Aquaponics: The Definitive Guide
If you are like me, the first time I heard about Aquaponics I said “aqua what?” I had no clue what it was.
Even now it is hard to believe that something so simple that has been around since the time of the Aztecs is rarely heard of in today’s world. However, it is something that everyone on the planet needs to know about because aquaponics has the power to enable people to grow a food source with little upkeep, no soil and low costs.
In this article, we will be explaining what Aquaponics is, as well as telling you the history of this science.
You will learn how to set up your Aquaponics system both using equipment you can get at home and also the more expensive ready-made setups that are available.
You will also learn what fish to keep and also what to grow along with the scientific details behind Aquaponics.
So if you are ready to dive in (pardon the pun), let’s do this:
What Is Aquaponics?
If I were to ask you what Hydroponics is, most people would have a good idea. I understand that this is largely down to the fact that Hydroponics has in recent years been closely associated with the growth of Cannabis.
That being said Hydroponics is a legitimate science where plants are grown without the use of soil.
Aquaponics also has this advantage (and much more) but is essentially a method to grow vegetables and plants using fish.
Yes, you heard me right… fish!
Before you click the back button, let me explain.
Aquaponics is the unique marriage of keeping fish and also growing plants without the use of soil and also saving a lot of water at the same time!
Intrigued? Carry on and all will be revealed:
How Does Aquaponics Work?
Aquaponics works by providing a closed system that needs little maintenance and allows a person to grow their own food and keep fish all at the same time.
The fish are fed and live in a tank and as you can expect waste from the fish builds up in their tank.
The waste water from their tank gets pumped into a bed of growing plants.
The fish waste acts as food for the plants and in turn, the plants recycle the water and make it fresh again for the fish. This water gets pumped back into the fish tank.
So you see it goes: We feed the fish, the fish feed the plants, the plants feed us and make the water clean for the fish!
Told you, simple.
Ok, so if you are still struggling to understand this, take a look at this video.
The Benefits of Aquaponics
So you now know what aquaponics is, you may be wondering why you would bother with aquaponics in the first place.
One of the major benefits of Aquaponics is the fact you can create fresh nutrient rich food without the need for soil. Yes, this might at first not sound that big of a deal but if you have ever done any gardening you will all know what bending over digging soil does to your back.
An aquaponics garden is very different because it brings together the keeping of fish and gardening but actually reduces the hassle of both.
An aquaponics fish tank is self-cleaning because the water waste is used to feed the plants, and if you have ever cleaned a fish tank you will know what a pain in the behind this is.
Also, there is no need to water the plants because this is also taken care of by the system. So once you have spent the initial effort in setting up the aquaponics garden, it pretty much takes care of itself, providing you with fresh food which is created using natural, pesticide-free methods that save your back a whole lot of pain!
The History Of Aquaponics
While a lot of people disagree about where aquaponics first popped up, the actual term was coined in the 1970s.
However, the inventors of aquaponics are either thought to be the Chinese in the 6th century or the Aztecs around the 1400’s.
Now as I am not a historian I won’t say who was the inventors of Aquaponics, but we can tell you a little bit about the way they grew their crops.
The Aztecs created something they called ‘Chimpanas.’ which were a network of canals with stationary housing over them. This housing contained the crops which the Aztecs used the mud from the canals themselves to feed the crops.
The housing would have been raised and even movable and placed in more shallow sections of the canals
The mud was, of course, nutrient rich due to the waste from the fish swimming within.
The Chinese on the other hand used a method that was far more akin to the modern methods used today. They kept ducks, fin fish and catfish living within a loop system.
The ducks were kept in cages above finfish ponds, and their waste was used to feed the fin fish. In a lower pond sat the Catfish. The waste water from the Finfish flowed into the catfish pond and in turn the nutrient-rich water from the catfish ponds were used to irrigate the crops.
And if you think all that sounds gross, take a minute to think about what we use to make plants grow in the soil!
Ok, so you know what Aquaponics is and where it came from. But what can you actually grow?
Let’s find out:
What To Grow In Your Aquaponics Garden
The truth is that Aquaponics can be used to grow pretty much anything and everything that you can grow in soil. However, just like growing things in soil, the climate that your system will be in will dictate the results you get.
I was a police officer in the UK for many years, and one of the jobs we regularly had to do was to dismantle Cannabis ‘factories’. These were set up using Hydroponics and often are placed inside rented houses.
You would walk inside and find plant after plant with an irrigation system and lighting system. All connected up to the power illegally. Britain is not known for its great climate so these houses were ‘heated’ to the max. It was like the tropics.
Now although you have no plans to grow Cannabis plants, the same rules apply. You can’t hope to start growing Bananas if you don’t have the climate for it (and lets face it most don’t).
Ok so what are you going to grow:
According to Aquaponics Ideas Online it is suggested that you ‘try and grow everything that you think you would like’ and then see what your results are.
However here are a few ideas of what grows well in an aquaponics set up:
cucumbers, shallots, lettuce, tomatoes, chillies, capsicum, red salad onions, snow peas
cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, eggplant
watercress, basil, coriander, parsley, lemongrass, sage
This is of course just a small selection of the things that you can grow within the aquaponics setup you have. Squash, Kale and even roses have been shown to do well.
Use your green fingered imagination and go wild!
How To Set Up Your Aquaponics Garden
Right, we are rapidly moving through our grand tour of aquaponics, and now we are about to find out how to create an aquaponics garden.
There are two basic options: DIY and pre-made, with the clear difference being cost. This is going to be something that you have to consider based on your budget and time. However, the running expenses, of an Aquaponics set up are low once it is working.
Also, you have to consider the money you will save by growing your own vegetables, depending on the size of your Aquaponics garden this can even turn into a business.
An example of this is 13-year-old Rikalize Reinecke’s aquaculture and aquaponics business in Kameelfontein. She created a thriving aquaponics farm business in just a few years.
So, how are you going to set this up yourself?
Well, there are a few variations but let’s start with the DIY variations.
1. Bathtub Aquaponics
This is as glamorous as it sounds, yes you can make an aquaponics set up using just a bathtub.
Essentially what you can do here is dig into the ground and place your tub and then use it just like a normal fish pond.
2. Shelf Ponics
If you are looking for a more homemade version you can create a shelf system and place your tank at the bottom.
Whilst this might seem a little too basic to be true it does work!
What I like about this method is that you get to see the fish, even with some of the paid for systems we do not get to view the fish you are keeping and for me, the great thing about aquaponics is that it combines the keeping of fish with gardening.
So if I can’t see the fish well it does kind of take the shine off things for me (but only a little bit).
3. Repurposed Fish Tank
This simple method is perhaps the easiest to set up, with some imagination you could soon think up some variations to this.
As we will see later on (when I show you what types of fish you can keep) this tank is filled with goldfish and although it is not on display, a pump system sorts out the water.
As you can see this is a great way to grow and keep flowers in the house as well as growing herbs.
4. The Plastic Tub Version
This is for the more adventurous DIY fan, but still not that complicated to construct. Using materials, you can buy at any hardware store you can soon whip up a larger DIY system. Watch the video for details:
So they are just a small number of the ways you can build DIY aquaponics set ups at home. But what about the paid versions?
If you are like me and the thought of building your own Aquaponics garden fills you with dread, well you are in luck because there are numerous different types of ready gardens you can buy.
Professional Aquaponics Gardens
There are too many professional set-ups available to mention so in this article we are going to focus on the Genesis and the Eden systems created by Endless Food Systems.
The Genesis system which can be seen below is a modular system which allows you to be able to add more levels to your garden as you need them or you can also purchase the variations of the Genesis ready made.
Check out the video below:
The next set up (again from Endless Food Systems) is my favorite by far and is called the Eden.
This is a small indoor home Aquaponics system that is a combination of a fish tank, water feature and indoor garden rolled into one. What I love about the Eden system is that the makers have gone to a special effort to think about those with young families.
The Eden system has been designed to have a heavy base to prevent toppling over, in addition, there is an optional cover and guard to stop children and pets accessing the fish area.
Take a look at the video below to find out more about the Eden.
Ok so now we have had a good look at the Aquaponics systems you can build or buy, now let’s go and visit my favorite part of Aquaponics, the Fish themselves.
We will take a look at the various types of fish that can thrive and survive within an Aquaponic’s system:
What Type Of Aquaponics Fish You Should Keep
I am a massive fish fan.
I like to eat fish but I am in awe of these creatures. I guess it comes from spending my holidays near to a river where you could see the fish in the shallow waters.
There is something relaxing about watching fish.
I have always wanted to keep fish at home but I live in an urban city area, so space is limited. I also do not have a garden so imagine how pumped I was when I first found out about aquaponics.
I now have the ability to keep both fish and a garden in my home. Not just a flower garden but a garden that actually produces food for my family to live on.
But what type of fish can I keep? (and your decision is often judged by if the fish are to eat or for show and based on your food consumption patterns)
This was one of the first questions that went through my mind when I found out about aquaponics:
My favorite fish is the Koi.
These majestic creatures are an amazing addition to any garden. Koi will do well in an aquaponics garden.
They are a domestic variation of the common carp. They are a hardy fish and can live around 50 years and there has even been suggested that Koi aged over 100 years are quite common.
They are a cold water fish and are known for their exotic colors.
Trout is another fish that will do well in any aquaponics set up. They are a cold water fish and come in many variations and yes they are darn tasty too!
Trout are farmed in numerous countries and can be raised on a pellet diet as well.
They can survive in cooler temperatures which is another bonus and they often have a range of colors on their bodies making them an attractive fish to keep.
Catfish are another type of fish that are unusual to look at and this makes them fun to keep.
I mean how cool is it to have a Catfish farm!
Catfish are bottom feeders and a little know fact is that they are negatively buoyant which means they will sink rather than float due a heavy head and less gas in their bladder.
I have never tried Catfish but apparently, you can eat it and it tastes good.
Every kid has probably had a goldfish at some point and also flushed a dead one down the toilet.
However, you might be surprised that they make pretty good fish for your aquaponics set up. The good news is that the bit we all hated when we had goldfish was cleaning the tank.
This is not an issue with aquaponics.
The last of our suggested fish is the Talapia.
This is one of the best fish you can grow in an aquaponics garden. They are quick to grow, cheap to purchase and taste pretty good.
They do well in aquariums naturally because they can tolerate poor water quality so they make a great low maintenance fish for your garden.
You will find with research that other fish also thrive in an aquaponics garden however a lot depends on where you reside and water quality.
So there you have it. Our definitive guide to aquaponics.
The aim of this post was to give you all the information you need so that you could learn what aquaponics is and if this was an activity you would like to try.
One of the best aspects of aquaponics is that you once again become self-sufficient. You can of course, add solar powered pumps to reduce costs further but our advice is not to over-complicate this subject.
As we have seen aquaponics is not new, it has been around for a very long time, long before electric pumps were invented. Aquaponics is not rocket science; it is a simple case of using nature to produce food.
So what are you going to do? Go back to the supermarket and purchase your vegetables in those plastic bags or nip outside to your super cool aquaponics garden and pick them yourself?
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