What is Aquaponics
Aquaponics is the combination of 2 things:
- Aqua Culture: The practice of Raising Fish
- Hydroponics: The practice of Growing Plants using water, chemicals and a non soil medium like gravel
What is Hydroponics
Back to Aquaponics
Aquaponics is the combination of Aquaculture and Hydroponics. The way it works is that the water container is replaced by an aquarium of fish. Everything else is pretty much the same. But when you replace the water/fertilizer container with a living fish aquarium, a lot of good things result such as the following:
- There is no longer a need to add any chemicals or fertilizers because the yucky fish water is the stuff that feeds the plants and they love it!
- When the water filters through the gravel and plant roots, it gets cleaned for the fish!
- So the plants keep the fish alive and the fish keep the plants alive. It is a closed, living system. Well, almost a closed system: you do have to feed the fish as you normally would in an aquarium
- The fish require no additional filtration and also do not require an air bubbler.
- Once up and running, there is very little monitoring or maintenance needed.
What can Aquaponics Do for You
Imagine that you moved the system outside, made the grow bed larger and thinner, and set up a huge water container like those used to water cattle. This system could grow Catfish or Tilapia. In this bad drawing the grey things are delicious Tilapia
I’m not suggesting you do this in your backyard, but people do. The plants in this system are vegetables, so you are raising meat and produce together. The black device is a standard pond pump.
On a much smaller scale people are experimenting with Micro Aquaponics. With Micro Aquaponics, you take a small aquarium and a small grow bed and use it for growing seedlings to transplant into the garden. They make terrific seed starters and cuttings propagators. The fish can be goldfish or other standard fish from the pet store. Take a look at one I built and put on my patio.
I made it for about $50. The water jug is there because every so often I had to fill up the 10 gallon aquarium with water from my rain barrel due to evaporation and expiration from the plants. I had about 5 fish powering the whole thing and the only input was tropical fish flakes, a pinch per day. you can take it apart for storage in the fall or move it inside.
How To Build a Micro Aquaponics System
Well there are tons of plans and designs on the Internet that you can check out. I won’t go into full detail on mine but basically here’s what I did:
- The Plant grow bed is a normal tote from a big box store
- The non-soil growing medium is a combination of gravel and Hydroton (clay balls)
- The bottom is a standard 10 gallon aquarium with a board on top as a lid
- I used the smallest submersible pond pump I could find and a 1/2 inch rubber hose running from the pump to the grow bed
- An ingenious flushing system was pioneered by Affnan (you can Google Affnan mini bell siphon), allows the water to fill the grow bed, and then it flushes like a toilet back into the aquarium. If you don;t want to build one like I did, you can buy one here.
- The water level in the aquarium cycles from 90% full to 50% full and back to 90%, over and over, providing oxygen to the fish.
- The only electricity is what is used for the pump, which can be place on a timer to run every couple of hours or you can let it run continuously. I also added a very small electric aquarium heater because our nights get cold in Ohio.
If you pop cuttings into a system like this they will root faster than I have ever seen. Seeds sprout faster than I have ever seen as well. The plants love the flooding and draining, and will quickly build up massive root systems. When ready to transplant they are easy to remove from the gravel.
Cycling up a new Aquaponics System
I have included links to my Youtube Channel videos where I show a little more detail on some of this stuff. Good luck and feel free to ask questions in the Comments section.