A homemade aquaponics system made from recycled materials

By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

“Life finds a way.” This is the famous quote uttered by Dr. Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum, in Jurassic Park. It basically means that despite impossible circumstances, life takes its natural course, especially if partnered with determination and perseverance.

Theodore Espiritu, a freelancer residing in Las Piñas, made life grow in his very own yard even though the conditions weren’t exactly ideal to do so. 

Measuring 20 square meters, Espiritu’s yard is covered in cement that’s a foot deep. He saw that there was no way to plant things on the ground or even create a pond that his family could enjoy. Seeing no other option, the freelancer turned to aquaponics.

Theodore Espiritu started his homemade aquaponics system at the start of the year.

Aquaponics is a sustainable method of raising both fish and vegetables. The nutrient-rich water used to raise fish provides a natural fertilizer for the plants; meanwhile, the plants help purify the water for the fish. It also encourages year-round, indoor farming without having to use chemical inputs. 

Using recycled materials, Espiritu went on to establish his home aquaponics system where he grows Thai basil, kangkong, pechay, and peppers. 

“The fish tank is made up of an old IBC or intermediate bulk container tank. From there, I have a pump that pushes water to an improvised filter made up of a broken plastic rectangular pot,” he said.

Recycled materials were used in making Espiritu’s aquaponics system.

Espiritu shared that he even used a torn up curtain and rocks as a biofilter. He later upgraded to a filter foam and ceramic bio filter which he purchased from a fish shop. 

“At the front of the house, I have a small raised bed where I grow my tomatoes and some more basil. I call it my pasta bed. It is made up of an old dentist panaflex sign and some wooden pallet boards,” the freelancer said. 

He began his garden at the start of the year because he wanted to show his kids how food is grown, like how his father did with him. 

He started out with tomatoes, but Espiritu shared that he failed several times. He then tried other plants with varying success until he tried planting cuttings of basil from leaves they bought from the grocery. 

Presently, basil is his most successful crop because the nearby restaurant buys some of the herb from them from time to time.

Aside from his aquaponics system, Espiritu also has an indoor garden where he gets fresh produce from.

Aside from the basil, Espiritu also has other plants where he regularly gets fresh herbs and vegetables from.  

Overcoming challenges in aquaponics 

Even though Espiritu managed to grow produce using his homemade aquaponics system, he admitted that the process wasn’t without trouble. 

“Several attempts got me leggy plants, pale malnourished ones, and even some that were just ‘meh.’ I had even met a major setback when my water pump died and left half the fish population belly up,” he said. 

Despite these challenges, Espiritu pushed on. He saw his failures as lessons which he can learn from. Eventually, he managed to find the balance in caring for his home aquaponics system. 

What I lacked in traditional learning skills I more than made up for in mule-like stubbornness. I provided the plants with more direct sunlight, created a nutrient delivery system (a plastic bottle cut in half that could hold some soil), and I fixed the motor problems by checking on it everyday. I still see some problems, but I work in the garden every weekend to work on them,” he said.

A turtle pokes its head from the water in the aquaponics system.

Constant monitoring, according to Espiritu, is the most important thing about an aquaponic system to maintain the ecological balance in the system. One way to achieve this is through proper water treatment since it sustains both the plants and the fish. 

It is important to watch the fish as they eat with the added benefit of relaxation. You can see changes in behavior that could be an indicator of their health. More importantly, it lets you know how healthy they are,” the freelancer said. 

He added that the fish should not be overcrowded since it is better to have a regular harvest of plants rather than having to manage a whole lot of fish.

I would encourage hobbyists to try aquaponics. It helps with critical thinking and problem solving with the added benefit of creating food for you and your family. You could lower expenses significantly by using upcycled materials and it could make your garden even more beautiful,” Espiritu said. 

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s September to October 2020 issue. 

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Patricia Bianca S. Taculao
Patricia Taculao, or Patty as she likes to be called, is a content producer for Manila Bulletin Digital Lifestyle. She graduated from University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She loves to spend her free time, reading, painting, and watching old movies.

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