarming technique.

ultimate guide to vertical aquaponics farming

Quite unlike traditional growing methods, aquaponics refers to a collection of hydroponic techniques that offer a different approach to growing plants and raising fish; essentially combining the two in a modular system that allows for various different configurations from standard Media Based hydroponics-style grow beds and Deep Water Culture DWC-type floating rafts, to Nutrient Film technique channels and even vertical farming setups.

Each system offers its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s a good idea to understand what benefits best suit your needs, means and overall goals. In this article we’ll take a look at Vertical Farming Aquaponics system, which you may have noticed does have the aquaponics technique in the name, but is in fact just a alternative way to construct an NFT setup.  

For those who’ve arrived at this page, we’ll assume you have at least a basic understanding of aquaponics, and are more than likely, looking for new ways to branch out (excuse the pun) and expand your experience. So we’ll save you the in-depth overview of aquaponics technique, and skip right to the topic at hand; the NFT aquaponics vertical farming system.

 

What is Aquaponics Vertical Farming

In short, aquaponics is a method that leverages the properties of fish, plants, and nitrifying bacteria to provide harvest from both flora and fauna; whilst also maximizing yield potential. The modular construction allows for highly customizable setups with great DIY alternatives, and it’s this feature that draws many to try out the technique as it also opens up options just like the vertical farming approach.

 

When it comes to size and dimensions no other aquaponics setup has vertical farming beat in terms of floor space. This thanks to the system utilizing pre-fabricated PVC pipes, just like the DIY NFT Aquaponics, which are not only affordable but also available in a wide range of different connectors, adaptors and fixings, all of which will help to make the design process as simple as possible.

 

In addition to optimizing space, vertical aquaponics provides a notable advantage by allowing water to fall past the roots, which in turn promotes water flow and aeration whilst also helping to prevent blockages. And since the concept is a combination of existing techniques, there’s also a huge knowledge based online where you can find a wealth of helpful supporting documents, tips and tricks, and in-depth tutorials online.

 

If that wasn’t enough, the vertical configuration also allows for a completely different approach of nutrient delivery to be utilized via a technique known as aeroponics. Aeroponics essentially replaces a body of flowing water with a mist/spray of nutrient rich water, whilst plants are usually supended in net pots without any grow medium so they’re directly exposed to the air, and mist, surrounding them. This novel approach to growing is an extremely interesting topic, that we take an in-depth look into Aeroponics, right here >>> For now, let’s stick with vertical aquaponics to explore the pros and cons this technique brings to the table.

Why Choose Vertical Farming?

As you dig deeper into the topic of aquaponics and being to note the different approaches each method can be adjusted to accommodate, you may find that traditional builds do not satisfy your requirements and that instead, your build requires a little, or a lot, of customization to fully meet your needs.

 

One of the most popular modifications to an aquaponics setup is to configure the grow bed in a vertical orientation; utilizing the NFT aquaponics concept to create a DIY vertical farming solution for your aquaponics plants.

Pros and Cons of Vertical Farming

There are a number of advantages to vertical farming for your aquaponics setup. The most obvious being space saving, but perhaps more notably, opting for vertical grow orientation can actually solve one of the major downsides you can sometimes experience when running NFT systems; blockages.

Pros

Effective Nutrient Delivery: Allowing nutrient rich water to fall past the roots ensure efficient and effective delivery of feed to the plants.

Water Conservation: Utilizes a lower volume of water than other aquaponics systems, which is recycled for sustainable use.

Oxygenation: Vertical orientation of the grow bed channels aid with aerating the water as oxygen is created when the water falls through the channels past the roots.

Highly Customizable: Easily built to custom sizes with little modifications, using off the shelf parts parts and components.

Prevents Blockages: Vertical alignment of NFT channels helps to prevent blockages, which can be common in horizontally configured systems.

Easy DIY Urban Farming: Affordable, straightforward DIY solution for home, outdoor/indoor, urban farming.

Easily Scalable: Vertical farming, like other NFT aquaponics setups, are straightforward to scale up if/when needed.

Large Knowledge Base: Lots of information, helpful tips, tricks, advice and tutorials online.

Cons

Technology Dependent: In order to keep the water moving to the top of the vertical channels where it can fall past the roots, the water pump must be in continuous use. If the flow of water stops, you’ll only have a matter of mins/hours to act before the system will collapse entirely.

Limited plant choices: When selecting plant species for vertical farming setups you’ll also to take into consideration the size and weight of plant species, and that the vertical configuration can support the plants when fully mature.

Key Factors to Consider For Aquaponics Vertical Farming

If you’ve made the decision to go with vertically farming your aquaponics plants then you can essentially follow most, if not all, the advice you see/read for Nutrient Film Technique NFT aquaponics.

If you’d like to find out more about NFT aquaponics, then check out our in-depth introduction to NFT aquaponics, or check out our DIY guide on how to build your own NFT setup, alternatively, get a better idea of what plant species are most suitable for NFT aquaponics.

That said, there are a couple of points specific to vertical farming itself, these can include:

Plant Species 
The type of plants that are most suited to setup can be slightly different from that of standard NFT setups, these include.

  • Salad or leafy greens (lettuce, spinach)
  • Cruciferous vegetables (kale)
  • Herbs (parsley, basil)
  • Perennials (strawberries)

The main factors to consider here are the size and weight of the plant, therefore the size and robustness of the roots, all with the consideration that the net pots and vertical channels offer adequate support.

Another point to consider would be time to harvest; the quicker the plants grow the less time there is for something to go wrong.

Water Pump Specification
You may also require an upgraded water pump as the device not only needs to move water higher, but must do so on a consistent 24/7 basis to ensure the survival of your plants.

Size and Dimensions
Although the DIY method is ultimately as customizable as you make it, it should go without saying that your design should be based around the industry standard sizes PVC piping is made available in.

Standard sizes for PVC piping include:

Size

OD (mm)

ID (mm)

1 1/2 inch pipe

48.3

43.3

2 inch pipe

60.3

54.1

3 inch pipe

88.9

79.7

4 inch pipe

114.3

102.3

Depending on the size and specific configuration of your vertical aquaponics system you may find all sizes of PVC piping useful. Try to utilize the size of these parts, and the corresponding fixings, to maximize use of the space whilst ensuring the build is strong, and durable.

Additional Factors To Consider for Vertical Farming & All Aquaponics Methods

In addition to those considerations that apply specifically to vertical farming, you’ll still need to take into account a number of things that apply to all aquaponics techniques, these include:

Fish Species
One of the easier decisions to make for your aquaponics setup. The type of fish you choose isn’t really governed by the type of system you go with, however not all species are suitable to the conditions in a typical aquaponics aquarium, so it’s a good idea to select one of the suggested species that experts have tried and tested with success. Suitable aquaponics fish include:

    • Tilapia
    • Goldfish
    • Trout
    • Catfish
    • Bass
    • Koi
    • Salmon
    • Barramundi

Daily Monitor & Maintenance
As with any aquaponics systems you’ll need to monitor and measure a number of different parameters on a regular basis. These levels are crucial in keeping the system healthy and alive, and therefore should any of the values fall out of safe ranges you’ll need to act quick to ensure the continual survival of your manmade ecosystem.

Important parameters to monitor regularly in your aquaponics system include:

Water temperature: The ideal water temperature for aquaponics systems is largely dependent on the species of fish. Coldwater species obvious require rather different conditions from warm water species, and since it is an extremely important parameter, it’s a good idea to select a species best suited to the climate of your location.  That said, the average range for idea water temperature is between 62.6-93.2°F / 17–34°C.

pH levels: pH levels are a crucial parameter you’ll need to keep in keep throughout the whole grow cycle. It will range depending on the fish and plant species you choose, so be sure to do the research prior to starting. The generally accepted range for ideal pH in aquaponics is beween 6.8-7.0

Dissolved Oxygen (DO): Mainly important for the health of the fish, DO levels are still important for plant health since each living organism in the aquaponics systems supports each other in some manner. It’s often said that there can never been too much DO in an aquaponics system, which mean you’ll only need to ensure there’s enough for the fish to thrive. This is typicaly from 5PPM upward depending on the species.

Ammonia: Present in the fish waste, ammonia is chemical the benefical bacteria convert into nitrogen for the plants. If ammonia becomes toxic quickly when levels get too high, ideal range is around 0.5PPM.

Nitrates: Essential for the growth of the plants, however, too much is toxic to both plants and fish. A precursor to nitrites you can expect higher levels that range between 3-150PPM

Nitrites: The form of nitrogen the plants prefer to consume, and a successor to the initial conversion of ammonia into nitrates, you can expect lower levels of nitrites from 1-5PPM

Fish Feed: You’ll also need to ensure that you’re feeding the fish the correct amount. This will vary greatly from species to species, so will require its own research. Be sure to get rid of any uneaten food, and adjust the amount if it becomes a regular occurrence.

 

In Conclusion

Setting up a home aquaponics system, in or outdoor, is a great way reduce your carbon footprint, and choosing a vertical aquaponics configuration will ensure the most effective use of the space.

Based on the NFT aquaponics technique, DIY vertical farming aquaponics can be made to a high standard using off-the-shelf parts and components, which allows for a high degree of customization so you can truly get the most out of the space you’re using.

This affordable approach to setting up aquaponics, together with the versatility in potential configuration are just some of the reasons vertical aquaponics could be the most suitable choice for your own urban farming pursuits.

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