Do you know what’s the best way to ensure that the food you are consuming is 100% organic? Grow it yourself! Hey, don’t worry it’s now very easy with a new farming technique called aquaponics. Everyone, these days is turning to eating only organic food. However, there is no way to ensure if the product claiming to be organic is actually so. Organic products are priced higher but spoil easily, so you may actually end up with a lower quality product than the vegetables grown with pesticides.
Aquaponics is a type of farming, which is affordable, highly profitable, and convenient. It combines the principles of aquaculture and hydroponic gardening, which results in growing plants and fish at the same time. With around 20 sq feet of tank area and a few netted pots, you will be able to produce sufficient vegetables for your family and maybe even enough for your neighbours. Since the fish provide bio-nutrients for the plants, you will need to take good care of them by monitoring the temperature, PH levels, light, and amount of oxygen in the water. Apart from this you will need to feed the fish at regular intervals.
This system takes advantage of the interdependence created between fish and plants. As the fish start their normal, eat and poop cycle, the excrement created is used as food for the plants. Fish excrements contain ammonia, which is decomposed in the presence of oxygen into nitrites, which are absorbed by the plants. Seeds are propagated in the netting pots after the amount of nitrites reaches a sufficient level. This way the water is cleaned automatically by the plants as they assimilate the nitrites accumulated in the water.
Aquaponics Design – Basic design and functioning
As stated earlier, aquaponics brings together the practice of aquaculture (the practice of raising fish in tanks) with hydroponics (the practice of growing plants in a soil-less environment). In an aquaculture system, waste accumulates in the tanks, which eventually has to be removed, to maintain the health of the fish. In aquaponics, plants filter out this byproduct containing rich nutrients, allowing water to be recycled and sent back to the fish tanks to start the process all over again.
An aquaponics system is scalable from small individual use to a large commercial operation. An initial investment in equipment can range from a few thousand dollars to several thousand depending on the size of the operation. You need to keep in mind that for every gallon of water in a fish tank you could have one-half to one square feet of grow bed space depending on fish density and feeding rates. In addition, for every one pound of fish to be raised, you will need one to two gallons of water.
Aquaponics Design – The fish system or aquaculture
The fish farming aspect of aquaponics, is based on the Eco friendly re-circulating aquaculture system. An indoor system allows for the careful control of the fishes environment year round. In the re-circulating system, all proper fish husbandry practices apply. Water quality needs to be maintained and carefully monitored, to keep the fish healthy and disease free. Access to water and reliable electricity is crucial for its success. Even though the water is re-circulated, run off and evaporation will occur over time and water supply will need to be replenished, occasionally. A power source is required to keep the fish tank at the ideal temperature and to run the pumps to circulate water back between tanks.
The feed you use will depend on the type of fish you choose to raise. However, whichever feed you choose, you must ensure that it provides a complete diet and should remain afloat. An auto or demand feeder is usually used for the re-circulating environment. Tilapia is the most common species raised in the re-circulating system because of its large size and rapid growth. Perch, hybrid striped bass, trout and catfish have also been known to do well in the tank environment. Each species of fish is going to have their own set of guidelines for proper feed amounts.
Aquaponics Design – Water recycling system
The key component to the recycling aquaculture system is the removal of the harmful waste products and uneaten food from the rearing tanks while continuing to recycle the water. Instead of disposing of this material, which you would do in a strictly aquaculture system, the practice of aquaponics utilizes the fish effluent in the growing of plants in the hydroponic setting. As the waste collects at the bottom of the rearing tanks, it exits by way of PVC pipe to a clarifier or a settler. Here the aerobic mineralization of the waste occurs. Over time, this waste in the clarifier begins to breakdown and releases nutrients to the water. Trace materials such as iron and magnesium may need to be added to supplement the plants nutritional needs. The water then moves through a biofilter, which expedites the natural biological process called nitrification. The breakdown of waste material releases large amounts of ammonia that is used by the natural bacteria present in the water. These bacteria use oxygen to convert ammonia to nitrites and then nitrates. This nitrate rich water then moves to the plant beds.
After the plants have absorbed nutrition, the filtered water flows from the grow bed to the lowest point in the system called the sump. Then the water is pumped back to the rearing tanks and the cycle continues.
Aquaponics Design – Plant system or Hydroponics
The grow beds maybe a soil-less environment or may use a growing medium like perlite or ceramic stone. The plants roots are immersed in water absorbing the rich nutrients while simultaneously filtering out the nitrogenous compounds from water that are toxic to fish. There are various growing methods that you can choose from, for example, deep-water raft, floating mat or gravel.
Aquaponics Design – Lighting systems
The lighting needs will depend on the location of your aquaponics system. In an indoor system, artificial lights will be necessary. LED or fluorescent lights are the most common grow lights used. LED’s have the advantage of being more power efficient and also have the ability to adjust the color spectrum. You may also build a cost effective greenhouse environment to use as much natural light available.
Aquaponics Design – Choosing plants
Like fish selection, choosing what plants to grow is an important decision that affects infrastructure and business planning. Leafy greens like lettuce or cabbage and herbs like basil or oregano do well in an aquaponic system. You should study the market and choose plants that will bring the largest profit margin and focus on markets that will pay a premium for organically grown vegetables like farmers markets.
In this way, it is easier to grow both plants and fish simultaneously and there is no manual cleaning of the tank involved. Choosing the location for your tank is very important, as the place needs to be free of harsh weather conditions, have sufficient amount of light and away from harmful chemicals, which may leach into the tank. The system works with most fish types, but you may be restricted by law to grow only certain types of fish in your state. Placing the netted pots at the waist level is beneficial as you need not bend while taking care of the plants. You may also add certain additives like iron, calcium carbonate to the water as all nutrients may not be available to the plants.
The Aquaponics system will also add to the aesthetic value of your home, as you can choose to grow some beautiful and colorful fish in your tank. This system requires less time for maintenance and you need not compromise your professional or social life. Aquaponics is the simplest way through which you can have delicious, healthy and fresh organic vegetables on your table every day.
Grow plants twice as fast, without soil, no need to water the plants, ten times more plants in the same space, no pesticides, uses 60%-70% less energy.