Aquaponics- Growing Fish and Plants Together
Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system. The fish waste provides an organic food source for the plants, and the plants naturally filter the water for the fish. The third participants are microbes (nitrifying bacteria). These bacteria convert ammonia from the fish waste first into nitrites, and then into nitrates. Nitrates are the form of nitrogen that plants can uptake and use to grow. Solid fish waste is turned into compost that also acts as food for the plants. In combining both hydroponic and aquaculture systems, aquaponics capitalizes on their benefits, and eliminates the drawbacks of each.
Aquaponics can be used to sustainably raise fresh fish and vegetables for a family, to feed a village or to generate profit in a commercial farming venture, year ‘round, in any climate. It is a sustainable method of raising both fish and vegetables. It is popular with individuals, entrepreneurs, educators, missions and governments. Furthermore, with this type of indoor farming, you grow substantially more food with less water, land and labor than traditional agriculture. Aquaponics is a great example of year ’round, indoor farming. It can be done anywhere, providing fresh local food that is free of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. It is safe, easy and fresh! Commercially, aquaponics is a rapidly growing industry as entrepreneurs realize that aquaponics and controlled environment agriculture can provide high quality, locally-grown fresh food on a ‘year round basis. Large commercial aquaponics farms are providing fresh food to grocery store chains, hospitals and institutions. Micro Farm Aquaponics Systems are perfect for a family or retirement business. The fish and plants that you select for your aquaponics system should have similar needs as far as temperature and pH.
At small scale it can be started at home in any part, such as backyard and terrace. If you are living in a flat, you can also do this work in balcony. Old vessels, bucket, tub, pots, plastic cans or drums are usually used for this system. It also need some pipes and small pumps for pumping water. In addition air pump is used at large scale to supply oxygen to the fishes.
Importance of pH control in aquaponics
pH is an important part of aquaculture. Setting it to a perfect level can be a bit confusing since there are three living organisms to care for: your plants, your fish, and the bacteria inside the water and each of them has a different pH need. A neutral pH from 6.8 to 7.2 is good for the aquaponics garden. Because of the fish waste, the pH will become acidic and you will need to use aquaponics compatible pH adjusters. If the pH level is not beneficial for the system that is too low or too high, the plants will not be able to absorb nutrients optimally and your fish will die eventually. It’s very important to monitor the pH level each day and to keep it within the neutral range.
A too alkaline or too acidic pH is one of the main reasons fish or plants die, leading to gardening failure. The pH adjusters need to be specially designed for this type of growing system, otherwise, they could harm the fish. You can find these adjusters in a local aquaponics gardening supplier. Another thing to keep in mind is the water hardness because it affects how pH will behave when trying to adjust it. Sometimes it would be necessary to also take care of the water hardness when working the pH. Fish don’t like sudden changes in pH, so when adjusting it try to lower or increase it slowly.
Fish and other aquatic animals you can grow in aquaponics:
Fish are the ones feeding your plants. The fish used in this type of aquaculture are freshwater fish, most popular being tilapia and barramundi because they tolerate better diverse water conditions and they grow fast. Trout can also be used especially for lower water temperatures. Other aquatic animals you can grow are snails and shrimps. You can feed the fish special food you can purchase in an animal store or other foods like water lettuce and duckweed.
What vegetables you can grow in aquaponics?
In a small aquaponics based garden you can grow vegetables that don’t need heavy nutrient input. Lettuce, kale, watercress, arugula, decorative flowers, mint, herbs, okras, spring onions and leek, spinach and other small vegetables. Cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, broccoli and cauliflower can require more nutrition and a well-stocked or more advanced aquaponics system. Avoid growing plants that need acidic or alkaline water, because those levels of pH can definitely harm the fish. Most commercial growers raise leafy crops such as lettuce, kale, collards, herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, leeks, beans, kohlrabi, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. In addition to that strawberry and some other fruits, flowers and herbs can also be grown. In general, the best plants for aquaponics systems are those that are rather thirsty and grow above the surface.
Benefits of Aquaponics:
- Aquaponics is a way to grow your own fish and vegetables at the same time. You feed the fish and the fish will feed your plants through their waste output.
- There is no need to use fertilizers because the fish provide rich nutrients for the plants.
- In aquaponics, less water is used for the crops. Research has shown that aquaponics gardens use 1/10th of the water you would use for soil garden.
- Regular gardening pesticides or other chemicals can’t be used because they would harm the fish.
- This results in healthier and organic vegetables
- You won’t experience any soil borne diseases in aquaponics because there is no soil.
- You can grow plants in very small space, and have a great harvest.
- Plants grow fast because they get very nutritious substances from the fish waste.
- Plants and fish production can be done in a controlled temperature environment.
- Water is used in a closed system and circulated effectively, reducing the consumption and the water bills.