What Are Aquaponics?
An increased interest in sustainability and conservation has led many farmers to begin growing plants through hydroponic growing.
Hydroponics cultivates plants using only water and a growing medium, with no soil necessary. This provides the opportunity to grow a substantially larger crop yield in less space.
Aquaculture is a word used to describe the raising and cultivating of marine animals, fish, and crops that are grown in both fresh and salt waters. When you combine “aquaculture” and “hydroponics,” you end up with “aquaponics” – raising fish and plants together without soil, using only water!
Fish waste provides plants with essential nitrates, and the plants in turn provide the fish with clean water. It takes work to ensure the plants and fish are thriving together. “These systems require monitoring to make sure everything is in balance and running smoothly,” said David Landkamer, an aquaculture specialist from the Oregon State University Sea Grant Extension program. “You have to pay attention and see how well the fish are feeding, how well the plants are growing and see whether the water is circulating properly.”
Methods of Aquaponics
There are several ways to grow plants with aquaponics.
The raft method is one of the most well-refined techniques as it has been practiced for years in the Virgin Islands. The plants float on a raft (made from polystyrene) and their roots dangle into a trough below. The water in the trough feeds into a separate fish tank and the plants and fish simultaneously thrive. This method is the best for mass production of plants and fish.
A second form of aquaponics is called “NFT” – nutrient film technique. “The system operates by providing a slow, steady stream of nutrient-rich water to the plant roots,” Aquaponics Exposed explains. “The water is circulated using a combination of pumping and gravity draining. Unlike an Ebb and Flow system, Nutrient Film aquaponics does not require a flood period – just a consistent flow of water from the fish tank.” The biggest issue with NFT is that the plants’ roots can clog the channels, and the waste from fish can also cause issues with the plumbing. Vigilance is necessary for using nutrient film technique to grow plants.
The third type of aquaponics is media based. This is the simplest form of aquaponics. Plants are in containers filled with “media” such as rocks or perlite and are watered by the fish tank, either through ebb and flow, or flooding the plant and then draining. This is the simplest form of aquaponics for small scale growth.
Aquaponics Starter Tips
Interested in giving aquaponics a try? Here is some advice.
When selecting the plants and fish you wish to use in your aquaponics system, be mindful of their pH and temperature needs. They should be complementary, even if they will not perfectly match. Some good fish choices include tilapia, blue gill, crappie, koi, fancy goldfish, catfish, large mouth bass, and carp. Plants that do well with an aquaponics system include any type of lettuce, arugula, basil, mint, watercress, and common houseplants. If you wish to grow tomatoes, peppers, squash, or other plants that have higher nutrient inputs, make sure you have a lot of fish to accommodate their nutritional needs.
Aquaponics is a truly remarkable and sustainable way to grow your own salad and even a fish fillet for dinner!