Now that you have a goal in mind, it is time to figure out exactly where you are going to grow. Location dictates a large portion of the design process, as each location is different and requires unique considerations.
Your own location will dictate this to a large extent. Are you in a warm, sunny climate or a frozen tundra? Perhaps you live in a dry, arid climate with scorching average temperatures. Aquaponics is proven to grow in any and all of these environments. The key to success is to choose the right location and adapt your system design to meet those specific needs.
Indoor - Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA)
Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) is a new and expanding industry that allows optimal growth and increased protection through technology-based solutions. Control may be directed to air and root temperatures, light, water, humidity, carbon dioxide, water quality, and plant nutrition. In order to be economically feasible, these farms are typically high-density and vertically oriented in order to maximize output. Important considerations are electrical needs, HVAC needs, water needs like flow rate and water quality, a vapor barrier to trap moisture, and structural capacity to hold all the weight.
While most indoor CEA is commercial, it is worth noting that many aquaponics systems can work on a small scale indoors. Desktop, cabinet, and medium size systems can be installed indoors for a variety of reasons including education, personal food production, or creating a therapy space.
Outdoor - Light-to-no Cover from the Elements
Year-round outdoor growing without a greenhouse is only feasible in a few warmer areas of the world. Even then, there are some concerns with an uncovered outdoor system including dealing with rain entering/flooding the system, pests destroying your crops, or birds pooping into it. Gross!
That being said, it is relatively simple to erect a non-permanent cover like a hoop-house or even just a canopy that goes over the system.
Outdoor growers use the sun for light and heat, so orientation of the growing plot is key. The plot should face due south to increase the exposure to the sun as much as possible. You’ll have to take into account any shaded areas on your property that will obstruct the sun. If there is too much shade, your plants will not grow as fast as they should, if at all.
Greenhouse - Season Extension or Full CEA
Greenhouses are commonly used to house aquaponics systems in nearly every climate. Farmers find that the closed environment gives them greater control and leaves their farms less at the mercy of mother nature (although they are never free from her whims).
Greenhouses range from low-budget, DIY PVC and painter’s plastic tarp versions to commercial grade products that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Our first backyard system in Connecticut was built in a PVC greenhouse that cost under $200 to buy and build. It was 12’ x 18’ and got us through the Connecticut winter with just a single ply of plastic sheeting. This was fine for personal production, but would be untenable for a commercial producer trying to hit production quotas. There are many types of personal and commercial greenhouses and each has their own unique value.
Greenhouse automation is important at larger sizes and can be fun for backyard growers. Examples include automatic fans and louvers connected to a temperature sensor, automatic water fill when tank levels drop to a certain point, or mobile SMS alerts if there is a power outage. This type of automation is vital to protect the investment at the commercial scale. See Controlled Environment Agriculture for the importance of greenhouse control.
Greenhouse orientation is very important due to the use of solar energy for light, similar to outdoor systems. Houses should orient towards the south to capture as much light as possible. Additionally, in cold climates the northern face of the greenhouse should have a large body of water, like the fish tank or a solar battery (wall of water barrels), to capture and hold as much solar heat as possible. In hot climates this is reversed; the northern face should have an evaporative cooling wall to soak up the excess heat without blocking any light.
Deciding on a location
Carefully consider all the factors in your current situation.
- Where do you live?
- What kind of space is available?
- What type of system best fits your needs and your space?
Use this form to get clear on your location situation.
Try to keep this in mind as we continue to make our way through the Aquaponics Trifecta.
Once you've jotted down the answers to these questions, you can move on to Sizing Your Aquaponics Systems.