Saturday, December 20, 2008

Philippines Aquaponics: Self-Sustaining Agriculture and Aquaculture

Believe it or not...I did this on accident.

Labor Day 2008: I have nothing to do on my vacation. I'm 10,000 miles away from the United States, sitting idle on an island, one out of the 7,100 islands in the Philippines. As I went through my normal selfish list of what to do on Labor Day, I thought to myself, maybe I would do something different this year?

Then I realized...the house I'm renting has an empty unused pond with a small idol of Mary. Maybe I could put fish in the pond and my baby girl could enjoy watching it? (My advice to Catholic friends: Mary was a respectable woman, but don't worship humans, especially human idols. Please read the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20: "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them." You now have been taught the correct doctrine. You are now accountable to it.)

Summary 1: Laziness Breeds Ideas

As I thought of what type of fish I could put in the pond, I then remembered my teenage years when I owned an aquarium. It was a disaster. My laziness killed my pet goldfish in the past. I didn't change the water and they all died. Why in the world would I try that again? I certainly don't want to change the water in a 300 liter pond (400 liters with other additions)! But I still want my baby girl to see fish swimming about. Hmmm.... How to grow fish without doing much maintenance work...

Summary 2: Looking at Nature/Science

I started researching what type of filter could automatically remove fish waste (ammonia/nitrite/nitrate) from my pond without me having to change the water. Alas, there was none! A water exchange was still necessary with most mechanical filters. Then I turned to biological filters ... this is when I found aquaponics, the combination of fish farming (aquaculture) and growing plants without soil (hydroponics).

In nature, we see it all the time in swamps and ponds. Plants that grow near the water or on the water absorb the nutrients from the fish waste and help clean the water.

Fish can even survive in closed loop environments because of this natural occurrence. For example, bass in many of Florida's lakes and ponds which have no natural springs.

Summary 3: The Build

When I mentioned to my family I was going to start a project that would grow fish (tilapia) that could be harvested plus it would grow plants that required no soil -- they thought I was crazy. But I wanted to create a project that would be productive, something cool for my baby girl to play with, and at the same time, help reduce the cost of food.

I initially bought two aquarium pumps, one aerator, two hoses, and some plastic bins as a growth bed. I planted Chinese upland kang kong and they grew fine. I then upgraded it to a bigger growth bed and even added two rain gutters to test out the nutrient film technique (NFT). Hydroponic growers use NFT systems and introduce small trace elements of nutrients to grow their plants -- I'm doing the same thing except my nutrients come directly from fish and they clean the water for the fish to continue to live and reproduce.

Summary 4: No Fish Kill w/ Zero Exchange in Water!

I have so far introduced 160 fish and the only kills I got were during the transfer process. My tilapia fish that died was due to the rapid change in temperature, but once they were in the pond and initially lived through the shock of being taken away from their previous environments, they lived and grew big! No fish kills post-transfer and I didn't do any exchange of water. The plants reduced the fish waste by themselves without me having to exchange the water! The only water added are the ones lost in evaporation (estimate about 10% of the volume a month).

Summary 5: The Bacteria Cycle Took About Two Weeks

There's a natural cycle when bacteria starts growing and it starts breaking down the waste products of the fish into usable trace elements that the plants could eat. It took roughly about two weeks. Thankfully, tilapia are tough fish and they survived fine through this cycle.

Summary 6: The Plants Bear Fruit Early and Grow Fast

I planted two sets of upland kangkung plants, one on the ground and one on the growth bed. The ones on the growth were 2x-3x taller than the ones on the ground, suggesting this little experiment might actually work. (Why couldn't I think of this during high school, I would have won so many science fair awards?)

Summary 7: What This Experiment Means For Farmers

This is doable commercially. Imagine growing crops on an entire field without chemical fertilizers, growing without being infected by soil based diseases, and at the same time, you have a fish farm that requires no additional water and it doesn't pollute the water in your area. It is a self sustaining system. You can also introduce solar pumps and solar aeration, something I did recently to reduce my dependency on electricity.

Plus it's a cool thing to show to my 2 year old daughter -- she feeds the fish with plants from the growth beds every day.


joeysantosmendoza said...

interesting, questions, must the water flow 24/7 from the pond to the plant? what are the materials wherein plants are grown at, stones? any particular type of stone? thanks.

Publisher said...

Water flows 12 hrs a day on a timer. The plants are growing off gravel and stones -- I had some extra gravel when I had to do concrete work at the house.

Anonymous said...

do you know if there are Aquaponics equipment and supplies dealer in the Philippines?

Publisher said...

Well, your hardware store has all the materials to set this up.

Carlos said...

Hi. Very interesting. The more I read about it, the more I want to do it. I have 6 ponds. Each pond is 27 cubic meters with 7,500 galons of water. 2,000 tilapias in each tank. I am at 200 ft above sea level and the average temp is 28 degrees all year. What do you recommend I do ? Thanks, Carlos -

Kerwin said...

hello! i am interested in aquaponics for a long time now, but i don't have time to try it out. just some questions here, if you don't mind.
1. you used the grow beds as mechanical filters right? so you pumped water directly to the grow bed for 12hrs a day(during daytime?)and let it drain out by itself?
2. how many grow beds do you have?
3. have you tried other plants?
4. can you give me some sources for solar powered pumps and aerators?
5. do you know what technique is good for which plants?
hope you can help me out on this. you can e-mail me directly at thanks!

Publisher said...


You have given me some info.

1. A general idea would be a way to bring the water out of your ponds into one tank where the tank would distribute the water through different grow beds or NFT.

2. The beds should have an outlet to go back to another tank which would equally distribute the water back to your ponds.

Where are you located in the world?


Publisher said...


1. you used the grow beds as mechanical filters right? so you pumped water directly to the grow bed for 12hrs a day(during daytime?)and let it drain out by itself?

YES, water comes in at one end and there's a hole on the other side. So once the water goes high enough, it goes into that hole which is connected to a PVC pipe that goes back to the pond.

2. how many grow beds do you have?

Two grow beds plus two 8' foot rain gutters.

3. have you tried other plants?

Should work on all plants but won't work well for root crops. I'm growing peanuts for kicks.

4. can you give me some sources for solar powered pumps and aerators?

I bought some on Amazon, eBay (sent from China), Home Depot, etc.

5. do you know what technique is good for which plants?

Growth beds are the easiest to setup, put a bunch of rocks, and just have the water flow.

Thanks, -Don

The Drill said...

Hi Don,

Im interested in starting in aquaponics. Where did you buy your 2 growbeds? Did you do it yourself? Or are they just customized plant boxes?


Publisher said...

They are plastic bins that you can buy in any department store or hardware store. I just filled them with rocks and put a PVC pipe to spill the water back into the pond.

Thanks, -Don

Anonymous said...

Hi Don,

I have 4 concrete ponds of tilapia measuring 140sqm each. I m planning to add hydroponics to these ponds but would like to see a working model first. May I see your system? Please let me know through

Many Thanks


Publisher said...

Where are you located Jon?

Anonymous said...

Hi Don,

Thanks for the quick reply.

I am currently in Manila. My farm is located in Mindanao. I would be happy to send you some photos of the pond through your private email. Please email me though the email add i gave you.



Anonymous said...

Hello Don,

Thanks for the quick reply. I am currently in Manila but my farm is in Mindanao. Please let me know when I can visit your place. I have been doing some computations and would seem very costly both initial and operational costs. I am just wondering if there other ways to do it. My ponds are concrete ponds and i plan to do the hydroponics part on a commercial basis. I have abundant supply of water from the fish tanks.

Looking forward to your response.


Vincent said...

Hi Don,

We are into bangus farming and your article is really interesting and as you said, has commercial implications. I wanted to test aquaponics first on my son's fish aquarium...I am planning to just sprinkle the kangkong seeds into the water...please stop me if this wont work! :)


Publisher said...

Vince - it will work, you just need sun plus make sure the fish doesn't eat the seeds. LOL. My tilapia always ate the new leaves so the kang kong wouldn't last long.

rom_ql said...

good morning Don,

i am seriously thinking of going into aquaponics. i have a vacant lot here in bulacan and i want to make it productive. we dont have irrigation channels here coz we are at a high elevation. i can produce a small pond for starter and want to talk to you more on aqauponics especially tilapia culture.

thank you for sharing your knowledge on aquaponics.

Publisher said...

rom, glad you are interested. Hopefully you can get started with your pond and develop a re-circulating system even in the high elevations of Bulacan.

FRANCOIS said...

hi all
have been experimenting with aquaponics for +-3 years all i can say is WOW IT WORKS, AND NOT ONLY WORKS BUT IT WORKS VERY WELL.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post, we will post your Hydroponic setups article. I will post for our customers to see your articles on your blog Hydroponic setups

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post, we will post your Hydroponic setups article. I will post for our customers to see your articles on your blog Hydroponic setups

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing your experiences.... interessting... also re idols: catholics do not worship idols but believe that it is possible to communicate with people who are in heaven :) that's what e.g. Bernadette Soubirous did and she was not worshipping an idol...

Publisher said...


The only problem with people communicating with "people in heaven" is it violates Scriptures. Accordingly it says, Ecc 9:5, "the dead know nothing".

In fact, we know in 1 Thes 4:16, it says, "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first."

The dead is still in the ground asleep. They will wake up when Christ comes back. Even Jesus Christ said, on John 11:11, "Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him..." when he talks about death.

Nobody goes to heaven or hell until the Judgement Day. They are all asleep.

The idea that man has an eternal soul is of Roman/Greek (pagan) influence but does not jive with the Bible. If someone did "communicate with the dead" -- it was someone different they were speaking to. As the Bible says, test all spirits and we certainly need to test all doctrines that's not biblical.

Anonymous said...

Am a returned peace corp volunteer from the RP (84-86) and remember kangkong as a feed for my animal projects. Now, I am an US Army Reservist on active duty in Afghanistan. I'm in contact with an Agribusiness Development Team that are interested in trying it here. Would someone please donate the seeds?

Publisher said...

Send me an email with your mailing address and I'll send you a seed packet.

Anonymous said...

Hi Don, i am mike from philippines in Laguna. I'm doing Hydroponics for 1 month and i am interested in Aquaponics. My plan is to have a serious business either hydroponics or aquaponics since aquaponics no need to add chemicals as nutrient (npk etc.) can you help me to know all details and system for establishing a aquaponics set up? By the way my email is
Many Thanks...Mike

Publisher said...

Mike I sent you an email.

Anonymous said...

hi im grace from tanauan city batangas. we have also that kind of system but we run a aquaponic.plants floating on water

Anonymous said...

Im May-may from cebu.
I'm a marine biology graduate and I'm working on the community that helps and giving alternative livelihood to our Fisherfolks here in the Philippines to reduce fishing pressure to the marine resources. Now, I'm on the process of making a proposal for their alternative livelihood. I'm thinking of writing proposal about aquaponics. I have a little background on aquaculture during my college days.
Mr. Don, can you give me a free drawings or illustration on constructing aquaponics and advises, the don't and do's. What plants that are essentials in aquaponics here in the Phil.?Pls. email me at
Your reply will be much help and appreciated.
May I now where particularly in mindanao was ur farm located?are u in the country now?
Thank you!


Publisher said...

May May, the drawings should be out by first quarter of next year. Working on a book to show how this is the best way to grow your own food, even in small confined spaces or you can enlarge it to big commercial farms.

Anonymous said...

good morning grace. i am miche from quezon city. We would like to venture in aquaponics with a partner who has a farm in malvar, batangas. You mentioned that you are already running an aquaponics farm in tanauan which is just nearby. are you operating commercially? and is it okay to have a visit in your farm to see your set-up? please send me an email at thanks miche

Anonymous said...

hi, my name is ed hernandez and i currently inherited a farm in nueva ecija.

it is composed primarily of mangoes, but i wanted to add high-value vegetables to make it more viable.

the aquaculture concept is very intriguing, and if i may, i would like to visit your farm/place to see a working model. we can even organize a trip to my farm and maybe for a parntership of sorts.

kindly email me at for any input.

thank you.

Cebu Aquaponics said...

Hi all Visitors,

I just wana share my little knowledge about Aquaponics. I started my backyard setup last year 2011. I did successful BTW. To anyone who are willing to learn just drop me an email of like us on facebook. Search for "cebu aquaponics" and you will find us on page 1.

Steve said...

Hi I'm Steve retired US military here in the Philippines. I'm in process of building a place to set up my Aquaponics site. I'm using IBC totes. Starting with 1 Fish tank, a sump tank and 3 growing beds. Any suggestions or information you can give me wold be appreciated. One question how did you cycle your system?

Deedee Perez said...

Thank you for your blog. It's very informative. I would, however, like to emphasize that Catholics do not worship Mother Mary. We venerate her. If people only knew how much Our Lady suffers for humanity even until now, as shown by her tears of blood in Akita, Japan, we would speak more lovingly of her. Ave Maria! To the Fatima Triumph!