Aquaponics can be an intimidating concept for the home gardener but it really is no more difficult than caring for an average fish tank with the added benefit that you could eat both the fresh garden produce and the fish.
Aquaponics is a sustainable food production system that combines the concepts and the terms of aquaculture (raising fish in tanks) and hydroponics (growing plants in water) as a complimentary system. The basic concept is that the system provides fresh fish and organic produce by efficiently recycling nutrient-rich water through a closed-loop system. Aquaponics is more sustainable that the standard backyard garden as it only uses a fraction of the water required for conventional gardening and farming; as such, it is a drought-resistant system that can grow produce in the most arid of climates.
Home aquaponics system in the backyard
Water is mixed with waste from a fish tank which flows into gravel filled grow beds. The nutrient-rich water (waste water) fertilizes the plants and the plants help clean the water. The clean aerated water then flows to the fish tank and then the cycle repeats. Some of the best plants to grow with aquaponics are the same popular plants grown in home gardens: tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, melons, and lettuce.
In contrast to hydroponics systems, where the aim is to have a sterile system to avoid disease outbreaks, aquaponics systems are full of biodiversity including fish, water flies, prawns, worms, and microbes. All of these creatures contribute to the health and stability of the systems.
Home aquaponic systems can be set up in as little as 2.5 square feet for a countertop method or as large as your home will provide. The cost of materials to build your own home aquaponics usually ranges between $100 to $1,000, depending on the size and complexity. Premade systems can also be purchased but these tend to be more expensive than building your own.
Home aquaponic systems can be set up indoors or outdoors. If growing indoors the system is relatively easy to maintain; the system will be kept at a reasonable and consistent temperature year-round but the plants may need the addition of a grow light. If growing outdoors, the system will need to be protected from freezing temperatures so a hoophouse or greenhouse is recommended.
A larger home aquaponics system has commercial potential
Just as with the home fish tank, keeping the overall health of the aquaponics system is critical for life. Certain plants just do not do well in an aquaponic system. A dead plant or other intrusion may die in the tank, decompose, and use up all the available oxygen in the water thereby killing the fish and damaging the entire system.
If appropriately looked after, the home aquaponic system will produce year-round food in an energy and water efficient manner and contribute to a sustainable lifestyle. -KATHY FAIRCHILD