Want to grow highly nutritious food in your own aquaponic garden? Do you fancy growing your edible fish, vegetables and herbs? That, too, all of them together in a natural recirculating ecosystem that uses far less water than soil-based gardening. You can grow your food year-round right in your own home, garage, basement, or backyard greenhouse. Aquaponic farming allows you to grow substantially more food with less water, land and labor than traditional agriculture. Soil is an excellent natural resource or a very time-consuming element to manage when growing plants. However, over some time, soil fertility decreases and once has to opt for fertilizers.
This farming system requires five key inputs. These are water, oxygen, light, food for the aquatic animals, and electricity to pump, filter, and oxygenate the water.
What Is Aquaponic farming?
Aquaponic farming or aquaponic is a sustainable method of raising both fish and vegetables. It combines two different farming methods, namely aquaculture and hydroponics, to create a self-sufficient ecosystem within one aquarium.
It is fast becoming popular with entrepreneurs, individuals, missions, educators, and governments. Moreover, with this type of indoor farming, you grow substantially more food with less water, land and labor than traditional agriculture. Modern developments of new systems of aquaponic are gaining national attention in several countries.
This modern form of farming combines raising fish in tanks with soilless plant culture. In this method, the nutrient-rich water from raising fish acts as a natural fertilizer for the plants. Simultaneously, the plants help purify the water for the fish. It is used to raise fresh fish and vegetables for a family or feed a whole village. This farming technique can also generate profit in a commercial farming venture year-round in any climate.
It is an excellent example of year-round indoor farming. The best part, it can be done anywhere, providing fresh local food free of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. It is safe, easy and fresh!. Once you set-up the system there is very little maintenance or effort required.
How Does Aquaponic Farming Work?
For creating an aquaponic farming system, an aquaculture subsystem and a hydroponics subsystem must first be created, along with bacteria. The basic principle of aquaponic is that the waste produced by the fish feeds the plants. On the other hand, the water is purified by the plants for the fish, creating one continuous cycle.
Fish excrete ammonia in their waste as well as through their gills. While plants can, to some degree, gain nourishment from ammonia, nitrates are far easier for the plants to absorb and convert to food. Bacteria are introduced into the system to manage the conversion from ammonia to nitrate. That takes in ammonia and excretes nitrates. Two kinds of bacteria are used in aquaponic systems:
- Nitrosomonas: This bacteria converts ammonia into nitrites.
- Nitrobacter: This bacteria converts nitrites into nitrates that plants can directly absorb for nourishment.
The aquaponic system is based entirely on the nitrogen cycle. When the fish produce waste in the form of ammonia, bacteria break it down into nitrates. The pump carries this water high in nitrate content to the grow bed where plants are there. These plants then draw nitrogen from the water, which feeds the plants and purifies the water. This purified water then goes back to the fish tank.
This cycle repeats, with the fish providing nutrition for the bacteria. The fish waste is first broken down by the bacteria feeding the plants—finally, the plants clean the water to return to the fish.
Components of an Aquaponic Farm
An aquaponic farm has several components. In aquaculture tanks, the waste produced by the fish in the tank will sink to the bottom. Removal of this waste is required. Otherwise, it will become toxic and pollute the complete tank. However, this waste contains many nutrients, which promotes the growth of plants. Therefore, plants are grown at the bottom of the tank to consume the waste excreted by the fish. As a result, they produce food that the fish can later eat.
The components of a regular aquaponic system are the following:
- Rearing Tank: The fish is raised and fed in this tank.
- Settling Basin: The unit that catches uneaten food and detached biofilms, as well as settling out fine particles.
- Biofilter: It is the area where bacteria can convert ammonia and waste into various nitrates so that plants can use them as nutrients.
- Hydroponics Subsystem: The plants grow using the excess nutrients in the water in this subsystem.
- Sump: It is the lowest point in the system. When water reaches this point it is pumped back into the system.
Benefits of Aquaponic Farming
Aquaponic farming uses the best of all the growing techniques, utilizing the waste of one aquaculture to benefit the hydroponic system. Some of the benefits for aquaponic farming are as follows:
- Use one sixth of the water to grow eight times more food per acre compared to traditional agriculture!
- All the natural fertilizers are extracted from fish waste.
- No reliance on mined and manufactured fertilizers.
- Efficient and highly productive.
- Produce is free of pesticides and herbicides.
- Fish are free of growth hormones and antibiotics.
- You can continuously produce food using this technique.
- They produce both protein and vegetable crops.
- Since there is no soil, there are no soil-borne diseases.
- When combined with controlled environment agriculture, you can grow crops year-round in any climate.
What Can You Grow?
The plants and the fishes that you select for your aquaponic system should have similar needs. Meaning their temperature and pH levels should match. Such an environment would be helpful for both. As a general rule, warm, fresh water fish and leafy crops, such as herbs, lettuce and greens grow best in this kind of system.
Most of the commercial growers generally prefer to grow leafy vegetables. But you can grow all kinds of plants in aquaponic. Few farms have raised lettuce, herbs, swiss chard, kale, collards, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and more. Even veggies like beets, radishes, carrots, leeks, green onions, beans, peas, kohlrabi, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, sunflowers (sunflower plant), edible flowers and aloe also come in the list.
Interestingly, they even have tropical fruit trees in their aquaponic systems. You would be surprised to know that you can also grow bananas, limes, oranges, lemons and pomegranates all year round in aquaponic.
Is Aquaponic Farming Better than Organic Farming?
The inherent problem with organic farming is that once you have been certified, the inspector rarely stops by to verify whether you are still doing organic farming. Effectively, this means that it is a kind of one-time certification. Subsequently, now more organic products are sold than actually are being grown.
In layman’s terms, some produce is labelled as organic, while it is not. The only way to verify this is to know the farm from where you are buying. With so many new techniques coming up, it is pretty apparent to compare Aquaponic farming with organic farming. Here we present some points where aquaponic farming scores over organic farming.
- Bottom Line: There is no cheating involved with Aquaponic because you can’t use chemical pesticides of any kind, or your fish would die.
- Even the most approved organic pesticides would kill fish. The presence of fish forces the aquaponic farmer to be honest.
- Aquaponic replicates the natural symbiotic relationship between plants and fishes.
- Even traditional organic farms need to add their soil with natural fertilizers. These fertilizers can be harmful for the overall health of the soil and watershed.
- You cannot grow any genetically modified plants.
- You don’t have to worry about sprays from farms next door blowing in the wind over onto our crops.
Is Aquaponic Farming Better than Hydroponic farming?
In hydroponic farming, you have to continuously change your water supply because the nutrient solution builds up salts and chemicals in the water. This means that you are using up more water as compared to Aquaponic. It is also polluting the watershed.
Nutrient solutions for hydroponics are super expensive, where the fish in aquaponic can be fed worms, bugs and scraps from the plants.
Hydroponics revolves around a sterile environment, where Aquaponic embraces all micro-organism as they each play an essential part in the growing process. Thus, aquaponic tends to have fewer pest problems and diseases. In hydroponics, you cannot raise and harvest fish in a hydroponics system.
Thus, you can combine the methods of aquaculture and hydroponic to create a completely self-sufficient aquaponic system. This way you can have limited space farming and simultaneously conserve space for other use.
The system produces little to no waste and no insertion of harmful chemicals into the system. Thus aquaponic is a very efficient method of growing food using minimum water and space and best utilizes the waste.
By using aquaponic, you can truly create both an ecosystem and a food source. It uses the best of all the growing techniques, utilizing the waste of one element to benefit another, thereby simulating a natural ecosystem. It is indeed a game changer!