Aquaponics systems are definitely a force on the larger industrial and commercial food production scene. But in reality anyone can apply the basics of aquaponics into their backyard gardening. Whether you set up the system on your patio, the roof of your apartment or in your backyard, a properly operating aquaponics system can provide food for the whole family.
It would be expensive to set up a full-scale, commercial-sized aquaponics system. But backyard gardeners can make inexpensive aquaponics systems using recycled materials. For the backyard vegetable gardener, aquaponics can offer many benefits. This system uses less water than a conventional garden, and you won’t lose as much water through evaporation. Your crop harvest will definitely be organic because you can’t use chemicals — they will harm your fish. In addition, vegetables grown aquaponically grow faster than vegetables grown in conventional gardens. It is reported that cucumbers can be harvested in as little as 25 days when seedlings are transferred from conventional gardens to aquaponics systems. [source: Growfish].
What basics do you need to get started and bring food production into your own backyard? The actual setup of your system will vary greatly depending on its size and the space in which you’re setting it up, but here are some of the highlights:
- Energy saving pump. One pump is needed to move water from the fish tank to the grow. The water can then be returned to the fish via a pipe by gravity flow.
- Tanks for your fish and growing media with hydroponic components. Grow beds are containers for placing plants. Red Scoria is the type of bed that is often used. Be sure to rinse thoroughly before use to avoid storing ammonia or clogging the system.
- Tubing to transport water to and from the growing bed. You can use a constant flow or ebb system. The constant flow system results in lower dissolved oxygen in the root zone, so you need aeration — air circulation to increase oxygen levels — of the water in the fish tank. You should also remove solids such as fish manure and feed additives that are not filtered out by the gravel. However, constant flow systems can increase ammonia levels in the water, allowing for better nitration and higher growth rates. Tidal systems, on the other hand, increase oxygen in the root zone and save energy because water doesn’t have to be pumped constantly. Basically, you should choose a system based on the nutritional needs of the type of fish you are keeping and the plants you are growing.
- An aquatic water heater controlled by a thermostat to maintain the temperature of the water in the system. Depending on the fish and plants you’re cultivating, you should maintain a temperature between 70 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit (21 and 30 degrees Celsius).
- Clay or gravel for growing beds. While the underside of the plant’s roots hangs in the water, the plant itself rests on a medium bed of clay or gravel that helps filter the water. These ingredients offer plant support, produce high plant growth yields, offer optimal water buffering and act as a biofilter.
- Test kit to check the pH of the water in the system. The optimal pH level in a system is 6.7 to 6.9.
Whether on a small or large scale, aquaponics definitely offers an eco-friendly way to grow fish and plants. For more information on other plant and garden concepts, visit the links on the following page.