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Aquaponics 101

squashblossom

Squash Blossom

What is Aquaponics? Perhaps the most useful explanation is a good definition.

Aquaponics is a sustainable food production system that combines aquaculture with hydroponics
Aquaculture is r
aising aquatic animals such as fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks
Hydroponics is cultivating plants in water without soil using mineral nutrient solutions
Therefore Aquaponics is raising aquatic animals and cultivating plants in water

Aquaponics is a way to combine two food production systems into one system. By doing this we get the advantages of both without the disadvantages, and create a self sustaining, ecologically sound system that mirrors what is found in nature. It is a complete cycle of symbiotic relationships. The added mineral nutrients and the frequent water changes of Hydroponics is eliminated.

The system, when in balance tends to stay in balance unless overloaded or abused. Some minor adjustments are needed over time to keep the pH balance and temperature extremes can affect plants and fish. After the system is running 30-60 days it requires little attention or maintenance.

You need only a few fish to allow the system to produce lots of plants and produce. For example, 250 gallons of water, with 10-15 pounds of fish, will nourish 128 large normal garden plants or more.

An Aquaponic system consists of:

  • Water
  • Fish
  • Plants
  • Water circulation
  • Aeration of the water
  • Fish wastes
  • Two key beneficial bacteria found everywhere
  • Biology that converts Ammonia from fish into Nitrites and then Nitrates
  • Mechanical filtration of the water
  • Only minor additions of key ingredients, usually minerals to stabilize the pH
  • No outside influences, fertilizers, or chemicals

The only ingredient you add regularly is fish food. The fish eat and gain weight and reproduce. Their waste converts into fertilizer for the plants and the plants clean the water for the fish. You can eat the fish and the plants and even feed the plants not used back to the fish. It is safe, natural, and very healthy. It is totally organic

Aquaponics dates back 1000s of years. The Aztec cultivated agriculture in lake shallows and in China and Thailand fish were raised in rice fields that were flooded. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquaponics)

Chemicals cannot be sprayed onto the vegetables, because the fish will suffer. Garden pests are kept to a minimum because the plants are off of the ground and often kept in a green house. Because the plants have plenty of nutrients, water, and air – and are kept at a more constant temperature – they tend to grow very healthy and much faster. This makes them more bug and disease resistant.

To start up an Aquaponics system you need to remove harmful chemicals from the water like chlorine or chloramine, avoid any elements like limestone or marble that changes the pH,  and get the biology going. Getting the biology balanced requires time for the good bacteria to start growing and for the system to get in balance regarding pH, Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrates. This process is call “start-up” or “The Nitrogen Cycle”. It takes from 30 to 60 days typically. During that time you can be growing plants and if you are careful, even have your fish in the tank. Many people do a “fish-less start-up” so there are less variables to watch and control, then add the fish when the biology is balanced.

There is a lot of information to learn but none of it is hard to understand. The hardest part of Aquaponics is changing your gardening paradigms and learning to leave it alone, after it is biologically balanced.

The benefits of Aquaponics:

  • Faster growing, higher density, healthier plants
  • Ease of maintenance
  • Little costs once established – just fish food and a mineral or two a few times a year
  • Lots of beneficial birds, bugs, and bees
  • Great home grown taste in produce
  • Fresh fish
  • Fragrant spices, herbs, and plants
  • Amazing displays of mother nature

Wouldn’t you love to have fresh produce a few steps away from your kitchen?

 

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