In theory, aquaponics has been around for a very long time. But it is only recently that people are beginning to take notice of this farming technique, which can be used both commercially and domestically. Most people who are finding out about aquaponics systems and how they work have questions, which is why we’re devoting this post to the top five frequently asked questions in this Aquaponics FAQ.
1. What is aquaponics?
To understand how aquaponics works, one must be familiar with two other techniques. Hydroponics is growing plants in nutrient-rich water without soil. Aquaculture is raising fish or other aquatic animals in tanks. When you combine these two methods to create a symbiotic ecosystem where plants and fish rely on each other to live and grow, you get aquaponics.
It works like this: fish are raised in large tanks filled with water. The fish produce waste, which accumulates in the tank, making the water increasingly toxic and a threat to their survival. This water is then led to a hydroponic system where the fish waste is converted by nitrifying bacteria into nutrients for the plants. The plants are able to thrive by consuming these nutrients and by doing so they also filter the water. The water is then ready to be recirculated back to the fish tank.
In an aquaponics system both fish and plants are able to flourish with minimal intervention.
2. Can anyone create an aquaponics system?
It would be difficult to create a working aquaponics system if you were starting from scratch. Luckily, there is a large body of research on the matter and a ton of people willing to share their tips when it comes to building a working aquaponics system. Once you learn the basic information, there isn’t much else to do but feed the fish, plant the seeds, and reap the harvest!
Many people who have tried aquaponics themselves insist that it is much easier than gardening, or even farming. The best part is that there’s no hard physical labour required as in traditional farming.
3. Is aquaponics organic?
There is currently some debate as to whether or not aquaponics systems are organic. Mostly, it depends on the standards set out in the country where the system is being used. The biggest concern is that additives to the system must also be organic in most cases, and this includes both chemicals used to adjust the water and fish food. But in the case of fish food, an organic substitute is rarely available. The response to this concern is that this situation is analogous to the use of manure from animals that were NOT fed organically as a fertilizer for organic crops.
Organic or not, aquaponics does not rely on the use of pesticides or insecticides.
4. What plants can be grown using aquaponics?
Many plants can be grown in an aquaponics system, however whether or not these plants will thrive is dependent on the density of the fish population and the nutrients in the fish waste. Studies have shown that leafy green vegetables and herbs, including lettuce, herbs, spinach, chives, bok choy, basil and watercress are naturally suited to an aquaponics environment.
With that said, it is possible to adjust the system in order to satisfy types of plants with higher or lower nutritional needs. Vegetables such as capsicum, cucumbers, and tomatoes can easily be cultivated in well-established aquaponics systems that are well-stocked with fish. Others have grown fruits such as cantaloupe, strawberries, and papayas.
Experience has shown that the only crops that don’t respond as well to aquaponics environments are root crops, such as potatoes and carrots. They seem to need soil to grow properly.
5. What types of fish can be used with an aquaponics system?
Freshwater fish are most commonly used in aquaponics systems, specifically tilapia. Other fish species used in aquaponics systems include barramundi, silver perch, eel-tailed catfish, tandanus catfish, Jade perch, and Murray cod. Freshwater prawns and crayfish are also sometimes used. Species are usually chosen for their availability and suitability to the local climate. Koi and goldfish may be used in systems where fish are not being harvested.