When I started investigating aquaponics, there were only two websites I could find and very few easily accessible sources of information. Today, there are so many books, websites, seminars, workshops, experts, opinions, enthusiasts and associations – it can make your head spin.
I am not going to name names or address any of the sources here. Instead, I’d like to briefly discuss the simple (and not so simple) aspects of aquaponics.
The concept is simple. Water, containers, plants and fish come together in a symbiotic relationship and environment. The execution is more difficult. Aquaponics has been around for centuries in one form or another. From what I can gather, the Aztecs were some of the first people known to be involved with this type of system, using their chinampas – or floating gardens – to feed their enormous population. Their system may not be what we call aquaponics today, but the basic principles are the same: plants thriving from nutrient-rich water.
It really is not the system that is complicated, it’s the understanding that aquaponics is an ecosystem. If a person has little or no understanding of agriculture or gardening, aquaponics will be quite an endeavor. In addition, if one plans to use a system based on rafts, an understanding of chemistry would be a good start. Personally, we don’t design or build raft systems and we will cover this in future articles.
The system components
There needs to be containers for the fish and plants that hold water. The water needs to be moved from the fish container to the plant container and back to the fish container. Pipes or tubing will work to transport the water along with a simple pump to push it. That’s the foundation of every system. This can be designed and implemented as simply or complex as one chooses. The deciding factors are based on what one wants from the system, and the purpose of the system. We will discuss system purpose and planning in future articles, too.
The goal with an aquaponics system is to create a balanced ecosystem where all living things can thrive and produce. Some considerations are heat, light, fresh water and a place for the growth of microorganisms. Other considerations include space, foot traffic and outside inputs. The system will require maintenance. The fish will need to be fed, water will need to be added periodically, new plants will need to be planted (or started from seed within the grow beds) and there will be harvesting. The possibility of pests and plant disease is always a concern, and fish health is a major concern as well.
The main players
In addition to the system components, there must be several other elements in place. First, the human element. After all, Yehovah created the earth and set man upon it to tend the garden. The other primary elements would include: fish, plants, and bacteria.
Aquaponics is defined as the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. Hydroponics is growing plants in soil-less nutrient-rich water, but, in my mind, the similarity really ends there. The simple description for the “ponics” side of aquaponics then is a fantastic, food producing biofilter for the aquaculture side.
Next, planning for a system.