Posted on August 1, 2015 by Garden Prepper August 1, 2015
Sustainability has many faces, and it should! We all have different strengths, our regions have different needs, and we can all contribute in different ways. So sometimes you can contribute to sustainability by gardening with no water, and sometimes you can contribute by using only water. Using water as the growing medium allows us to grow a lot of produce in small spaces.
Aquaponic gardening isn’t limited to expensive, elaborate set ups like hydroponics, and it isn’t as prone to bad bacterial overgrowth as aquaculture.
After learning what aquaponic gardening is and how it is implemented, you may want to give it a shot!
What is Aquaponic Gardening?
Aquaponics is the marriage between two water-based cultivation methods. Hydroponics grows plants in nutrient-fed water, while aquaculture is the raising of fish. Combining the two methods into one process makes the entire system more efficient and productive.
Hydroponic plant growth yields intensive results – several times what normal growth brings. But the plants must be fed heavily. The water in both aquaculture and hydroponics has to be cycled out and replenished frequently, as well which can be both wasteful and work intensive. On top of that, hydroponic systems can be unwieldy and expensive.
Aquaponic methods grow plants in water, but they are fed by the growing fish. The fish create beneficial bacteria and waster that help to feed the plants, and the plants keep the water cleaner when the water is cycled back to the fish. Because the two work together, the negatives of each are minimized so you are growing both plants and fish.
And both elements are healthier as a result.
Where Can You Make an Aquaponic System?
Did you ever imagine you could raise fish in your garage? Don’t be overwhelmed! Aquaponics can be set up in any space, for a reasonable investment and effort. In fact, the simplest aquaponics demonstration is some herbs pulled and floated on a mini pond.
Start with one aquaponics container to get a feel for it. You can purchase a system, but DIY is just as effective and much more affordable. A patio or porch, backyard, or garage work well for aquaponics. You want access to drain it if necessary and not run into problems should something go wrong and spill!
Hydro growing methods have high intensity yields – you will get a lot of return! If you start with one, you can get an idea of the effort and yields. Then you can plan to establish just the containers that you need. If you already grow your fruits and veggies traditionally, you will be surprised at the increase in volume!
Aquaponic Resources for Further Learning
Before you get started, learn all you can about potential aquaponics methods. There is no one way to make it work, as long as you can facilitate optimal bacterial growth. Learning from the mistakes and successes of others will help you to avoid frustrating and potentially costly experimentation.
Aquaponics methods and background.
A step by step tutorial for a backyard aquaponics system.
Aquaponics systems can be a great experiment for the bored gardener, a new way to be sustainable, and a high efficiency way to get big returns from a small space. Take some time to look into the details, then let us know what methods you plan to use.
If you’ve already started an aquaponics system, what did you learn in the process?
There are many really useful diagrams out there that people have posted but I can never remember where to find them, even some of my own that I have uploaded to the forum several times and I feal bad using more space for diagrams that.
And here is a diagram of one way to do an NFT system but using a gravel filled grow bed to provide filtration.
Another Simple system design
pH and tap water information.
I want to make sure everyone knows that the pH of your tap water immediately after you draw it from the pipes, may not be real pH of your tap water.
This is some info that I didn’t originally know it is caused me all sorts of confusion. Water from the pipes or well is often depleted of O2 and full of CO2 the carbon dioxide in the water forms a weak acid which will give a lower pH to the water if measured right away. If you take that same water and let it air (run it through a system or put it in a bucket with a bubbler) to let the CO2 escape then test the pH again, the pH will often be much higher. Example, my well water comes out of the tap with a pH of about 7 usually and after outgasing, it will have a pH of about 8.
This is important to know when doing water changes in a system that is likely to settle with a much lower pH or if dealing with a system that is not fully cycled and you are having high ammonia since higher pH makes ammonia more dangerous to your fish.
It is also good to know this info about tap water when dealing with pH balancing issues. If you are trying to hold a pH around 7 and adding lots of tap water causes pH to go up, then you want to keep water changes and additions small so the system can bring the pH into line without lots of bouncing.
Water hardness and fish health
Each species of fish has its own very narrow range of pH preference and levels outside of this range will cause health problems. For example, koi prefer a range between 7 and 8.5, while some tropical fish prefer water that is slightly acidic. There are several ways that pH can affect fish health
High acidity or alkalinity can cause direct physical damage to skin, gills and eyes. Prolonged exposure to sub-lethal pH levels can cause stress, increase mucus production and encourage epithelial hyperplasia (thickening of the skin or gill epithelia) with sometimes-fatal consequences.
Fish also have to maintain their own constant internal pH. Even small fluctuations of blood pH can prove fatal. Extreme external or water pH can influence and affect blood pH, resulting in either acidosis or alkalosis of the blood.
The other consideration is diurnal shifts in pH, mainly as a consequence of photosynthesis as explained above. Large, fluctuations – even though they may still be within the preferred range – are likely to be stressful and damaging to health.
As well as fish we should bear in mind that nitrifying bacteria in the filter also have a narrow pH range preference between 7.5 and 8.6.
Changes in pH will affect the toxicity of many dissolved compounds. For example, ammonia becomes more toxic as pH increases.
Variances in pH will also exert an effect on some common disease treatments, so it is important to take account of pH (and usually water hardness) when using treatments. For example, chloramine-T is more toxic in at low pH, while potassium permanganate is more dangerous at high pH.
- Probiotic environment: The presence of good microbes makes it much harder for the bad kind to establish themselves. For example, a key battle in hydroponics is root rot and pythium. This is usually not a problem aquaponics. In hydroponics, you are always trying to maintain a sterile system to keep bad microbes out, whereas in aquaponics, good microbes do the job for you.
- One input for two outputs: Although hydroponics is less expensive at the start, aquaponics has the advantage of reusing waste as an input for another product. So for your one input, you get a protein source on top of the plant harvest.
- Water conservation: Hydroponics may use less water than soil growing, but you still have to dump the solution usually after each harvest due to the build up of salts and bad microbes. In aquaponics, water changes are rarely required and water loss is usually only from evaporation and plant respiration.
- Education and Fun: Aquaponics is also great way to get kids interested in healthy eating. It’s much more fun and educational and it’s a great teaching tool for biology, chemistry, and physics.
- Healthier Plants that Taste Better: Aquaponics has also been shown to outperform hydroponics once the system has reached maturity (usually takes 6 months). Plants can grow more quickly, more healthily and often taste better in a well-balanced optimized aquaponic system. This is offset however by the fact that it’s easier to get a hydroponic system up to it’s peak potential.
These lists are not meant to be comprehensive but are a starting point to help the hobby grower make some decisions. On the commercial level there are many other considerations not listed here starting of course with the market you are going after as well as the risks and costs involved with each method.
Recommended Plants and Fish in Aquaponics
The fish and plants you select for your aquaponic system should have similar needs as far as temperature and pH. There will always be some compromise to the needs of the fish and plants but, the closer they match, the more success you will have.
As a general rule, warm, fresh water, fish and leafy crops such as lettuce and herbs will do the best. In a system heavily stocked with fish, you may have luck with fruiting plants such as tomatoes and peppers.
Fish that we have raised in aquaponics with good results:
- blue gill/brim
- fancy goldfish
- various ornamental fish such as angelfish, guppies, tetras, swordfish, mollies
Other fish raised in aquaponics:
- silver perch, golden perch
- yellow perch
- Large mouth Bass
Plants that will do well in any aquaponic system:
- any leafy lettuce
- pak choi
- swiss chard
- most common house plants
Plants that have higher nutritional demands and will only do well in a heavily stocked, well established aquaponic system:
- dwarf citrus trees: lemons, limes and oranges
- dwarf pomegranate tree
- sweet corn
- micro greens
- edible flowers: nasturtium, violas, orchids
If you want to be successful in aquaponics, start with a proven system!
We offer systems for:
- home food production
- aquaponic systems
Aquaponics is a great alternative to the current farming methods and can improve food security. Here are several reasons why this is the case:
- It doesn’t rely on oil
- It doesn’t depend on low welfare standards
- It doesn’t depend on high feedstuff input
- Prolific chemical use to meet margins is not required
Aquaponics mimics biology and can be used on a small scale in your own backyard or house, and also on a community level which would educate and enable people to grow their own food to benefit many on a personal and economic scale.