Do you want to have more control over the food that you consume? Are you the type of person who prefers to eat only the freshest organic foods? Or do you simply want to save money by growing an abundance of your own food right at home so that you don’t have to deal with the rising costs at your grocery store? And do you thoroughly enjoy gardening, watching plants grow, and taking care of a thriving ecosystem that produces food your entire family can eat to stay healthy? Then aquaponics could be the perfect new hobby for you.
If you have never heard of aquaponics, you should do a good amount of research before diving into this method of growing food, as it is somewhat involved and requires time, patience, and effort to establish the system and then to keep it working perfectly. Nevertheless, it is easier than other methods in many regards, so it certainly has its own pros and cons that you should consider prior to getting started.
Continue reading to learn more about what aquaponics is all about, how to set up this type of system at home, and how it differs from other popular and similar methods of creating a self-sustaining garden.
What is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics is an innovative way of growing plentiful amounts of food right in your own backyard. It’s actually a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. Aquaculture is the practice of raising fish in a tank, while hydroponics is a system of gardening that uses only water, and no soil, to grow plants that can be used for food throughout the year. So, in an aquaponics system, the animals are feeding the plants and the plants are feeding the animals. This natural cycle is surprisingly easy to maintain and able to balance itself so that you can put less effort into growing your favorite vegetables, fruits, and herbs. And this means that you will be reaping all of the benefits of both aquaculture and hydroponics without any of the difficult, more time-consuming aspects that come with both systems when they are used individually.
Much like permaculture, which encourages you to use only natural elements, as well as materials that would otherwise end up in landfills, to grow an abundance of food, aquaponics allows you to work with nature to develop a sustainable system that benefits the plants you’re growing, the fish you’re raising, and, of course, your family.
Aquaponics versus Hydroponics
Aquaponics and hydroponics differ in many ways, and in order to fully appreciate the benefits of aquaponics, you need to be aware of these differences, some of which are listed below.
Time Required to Set Up
A hydroponics system can be set up more quickly than an aquaponics system because you will be able to just add the necessary nutrients to the nutrient reservoir and let the garden grow. On the other hand, it can take about a month to set up an aquaponics system because you have to go through a cycling process to get enough nitrifying bacteria into the water. This is because the fish waste will produce ammonia, but that ammonia needs to be converted into nitrates that the plants will use to grow, and this can’t happen until cycling is complete.
Size of the Grow Bed
In hydroponics, you can get away with using a grow bed that is only about 6 inches deep, as this will be suitable for keeping and growing your plants without soil. But because an aquaponics system has to also serve as a home for your fish, you will need to have a grow bed that is about 12 inches deep. The extra depth will allow wastes to be filtered out properly to keep the entire system healthy.
Creating an Ecosystem
In aquaponics, the goal is to create a self-sustaining ecosystem that benefits itself and doesn’t cause itself any harm. Therefore, the idea is to set up a system that will not require any kind of supplementation on your part. Instead, you just let it do what nature does, unless you need to add minerals for optimal pH balance, liquid seaweed, or chelated iron. And, of course, you must not forget to feed your fish. A hydroponics system, though, would require you to keep a close eye on everything from nutrient levels to electrical conductivity (EC), making it a more “scientific” and time-consuming method of gardening.
Hydroponics also requires regular supplementation with nutrients, which must also be removed and replaced on a regular schedule in order to prevent imbalances. The water in an aquaponics system balances itself when set up properly, so there is no need to dump and replace it unless a problem arises that calls for those actions. This is ultimately because an aquaponics system knows how to maintain nutrient balance, much like the nutrients in an organic garden are balanced and sustained naturally with little intervention from the gardener. In fact, the longer organic soil or water in an aquaponics system is left to its own devices, the better it will become for growing delicious and nutritious foods.
An aquaponics system is far less susceptible to plant disease and fungus like pythium than a hydroponics system. And because of this, you do not need to worry about keeping the temperature controlled at or below 70°F. In an aquaponics system, warmer water typically has no detrimental effect on the animals or the plants.
In a hydroponic system, you should make sure the pH is always balanced at around 5.5 to 6.0. But in an aquaponics system, the ideal pH level is within the 6.8 to 7.0 range.
How to Set Up an Aquaponics System at Home
When it comes to developing an aquaponics system at home, you can choose to make it as simple or as complex as you want it to be, just like any other gardening system, such as an extensive and decorative herb garden, which you can learn more about by reading this blog post. But if you have never done any type of gardening before, it is probably best to keep it simple at the beginning until you get comfortable with the routine of maintaining your aquaponics garden.
Aquaponics Design Options
When it comes to setting up an aquaponics system, you have a few different options to choose from. Again, you can always start off simple and then make the system more complex as you become comfortable with maintaining it and understanding how it works.
The Quickest Way to Get Started in Aquaponics
If you are brand new to aquaponics and you already have a fish tank or a pond in your backyard, give this a try: take a clipping from a plant like watercress or mint and place it into holes that you cut through polystyrene. Set this to float on the top of your pond or tank. Within just a short period of time, you should notice that your fish are happier and healthier, thanks to the cleaner water, and the small clippings have begun growing bigger every day. This is the most basic form of aquaponics, but it works to give you an introduction to the system before you move on to developing a larger and more complicated design in your backyard.
Deep Water Culture
Deep water culture is an fairly easy way to start an aquaponics system because it works by allowing your plants to simply float at the top of the water. The roots hang down into the water. If you have ever seen a small fish tank that operates on aquaponics principles, you already know what it looks like. On a larger scale, though, you may decide to use a foam board that you can cut holes into to arrange and hold your plants before setting it on top of the water in your fish tank. But you can also take a different route by keeping your fish in a separate tank and then using a filtration system to pump the nutrient-rich water to your plants.
The easiest way to establish an aquaponics system is by using the media bed design. To get started, you will need containers that are filled with a rock medium. This can be expanded clay or a similar substance. You will have a fish tank set up, and the water from that tank will be pumped over the media you have chosen, which serves as your plant beds. And you can choose to run the water on a continuous basis so that it is always saturating the rocks and providing nutrients to the plants, or you can use a flood and drain method in the beds, which is actually easier than it sounds and one of the more popular methods of establishing and maintaining an aquaponics system for beginners.
Plants and Fish to Use in an Aquaponics System
Growing fish in an aquaponics system is easy, and many different species can do very well. These include goldfish, koi, catfish, tilapia, and trout, among many others. You can also include other marine life, such as freshwater crayfish, prawns, and mussels, as well as crustaceans.
You also have a lot of freedom when it comes to choosing what plants you wish to grow in your aquaponics garden. Popular options include any leafy greens, such as kale and romaine, as well as beans, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, cabbage, squash, peppers, beets, and carrots. Once you are really comfortable using aquaponics to grow your food, you can also harvest a variety of fruits by growing dwarf trees that yield citrus, peaches, and more. You can also grow bananas, corn, and edible flowers, as well as a variety of medicinal and nutritious herbs.
If you are ready to create your own aquaponics system, taking a course in the practice is the easiest and most efficient way to go about it. An in-depth study of aquaponics will give you all of the information you need to skillfully design the aquaponics garden that is right for you and your home. This will also save you a lot of time and frustration that would otherwise be spent reading various websites and books in an attempt to get all of the information and guidance that you need. Once your aquaponics system is finally up and running, though, all of your hard work will definitely be worthwhile because you will be able to watch your fish survive happily in the tank as your delicious herbs and vegetables grow abundantly.