Now that you have your goal and setting planned, you’ll be able to figure out what size system you’ll be shooting for. Throughout our years of experience, we’ve developed a simple categorization process for systems that helps when thinking about new projects. You should already have a pretty good idea of what size you’ll need to accomplish your goals given your location and production needs. This section will give you explicit best-use-cases for each size category that we hope will accelerate your ability to design the best system for your needs.
A caveat for anyone just starting out: Everyone on our team highly recommends a crawl>walk>run approach. That means start small and develop a feel for the technology. Scale up your system over time rather than jumping in with both feet. Most failed systems result from a well-intentioned aquapioneer whose reach exceeded their grasp and started bigger than they were ready for.
Small systems, by our own classification, come in two main styles: desktop and cabinet. Desktop systems are exactly that, container aquaponics systems small enough to fit on your desk. Desktop systems are the entry point for many aquapioneers because they are typically affordable, coming in at under $200. Many companies sell desktop systems of all shapes and sizes. Check out this system from Aqua Sprouts. This is a wonderful concept, dotting your home or office with tiny self contained ecosystems is a beautiful idea. However, in practice our experience shows that very few desktop aquaponics systems on the market today actually work in the long run. The smaller the system, the more unstable the aquaponics ecosystem is.
We have personally found far greater success in slightly larger aquaponics systems, which we call “cabinets”. These systems are typically the size of a bookcase, refrigerator or table. With larger fish tanks, ranging from 15-50 gallons, the ecosystem is large enough to support meaningful plant and fish life. Our experience has shown that tanks 29 gallons and above typically perform best. Cabinet systems can be done with media beds and vertical systems, but are rarely done with deep water culture.
We classify medium systems into two groups, systems up to 100 square feet and systems up to 1000 square feet in size. This range can include nearly any type of grower, from personal to small scale commercial producers, from educators to healers, and from skill trainers to researchers.
Systems up to 1000 square feet in size begin to bridge the gap into commercial territory, where you will be producing so much food that you will need a method for distribution, either by selling it or donating it. If you are considering a system of this size, ensure that your goals are aligned with this fact.
Large systems are split into two broad categories, systems up to 5000 square feet and anything larger than that. Some systems have been in the hundreds of thousands of square feet, but there is nothing that size in operation currently, to this author’s knowledge. (Please prove me wrong! Email examples of aquaponics farms > 100,000 SF to firstname.lastname@example.org). Here are a few links to large commercial operations around the world: Chatterson Farms, Ouroboros Farms, Sustainable Harvesters, Japan Aquaponics,
The distinction between a 5000 SF facility and anything larger is that five thousand square feet is large enough for a small lifestyle business to operate comfortably with a few employees and healthy weekly delivery contracts. Once you become larger than that, there are greater infrastructure needs that require larger scale production to make it economically feasible.
Deciding on a Size
You know to crawl, then walk, then run and not start so big you’re in over your head. You know which sizes and locations are best suited for each purpose of aquaponics growing. Now you are armed with the knowledge to decide on what size system you are ready to grow with. Take this knowledge with you as we move on to choosing your software, the living plants and animals in your aquaponics system.
Use this quick form to figure out your sizing needs. Click here.