Today’s Aquaponics can be traced to the New Alchemists, who founded the New Alchemy Institute in 1969. A prototype agricultural “ARK” was created and was the first solar powered, self-sufficient, bio-shelter using holistic methods of production (Donaldson, 2010).
Aquaponics is one of the most well-loved and sustainable ways to produce fresh vegetables and fruits and, at the same time, sustain a freshwater fish system. There are different subsystems and each one is easy to create and can be maintained with minimal input by the cultivator.
As previously mentioned, the two categories of Aquaponics and Hydroponics are plants that are edible and aquaculture that contains an edible species such as fish.
Aquaponics are also grouped into subsystems. These components are defined as follows:
- Rearing Tank-this is the tank where the fish are raised.
- Solid Removal-this consists of an element that will trap unused food and detached biofilms and for calming the water.
- Biofilter-the nitrification of bacteria grows and transforms ammonia particles into nitrates that are used by the plants.
- Hydroponics Subsystem-this part of the system grows the plants by absorbing excess nutrients within the water.
- Subpump-this is placed in the lowest part of the system and pumps the water back into the rearing tank.
How Aquaponics Systmem Function
Aquaponics eliminates the common disadvantages of more traditional vegetable gardens while improving upon existing closed freshwater fish systems. With this technique, you’ll be hitting two birds with one stone: fish will thrive in the closed freshwater system and produce the nutrients needed by plants. The plants, on the other hand, will benefit from the waste products produced by the fish. As the plants feed on the nutritious soup within the system, the plants filter and clean the water, too.
This approach is very sustainable and many Aquaponics enthusiasts around the country have already experienced great success with creating sustainable Aquaponics systems that regularly produce organic vegetables and tasty, clean fish (For more information on Aquaponics, refer to our eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Home Aquaponics System).
As you now understand, Aquaponics is usually defined as a hybrid of two existing methods: aquaculture and hydroponics. Aquaculture is the process of raising fish in closed systems, usually fresh water.
Hydroponics, on the other hand, endeavors to produce fresh fruits and vegetables using water alone — with no soil to speak of. The plants receive their nutrients while their roots are submerged in the water. When you combine these two older systems, you get aquaponics.
Now why would anyone be interested in aquaponics anyway? Here are some of the main advantages:
- Aquaponics does not require a lot of space. How much space you will need is determined by how much you would like to produce. There have been Aquaponics systems started within the home using a small aquarium.
- You will end up harvesting both fish and vegetables (or fruits, if you prefer). This alone will help you save money by growing and consuming your own food.
- It’s relatively easy to set up your own Aquaponics system. A beginner may buy prefabricated kits or purchase the subsystem pieces separately.
- It is not expensive at all to create and maintain an Aquaponics system.
- Aquaponics systems are expandable. As you continue to master the process, you can add sections to your existing system to increase your yield/harvest.
- You can find aquaponics practitioners around the country and throughout the world.You’ll be able to reach out to people with identical interests and learn from them when you are just starting out. There are a number of blogs from other people who are just beginning this process and from those who have mastered it. Learn from others what has worked for them.
Aquaponics systems can be scaled up or scaled down, depending on your personal production needs. A small Aquaponics system can produce up to fifty kilograms of fresh fish such as tilapia every six months… and let’s not forget the one hundred kilogram vegetable yield!
Consider the price and commitment of starting a closed system with fish and tomatoes. Portable Farms outlines what one may expect in yield from Tilapia with Tomatoes from a single full size 5’ x 40’ Grow Tray. For each module, there is one Grow Tray, one fish tank and one clarifier. Done correctly, you can expect to produce the following:
- Consider that each Grow Tray holds 200 plants and are planted 2 times per year.
- Harvest time takes approximately 60 to 85 days.
- Planting very small plants allows for a three month growth period prior to harvesting.
- Tomato plants must be staked or trellised.
- The average expected yield per plant is 25 to 35 tomatoes.
- Tomatoes harvested and used the same day allow for peak flavor and texture.
- Yield ranges from 880 pounds to 1,760 pounds every SIX months.
- Annual yield can be 1760 to 3500 pounds per year.
- Weekly, you can expect 55 pounds.
- You can also expect 330 pounds from the Tilapia annually.
Additionally, the module includes pump and valve system, control panel, air pumps and hardware (To learn more about the harvest and yields, go to our eBook, The Ultimate Home Aquaponics System).
If you want to sell organic vegetables, fruits, and fish, you can expand your operation to produce a higher target harvest. Of course, you’ll need more space and a more powerful water pumping system, but these are just one-time requirements of the system.
Vegetables that grow well include cabbage, lettuce, peppers, basil, strawberries, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs.
You may also cultivate watercress, onions, sage, snow peas, celery and broccoli. Choose something that you love to eat, as your will potentially have a large yield. Many areas have Farmer’s Markets where you can set up a stand and sell your produce. You will price them according to the market value in your area. Keep in mind that you are looking to sustain your system, so you will want to price the produce in order to make a profit.
Once you have the expanded system in place, that’s it – you won’t have any more problems. For the above mentioned example, the initial cost is $4,000 installed. ( Prices may vary depending on where you live and the kind of system you purchase). All you have to do at that point in time is to maintain the system so all your plants and fish grow well. An abundant harvest from an aquaponics system means that the system is clean and enough attention has been given to it on a day-to-day basis.
Day- to- day maintenance for an Aquaponics system is easy and takes little time once you have your system balanced. You must decide what you are going to feed your fish. Specialized fish food may be purchased with the correct amount of carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. How often you feed your fish is dependent upon your reasoning for growing them. If you are looking to harvest your fish, you will want to feed them as often as possible.
Aquaponics.com also recommends hand feeding, as it provides you an ability to interact with your fish and get to know them. This will help to ensure that you will notice if they start behaving differently.
When cultivating fast growing plants, frequent planting is required so you will always have a product. Consider if you want to buy germinated seeds or do so yourself. Regardless, once the seedling has sprouted, it is time to transplant it to the bed, or Grow Tray.
Take some time every day to look over your system. You want it to be working properly to ensure your products will be healthy. Drains should be open and running smoothly. Your fish should be acting normally, eating and swimming as usual. Look over your fish and plants for pests or fungus or any open sores. Purge any area of the plants that are deceased.
Cleaning and Testing
It is recommended that you purchase a water test kit. This kit will allow you to personally check the ph balance, assuring the ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, dissolved oxygen, alkalinity and water hardness are at appropriate levels. It is imperative to your fish that their water maintains a consistent balance and assuring that your fish are healthy will in turn help you to cultivate healthy vegetables. Remember that you are raising the fish and vegetables to eat and you want to ensure that you and your loved ones are also eating healthy food.
Keep your system clean. By closely monitoring the tank, filters, drain and pH levels, you are helping your fish and plants to thrive. Being aware of any issues will also ensure that you are capturing any problems early and will lead to less loss of production.
Remember: no one is too old or too inexperienced to start their own aquaponics system. If the desire to be self-sufficient is there and you have the passion to get things done, aquaponics is definitely right for you!
With a little research and information, you will soon become a successful Aquaponics specialist. Do not hesitate to connect with others. This is not a new technology; however it does continue to grow and become easier to start and maintain. If you have ever had a fish aquarium and found it to be both relaxing and invigorating, this may be for you. If you have plants throughout your home and you enjoy watching them grow and blossom, you can do this!
To learn more about how you can be successful in Aquaponics, refer to our eBook, The Ultimate Home Guide To Aquaponic Systems.