What is Aquaponics?
How Does Aquaponics Work?
In aquaponics, the plants are grown in the grow bed, and fish are placed in the fish tank. The water from the fish tank that contains fish waste is fed to the grow bed, where billions of naturally occurring beneficial bacteria break the ammonia down into nitrites and then into nitrates. Plants absorb these nitrates and other nutrients to help them grow. In return, the plants clean and filter the water into the system. The fresh, clean, and oxygenated water then recirculates back to the fish tank, where the cycle will begin again.
A Brief History of Aquaponics
The idea of using fish waste to fertilize plants has existed since early civilization in both Asia and South America. The pioneering works of the New Alchemy Institute and some North American and European academic institutions in the late 1970s and the further research in the following decades helped develop the basic form of aquaponics into the modern food production system.
The 1980s and 1990s saw the advancement of aquaponics. These advances led to developing a closed system that allows the recycling of water and nutrient build-up to plant growth. Although used since the 1980s, aquaponics is still considered a new method of food production, with only a few researchers and practitioners worldwide.
James Rakocy of the University of the Virgin Islands (USA) was the industry leader in research and development. He developed vital ratios and calculations that maximize the production of both fish and vegetables while maintaining a balanced ecosystem.
Other researchers from different countries, such as Wilson Lennard of Australia, Nick Savidor of Canada, and others, have contributed to the development of aquaponics. Their research breakthroughs have paved the way for various practitioners and companies to sprout worldwide.
The Benefits Of Aquaponics
Below are the benefits of an aquaponics system:
1. Sustainable Gardening/Farming
Aquaponics is a sustainable growing method that saves water, is environment friendly, overcomes the need for a large piece of land to grow food, and has the potential to grow and produce fish and vegetables in areas that are not considered suitable for growing.
2. Year-round Gardening/Farming
Aquaponics in the greenhouse or indoor setting allow growers to grow food all year round, as they have the ability to control their growing environment.
Aquaponics is a great way to teach biology, physics, and sustainability. It doesn't need to take up a lot of space and is fun, making it an excellent tool for parents and schools.
4. Reduce Water Usage
Compared to the traditional gardening method, water waste is significantly minimized in aquaponics systems. This is because the water is constantly recycled and reused, so there is no need to replace the water.
5. Faster Plant Growth
Plants grow naturally faster in aquaponics systems because they have access to the nutrients rich water 24 hours a day.
6. Minimal Weeding
There is no soil involved in aquaponics, so very few weeds will pop up in your garden, giving you more time to enjoy your garden.
7. Small Footprint
Aquaponics farming does not require farmland with fertile soil. Aquaponics can be done successfully on any land, cement, gravel, rocky surfaces, or even drought lands, which are difficult to use in conventional farms.
8. Food Security
Food security and food independence are increasingly becoming important. Aquaponics is another means of living a more self-sufficient lifestyle.
9. Healthy Food
In an aquaponics system, fish and plants grow without fertilizers and chemicals. So your harvests are fresh and organic.
10. Promotes A Self-Sufficient Way of Living
Growing your food is the start of living a self-sufficient lifestyle.
Components of Aquaponics System
Fish play an essential role in an aquaponics system because their waste is a natural fertilizer for the plants. To achieve a maximum growth output from your fish,you must know to properly care for the fish in your system.
Select plants that are easy to grow and well suited to your location and climate. Until your new system is fully established, avoid planting nutrient-hungry plants like tomatoes and stick to easy-to-grow plants like leafy greens, lettuces, and herbs. Nutrient-hungry plants require many nutrients, and a new system may not supply all the nutrients needed for these plants. A lack of nutrients in the system can cause a nutrient deficiency in your aquaponics plants.
The bacteria in an aquaponics system can be present in the biofilter, grow beds, and fish tanks. Bacteria convert fish wastes into nutrients absorbed by the plants. So it is essential to maintain a healthy bacterial colony in your system.
- Fish Tank - The fish tank is the home of your fish and one of the essential materials in the aquaponics system.
- Grow Bed - Will hold your plants and grow media. The grow bed can be PVC pipes, floating rafts, or any food-grade containers depending on your system.
- Grow Bed Support - Frame that will support the weight of your grow bed.
- Sump Tank - Optional. Using a sump tank will depend on the design of your system.
- Plumbing Pipes and Fittings - It depends on your grow beds, system, and other factors.
- Bell Siphon - A bell siphon is required for a flood and drains media bed.
- Water pump - The water pump size depends on your desired tank exchange rate and several grow beds.
- Aerator and Air stones - are used in the fish tank and media beds.
- Grow Lights - Optional. This is mainly used in indoor systems.
- Heater - Optional. Using a water heater will depend on your location, fish species, and target water temperature.
- Grow Media - You can use clay pebbles, expanded shale, gravel, and other inert media for a media-based system.
- Monitoring System - Optional. It depends on your situation and how you want to manage your system.
- Timers and Controllers - are mainly used for lighting, pumping, and controlling the temperature.
Aquaponics vs. Hydroponics
The presence of fish in aquaponics is the most significant difference between aquaponics and hydroponics. But there are still some important differences between the two systems; these are:
Similarities Between Hydroponics and Aquaponics
The similarities between hydroponics and aquaponics are:
- Both growing methods grow plants without the use of soil.
- Both aquaponics and hydroponics systems use nutrient-rich water to grow plants.
- Both growing methods can produce higher yields than the traditional growing methods.
- Plants were grown in hydroponics, and aquaponics grows faster than other growing methods.
- Both can practice year-round gardening if built indoors or in a greenhouse.
- No weeding is involved in both systems, as no soil is involved.
Difference Between Aquaponics and Hydroponics
|Definition||The growing of plants without soil using a nutrient solution.||The growing of plants and fish without soil using fish waste as a natural fertilizer for the plants.|
|Nutrient Used||Chemical Nutrients||The nitrifying bacteria convert fish waste into nitrates.|
|Costs||Less cost-effective because of the increasing scarcity of chemical nutrients.||Very cost-effective since organic matter is used to supply nutrients.|
|Startup Costs||Lower start up cost.||Have higher startup costs because of the additional components like fish tanks, water pumps, power, heater, etc.|
|Startup Speed||Fast to start up.||Slower to start up because new systems require cycling, which can take several days.|
|Temperatures||The temperature needs to be lower to prevent bacterial growth.||Requires a higher temperature to encourage bacterial growth.|
|Productivity||Produce lower yields compared to aquaponics.||Higher yields because of its ability to produce two sources of produce from fish and plants.|
|Maintenance||Requires higher maintenance as the water needs to be replaced regularly because of salt build-up, which is toxic to the plants.||Aquaponics are easy to maintain because the water does not need to be replaced because it is a recirculating system.|
Aquaponics is a fascinating and enjoyable way to grow plants. There's still plenty to learn about aquaponics, but it's all worth it. The benefits you get from having your aquaponics system are worth all the effort and hard work. Read our article, "The Ultimate Aquaponics Beginner's Guide," to learn more about aquaponics.