Aquaponics Glossary of Terms

Aquaponics - Aquaponics is the cultivation of fish and plants together in a constructed, re-circulating ecosystem utilizing natural bacterial cycles to convert fish wastes to plant nutrients.

This is an environmentally-friendly, natural food growing method that harnesses the best attributes of aquaculture and hydroponics without the need to discard any water or filtrate or add chemical fertilizers.

Aquaponic Gardening - Aquaponics done in a home or community environment where the produce is to be consumed by the gardeners themselves, and is not grown for resale puposes.

Media-Based Aquaponics - Where the filtration (both bio and solids) takes place in the media (inert plant growing material such as a gravel or other aggregate)  within the grow bed.  The water delivery can be constant-flow, timed or flood and drain. The functions of a media bed are:

1-a media bed supports the plants

2-a media bed provides solids filtration

3-a media bed provides bio-filtration

4-a media bed provides a home for worms

5- a horizontal media bed provides a place to set down your drink. 

NFT (Nutrient Film Technique)A method of growing plants in which a thin and even film of aerated nutrient solution flows down a channel into which the roots of the crop are suspended. It is very important to filter the water well before sending it to an NFT trough since fish waste in the trough and on the plant roots will negatively impact the plant's growth.  NFT aquaponics requires separate solids and bio-filtration.  While the reduced amount of water needed to fill the system may seem like a benefit, it can mean greater temperature and water quality fluctuations in a short period of time.

DWC (Deep Water Culture) - DWC is often referred to as Raft where the plants grow suspended over a tank of water in which nutrient rich water flows with supplemental aeration.  In most situations filtration needs to occur before fish water is sent to the raft area of the system.

CHIFT PIST (Constant Height In Fish Tank Pump In Sump Tank) Maintaining a constant volume/height in the fish tank with a sump tank at the lowest point and a fish tank at a higher point.  The pump lifts water from the sump tank to the fish tank and water flows from the fish tank to the grow beds which drain back to the sump tank.

CHOP (Constant Height One Pump) - Basically the same thing as CHIFT PIST.  With CHIFT PIST there has not normally been a distinction between the variation where the fish tank drains back to the sump directly and the pump pumps to the grow beds and they might drain to the sump or the fish tank.  With CHOP it was normally assumed that the fish tank got the water from the pump and drained to grow beds which drained to the sump.

CHOP2 - The variation of CHIFT PIST where both the fish tank and grow beds drained to the sump and the sump pumped to both the growbeds and fish tank 

Constant Flow - (still being defined)

Flood and Drain- The plant growing space is allowed to flood and then drain either by the use of a pump on a timer to fill the bed and then allow it to drain while the pump is off or by the use of a siphon or other intermittent outflow device where the bed is constantly filling and then the siphon will drain the bed quickly.

Advantages: providing ample oxygen to plant roots and bio filter bacteria without the need of extra aeration.  Many plants like some dry time especially if the water is not super aerated.

Disadvantages: Water level needs to fluctuate in the system to provide the water for flood and drain.  Flood and drain offers more media to air than media to water interface which can have an exaggerated heat exchange effect on water temperatures.

Ebb and Flow - The same as Flood and Drain except you are usually pumping up through the bottom of the grow bed and then when the pump turns off, you are draining back down through the pump.

Chemistry Cheat Sheet (created by community member Bob Campbell)

C     - Carbon
Ca   - Calcium
Cl   - Chlorine
Cu  - Copper
Fe   - Iron
H    - Hydrogen
K    - Potassium
N    - Nitrogen
Na  - Sodium
Mg - Magnesium
Mn - Manganese
Ni  - Nichel
O   - Oxygen
P   - Phosphorus
S   - Sulfur
Z   - Zinc

GH - General hardness (a measure of the concentration of divalent metal ions such as calcium Ca2+, and magnesium Mg2+)

KH - Carbonate hardness (a measure of the alkalinity)

pH  - "power/potential of hydrogen" (A measure of the concentration of Hydrogen atoms, H+)

Alkalinity - The capacity of water for neutralizing an acid

Acid - The negative logarithm of the concentration of hydronium ions - substance that increases the concentration of hydronium ions (H3O+) in solution

Base - The positive logarithm of the concentration of hydronium ions -substance that can accept hydrogen ions or more generally, donate a pair of valence electrons. A soluble base is referred to as an alkali if it contains and releases hydroxide ions (OH−)

Ion - An atom or molecule in which the total number of electrons is not equal to the total number of protons

Anions  - Negatively charged ions

Cations - Positively charged ions

Chelate - The way ions and molecules bind metal ions to allow the metals to be available to plants as nutrients

Ligand  - That which binds to a central metal atom

Divalent - Forming two bonds with other ions or molecules

Anhydrous - Contains no water

CaCO3   - Calcium carbonate (Chalk,  agricultural lime)
CaOH2   - Calcium hydroxide (also called slaked lime, hydrated lime, pickling lime, builders lime)
NaHCO3  - Sodium bicarbonate (Baking soda)
KHCO3    - Potassium bicarbonate (an ingredient of baking powder, also used in fire extinguishers) 
K2CO3     - Potassium carbonate.  (primary component of potash)
KCl          - Potassium chloride (available as water softener)
KOH        - Potassium hydroxide 
K2SO4    - Potassium sulfate
HCO3      - Bicarbonate
HCL         - Hydrogen Chloride (forms Hydrochloric acid the aqueous solution of hydrogen chloride)
H2CO3  - Carbonic acid (formed by CO2 and H2O as in club soda, soda water, sparkling water, or seltzer water and acid oceans due to burning fossil fuels)
H2SO4    - Sulfuric acid (Used in acidic drain cleaner, and electrolyte in lead-acid batteries)
HNO3    - Nitric acid
H3PO4    - Phosphoric acid
CO2        - Carbon dioxide
OH−         - Hydroxide (functions as a base)

Other Abbreviations

AP: AquaPonics

FT: Fish Tank

GB: Grow Beds

GPH: Gallons Per Hour (on water pump)

ppm: parts per million

ppt: parts per thousand (although, according to Wikipedia, it should always be spelled out "parts per thousand" since ppt actually stands for "parts per trillion". In an aquaponics setting though, I don't think you'll be measure things out in the parts per trillion scale)

mg/l: miligrams per liter (the equivalent measurement of parts per million)


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Comment by Steven Cotton on July 4, 2014 at 1:37pm

Hello All...

I am a brand new Michigander.. Interested in Aquaponics and all the culture has to offer.

So stoked to find people on this forum that are knowledgeable and involved in involved in the industry.

I would like to find out if there are any community meet ups/gatherings in which we can share information, ideas and possibly the fruits of our collective labor(no pun intended)

Interested in learning more regarding aquaponics and meeting new people..

Comment by Rich File on March 2, 2014 at 4:54pm

Another term I just read and can't find: IBC in the following: "I just discovered if you put 500 1" Tilapia in an IBC covered with duckweed it only takes a fw days for you to lose all your duckweed." Thanks!

Comment by bobby platt on May 2, 2013 at 5:42pm

how do i make a siphon for a flood and drain set up ?

Comment by Vlad Jovanovic on November 18, 2012 at 4:20am

I think Jonathan might have been alluding to define DWC depths? Since many folks who would find themselves on this page are new to this and might not realize that "deep" generally means a 10" to 12" (or so) depth. Or, 14" to 16" as is the case with UVI.

Comment by Iftikhar Ali Khan on April 10, 2012 at 1:50am

How can we calculate number of Tilapia fish & plants ratio to ensure appropriate level of nutrients in the system?

Comment by M D Fowler on March 5, 2012 at 5:57pm

i had trouble understanding "Cycle up", i think i got it now but defining it might help me.  it also took me a while to figure out the "Bell siphon" and how it worked.  but everyone here has helped me understand it all.


Comment by Carey Ma on January 7, 2012 at 2:41am

@ Jonathan; DWC is in relation to the plant roots being suspended in liquid instead of any media or the bottom. This is in reference to hydroponics instead of maritime values.

@ Sylvia; I'm not sure why we need to redefine already established hydroponic definitions? But anywho, I guess it makes it easier for newcomers to understand our jargon so keep up the good work.

@ Japan; I think it is already defined on the main page but for simplicity's sake, I guess we should define what is and what is not AP.

Comment by Jonathan Farrand on January 5, 2012 at 3:23pm

How about tipper cup?  Shishi Odoshi! The first time I saw the barrelponics with the tipper cup I was amazed at how simple yet affective it is.

Comment by Sylvia Bernstein on January 4, 2012 at 6:59am

@ Jonathan - that's the DWC referred to above

@ Japan - we actually already did that exercise about a year ago...and a very fascinating discussion it was!  You can find it at the top of the What is Aquaponics?page (along with a link to the original discussion), and this page will be linked under that one.

Kept it coming, guys!

Comment by Japan Aquaponics - アクアポニックス 日本 on January 4, 2012 at 12:50am

How about the definition of aquaponics itself?  Given some recent debates on what actually makes a system an aquaponic one, as opposed to something else, maybe we should add in the definition of aquaponics for clarity's sake?

Comment by Jonathan Farrand on January 3, 2012 at 12:09pm

I feel like deep water culture should be denfined. In my mind when I think of deep water culture and aquaponics I think of massive water volume. Where as with hydroponics deep water culture is in small container.


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