Aquaponics is the combination of Aquaculture (fish farming) and Hydroponics (farming without soil) and entails the the design and commissioning of greenhouse-based systems growing fish (usually Tilapia) and vegetable crops in a  closed-loop system.

The major expense involved in building a Fish Farm is in the filtration of the water.  In Hydroponics, it is in providing sufficient nutrients for your vegetable crop.  In Aquaponics, nutrient-rich water is pumped (or flows by gravity) from the fish ponds to vegetable growbeds where the water is filtered and oxygenated by the plants.  Combining these two technologies thus offsets the negatives of each other.

Once cycled, a system like this can produce tons of fish and vegetables on a tiny footprint and using minimal water and power.  Although the capital cost is reasonably high, the yields from a well-designed system can provide a steady return within a very short period of time.

So where does Aquaponics fit into South Africa’s agricultural landscape?  Being independent of soil (the plants are actually grown above ground, in 13mm gravel) the condition of the soil is irrelevant.  This would open up vast tracts of otherwise unusable or infertile land for food production in this country.

One 30m x 10m greenhouse housing an Aquaponic system can yield the same vegetable crop as 1HA of soil.  Over and above this about 5-8 tons pa of high quality protein (the fish) is also produced.

Properly planned, the system has the potential to also support an algae pond capable of producing about 200L of clean, eco-friendly bio-diesel per week, enough for a small emerging farmer to run all of his vehicles and implements as well as a backup generator for the system itself.

To reverse the irreparable damage being done to South Africa’s food security by ill-planned land distribution to unqualified and under-capitalized emerging farmers, our Government should rather invest heavily in training and supporting the establishment of large, medium and small-scale Aquaponic ventures on land not currently used, or suitable, for large-scale food production using conventional means.

Aquaponic system could be built right where they are most needed, in small communities in the rural areas, providing food, employment and skills transfer.




62 Responses

  1. Want to get more info and start in Maun Botswana

  2. Hi there,

    Do you have a schematic drawing of this model? I would like to try it out in Mozambique.


    PS. Congratulations for your articles, they are very helpfull

  3. Hey Synaptoman
    I’m planning a community breeding project in the Northwest. Would it be possible to get assistance & guidance from you ?

  4. Hi George,

    No problem, I’ll email you privately.

  5. Hey,

    Just stumbled across your blog and was so intrigued read through almost every post regarding aquaponics. Great work and a fantastic/inspirational read.

    A few questions regarding your 4 * 3m*1.2m with 100+ m of grow beds housed in the 30m * 10m greenhouse –

    1. How many people (theoretically) could one of these 10m*30m systems feed? ie/ total mass of produced food / (rough estimate of 1 person’s yearly requirement) = ???

    Reason being I would love to scale down your model into a 5m * 15m backyard tunnel greenhouse and would love to know what the estimated output might be – ie/ how many people this size setup could feed.

  6. Also what is the solution for growing non-leafy root crops – I read you had success with radishes but what about potatoes/carrots/beetroots etc???

    Can these also be grown with aquaponics?

  7. Hi Simon,

    A 30m tunnel is probably capable of producing 5-8 tons of Tilapia per annum. The volume of vegetable product will depend on what you grow.

    5000kg of fish = 1750kg of edible protein. A 200g serving means 8750 servings per annum. If we assume fish 3 times a week, 52 weeks a year, that means we could feed 56 people and I’d say that would probably be the same number of people you’d feed from your veggies if you planted really carefully.

    Be careful scaling down because your smaller water volume will definitely not give you a proportionately smaller carrying capacity.

    I’d say you’d feed 12-15 people from a 15m greenhouse.

    As far as non-leafy vegetables, they really aren’t suitable in a gravel-based AP system. I have grown carrots but they really struggled.



  8. We currently grow cucumbers hydroponicly. Would your system work as a replacement for fertilizer on a large scale.

  9. Please advise how I can get further info – would like to set up a aquaponics farm in Maun, Botswana. I will be in Knysna in December – would be very keen to meet with you and discuss further / have a look at your set up.

    Kind regards.

    Patrick Egner.

  10. Hi Synaptoman,

    I have a backyard system that I build out of an IBC. It has been running for about 6 weeks now. After loosing most of my fish and dumping 70% of my water, my system seems to be stable now. The only problem is the leaves on my broccoli keep turning purple and dieing as they get older and none my lettuce survived.

    Please help, I don’t know what I am doing wrong.


    ps I just bought your book, but I don’t know if that will answer my question or not. I would have bought it anyway though because if it is like your article in Backyard aquaponics magazine, it will really help.

    • Hi Grant,

      It is unlikely that your system would be fully cycled in only 6 weeks. Have you tested Ammonia, Nitrites and Nitrates? If not, do so, as it will give you a great picture of exactly what stage your system is at. It’s also an indicator of whether to add more plants/fish or reduce plants/fish, to feed more or less and a host of other remedial measures that you can take. Water changes are always a solution if fish are dying, providing that the incoming water is of good quality. The plants will suffer in these early stages because of insufficient nutrients and you may have to provide these in the form of a liquid fertilizer like Seagro.

      Thank you for the order of the book. It will be posted off today. I’m sure that you’ll find it usefull, but don’t hesitate to ask any additional questions.

      Kind Regards


  11. Hi Synaptoman,
    Thanks for the feedback. Where can I get hold of Seagro, the 3 nurseries I went to have never heard of it?

  12. Love your site, lots of great info!
    I am very interested in Aquaponics.
    Couple of questions:

    I live in Southern Alberta Canada on a acreage, my concern is I have very high PPM sodium content in my well water how will this affect Talapia?

    Biodiesel from Algae, have you seen this being done as a DIY process? there seems to be very little info on the net on how this is done.

  13. Hi Synaptoman,

    What are the costs (Area: Litle Karoo, RSA)approximately of setting up a 30m x 10m greenhouse housing an Aquaponic system?

  14. Hi Synaptoman, we are very much interested in your e book manual, however the payment method aint favourable to us. can you kindly advise where we can pay using paypal as bank details are secure and also easier means of payment.

    Thank you.

    • Hi Joanne,

      Unfortunately we can’t get paid by Paypal here in South Africa. My only chioce is Setcom and I have done MANY payments through them and they’ve proved to be very secure. If you’d prefer I can give you a UK bank account to make a payment into. I will email you privately.


  15. I’m very interested in starting a aquaponic system. But how much of the info in your book is specific to your much more hot climate than that of near Detroit, Michigan USA? In other words, how much of the info is directly applicable regardless of climate? Do you have customers in the States?



  16. Hello Synaptoman,

    I have been following aquaponics developments in the USA as well as your own and I notice that your system produces a far higher fish yield.
    I live in Pretoria so the fish would be of greater economic importance than the vegetables but your figures seem to be all out of proportion to what the Americans have achieved. Is this due to better weather conditions or is there another reason?


    • Yes, temperature is key. Also bear in mind that my systems are small and I think the yields achieved would probably be smaller as it scales up.

  17. Hi, Synaptoman!

    I used the link to purchase your eBook, and though the site successfully sent me an email to verify me before the purchase, and it successfully gave me a receipt to print after the purchase, it did *not* successfully email me the purchase confirmation (which I assume would have a link to the download site for the book).

    Any suggestions? I had assumed it was fully automated, but is it something that is delayed until you do something and I’ve simply failed to be patient enough?

    Thanks for your wonderful site and all the great information!

    • Hi Friday,

      Mmmm, let’s say “partially” automated. I get a confirmation of all book purchases with an email link. I then manually email the PDF eBook to the buyer. Paypal and Setcom often take up to 2 hours to send me the confirmation and with different time zones, I’m often sleeping while my book is selling, but normally the buyer gets the book within a few hours of ordering. Thank you so much for your order, I am sending it off now.


  18. Hi Synaptoman

    You mention producing bio diesel from algae. Are you doing that at your set up and where can I learn more about actually setting up such a plant?

    I did some research and see that duckweed is also used for making ethanol. Any comments on that?


    • I have made bio-diesel but not from algae yet. There has been much research done into bio-diesel from algae and the results are very impressive. Google it or join a Yahoo group dealing specifically with this subject.

  19. Are you still in the Paarl area?
    Would it be possible to meet / communicate re Tilapia?

    We are a group of businessmen interested in the concept, with business / market related questions.

    • Hi Stephen,

      Yes I am still in Paarl. Thank you for the book order, your eBook was dispatched. You are welcome to make contact with me through my email address.

      Kind Regards


  20. Please contact me Re: setting up of aquaponic system, in Plett.

  21. I have just recently started up my system used a tunnel over the pond to try and maintain a stable warm temperature to promot growth. It appears that this may be causing a number of problems. The seeds germinate and shoot up but are long stemmed and spindly. Shortly after this they die. I thought it might be a lack of light so I introduced 4X36 watt daylight flouresenct lights in a 6m by 1.2 area. Not much appears to have change with my next trial of seeds. The other though was maybe there is not enough drying time in the cycle and I am getting root rot. I am pumping the water for 15min and draining for about 10min thenallowing it to stand for 110min before the next cycle starts. It is a flood and drain system use +/-70l containers and gravel as the growth mrdium.

    Any suggestions? I would apperciate your help if possible.

    Thank you

    • Hi John,

      You don’t mention what plants you are having problems with. A first step would be to do a standard water test and determine if you have enough nutrients (ie Nitrates) in your water. Next time you plant seeds add some Seasol dissolved in water to the growbeds in a low doseage. It won’t harm the fish but the plants will love it.

      The colour of the leaves is also a sure sign of deficiencies and these would normally be nutrient or iron deficiencies. You might also have a heat problem. Plants that bolt and go straight to seed are often a heat problem. How hot is it inside the greenhouse? If it is very hot you may want to leave the door open during the day.

      Good Luck


  22. Hi ,Great and informative site ! I have tried to down load Aquaponics – The Synaptoman way but get a runtime error, got another link ? Have started research to develop a small system in Hout bay and am garnering as much info as i can.

  23. …and reading I see that you are in Paarl ! Hooray, would you know if it is better to go Tilapia or trout and if Tilapia where i could get some fingerlings?

    • Hi Mark,

      Sorry, you must have clicked on a broken link. I’ll look into it. Your best bet would be to buy it through Monster Pay. You just register and then pay with any credit card after which I will email a copy to you.

      I’d go for Tilapia. I’ll put you in contact with a hatchery. I find it easier to heat water in winter for Tilapia than cool water in summer for trout. Also permiting for trout is going to become increasingly difficult in South Africa.

      To buy the eBook use

      this link

  24. Hi,very informative site.Well done.Saw your article in “Backyard Aquaponics Magazine issue 2”
    I’m thinking of putting up a AP system in the Karoo and was wondering how well the Tilapia travel by car if I came and buy directly from you.I’m about 370 km from Knysna.

    • They travel fine by car but only from October. I have sold my brood stock to a hatchery a few km down the road. I will put you in contact witrh them.

  25. i want to know the detail of aqua phonic culture system………..
    would you pls sent me a soft copy narrating all about this culture system?

    • Hi Saheen,

      Thank you for your comment. I’d suggest that you buy the eBook, Aquaponics – The Synaptoman way. All the information you need is detailed in this book. If not, you will find some valuable information on this blog.



  26. Hi Synaptoman. I wouId like to see an aquaponics system that is working. I am from Mosselbay and would like to get in touch with you.



  27. Dude, I wanna talk to yu about aquaponics! Pleez contact me – I live in Cape Town. Richard

  28. Hi Synaptoman (What is your super power?)

    I heard about aquaponics on the radio today. I would love to see it n action and see if ti is really as wonderful as they said.

    I live and work in Madagascar and am considereing using it over there

    Currently in Pretoria for a few months Could you give me a few contacts, ideas etc?


  29. Um in Botswana and um interested in fish farming,i want to know a lot about fish,especialy tilapia.I need information about tilapia farming Cos i want to start my own business,rite now i already have a farm and money to start…So i need help..pliz….

  30. Is there anyone with the new genetically improved tilapia strain that i can buy?
    I am in need of a new setup of Aquaponics, ever a small RAS system where I can start from scratch.

    Hope someone can assist me?

  31. Hi,

    I recently started designing a small backyard system, but am having trouble finding fish.

    Would you be able to give me some more info regarding this in/around Cape Town?


  32. Hi I live in cape town and would like to set up a small aquaponic system for my north facing courtyard.
    Could you email me a quote please?
    Many thanks

  33. Hi
    Are you still into Aquaponics???
    Are you still busy with that in the Knysna area??
    Need some info if possible>
    Email: tim at redlionworx. com
    I would realy like to come rack your brain for an hour or so with my quaetions and see you facility the one with the HPVC water pipes cut in half.

    Please let me know thanks

  34. Hi Synatoman [Is this your trade name?]
    Im interested in learning more on the Aquaponics.Do you run hands-on courses?Feel that book knowledge doesnt provide the full picture,as there are many variables to consider.
    Would appreciate your feedback.

  35. Hi
    Where in Pretoria could I do a hands on Hydroponic farming course, or visit a farming yard and get some practical experience.

  36. hie synaptoman. Wonderfull articles! Do you have schematics available for your model? Am contemplating getting into aquaponics and i think it would do me a world of help.


  37. Hi “Synaptoman”
    Please could you contact me as i wish to visit/consult/chat to you about starting small scale private trout production on my small holding on the Garden Route. Any idea who is doing that at this time?

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