Do you have a pond in your backyard but want to make out of it? Why not grow food in that beautiful pond of yours? Through aquaponics, you can use your pond's natural environment to grow food without the use of soil or fertilizers. Ponds that contain fish provide natural nutrients that ensure plants thrive in an aquaponics pond.
With aquaponics, your beautiful pond, in which you invested a fair amount of money and time, provides returns, not only for food but also for the environment's welfare. Your plants, in return, will not only produce organic food, but they will also help clean the water in the pond and help keep algae levels low by consuming the nutrients algae needs to thrive.
Converting your backyard pond into a flourishing aquaponics system is not difficult; the basics are already there in place. But the foundation of a system like aquaponics is to create a balance between animal life and plant life in your pond, which we will discuss in this how to start a pond aquaponics system blog.
What is a Pond Aquaponics System?
Aquaponics combines hydroponics (growing plants without soil) and aquaculture (raising fish and other aquatic animals). The combination of these two systems creates a recirculating environment where fish and plants benefit from each other mutually.
If you have a pond in your home, you can convert it into a pond aquaponics system by fixing the area and rearranging some elements. If you don't have an existing pond but plan to build one from scratch, you can set up your own pond aquaponics system.
With a pond aquaponics system, you can utilize the naturally nutrient-rich pond water to grow vegetables and create a sustainable growing environment right in your backyard. The fish waste will provide nutrients to your plants, while plant roots will clean the water for the fish.
Why Grow in a Pond?
Organic matters, such as fish waste, dead animals, and plant materials, accumulate in the pond. When these organic matters decompose, nutrients naturally accumulate in a pond. Nitrogen, an essential nutrient for fish health and plant growth, cycles through the pond with the help of the bacteria.
The bacteria decompose the organic materials, and the decomposition produces ammonia, a toxic chemical that can harm the fish. Bacteria then convert ammonia into nitrite and then nitrates, which become nutrients for the plants to grow. All these necessary nutrients are available in a pond, and it is practical to utilize all these nutrients to grow plants.
Algae grow well in ponds because it has high nitrate levels, so the key to controlling algae growth in ponds is to plant decorative plants or vegetables right in the pond. Plants will not only control algae but will also beautify and provide food for your table. You will need a grow bed, a floating raft, or pipes to use your pond water better. They will hold the plant elements of your pond aquaponics system and act as a filter for the water.
Factors to Consider in a Pond Aquaponics System
Converting your existing pond into a flourishing aquaponics system is not hard. The basics are already in place, but there are a few factors you need to consider before starting.
The first factor you need to consider is what kind of local climate you have. Your choice of fish and plants depends on your local climate. If you live in warm weather, choose fish and plants that thrive in a warmer climate. If you're in a colder climate, select fish and plants that can survive the freezing water during winter.
2. Choosing Lifeforms
As mentioned above, pick out fish and plants that grow well in your region and are not affected by your climate. Fish and plants are two of the three key elements of an aquaponics system.
Some fish species thrive in larger ponds, while other fish do well in small tanks. One important factor to consider in selecting fish species for your system is your intentions for your fish. Are you planning to harvest fish for food, or do you want ornamental fish? Other factors that you should also consider in choosing fish species for your aquaponics system are water temperature, pH level, and fish availability in your location.
Koi and goldfish are common ornamental pond fish that are readily available in any pet store. Tilapia, catfish, largemouth bass, freshwater salmon, and trout are edible fish species that grow well in a pond. Keep in mind that selecting the best species for your aquaponics system is essential to the success of your system.
Large amounts of ammonia from fish waste in your pond water could harm your fish in the long run. Plants clean the water in an aquaponics system while thriving off of the fish's waste. The nitrifying bacteria convert the ammonia into nitrates for the plants to absorb, saving the fish from the potential risk of ammonia poisoning.
In general, you can grow almost any plant with aquaponics. However, consider growing plants like watercress, spinach, water parsley, kale, lettuce, and swiss chard for a pond aquaponics system. These plants grow fast in shallow running water and are easier to maintain alongside your fish. You can also plant a few ornamental plants like water hyacinth in your pond to maximize the nitrogen cycle of your aquaponics system.
3. Creating a Balanced Environment
Once you have finished setting your basic system, ensure a balance of plants and animals to get the most out of your system. Generally, aquaponics systems are easy to set up, but creating a balanced environment for fish and plants is a challenge, especially for aquaponics beginners.
If the fish level gets too high, your plants might not keep the nutrient levels under control, which can be fatal to the fish. On the other hand, if there are too few fish, you can't generate enough waste to give plants enough nutrients. So, in maintaining a balance between your fish and plants, always keep in mind the fish to plants ratio. For commercial aquaponics systems, the difficulty of creating a balanced environment is more significant compared to backyard systems. It is because backyard systems don't need to maximize productivity.
Starting a Pond Aquaponics System
Here are the different options you can implement for using your pond to incorporate aquaponics and grow vegetables.
Adding a Growing Raft
Grow vegetables in your pond by implementing the raft (dwc) method of aquaponics. You can do this by using floating rafts. You can buy a specifically designed for aquaponics and hydroponics floating rafts that are ready-to-use. These floating rafts are made with water-resistant materials that ensure durability and longevity.
However, if you are a do-it-yourself person, you can DIY your floating rafts using Styrofoam. You can do this by taking a piece of Styrofoam, drill some holes, and using a net cup to hold the plants, insert the plants, and let it float in your pond. The disadvantage of using Styrofoam is that there is no space between the water and Styrofoam. Plants grow better if some roots are exposed to air, so it is necessary to have a small air gap between the water and the foam. You can do this by gluing a small strip of foam around the edge of the raft.
One thing to keep in mind in using floating rafts in your pond aquaponics system is that fish, especially koi, like to nibble on plant roots. So it is recommended to put some mesh protection under your raft to keep fish from eating your plant roots. One alternative is to put each plant into a large mesh pot containing supporting materials, like clay pellets, to hold the roots.
Adding a Grow bed
Adding floating rafts to your pond's aquaponics system is relatively simple to implement. But if you want a larger growing area to increase the number of plants you can grow, you can make a growing area outside of the pond. There are several options for adding grow beds, but you will need a grow bed (the size of your choice), pump, pipes for piping, a siphon, and grow media to support plant roots and keep the plant up.
The pump will move the pond water into the grow bed, where plant roots absorb the nutrients while at the same time cleaning the water before it flows back into the pond. The moving water also helps oxygenate the water in the pond. You should position your grow bed slightly higher than the pond to allow gravity to drain the water back from the grow bed into the pond.
Conclusion: Tips for a Successful Pond Aquaponics System
Understanding the basics of aquaponics is the first step to setting up a pond aquaponics system in your home. The next is the consideration of your area if you have enough space to raise fish and grow plants, and the last is the -plants that will thrive in your location. The key is researching the best practices of aquaponics and following the quick tips below.
- Do not use any chemicals in your pond.
- Do not use any fish medications that might affect your fish and plants and make harvest unsuitable for human consumption.
- Use good quality fish food.
- The pump is an essential component. So it is crucial to select the right pump for your pond aquaponics system.
- Have a realistic approach to what you do. You will not have a massive vegetable harvest overnight, but it will happen with some effort and good planning.
- To save on costs, work out what suits your budget.