The most simple definition of Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system. The fish waste provides an organic food source for the plants, and the plants naturally filter the water for the fish. The third participants are microbes (nitrifying bacteria). These bacteria convert ammonia from the fish waste first into nitrites, and then into nitrates. Nitrates are the form of nitrogen that plants can uptake and use to grow. Solid fish waste is turned into vermicompost that also acts as food for the plants.
In combining both hydroponic and aquaculture systems, aquaponics capitalizes on their benefits, and eliminates the drawbacks of each.
Complete aquaculture systems
Aquaponics and hydroponics
How Aquaponics Changed The Game
Waist-high aquaponic gardening eliminates weeds, back strain, and small animal access to your garden. Aquaponics relies on the recycling of nutrient-rich water continuously. In aquaponics there is no toxic run-off from either hydroponics or aquaculture. Aquaponics uses only 1/10th of the water of soil-based gardening, and even less water than hydroponics or recirculating aquaculture. No harmful petro chemicals, pesticides or herbicides can be used. It’s a natural eco system! Gardening chores are cut down dramatically or eliminated. The aquaponics grower is able to focus on the enjoyable tasks of feeding the fish and tending to and harvesting the plants. Aquaponic systems can be put anywhere, use them outside, in a greenhouse, in your basement, or in your living room! By using grow-lighting, anyspace can become a productive garden. Aquaponic systems are scaleable! They can fit most sizes and budgets, from small countertop herb systems, to backyard gardens, to full scale farms, aquaponics can do it all! And the best part – You get to harvest both plants and fish from your garden. Truly raise your entire meal in your backyard.
Instead of using dirt or toxic chemical solutions to grow plants, aquaponics use plants, naturally occurring bacteria, and the media plants grow in to clean and purify the water which is then recirculated into the fish tanks.
There are a few primary aquaponics systems in common use.
One of the greatest aspects of aquaponics is its ability to grow an incredible amount of food in a very small area. No method does this better than vertical aquaponics. Plants are stacked on top of each other in tower systems. Water flows in through the top of the tower, and flows through a wicking material that the plants roots absorb water and nutrients from. The water then falls into a trough or directly into the fish tank. This form of aquaponics makes the most of each square foot of space, and works very well with leafy greens, strawberries, and other crops that do not require support to grow.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
NFT systems work by flowing nutrient-rich water through a narrow trough, such as a PVC pipe. Plants are placed in holes drilled into this pipe and the roots dangle freely in the water stream. This method of growing works very well for plants that need little support, such as strawberries (pictured) and other herbs. NFT is also a great way to utilize unused space because they can be hung from ceilings above other growing areas.
Deep Water Culture (DWC)
DWC or raft based growing uses a foam raft that is floating in a channel filled with fish effluent water that has been filtered to remove solid wastes. Plants are placed in holes in the raft and the roots dangle freely in the water. This method is most appropriate for growing salad greens and other fast growing, relatively low-nutrient plants. It is also most commonly used in larger commercial-scale systems.
Urban aquaponics use rack based floating rafts for growing micro greens, berries or other fast growing plants. The racks can be placed in old shipping containers or underutilized buildings with LED lights. This method of growing both fish and vegetables in virtually any climate and location has become popular in many countries.