Aquaponics Gardening a post created for those considering this amazing way to grow!
A Hydroponics system
Credits; IMCBerea College [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]
I bet you’ve heard about the word aquaponics before, only that you didn’t quite pay attention to what it means.
But since we are here, aquaponics is more like a branch of hydroponics.
And to be honest, this is something that creates a unique cloud of enthusiasm and excitement among gardeners.
For a good reason though.
Just like hydroponics, aquaponics comes with a wide array of benefits.
Therefore, you should at least give it a try or rather learn about it.
That being the case, this article will be focused on discussing everything you would like to know about aquaponics.
This will give you a better understanding of how the whole system works. So, let’s dive in!
What is Aquaponics Gardening?
Well, aquaponics gardening is essentially a merge of hydroponics and aquaculture.
In simple terms, the merge of farming plants with water as the medium and fish farming.
The deal with aquaponics is that it brings out the best of both worlds.
In that case, aquaponics is simply a method by which we grow both fish and plants together using the same system.
Hence, the waste products from fish are used as a nutrients source for the plants.
This helps to maintain a healthy environment for the fish to thrive.
The thing with aquaponics is that they try to mimic what happens in lakes and ponds naturally.
In that, the system focuses on the utilization of the natural nitrogen cycle in order to maximize the efficiency of the cultivating both fish and plants together.
At the same time ensuring that the waste materials in the system are kept to the minimum.
How Does Aquaponics Gardening Work?
Before we get started, I’d like to mention that the strength of aquaponics is that it is able to overcome the drawbacks that come with both aquaculture and hydroponics.
Hence, giving us a workable duo.
Aquaculture tends to be very heavy on the resources.
That is because, for you to be able to farm fish successfully, you need a very large water body.
That is because the water becomes quickly saturated with harmful chemicals and waste.
This means that you will need water changes very often.
On the other hand, when it comes to hydroponics, using pure water just doesn’t give you the desired results, that is because pure water tends to be very poor in nutrients.
That being the case, if you are going to grow your crops hydroponically, you just keep up with supplying the plants with artificial fertilizers.
But the beauty of it all is that one of the most needed nutrients by the plants growing in a hydroponics system is most abundant in an aquaculture system wastewater.
and this is alongside a wide array of other nutrients. Hence, this is where we get the ideal synergy of aquaponics.
This is how it works;
⦁ The fish produces excretion which enriches the wastewater with a wide range of mineral compounds.
⦁ This wastewater is then circulated using a biofilter that is essentially just a colony of various nitrifying bacteria. This helps to turn the ammonia and nitrites present in to plant ready nurturing nitrates.
⦁ The plants then consume all the excess nitrates that are present in the water and all the other trace elements are utilized in the growth of plants
⦁ The water that has already been purified then oxygenated is returned to the fish tank where it is used to supply a healthy living medium for the fish. This cycle then continues on and on producing high and healthy yields of both the fish and the plants.
The Nitrogen Cycle in Aquaponics Gardening
An illustration of the hydroponics system
Credits; Ryan Somma [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]
As you’ve probably noticed by now, the aquaponics system contains more than just two parties.
Besides the plants and the fish, there is a third group of the organism which pays an equally important role in the aquaponics system.
These organisms are the nitrifying bacteria that play a key beneficial role in making the nitrogen cycle in the aquaponics system.
This nitrifying process that is induced by the bacteria is all the magic behind the high-efficiency level of the aquaponics system.
Here is the reason why the nitrifying bacteria is so important to the aquaponics system;
⦁ The nitrite and ammonia build up in the water could end up being toxic to the fish. Although there is the mechanical filtration that gets all the decaying segments, it cannot be able to filter out the microscopic elements that are dissolved in water. And that is where the biofilters that contain the nitrifying bacteria come in.
⦁ In addition to that, plants require nutrients for proper growth. While these plants can use ammonia as well as nitrates to perform their process of growth, nitrates are always more desirable to the plants. That is because the nitrates are assimilated by the roots easily. And at the same time, the nitrates are more user-friendly for the plants as compared to ammonia.
Aquaponics Vs. Hydroponics
Credits; Vasch~nlwiki [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
Most of the farmers who are just getting into gardening are torn between the aquaponics and hydroponic farming techniques.
However, each one of these techniques has its potential.
In that; aquaponics gardening will draw you in with its allure for living creatures.
On the other hand, hydroponics will pull you closer with its high precision as well as ultimate control.
You will find quite a plethora of opinions and facts on these two techniques.
The sad thing is that most of these ‘facts’ use blankets terms that make it hard to quite draw the line of difference between the two.
But, today is your lucky day as this article is going to give you an unbiased argument that pinpoints the differences in a straightforward way.
But simply put, the main difference between aquaponics gardening and hydroponics is that aquaponics uses fish waste to provide nutrients while hydroponics uses a wide range of formulated solutions.
Hence, let’s take a look at the benefits and challenges of both farming methods.
The Benefits of Aquaponics
The best thing about aquaponics gardening is that it’s like you are hitting two birds with a single stone.
In that, with an aquaponics system, you will be farming fish and plants at the same time.
Fish waste is something you have to keep at a minimum and well regulated when it comes to aquaculture.
With aquaponics gardening, this is no longer a problem as it now becomes a source of nutrients for the plants you are farming altogether.
Actually, without the fish waste, the plants would not have any source of nutrients.
On the other hand, the plants serve as a regulator for ammonia in the aquaponics system 24/7.
The plants help to regulate the amount of ammonia present in the fish tank.
Hence, they help to prevent toxicity in the water beneath.
It is important to note that fish can be very sensitive to ammonia and even a little amount of it in the water can lead to shock, disease or stress.
In addition, nowadays the growers who use aquaponics gardening are adding red worms in the system.
These worms help with the breakdown of waste materials in the grow beds.
At the same time, they help to boost the efficiency of distribution of various nutrients to the plants being grown.
These red worms are first grown on natural soil and once they get to adulthood, they are washed and transferred to the aquaponics gardening system.
In short, these red worms help with composting which in other words we call the breakdown of the physical waste into smaller particles.
But that’s not the only reason why red worms are being added to the aquaponics system.
The other big reason is due to E. Coli which is a bacteria found in the feces of fish.
This is a very dangerous bacterium that can easily bring down a fully grown adult.
This is where the red worms come in.
The red worms need to eat the fish feces to survive, and since E. coli colonizes the fish feces, the red worms will perfectly do the job of preventing an E. coli outbreak in the fish tank.
The Downside to Aquaponics
There is always a downside to what would almost seem like a perfect system. And the aquaponics system is not exceptional.
The most common downside is that aquaponics requires the very specific design of the system which is no easy to achieve.
This system is very essential as it ensures that you don’t have to shut off the whole thing come winter.
On the same note, when it comes to aquaponics, frozen water is an issue as it is one of the easiest ways to kill fish as well as the growing plants.
More to that, you cannot only concentrate on growing crops for commercial purposes.
You still need to tend to your fish well for them to survive and prevent them from die-off.
All in all, if you a natural hobbyist, then tending to your aquaponic gardening fish won’t be such a big problem.
The Benefits of Hydroponics
One thing you will love about hydroponics is that it is designed for long term cultivation of a wide range of crops.
Actually, the majority of the commercial growers who use hydroponics are able to cultivate kilograms and kilograms of crops using the Rockwool slabs.
The system is easy to make and can be expanded easily when you want to venture into large scale production of crops.
This means that you can make a lot of money easily off your hydroponics system.
The nutrient solution used in the hydroponics system could cost you quite a fortune.
That is because the chemical compounds used are steadily increasing their prices.
Hence, this has made hydroponics gardening very expensive.
Also, since the system uses water as a medium it means that there is the buildup of salt over time.
This means that you have to replace the water time to time to prevent it from killing the plants.
More to that, you need to check the electrical conductivity of the water on a daily basis as to ensure you have the right ph. We have a post that goes into the pro’s and cons of hydroponics
Farmers have tried and tested a wide array of fishes that can be used in an aquaponics system.
However, it’s evident that only the hardy fish can do well in such a condition.
That is because they do not succumb easily to overpopulation, water changes as well as diseases.
Aquaponics fish needs to be;
⦁ Either ornamental or edible
⦁ Do well in crowded conditions
⦁ Have high resistance to pests and diseases
⦁ Resistant to fluctuating levels of oxygen and nutrients
In that case, below is a list of good fish that you can consider for your hydroponics;
Hydroponic Vegetables Credits; Vasch~nlwiki [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
We have a couple of vegetables that we can brand as the best vegetables for an aquaponics system.
And the best thing is that most plants that can survive in a hydroponic system can also do well in an aquaponics system.
The most popular vegetables and herbs that are easy to grow and don’t demand much include;
⦁ Leafy lettuce
However, you need to understand that these plants tend to vary in their nutrient demand.
Some have a high nutrient demand while others have a less nutrient demand. In that case, it is important that you separate the two.
Well, now there you have it. It’s my hope that by the end of this article you have understood everything you wanted to know about aquaponics. And that this article has been beneficial to you either as a food producer or a hobbyist.
All in all, there is still so much that you can learn from this topic. But it’s my hope that this article can serve as a good foundation for you. If you are an already experienced grower in aquaponics, please share your experience with us in the comments.