First off I should probably define exactly what is Aquaponics. It’s a marriage between hydroponics (growing plants in something other than soil) and aquaculture (growing aquatic animals such as fish). It consists of plants and fish, that are grown separately but linked together with a recirculating water system.
A Symbiotic Relationship
If you have ever done hydroponics or had a pet fish you know of some of the difficulties and benefits with these systems. Hydroponics requires the addition of nutrients into the water. By replacing the soil with other media grow beds, the nutrients that are commonly found in the soil must be added to the water. So why do gardeners do hydroponics? It is worthwhile for the following reasons: no tilling, raking or hoeing, no weeds, plants can be grown closer together, plants grow quickly and are very productive.
With Aquaculture the water must be periodically cleaned or replaced. The fish naturally excrete ammonia (from their poop and their gills). Over time, the water in the tank will develop high concentrations of ammonia that can be toxic to the fish. A common fish tank filter removes these concentrations. So why do people grow fish in tanks? Well the reasons can vary from fish look nice as pets to fish providing a source of meat.
So hydroponics involves adding nutrients, and aquaculture requires removing ammonia. By combining a recirculating water system, the ammonia from the fish waste is converted to nitrates which plants need. This is accomplished through natures nitrification process.
The Nitrosomonas bacteria converts ammonia to Nitrites. the Nitrobacter bacteria converts Nitrites to Nitrates. This process filters the fish water and provides the nitrogen needed by plants.
How is this done?
Hydroponic systems can vary in size from indoor home systems to large commercial facilities. There are also many different ways a hydroponic system can be set up. All sorts of different methods, containers, plants, and fish have been used. Here are some of the systems that I have seen.
Raft Systems – The plants are grown in pots that are floated on the water. The “rafts” are usually styrofoam. The permeable pots are filled with perlite, hydroton, or rockwool.
Flood and Drain Systems – The plants are grown in a media bed (gravel, clay, or other) that is periodically filled with water then drained. This can be accomplished through a timer on the pump filling the media bed, by a bell siphon, or some other method.
Nutrient Film Systems – Water is trickled through channels or down pipes containing netted pots where the plants grow. The roots wick up the water as it trickles past.
Who is doing this?
Aquaponics systems are popular in many places of the world. Your neighbor may be doing this next door to you…who knows? There have been many non-profit organizations (such as Growing Power, Inc) that have developed plans for community and family food systems involving aquaponics. There are also commercial facilities (such as Friendly Aquaponics) that sell the produce and fish created in their aquaponics systems. Besides these, there are many resources on how to create your own system (such as backyard aquaponics).
As one of my self-sufficiency projects this year I’ll be developing my own home system starting in February 2013. I plan to share all that I am doing and learning right here. I truly believe using the aquaponics method will be another great way to provide for my family. In any advent it should be a good learning experience.
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