For thousands of years, man has cultivated crops in order to provide food for himself and his family. Since then, there have been several innovations in Agricultural crop production. We have learned to use organic manure, produce commercial artificial manure, breed crops and animals for desired quality, maximize land for crop growth, and developed several techniques so that crops and animals have maximal yield with as few resources as possible. This article discusses aquaponics, another system that combines crop and animal cultivation using fewer resources.
In this article we’ll look at what exactly aquaponics is, why you might want to do it, and how you can get started.
What is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics is formed from two other words: Aquaculture, which is the rearing of fish and other aquatic animals in a controlled environment, and Hydroponics, which is the cultivation of crops in a soil-less environment.
Aquaponics is the rearing of fish, snails, or crayfish and cultivating crops in a closed aquatic system, recycling the ecosystem. The aquaculture water containing nutrient-rich fish waste nourishes the plant. In this bioprocess, the water in the system is also cleaned up, making it safe for the aquatic animals.
Aquaponics mimics the recycling characteristic of nature to produce crops and rear fishes. The fishes are fed, and their waste gets broken down by bacteria to provide food for the plants. The crops usually grown are vegetables, however, this is not to say that other crops cannot be grown. Some fruits and certain herbs can be grown as well. However, we’ll primarily focus on vegetables as they’re the most widely cultivated using the Aquaponics system.
Aquaponics is environmentally friendly and natural. This makes it a great way to cultivate your own food while also being conscious of waste and the chemicals you’re putting into your local ecosystem.
Why not just use soil?
Aquaponics is a more sustainable way of farming than using soil. The nutrients provided to the plants in an Aquaponics system are very concentrated. This makes them grow faster and healthier than plants grown on typical soil. Aquaponics also uses 90% less water than regular soil gardening because the water is recycled. Soil-grown crops, on the other hand, need constant watering. This means that an Aquaponics system can be constructed in any location regardless of soil quality or rainfall.
Plants grown this way do not need fertilizers as the fishes and other organisms in the aquatic ecosystem provide the required nutrients for the crops to grow. These nutrients are absorbed directly into the roots of the plants, and there is no need for chemicals. This means that aquaponics systems are often more environmentally friendly and easier to maintain once setup than traditional gardens.
Aquaponics vs. Hydroponics.
Aquaponics and Hydroponics are similar in that they involve growing plants in a soil-less environment. However, an Aquaponics system has several advantages over a Hydroponics system.
Hydroponics systems are prone to a disease called “Pythium,” otherwise known as Root rot. Aquaponics systems, though, are not affected by it; it is virtually non-existent in an Aquaponics system. Also, the water in a Hydroponics system needs to be replaced periodically as salts and other chemicals build up in the water. When this happens, it can become toxic to the plants.
On the other hand, an Aquaponics system doesn’t need its water changed periodically. It is very water conservative as the water is recycled, and there is no use of chemicals. The only way your water leaves is if there is a leak or if it evaporates, which happens only very slowly. This makes it way more efficient and less wasteful than a hydroponics system.
Also, in a Hydroponics system, the farmer may have to apply several expensive, commercially obtained fertilizers and pesticides. On the flip side, an Aquaponics gardener doesn’t need to bother with providing nutrients for the plants or introducing pesticides to the system. A gardener only needs to provide feed for the fish, and these feeds can be locally made and are thus very inexpensive and natural.
How exactly does Aquaponics work?
Aquaponics is fairly straightforward, and the key ideas are simple and relatively easy to understand. The plants are grown in a grow bed, and the fishes are produced in a fish tank. The fishes are fed, and their waste is absorbed into the water. Then the water containing the fish’s waste is provided to the grow bed.
At the grow bed, billions of naturally occurring bacteria break down the ammonia in the fishes’ waste into nitrates in a natural process known as NITRIFICATION.
These nitrates are then absorbed, along with other nutrients, into the roots of the plants to serve as a nutrient base for them. The water is absorbed into the roots of the plants, which filters and purifies the water. The clean, oxygenated water is sent back to the fish tank for use by the fish. This recycling process repeats itself.
The whole process is very efficient, and generally works without much input from the gardener. Once an aquaponics system is setup it largely runs on its own, meaning there is minimal work needed to keep everything in balance.
Pros and Cons of setting up an Aquaponics system.
Like everything in life, an Aquaponics system has its advantages and disadvantages. Some of the benefits include:
Low Water Usage:
This is one of the most significant benefits of an Aquaponics system. The amount of water needed is low compared to a Hydroponics system or a regular soil gardening system. The water is recycled, making it possible to be used repeatedly.
Plants in an Aquaponics system grow 25% faster than plants grown in a standard soil gardening system because they have constant and continuous access to nutrients and water.
In a typical soil gardening system, the crops are grown in seasons due to climate and weather conditions. In an Aquaponics system, however, that is not necessary. Crops can be grown all year round. You can even keep plants growing during times they’d otherwise be dormant.
Crops and Fish are Grown Together:
In an Aquaponics system, you can simultaneously grow crops and rear fish. This minimizes space needed, and can reduce the cost of both activities.
There is no soil in your garden which means fewer weeds to deal with. You can spend your time doing more actual gardening.
Perfect For Indoor Growing:
Aquaponics are perfect candidates for indoor gardening and allow you to grow in any location. You’re not bound by soil or climate, giving you a lot of freedom in how and when to start your garden. Healthier plants.
In an Aquaponics system, the crops are grown without fertilizers or chemicals. Pesticides are not used in fish farming, so they will not be introduced as chemicals into the crops. This means that the crops can be grown 100% organically. The fishes grown are also healthy and free from pollution.
Now that we have seen the advantages, what are the disadvantages of using an Aquaponics system?
The cost of setting up:
An Aquaponics system is quite capital intensive to set up. Setting up an Aquaponics farm is way more costly than establishing an ordinary soil farm. However, in the long run, the cost balances out.
High Electricity consumption:
The amount of power consumed by an Aquaponics system is a bit high. A stable and uninterrupted power supply is also essential to keeping your fish and plants alive. This makes it infeasible in places with low or unstable electricity, like developing or third world countries. This is generally less than the associated costs of running a soil garden though.
The types of crops that can be planted in aquaponics systems are limited. Only crops heavy on water consumption can be planted. Thus, crops like yam, cassava, or others high in carbohydrates cannot be planted. The crops mainly grown are vegetables like lettuce, cucumber, tomato, carrots, etc.
Lots of Upfront Work:
The infrastructure required can be pretty heavy and requires a good deal of work to set up. From stocking units for fish and water purification to tanks and pumps for biofiltration, the infrastructure needed to set up a Hydroponics farm entirely may discourage some people intent on farming on a subsistence basis.