Aquaponics blends two different types of farming, hydroponics (growing plants without using soil) and aquaculture (fish farming). Thanks to the organic compounds present in fish waste, plants thrive in this type of system, producing food; as the plants grow, they naturally filter the water, keeping fish healthy without requiring oversight on the part of the farmer. This symbiotic relationship offers an ideal way to produce food in a limited space, where soil is too rocky to farm or where the land is simply not conditioned enough to effectively grow food.
Aquaponics gives you another way to use your land and allows you to take advantage of areas that are otherwise hostile to plant life. Both plants and fish can thrive year-round and despite needing a tank full of water, this method uses drastically less water over time than a conventional garden. The existing water is constantly being used and filtered, so you don’t have to commit to watering daily. This sustainable method has also been shown to produce more food faster than other methods; other benefits of aquaponics include:
· Sustainable food production that can go anywhere
· Little risk of crop failure
· Multiple products created from one source (fish+produce)
· Suitable on non-arable land or rocky terrain
· Up to 90% less water use
· No waste or by products created
· High crop yields
· Low labor costs or effort required
· No chemical pesticides or fertilizers needed
Getting Started with Aquaponics
You can buy a startup kit, but they are expensive and won’t include all the elements you may be looking for. Starting with a small experimental garden area allows you to stay flexible and use items and tools you already have or can easily, affordably access. If you have any plumbing skills, then aquaponics is a great option. If you lack these skills, but want to explore aquaponics, a kit is a good place to start.
What you Need to Start
Fish: Most freshwater fish do well in an aquaponics system, provided the fish are not too large for the tank or container you choose. Freshwater crawfish, tilapia, goldfish, catfish and other common fish varieties all thrive in an aquaponics setting. Count on about one pound of fish per gallon of water when you decide what to add to your tank.
Container: A sturdy plastic tub, garbage can, metal stock tank or any other large container will work. Used is fine, provided the piece has not been used to house chemicals that could harm your fish or plants. For larger gardens, an above-ground pool or other large container can be an ideal pond for your fish.
Tray: Where you’ll place your plants so they can filter the water and receive the nutrients.
Plants: Most non-root crops will grow well in a basic setup and can filter the water to keep your fish healthy. Popular, inexpensive options include tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, okra and other common garden plants.
Water Pump: Your most expensive investment when it comes to aquaponics; a single pump is enough for a simple, affordable system. The pump will move the water from the plants to the fish and back again and is at the heart of your system
Air Pump: Your fish will get nutrients from the plants, but they need oxygen, too. This pump will aerate the water and keep your garden thriving.
PVC Pipe (optional): Drilling holes in PVC pipe for your individual plants makes it easy for roots to reach the water you’re pushing through with a pump.
Grow medium: Rocks or crushed stone to place your plants in; clay pellets or even fish gravel can work.
Building Your System
Unless you use a kit, your system will be uniquely yours; you’ll basically need to create a closed loop that runs between the fish tank and the plant tray, constantly filtering from one to the other. The tank can be at floor level (it will be heavier because of the water) and connected to the plant tray by pvc piping.
Start by setting up your fish. You’ll need to fill their tank with water and make sure your pumps are working. A visit to the pet store can yield affordable pumps for a starter system; you don’t need a filter because your plants will do that work.
You need to set up your tank so that water flows down into the fish container from the gardening tray and back up (via pump) into the growing tray from the fish tank. Filling your growing tray with gravel and adding plants (spaced a little closer than you would in a garden) ensures the water will flow over the roots and nourish your plants. The rocks also help filter the water for the fish. You’ll need to feed your fish commercial fish food as you wait for your plants to grow, but the filtering of the water will begin quickly.
Every aquaponic setup is different, but no matter what container they are made from, they follow the same basic idea. Learning more about the way a system works with a small, experimental system allows you to see how the process works. At the very least, learning about aquaponics allows you build skills that will help you remain self-sufficient and provides one more way to feed the family.