Did you ever dream about growing your own food like the farmers did, only without all that extra work? You probably have heard the term hydroponics before, and even if you haven’t, I’d like to talk to you about a technique that is similar to hydroponics called aquaponics.
You may find that it takes less room than you would think to have a system like this and the benefits of fresh fish and produce just might leave you a little more independent from grocery stores. The money you could potentially save in this day and age of rising food costs make this system a viable alternative to a regular garden.
Aquaponics is simply the next logical step after hydroponics so let’s start at the beginning. I’m going to explain what hydroponics and aquaponics are in a fairly simple way. This lets you get the concept so when details are explained you will be able to follow along much easier. At least, I find it easier that way.
In regular agriculture as we know it, you till the soil, sow the seed and then maintain it by watering, fertilizing and weeding your garden or field. Eventually you harvest the hard earned produce.
Then came hydroponics, the science of growing plants without soil. Sounds almost like science fiction, doesn’t it? Well, it’s been around at least since the time of the Aztecs. They had their plants sitting in rafts that floated on lakes. Clever huh?
If you don’t know much about hydroponics, that probably doesn’t mean as much, so let’s take a moment to cover it. Essentially all hydroponics is, is planting the plants in something other than dirt. You use something like pea gravel, or plastic containers, or some other medium and the plants sit in that with their roots in a solution of water and nutrients.
This is more or less what we get when we water and fertilize our vegetables in the ground whether we use regular fertilizer, fish heads like my grandfather used to do, or another organic substance like compost. Only with hydroponics, the roots stay in that solution all the time.
We just keep replenishing the water and nutrients and there you go. That’s the concept anyway, it’s a little more difficult to do in practice, but not by much. There’s kits you can buy, plans you can buy, and of course pre-built systems.
In the case of the Aztecs, what they did was plant their plants onto the raft with the roots of the plants in the lake so the plants stayed dry but the roots were constantly exposed to water and the nutrients from the fish waste. This brings us to aquaponics.
Instead of just having plants, we raise our own fish too. Tilipia is one of the most common fish to use in this type of system. They are reasonably hardy and easy to take care of and have a mild flavor. So essentially an aquaponics system combines the fish and plants like this:
You have a container that the fish are in, the water from that container, either by pump or gravity, flows through the roots of the suspended plants. The plants absorb the nutrients (which sounds much better than they consume the fish waste even though that’s what they are doing) which cleans up the water.
The water is pumped back into the fish tank. Since the fish waste is consumed by the plants, filtration is greatly reduced which reduces cost. The fish waste is nutritious for the plants so you don’t need to add as much, if any, nutrients to the water for the plants. The cuttings from the plants can be fed to the fish if they are vegetarian like the Tilipia are which cuts down on feed costs.
That’s really all there is to aquaponics. It just adds fish to hydroponics and puts it into a loop. Again I want to point out that designing and implementing a system is a little more complicated but now that you know the concept, you shouldn’t have much trouble understanding the different ways out there to implement the ideas.