What Is Aquaponics? – Everything You Need to Know

what is aquaponics

What Is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics represents a quite unusual system. It is a mix of traditional aquaculture and hydroponics. Aquaculture implies raising snails, prawns or fish, among many others. On the other hand, hydroponics implies growing plants in water – no soil involved. So, what is aquaponics after all? Simply put, it is a symbiotic environment where fish or other creatures grow along with the plants.

The system works fairly well if done correctly because the fish will provide waste for the plants, so the organic nutrients help them grow. At the same time, plants filter the water in a natural manner, helping fish enjoy a clean environment. Apart from these two main components of the system, it is worth mentioning the microbes as well.

The nitrifying bacteria may seem irrelevant at this point, but such microorganisms help plants and fish live together. Microorganisms tend to hang around roots. The ammonia from fish waste is then turned into nitrates over a few different processes. They can then be absorbed by plants in a new form – nitrogen. The same bacteria will also convert the solid waste into plant food.

The system obviously requires paying attention to more factors to ensure a perfect symbiotic environment. But if done correctly. Crop production should never be an issue. Furthermore, it helps with the water conservation. As a direct consequence, aquaponics brings in profits from both hydroponics and agriculture by clearing out the disadvantages of each system.

How aquaponics actually works

The operating principles of aquaponics are easy to understand. It takes a while to find the right balance between every organism in the system, but most professionals will benefit from it in the long run. Now, what is aquaponics? How does it actually work? Understanding how to maintain the system will bring in excellent results overtime.

Generally speaking, the respective system comes with five requirements or inputs. You will need to supply it with oxygen, light, water and food. At the same time, electricity is just as important. All these elements will filter, oxygenate and pump the water. All these processes will cycle the system. You may need to readd spawn every now and then, especially if you remove grown fish.

Maintaining a balance between all these elements is critical. You need to come up with a smart feeding system, but also feed the inputs on a consistent basis. The environment must be clean as well, so get rid of solids and keep an eye on potential pests. Aeration is just as important, while the water pH should be monitored round the clock. Use supplements and make sure the filtration is flawless.

If you are new to aquaponics, you may find the first stages a bit tricky. You have no idea how much to start with or how to grow the system. To help you get some clues, you can start with a pound of fish for a square foot of bedding. The system should be at least 11 inches deep. Another good rule of thumb implies about a pound of fish for 25 liters.

Another challenge you will experience implies keeping the biomass at the highest levels. There are more options there and each of them has both pros and cons – different professionals rely on different techniques. All in all, you can rely on stock splitting, more rearing units or sequential rearing – whatever suits you.

how aquaponics works
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What makes aquaponics so attractive?

There are more reasons wherefore more and more people turn to aquaponics. The possibility to grow fish and vegetables simultaneously is by far the most attractive one. You grow everything in the same environment. The system is symbiotic. Fish and plants feed each other. Fish feed plants and plants filtrate the water.

Compared to other similar systems or industries, aquaponics does not require all the chemicals and fertilizers associated with agriculture. Sure, some of them could be natural, but they still require major investments. In this system, the fish provides all the waste your plants require, so there is no need for anything extra. Your plants will get plenty of nutrients to keep healthy.

Getting into smaller details, it is important to know that one liter out of ten is actually used. Believe it or not, only 10% of the actual water is used to keep the plant healthy. The rest is conserved. As a direct consequence, water keeps getting recycled, so water conservation will never be an issue for your symbiotic system.

Everything is organic

No matter what you are growing, everything is organic. Since you do not need to feed your plans with chemicals and fertilizers, your crops are entirely organic. The same rule applies to your fish. They will not have to deal with any toxic chemicals, meaning they will only absorb healthy nutrients and organic compounds.

On a similar note, you will be surprised to find out that plants in an aquaponics environment will grow faster than in other environments. They are fed round the clock and benefit from the right amount of nutrients, without you having to do it on a regular basis. Therefore, they are in continuous growth, at maximum capacity.

Aquaponics is appealing to those who want a different approach to growing crops and fish, but also to those with a limited space. You can utilize extremely small space and grow an incredible amount of crops. You can literally start the system in your backyard. The system is scalable and can be expanded without any major investments.

backyard aquaponics
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From this point of view, you have great flexibility. You can start anywhere, anytime – stick to the right proportions and find the balance. You will end up with a closely monitored environment to grow fish and crops. Everything is controlled, including the temperature. In other words, you do not have to worry too much about external factors that might compromise the system.

Since the environment is completely natural and there are no toxic chemicals thrown in, you will never have to worry about pests, infections or diseases. Many of these issues affect the soil, but the aquaponics system does not require any soil, so they become history. There will be no weed buildups either. Compared to the classic agriculture, garden chores are inexistent.

What aquatic animals to grow in an aquaponics system?

Not sure what aquaponics is? The system is fairly simple to understand, but lots of newbies get confused about what kind of aquatic animals they can grow in such an environment. Most of these systems are based with fish, as they are excellent to feed your plants. Freshwater fish is mostly used in an aquaponics system and there are certain species that seem to be more popular.

From this point of view, barramundi and tilapia are preferred due to their incredible growing rate. They grow up in no time, but they also tolerate all kinds of water conditions. They are not picky and they are easy to look after. Trout is not too bad either, especially if the water temperature is a bit low. Furthermore, you can grow shrimps or snails too.

There is nothing special about feeding the aquatic animals you want. You can find pet food in pretty much any shop – get something suitable for the species you have. You can also order food online or bring in classic choices like duckweed or water lettuce. Your options are highly diversified and depend on what you have.

Suggested article: Best Fish for Aquaponics & a Few Great Alternatives to Try

What plants to grow in an aquaponics system?

Ideally, you should stick to veggies that do not require an impressive nutrient input. The less nutrients they require, the better. From this point of view, you can grow all kinds of small vegetables – spring onions, kale, flowers, herbs, mint, spinach, lettuce or watercress, among others. Indeed, you can take this venture even further, but you might require a larger system.

Vegetables like tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage or cucumbers require more nutrients. Therefore, the symbiotic system should be better stocked. Most people begin with light vegetables and expand the range as the system grows. As a general rule of thumb, plants requiring alkaline or acidic water should be avoided because such an environment will harm the fish, so chances are it will fail in the long run.

Suggested article: 11 Best Plants For Aquaponics: Best Options & Less Common Plants

best plants for aquaponics

Final words

So, what is aquaponics then? The system may not be as popular as hydroponics or aquaculture, but it is definitely getting there. It grabs the benefits of both worlds and clears out most of the drawbacks. Just like any other similar venture, it implies reaching a perfect balance between the fish, plants, microorganisms and amount of water.

The system is symbiotic and does not require too much care or maintenance. Fish feed plants and plants filter the water for fish. Maintaining a balance involves a bit of attention, but it may also push for the possibility to expand the system. There will be more plants in the future, while fish will also multiply in the long run. Whether you grow an aquaponics system for yourself or as a business venture, a bit of education is highly recommended for successful results.​

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