Aquaponics: How does it work?

How does Aquaponics work? You combine aquaculture and hydroponics and it creates an ecosystem that passes fish water through plant bedding material. This makes aquaponics a ‘closed system’ and one where water will not be wasted.

Traditional aquaculture and hydroponics systems constantly replace water.  This practice is ultimately unsustainable.  In a world of growing water shortages, water wastage is a major environmental and social issue that needs immediate critical attention.

Chinampa agricultural island used for aquaponics.

Aquaponics has been around for a long, long time.  Chinampas were agricultural islands belonging to the ancient Aztecs. The Aztecs raised plants using stationary (and sometimes movable) islands in lake shallows. The then used waste materials dredged from the Chinampa canals and surrounding cities to manually irrigate the plants.

In South China and Thailand, rice was (and still is) cultivated and farmed in paddy fields in combination with fish. This ‘polycultural’ type of farming is about using multiple crops in the same space, much in the same way as a natural ecosystem. These types of ecosystem farming practices existed in many Asian countries and used fish such as the oriental loach, swamp eel, common and crucian carp, as well as pond snails in the paddies.

The rice farmers in Southern China still use these kinds of eco-friendly systems to grow rice and fish today. According to research from Zhejiang University in China, the rice fish system requires 68% less pesticide use and 24% less chemical fertilizer than the regular monoculture rice system.

How does an Aquaponics system work?

Out planet needs help. Many scientists and business people propose actions with the intent to save the world’s life. For example, they suggest you should minimize the usage of fuel and petroleum, reduce electricity usage, plant one million trees, etc. But those acts might not be enough considering that the damage that humans have already inflicted.

With aquaculture and hydroponics, scientists have found a new method that we can use to overcome this global damage. Their new method is aquaponics, it is a type of farming method that combines water recirculation and aquaculture with hydroponic plant production (also known as growing plants without soil).

The Aquaponics Technique

Aquaculture (growing fish) + Hydroponics  (growing plants) = Aquaponics

Diagram showing how aquaponics works.

An aquaponics system contains fish in tanks, whose wastewater is pumped to vegetables in grow beds filled with gravel. The roots take up the nitrates and grow like crazy. The water returns to the tank, filtered clean. The organic vegetables and fish provide a complete diet, a good thing for an uncertain world.

You can grow the fish and plants by placing the fish in a large water tank. You then drain the water from the tank into a gravel bed. Positive bacteria would break down the ammonia waste of the fish to produce nitrogen, which helps the growth of the plants. Then, the filtered water travels to the growing bed and later returned to the fish tank.

Some advantages that this farming method has is that it does not require the use of soil. So you will benefit from this farming method even on your non-productive land. You do not need to worry about weeds growing on your land. You also don’t need to spread manure for fertilization.

Benefits of Aquaponics Systems

This farming method only requires you to shed traditional farming tools. That means you can save money because you no longer need the traditional tools.

After we talk about the benefits of growing in aquaponics for the farming method side, we can see further advantages for saving the world’s inhabitants. These benefits include using water efficiently to grow two crops: fish and plants. There is no environmental impact and no nutrient-rich wastewater discharge. The system uses a symbiotic relationship of the food cycle to grow the fish and plants. The two crops which come from one input.

In using this method, we use neither pesticides nor the herbicides. This would affect the fish and the plants. Because of the advantages and the characteristics of the system that we mentioned above, we can infer that from the simple act of growing in an aquaponic system we would have a huge advantage and would more easily save the world’s population.

Aquaponic Gardening Tips

Setting up an aquaponic system, although quite an easy task, requires some basic knowledge of aquaponics. If you have decided to install such a system in your house, then you probably know what this is and how it could help you. However, there may still be things which can interest or help you. Below you will find 5 essential things which you should know in order to obtain spectacular results.

1. Choosing the right location

The place where you put your aquaponic system is highly important for the way in which the plants and the fish will develop. In order to obtain great results you should make sure that the temperature from the room is not too high, nor too low, that there is enough light for the plants to prepare their food and that no wind or extreme weather conditions will reach them. Also, make sure that no harming chemical substances can get inside the water as this means death for both your fish and your plants.

2. Oxygenizing the water

The happier your fish are, the better your system will work! This is why you need to oxygenize the water on a daily basis and make sure your fish have all the “comfort” they need.

3. Choosing your fish accordingly

The aquaponic system works well with almost all types of fish. Yet, there are states in which you are not allowed to grow whatever type of fish you want, so you will want to see what types of fish you are allowed to have before starting your aquaponic system as you do not want any problems with the law.

4. Placing the pots

In order to make the harvest much easier, you should place the pots or the entire system at your waits level. This way you will not have to bend over, making the daily care routine a much easier activity.

5. Using additives

There are cases in which your fish may not provide all the nutrients needed for your plants. If the quantity is lower than what the plants need, then you will have to supply them with the respective substances. In most cases you will need to add iron, calcium carbonate or potassium carbonate.

Aquaponics is an easy activity which will provide you with the necessary vegetables and fish in a short amount of time. Just follow the tips mentioned above and you will have great success in your attempt to grow organic food in your home.

Additional Resources

See our books section for recommendations on additional reading material about aquaponics systems (and hydroponics, in general).

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