Aquaponics basically is a man-made ecosystem where the plants, fishes and the microbes grow in a symbiotic environment. These factors complement each other and practically feed each other’s growth. The same amount of water can be recycled for the umpteenth time and still stay safe for both the plants and the fishes. By combining two kinds of farming, aquaponics saves space, water, and time and rewards us with double the yield.
What is aquaponics?
Aquaponics is the combination of using aquaculture and hydroponics garden together, connected to the same system. The water that the fishes grow in is recycled to the plants. Plants get the nutrients from the fish waste and in return, the plants clean the water for the fishes. Aquaponics work best for the fresh water fishes and there also are many plants that can grow in this neutral pH water.
A simple aquaponics unit includes a fish tank or aquariums, oxygen pump for the fish tank, a submersible water pump to pump the water to the hydroponics unit. There are no other devices or equipment’s needed for this gardening. The pH of the water is self regulated. You could provide an artificial light for the plants if the set up is indoors. That’s it!
Depending upon the space availability and your interest, you could expand the aquaponics unit. Ultimately all it takes to add into this system is fish feed, occasionally, and the water that is used by the plants and that was evaporated.
Suitable plants and fishes for aquaponics
All fresh water fishes can go into this aquaponics unit. Goldfish, carp, Jade perch, tilapia, barramundi, catfish, salmon, trout etc are the popular fishes for this system. You can get these fished from a pet store, an aquarium store, and hatcheries or online. Just make sure that you have the enough number of fishes for your tank. An aquaponics tank can afford one pound of fish for every gallon of water. Just make sure that you have the tank capacity when you go out for fishing in the market.
The suitable plants would be any plant that can grow easily in neutral water pH. The most popular plants are lettuce, chard, mint, watercress, etc . These plants are easily growing and needs less care and maintenance. There also are those plants that need higher nutrients which are suitable for larger aquaponics units with heavy stock of fishes. Those plants would be tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, squash, peppers etc. You could also grow bananas, small pomegranate tree, citrus trees, carrots, radish, onions etc if you in for a game.
All you need to care for is that the chosen plants and fishes need the same environmental conditions like temperature.
Nutrients, it is what it all comes to. The best advantage of aquaponics is that there is no need to ‘feed’ the plants. Whatever nutrients they need would come from the fish excretes. All you need to do is to feed the fishes. That too, is not necessary on daily basis. Feed the fishes only that they are willing to finish within 5 minutes. If they want they will finish the food fast, if not it is just waste and you will have to remove it from the tank. Fishes are made to survive for longer without food, so you don’t need to worry on that account.
The only important thing to note here is to feed the fishes with a professional fish fed. It contains all the nutrients that would also be a balanced meal for the plants. The fishes may have the home made feed nut that may not be sufficient for the plants.
How does the fish feed the plants?
The waste product from the fish is ammonia, which comes from their gills, and feces. The fish tank and the hydroponics will also have the association of useful bacteria that helps with these ‘feed’. The ammonia from fishes is converted into nitrite by the bacteria in the fish tank. These nitrites are converted into the plant nutrient nitrates by another set of bacteria that is mostly associated with the root system of plants.
The best part is that the nitrates are food for the plants and the fishes can also survive with these compounds in their tank. The ammonia and nitrites are toxic to the fishes and must be eliminated from the fish tank as early as possible. This is where the hydroponics plants come into play. The plants take up the converted nitrogen compounds and return fresh and pure water for the fishes to grow freely.
Where do the bacteria come from?
Interesting question! These useful bacteria are found in the atmosphere. All you need to do is to start the aquaculture and wait for the atmospheric bacteria to start their home in the water. It takes some time to grow these bacteria in required amount for faster activity.
Provide optimal temperature and add some compost worms into the fish tank. The worms will breakdown the fish waste that becomes food for the bacteria and they can grow faster. Though you can start growing the plants right from the start, it would be wise to wait until the bacteria establish themselves.
The great water cycle of aquaponics unit
The water cycle in the aquaponics takes about 2 weeks to complete. The bacteria take 2 whole weeks to convert the toxins into nutrients. More established the bacteria in the system, faster can be the cycle. Temperature and the locality also play a role in speeding up or slowing down this process.
What is special about aquaponics
Apart from having both fishes and plants growing in the same connected system, the best part of this system is that the same water is recycled many times. Because of the good bacteria in the water, the water will not turn stale or stinky. The good bacteria is enough to fight the bad ones on its own.