Can Aquaponics Survive Winter?

Can aquaponics survive winter?

Aquaponics is a unique farming method that binds together traditional aquaculture and hydroponics to create a symbiotic ecosystem. It uses fish waste as fertilizer for plants, creating a self-sustaining food production process. This could potentially revolutionize how we produce food on our planet, with many proponents touting its environmental benefits, such as minimal water use and zero agricultural chemicals.

However, there is concern about whether aquaponics systems can survive the cold winter temperatures of more northern climates, particularly when it comes to the fish component of the system. The survival of the fish has implications for plant growth and since many areas experience hibernation periods during extreme cold periods every year, aquaponic systems can’t feasibly sustain year-round food production in all areas.

The key question then becomes: can aquaponics survive winter? This article will provide both an introduction to aquaponics and insight into how it handles different conditions around the world. Also checkout how much Aquaponic Food Taste Different.

Aquaponics System Basics

Aquaponics is an excellent way to grow plants and raise fish together with a closed-loop system. It combines hydroponics and aquaculture to form a symbiotic relationship between plants and aquatic animals.

Before getting into the specifics of whether aquaponics systems can survive winter, let’s first explore the basics of this sustainable system:

Definition of aquaponics

Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. This type of hybrid system allows for a natural re-circulating cycle where the waste produced by the fish provides the nutrient source to feed the plants and the roots of plants clean the water so that it can be re-used as habitat for aquatic life.

Essentially, all that is needed to set up an aquaponics system is a tank filled with water, fish, and a few plants. The water in the tank circulates through a series of filters, pumps and media beds before it returns to provide a healthy environment for your aquatic pets. This process removes solids from the wastewater, ensuring that only clean and oxygenated water is returned to the tank.

The relationship between fish and plants benefits both species because fish waste provides essential plant nutrients in forms that are readily available to them. This helps them grow faster and more abundantly. At the same time, as plants absorb essential minerals from their roots, they help purify and remove toxins from their environment, making sure it remains healthy for all involved parties!

It’s important to note that there are some risks associated with aquaponics systems due to their intensive nature. For example, if not managed properly or during extreme weather conditions (like winter), then oxygen levels can drop dramatically destroying both plant and fish life within your tank rapidly!

Components of an aquaponics system

Aquaponics systems rely on a closed-loop of cycles in order to provide both plants and fish with the nutrients they need. Generally, an aquaponics system is composed of three essential components: a fish tank, a plant grow bed, and a biological filter. The biological filter may also support bacteria which converts ammonia to nitrates for the plants.

The Fish Tank is responsible for holding the fish, typically fresh water species like trout, tilapia, or catfish. The water used in an aquaponics system tends to have an ideal ratio of minerals required by the fish; this ratio can be augmented with certain commercially available supplements which mimic natural conditions found in rivers and streams.

The Plant Grow Bed holds media such as clay pellets or perlite that is populated with various types of aquatic plants such as lettuce, basil and corn shoots. This media provides both physical spacing between the plant roots and access to oxygen throughout the root system.

The Biological Filter helps maintain stable levels of nitrate concentrations by providing a surface where beneficial bacteria can colonize and convert waste material in the water into useful minerals which are absorbed by aquatic plants and other microorganisms. Beneficial microorganisms also consume nitrates and break down organic matter like uneaten food particles or decaying matter from dead fishes which ultimately helps keep ammonia levels low enough for safe aquatic life.

These components work together inside the aquaponic system loop in order to help balance out pH levels and ensure ample oxygenation so that all living inhabitants are able to thrive during any season including winter months when temperatures drop below freezing.

Factors Affecting Aquaponics in Winter

Can aquaponics survive winter?

Aquaponics systems are becoming more and more popular, as they provide a way to grow food in a more sustainable way. However, keeping an aquaponics system going through the winter months can be a challenge. There are a few factors to consider before attempting to maintain an aquaponics system during the cold winter months. Let’s look at some of these factors:


Temperature is an important factor to consider when determining the ability of an aquaponic system to survive the winter months. Generally, aquaponics requires water temperatures of 72-82°F (22-28°C), with temperatures no lower than 60°F (15.5°C). When temperatures drop below this, the bacteria which breaks down ammonia into nitrate – a much-needed food source for plants in aquaponics systems – becomes sluggish. Therefore, water temperature is integral for a healthy and active winter aquaponics environment.

To ensure that water remains at optimal temperatures for long periods of time, weatherproof materials such as insulation boards or bubble wrap may be used on hoods or other parts of your systems where possible to retain heat during colder months. In addition, some types of heating elements include electrical heaters and geothermal heat pumps which can be used as part as part of an aquaponic system designed to operate through winter. In areas where ambient air temperature remains relatively warm throughout winter – for instance Arizona and California – ambient air temperature can be used to regulate water temperature in lieu of a heater.


Light is a critical factor in the success of an aquaponics system, especially in winter. Natural sunlight hours are shorter in the winter months, providing less opportunity for your plants to photosynthesize. This can lead to a decrease in photosynthesis which will affect the health of aquatic animals in the system. Additionally, frozen water surfaces can obstruct incoming light and disrupt plant growth if not accounted for.

To prevent this disruption, you should consider adding supplemental lighting to your aquaponics system during its winter cycle. A variety of LED lights with adjustable wattage and intensity may be used to increase light output throughout the day (all-season LED strip lights are a popular choice). If you choose to add artificial lighting during winter make sure to dial down the intensity as this type of lighting can quickly elevate water temperature and generate heat buildup inside your grow beds or tables – causing other problems as well.

It is also important to provide some protection from cold weather conditions by:

  • Insulating walls, windows, water tanks and pipes so they do not freeze or become damaged.
  • Using shades or planters that reduce exposure to direct cold air gusts and snow accumulation around your aquatic animals’ environment.
  • Making sure there is adequate ventilation may also allow lighter air temperatures which could additionally help prevent frost on surfaces.


In order for an aquaponics system to successfully survive winter, it is important to consider the levels of oxygen in the system. Aquaponics requires high levels of oxygenation in order to maintain production; therefore, in winter when temperatures drop and water becomes cooler, it holds less dissolved oxygen.

To ensure that the required oxygen levels are maintained, a cooling device may be used to warm the water and aeration devices can introduce more air into the system. It is also beneficial for anyone running an aquaponics operation in winter to purchase an aquarium thermometer so that temperature can be monitored regularly and any changes can be caught early on.


Nutrient availability is an important factor to consider in an aquaponics system during the winter season. Cold weather may slow algae growth and reduce the biofilter’s ability to provide nitrifying bacteria with enough oxygen. As a result, nitrogen levels may drop causing inadequate nutrients for plants. Without adequate nutrition, crops will not thrive and may fail to survive the winter temperatures.

To counter this problem, there are several steps that can be taken:

  • Fish feed should be added to the tank regularly, especially during winter when there is less sunlight for photosynthesis.
  • Adding supplementary fertilizers can help replenish depleted nutrients before they become too low for healthy plant growth.
  • Aquatic plants can also be added in order to increase nutrient uptake from the water column and help maintain water quality during colder weather.

Strategies for Keeping Aquaponics Alive During Winter

Winter weather can be hard on outdoor aquaponics systems, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that aquaponics systems need to be taken down for the season. Many aquaponics growers have come up with a variety of strategies for protecting their aquaponics set-ups from the cold temperatures and short days of winter.

Here are some strategies for keeping your aquaponics systems alive and thriving during the winter months:

Heating the water

One critical factor for keeping your aquaponic system alive during the winter is to ensure the water temperature doesn’t drop too low. Most species of fish cannot survive in cold watre, so an air heater is necessary to maintain a suitable temperature. A thermostat can be used to turn on and off the heater as needed. For example, if the water temperature dips below 68°F (20°C) then it can be switched on.

Submersible heaters are also available but they’re not typically recommended unless you have a large system that requires fast heating, since air heaters have been proven more reliable and efficient in most cases. If you go with a submersible option, make sure it comes with an aquaculture-grade rating or warranty for safety reasons. Additionally, after selecting your heating option, be sure to regularly check the water temperature several times a day using an accurate thermometer device or meter. That way you’ll know exactly when to switch on/off the heater throughout different periods of the day/night depending on external temperatures and fluctuations in your aquaponic system.

Adding supplemental light

In areas where winter temperatures drop below 50°F (10°C), you can extend your growing season with supplemental lighting. This is especially helpful in a greenhouse aquaponics system as it reduces the need for heating.

Types of supplemental lighting for aquaponics include:

  • Fluorescent lights: These are inexpensive, easy to use, and are suitable for aquaponics systems. These come in small or large shapes and sizes, ranging from two feet to four feet depending on your needs.
  • LED lights: LED grow lights consume less energy than fluorescent lights and don’t require ballasts. They may be more expensive than fluorescent lights upfront but they last much longer.
  • High Pressure Sodium (HPS) or Metal Halide (MH) bulbs: They can provide a lot of intensity in a little space and don’t require special reflectors like fluorescent bulbs do making them ideal for closed greenhouses with limited height options.

When considering supplemental light, note that any type of light bulb produces heat which can raise the temperature of your water, so you should monitor it closely and make sure to adjust accordingly. You also want to take into account the amount of light exposure necessary and available to your crop; most plants require between 10–14 hours a day during the winter months while leafy greens may only need 8–10 hours per day depending on the species. Once you know how much you need then plan how many lights are needed (and if additional ventilation will also be needed). Finally, err on the side of caution; it’s important not to overexpose plants for too long as this can lead to stunted growth as well as burned leaves!

Adding oxygen

Adding oxygen is an important part of ensuring the success of your aquaponic system in cold weather. Water temperatures naturally drop when exposed to low air temperatures, reducing oxygen saturation levels and increasing the risk of fish illness or death. Providing aeration can help increase dissolved oxygen levels and offset the drop in temperature.

You can use a water pump to ensure active oxygen transfer or invest in an aerator specifically designed for cold-weather systems that uses heated water to produce a trickle effect with diffused oxygen. Additionally, you can monitor your tanks on a regular basis to ensure that dissolved oxygen levels remain in the safe range; testing kits are inexpensive and easy to use.

Adding nutrients

Adding nutrients to the aquaponics system throughout the winter season is crucial for plant health and fish survival. Nitrogen and phosphorous are used heavily by plants, but in cold winter temperatures they will not absorb these nutrients as well so maintenance of these levels needs to be closely monitored. To supplement this, try adding liquid fertilizer or even a mineral solution every few weeks. Adding aquatic plants into the system as they provide essential oxygen can also help fish survive during colder temperatures.

Ensuring adequate calcium levels – which helps aquatic organisms build strong shells and activities – can also help with winter survival. Calcium carbonate supplements (limestone) are recommended for buffering acidic soils and for maintaining proper pH levels in the water, both of which will help your aquaponics survive throughout the coldest months of winter.

Finally, take time throughout the winter season to check on your plants and fish health; this will ensure prompt reaction if anything starts to go wrong such as sudden changes in temperature or pH level or slow growth in vegetation.

Utilizing simple strategies such as these during the northern hemisphere’s chilly months can optimize your aquaponics success year-round!


In conclusion, aquaponics can survive winter depending on your chosen system, location and climate. Many aquaponics enthusiasts use some sort of shelter to protect their systems from snow and ice. Aquaponic greenhouses are the most effective way to ensure the survival of your aquatic ecology during winter. If you choose this option, be sure to choose a greenhouse that is able to withstand heavy snow and freezing temperatures.

Also consider investing in an appropriate heater and ventilator as well as other components that can help ensure a comfortable environment for both the fish and plants during cold winter days. Ultimately, careful planning, regulating and monitoring your system throughout the winter months can help ensure a successful cold season for your aquaponics setup.

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