We all know that nature plays an ecological cycle in which everything in nature gets recycled with the help of environmental conditions and natural bacterias. This same method of an ecological cycle can be applied to growing plants as well as raising fish. This process of growing plants is known as aquaponics. This method is the most sustainable method to grow plants as it involves a natural cycle of fish producing waste (ammonia), which bacteria breaks down into nitrates, which is later consumed by the plants through water, which both feeds the plants and cleans the water, making it safe to return to the fish tank. This simple cycle repeats which make all the natural waste to get recycled making it a clean farming process.
This aquaponic cycle makes this farming utilize less water than traditional gardening and require less time than regular fishkeeping as the plants draw the ammonia waste from water. Aquaponic farming does not require the use of additional chemicals/fertilizers. Moreover, a simple aquaponic takes very little space and can be grown anywhere: indoors or outdoors.
Understanding aquaponics does not require any deep technical knowledge. The process is simple to understand. Fish excrete ammonia through their gills. This ammonia gets converted to nitrates in a two-step process by bacterias. This process is called nitrification. The plants use the nitrates as its nutrients. In aquaponics, it is important to keep a close eye on the pH level of water. The water pH level should be maintained between 6.8 to 7.2 pH to keep a favorable condition for the fish, bacteria, and plants.
There are different ways or methods to set up an aquaponics system. However, the most common and widely followed methods are:
- Deep Water culture method
The deep water culture system, which is also known as raft-based growing, uses a floating foam raft commonly used in large commercial setups. It allows the roots of the plants to drop into the water and draw nutrients directly from the channel that the water is running through. The water will have been drawn from the tank where the fish are living and filtered to remove any solid waste.
Nutrient Film method
This method involves drawing the water from the fish tank through a narrow, cylindrical tube such as PVC, which has holes drilled into the top. The roots are then dangled through the holes where they draw nutrients from the water. This set up works for areas without much ground space, because it can be run across walls or hung from ceilings. It can be set up horizontally or vertically and is great for plants that don’t require any support to grow such as leafy greens.
Media Bed method
In this system, plants are grown in a certain type of media such as clay pebbles, and the media bed normally sits on top of or next to the fish tank. A pump draws the water from the tank, and it then passes through the media bed, allowing the plants to draw nutrients from the water before it is returned back to the fish fully filtered. This is the easiest and very commonly used technique for indoor aquaponic gardeners.
Before choosing a system, consider where it will be located. Indoors (garage, basement, other)? Outdoors? In a greenhouse? Consider the availability of water and electricity. Will you need to light and heat your aquaponic garden? Most likely, especially for year-round operation, you will. After considering your ideal method/set up it is important to list out the important things required beforehand for a good aquaponic setup,
these lists are as follows:
Decide the size of the fish tank beforehand depending on your scale of aquaponic farming. The fish need an ample amount of free space for movement.
- Based on your method, build your media bed where you will keep the plants. For the base, use a plastic tray or a wooden pallet crate and fill them with clay pebbles.
- Choose your type of fish. The best and easy of them to grow are Tilapia- the easiest fish to grow, simple to care for, and hardy to disease, Goldfish- produce a lot of waste, so ideal for this setup. There are also other options like Koi, Pacu, Carp, Catfish, etc.
Choose your plant to grow. Leafy plants tend to grow best in aquaponics setups. For large scale aquaponics, you might also be able to grow fruiting plants such as peppers and tomatoes.
Last but not least, maintain your aquaponics setup. Feed your fishes timely, maintain the pH level of water and if possible change the water at your desired duration.
Not all plants take well to this type of growing. Generally, the same vegetables that do well in hydroponic systems can be grown in aquaponics setups. These include lettuce and other leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, and herbs such as basil, mint, watercress, and chives. Root vegetables, including carrots and turnips, can be grown if the planting media is deep enough. They’re difficult to raise in floating raft-type setups where they often produce strangely shaped, twisted roots.
Here we have tried to provide and list out the best possible information and steps to give you a quick grasp about what exactly an aquaponic system is, and how you can set up your own to start growing food for your whole family, either in your kitchen or in the back yard.
Wishing you happy aquaponic farming.