Aquaponics is one of the methods of growing your own food when you lack outdoor space or if you’re living in a cold climate. This method allows you to grow plants anywhere in a controlled environment. In this article we’ll explain what aquaponics is and what the benefits are of growing food in this way.
Aquaponics is done commercially on a large scale in greenhouse-like structures, but for the home gardener it’s usually done indoors using a small tank. Aquaponics kits are readily available online for use by the home gardener.
What Is Aquaponics?
Aqua (raising fish) and ponics (growing plants in water) is the method of growing plants where fish are being raised. As the fish eat, they produce ammonia which is converted into nutrients for the plants. The plants, which are next to or on top of a fish tank, naturally absorb the nutrients, thus mimicking an ecosystem. Water is delivered to the plants via a continuously circulating pump or by exposing the roots to the water. The fish can be intended for eating (usually done outdoors) or for ornamental purposes (indoors or outdoors).
Benefits Of The Aquaponic Growing Method
Some of the benefits of aquaponics are:
- Low maintenance, no weeding or watering of plants.
- Uses very little water.
- There is no need for chemicals or pesticides.
- With artificial lighting, a system can be placed almost anywhere, even in a basement.
- A system can be a small herb garden or a much larger outdoor undertaking.
- Aquaponics is a natural ecosystem with no toxic run-off.
The equipment required will depend on the type of aquaponics you choose.
There are several different ways to setup a system: deep water culture, nutrient film and media-based aquaponics are the most common. All require a fish tank, the size will depend on the type and amount of fish you use.
Deep water culture (also called raft-based) uses a foam “raft” that floats on top of the tank. The roots are directly exposed to the water so there is no need for a pump or watering rig. This method is best suited for fast-growing vegetables such as salad greens.
The nutrient film setup involves pumping nutrient-rich water from the tank through PVC pipes. Plants are placed in holes that have been drilled in the pipes allowing the plants’ roots to grow into the holes. As water flows through the pipes, the plants absorb the nutrients. This method works well for plants such as strawberries and herbs which need little support.
The media-based (or bed) system uses growing media such as clay pellets or shale in a suitable container or planter that is placed beside or above a fish tank. The water from the fish tank is pumped into the grow beds and the plants grow in the clay or rock media. This method is suitable for small home systems and can be used to grow a variety of fruits, lettuces and herbs.
What Plants To Grow With Aquaponics?
Although you can grow the same fruits and vegetables that you would in traditional soil, not surprisingly, some will do better than others in an aquaponics system. Plants that will thrive include leafy green vegetables, lettuces, basil, mint, watercress and a range of other herbs. Tomatoes, squash, beans, cucumbers, peas, beans and other vining plants may also do well, but will have higher nutritional needs, so the system should be well-stocked with fish.
What Fish Can You Use?
You can use just about any fish in an aquaponic setup; they can be ornamental or eaten for dinner! Tilapia are one of the best fish intended for eating; they’re hardy and adapt to most environments, are easy to raise and rarely spread disease. Plus, they are tasty with a mild flavor. On the ornamental side, some of the many options include betta fish, also goldfish and koi from the carp family which are easy to take care of.
In summary, some of the benefits of aquaponics are that it is an economical and practical way to grow your own food and, after the initial set up, it’s simple to maintain with little effort. Plus, it’s another way to be a little more self-sufficient while helping the environment.