Similar to hydroponics, aquaponics uses water and nutrients in the absence of soil to create the ideal environment for plant growth. The big difference between these two techniques is that rather than adding a nutrient solution to your water supply you’re letting aquatic animals provide your plants with all the nutrients they need through natural fertilization. This technique is the perfect choice for anyone who already enjoys raising fish, prawns, crayfish, or other aquatic animals and could benefit from incorporating their aquarium into their garden. It’s also an excellent idea for anyone who can appreciate the enclosed natural ecosystem you’re able to create with this technique.
What is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is any form of farming or gardening that uses a soil-free, water and nutrient-rich setup to grow your plants. There are many different styles of hydroponics, each one using slightly different materials, structure, and design. The purpose of hydroponics is to readily provide food and water to your plants without requiring them to expend any energy searching for it within the soil. As long as the body of the plant is adequately supported through wire mesh, a basket, or an inert growing medium, such as gravel or clay pebbles, there is no need for soil to be present. Providing the roots of your plants with ample water, nutrients, and oxygen is all that is needed to grow a large, flourishing garden.
What is Aquaculture?
Aquaculture, or aquafarming, is the process of raising aquatic animals such as fish, crustaceans, molluscs, and other aquatic life. Aquaponics is essentially farming but done underwater. It can be used as an alternative to commercial fishing or may be done as a way to breed threatened or endangered species. Whether you’re raising these animals for food, for commercial sale, or just as a hobby, aquaculture can be incorporated into your gardening technique with aquaponics.
What is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics refers to any system that uses aquaculture and hydroponics in unison to create a mutually beneficial environment. The fish or other aquatic animals you raise provide waste materials which are filtered into the hydroponic environment to be used as fertilizer. Bacteria in the grow bed convert the excess ammonia in the waste materials into nitrates which can also be used by the plants as fertilizer. This provides excellent nutrition for your plants and also keeps your aquatic environment clean and free of any pollutants.
What are the Benefits of Aquaponics?
One of the most beneficial and appealing aspects of aquaponics is the lack of wasted resources. You feed your aquatic animals as usual, their waste is converted into nutrients for your plants by nitrifying bacteria, the water is purified as the plants draw nutrients from it, tank filters or grow media act to further purify the water, then the fresh water is pumped back into the aquatic life’s environment. With the water constantly being recycled through the system you can also use less water because you’ll only need to top up when too much moisture is lost through evaporation and transpiration from the plants.
Using an aquaponics system also means that you won’t need to worry about weeds, rodents, or the majority of insects and other pests. Working in a soilless environment removes the need for repotting, weeding, watering, and fertilizer. You simply feed your fish and then harvest your plants when they’re ready.
Aquaponics systems can be any size and can be placed indoors, outdoors, or inside a greenhouse. You can use natural sunlight for your plants or install grow lights as needed. You can use aquaponics to grow a small herb garden over a fish tank or create a massive vegetable farm. This system is versatile enough to be setup as a fun hobby, to create a farm large enough to sustain your family, or to farm both plants and fish commercially.
What Supplies Do You Need?
Depending on how you plan to construct your aquaponics system, the supplies you’ll need could vary. However, there are a handful of items you’ll need regardless of your setup.
Fish Tank & Fish
One of the most important items you’ll need is a fish tank or other type of environment for your fish to live. And, obviously, you’ll need fish or some other type of aquatic life to populate your tank. The aquatic animals you choose could be anything from small goldfish you’d like to admire to farmable fish you intend to raise, breed, and eat or sell. Prawns, crayfish, mussels, koi, trout, and endless other types of aquatic animals can be used for aquaponics.
You’ll also need to choose the type of plants you intend to grow within your aquaponics system. Depending on your setup you may be able to grow small, light plants such as lettuce or strawberries. For heavier plants, like tomatoes or melons, you may need to customize your setup to allow for a larger, more demanding species. It’s important to ensure the type of plants you’ll be growing can be supported structurally and will also receive an ample supply of nutrients.
Water Pump & Filter
A water pump is necessary in order to pump the water from your fish tank into your hydroponic system. You may also require growing media for your plants, such as gravel, perlite, or lava rocks, which can help to filter solid waste out of the water. Tank filters can also be used to remove excess waste.
Grow Bed & Tubing
Your plants will need a grow bed to sit in which will also allow their roots to reach the flow of water from the fish tank. Tubes or piping will be required to provide a route from the fish tank to the grow bed and back again. Depending on your setup, the water may be pumped from the tank into the grow bed then be allowed to run freely from the grow bed back into the tank.
Lights & Accessories
If your aquaponics system is not in direct sunlight you may need to invest in some grow lights to provide your plants with the energy they need to grow. You may also benefit from a pH testing kit to ensure your water is at an optimal pH for both your fish and your plants. A water heater may even be necessary depending on the species of fish and plants you’re raising and their sensitivity to colder temperatures.
If you aren’t interested in building your own aquaponics system you can purchase kits that are pretty much all set up for you. For a super small system that can fit right on your kitchen counter, try the Back to the Roots Water Garden. The Ecolife Aquaponics Indoor Garden System is a little larger and it comes with an LED light to help your plants grow faster. You can also simply place your plants into a few Aquaponics Floating Pond Baskets and allow the nutrients within your fish pond do the rest of the work.
Aquaponics creates a dynamic relationship between aquatic life, plants, bacteria, and water. The waste from the aquatic life can be converted into nutrition for plants by bacteria, then filtered back into the aquatic habitat as clean, fresh water. The symbiosis of hydroponics and aquaculture allows you to get the most from both processes with the least amount of wasted resources. Your plants will grow faster and larger and your fish and other aquatic life can enjoy clean, purified water with their waste having been put to good use.