Aquaponics Tower – How Do Aquaponics Towers Work?

aquaponics tower

When you think about aquaponics systems, your mind inevitably goes to a horizontal basin. You get a few plants that will grow in water, rather than soil. Then, you bring in some fish – a few different varieties out there. Sure, shrimps or snails are also accepted, but fish is more common and profitable, especially if you run a business.

You end up with a symbiotic environment where fish will release waste to feed the plants, while plants filter the water for fish. Maintenance is relatively low, so there is not too much to be concerned about. However, the scalable profile of such an environment will sooner or later bring the necessity to expand – unless you want to keep it at a certain size.

This is when different issues arise. You obviously require more space. Should you come up with a large system or a few smaller systems? Most people begin this venture in their backyards, so the space is clearly limited. This is when the aquaponics tower kicks in. Quite common in other similar industries, the tower may not always make sense in this one. What do you need to know about it then?

Understanding how does an aquaponics tower work

The aquaponics tower is the element responsible for vertical aquaponics. The system goes upwards instead of being setup horizontally. What is the purpose of such a system? Fairly simple – increasing the growing space without actually requiring more flooring. The option is attractive when your space is limited, but also for new starters who want to save as much space as possible.

Towers can be designed in different ways and what works for some systems will not work for all of them. For example, the classic IBC tote setup represents a viable alternative too. The grow bed is located above the fish rank. However, it comes with one layer only. A proper vertical environment will be mainly designed to grow as many plants as possible.

Of course, such a system can be demanding and comes with numerous specifications – longterm planning is also important. There is one trick to ensure it will not fail on you though. Make sure there is room. Make sure your plants can grow – they require some space. Light is mandatory – there should be plenty of it. While the goal is to minimize the space between plants, you need to consider all these.

Apart from saving space, an aquaponics tower will also have your plants grow one above the other. To help you get an idea about the space saving design, imagine that a five foot tall system will most likely support as many plants as a system covering 60 square feet on one level only. In conclusion, the vertical system is more efficient in the first place.

vertical aquaponics

The functionality principles of aquaponics towers

Initially, no one really thought about implementing the aquaponics tower in the system. With time, it became a reliable solution for those who want to expand without requiring too much space. Given the efficiency of this system in terms of space, more and more newbies start this venture with a tower, rather than a single level system.

The idea behind this tower is to come up with plenty of small pockets. You need a place where plants can grow without feeling overcrowded. Obtaining these small pockets is a matter of using the right tubing. Since PVC is the most popular type of tubing out there, you should not be surprised to find out that such towers are often referred to as PVC aquaponics as well.

Now, one of the principles of aquaponics implies growing plants without using any soil at all. They will grow in water only. You need to analyze this concept and come up with the perfect construction for the symbiotic system to work flawlessly. Most experts keep it simple – simplicity is key at this point. Therefore, the vertical build is usually set above the fish tank.

pvc aquaponics

Food for fish

The fish will require constant food. The water temperature will also affect fish – set it up based on the species you own. The pH is not to be overlooked either, not to mention ammonia and nitrates. You will have to come up with systems to actually monitor everything. Maintenance is low, but control and balance are critical.

Then, the water is full of nutrients for plants – everything coming from fish. The water must reach the top of the tower before flowing back down. As the water reaches the top, it will go down through the cylindrical tubes. As it runs through the PVC tubing, it will feed your plants. It is a continuous cycle – the water goes up and down all the time and transmits nutrients between the two systems.

The air will also have enough room to flow through the PVC tubing. After all, the tubes will not be fully pressured to ensure nothing gets in or out. There is lots of room for air as well. Plants will get oxygen over their roots, but also through their leaves. No matter how big your system is, you must enlarge it gradually – water will never fully fill the tubes.

Water going around the plants will also be filtered. All the plants in the system will filter and clean the water before it reaches the fish. Sure, it will not happen in a single run. You cannot feed the plants and keep the fish happy with a single run – the system is continuous. If the system is well balanced, it will work with little to no intervention from your side – after all, it is symbiotic.

While generally designed to be self contained, the system may require a bit of attention as the fish multiply. Furthermore, there might be times when adding a little water is needed. If you live in a hot or warm environment, some of the water may evaporate, so you need to keep an eye on the levels – just get a monitoring system instead.

The importance of a filter in an aquaponics tower

An aquaponics tower based on PVC comes with multiple parts and components. You can find such towers in commerce, but you can also do your own – an excellent DIY project if you have a sense for such things and a bit of knowledge on how towers work. Such projects normally take a few days, based on how sophisticated you want it – simplicity is key though.

Generally speaking, you would need pipes, elbows and T connectors in the same diameter, a large container, aquarium tubing, a splitter, plastic cups, scraps of cloth, electrical tape, a filter and an aquarium pump. Putting the system together is not very difficult and does not require any professional training upfront.

Some of these parts stand out in the crowd, meaning you should never compromise on performance on quality. The filter is one of them. An aquaponics system tower based on PVC will need a filter in it. The filter is not there to filter the water for the fish – plants will do most of the work. Instead, it should be located the other way around – before the water actually reaches the plants.

Fish will also release solid waste. There will be solid waste around too. If it reaches the plants, it will deposit on the roots. Sure, the process does not occur overnight, but in the long run. If there is too much solid waste attached to the roots, they will no longer receive the nutrients they require. In the end, the overall efficiency of the system will go down.

Now, the filter is not necessarily needed in a classic aquaponics system. After all, there is plenty of bacteria around the roots of the plants. The bacteria will get the job done by removing waste products. But when you come up with a vertical system, the efficiency of this symbiotic system depends on your interference as well.

Suggested article: Swirl Filter For Aquaponics – The Concept & Functionality


Choosing the right pump for your aquaponics tower

The pump is another major component of the system and it goes without saying that a poor pump will not get the water moving. Without the water moving around, both your fish and plants will die. This is another part that you should never sacrifice for money. In fact, it is recommended to go above your budget and opt for something with a good reputation.

Different tower systems come with different requirements in terms of pumping – it depends on how big the system is. Sometimes, you could do with a pump that needs to push 400 gallons of water per hour. Other times, you will need much more than that. You need to make sure the water is continuously cycled and stays aerated.

The pump is usually fitted inside the fish tank. There are more requirements when you choose the pump, so you have to take your time. As a general rule of thumb, it should not be on the bottom, but well above it. After all, you want the fish to have the freedom to move around without getting stuck. They should be able to get under it without too much hassle.

Some of the tubings in the aquarium will attach to the pump. It should also come with an adapter or the tubing. Once all set, hook it to the top of the column. There will be more columns out there, so the pipe might have to be split – you want the water to reach each column, as well as the plants. If you cannot make a big split (such as four different directions), split it in two and then again.

Test it

Avoid putting any plants or fish in the system before actually testing it. You want to ensure the pump works accordingly. Plus, you need to ensure the joins are perfect. You do not want water to spray off a side because of poor joining. If you install the system yourself, it pays off heating pipes into hot water for a few minutes before joining them, as they seal in a more efficient manner.

If you opt for a couple of barrels, the pump goes in one of them and the return drain in the other. You must connect both barrels too, as the water needs to flow throughout the whole system. It may sound confusing at first if you have never had or seen an aquaponics tower, but the design is pretty intuitive and it should make sense.

Suggested article: Barrel Aquaponics System – Everything You Need To Know

Bringing in the fish and plants into your aquaponics tower

Get your own aquaponics tower and you can start adding plants and fish straight away. If you have done it yourself, you might want to test it first. Water goes in first. Let it settle for a bit, then add the fish. Plants come in last. This is the most time consuming part because you need to lose the chlorine in water. The whole process may take up to a few days.

Then, there is a bit of testing involved. There are more species of fish you can add, with some of them dominating the market. Each fish has different requirements – again, a bit of research is needed. Check the levels of pH, as well as the nitrates and ammonia. Make sure the water temperature is also suitable for fish.

It pays off starting with a few fish in the beginning. Opt for small fish. The procedure will push the ammonia levels up. Bacteria will kick in and can turn ammonia into nitrates. Add more fish and plants as your system growth, but make sure to maintain the right balance or you can overcrowd the system and cause it to fail.

Suggested article: Best Fish for Aquaponics & a Few Great Alternatives to Try

Final words

Bottom line, whether you make your own aquaponics tower or you purchase one, the system is quite intuitive and comes with a bunch of benefits. It is widely accepted these days and implies following a few basic rules in terms of design, fish and plants.

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How To Determine The Ideal Fish To Plant Ratio For Aquaponics?
What Is Aquaponics? – Everything You Need To Know Upfront
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