Saturday, August 20, 2011

Aqua-what?

 I'm posting about this subject because I find it fascinating and important... and because I'm going to try to build an aquaponics system myself. First of all, what is aquaponics?  

From Wikipedia: Aquaponics (pronounced: /ˈækwəˈpɒnɨks/) is a sustainable food production system that combines a traditional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment. In the aquaculture, effluents accumulate in the water, increasing toxicity for the fish. This water is led to a hydroponic system where the by-products from the aquaculture are filtered out by the plants as vital nutrients, after which the cleansed water is recirculated back to the animals. The term aquaponics is a portmanteau of the terms aquaculture and hydroponic.

Ok, sounds good as long as you know what aquaculture and hydroponics are, but let's make it simple. I borrowed this picture from the website of a middle school that did an aquaponics experiment. The photo clearly illustrates how aquaponics works, and indeed, how effectively.



Simply put, the water from the fish tanks is used to feed the plants. The wastes created by the fish are consumed by the plants as fertilizer. Then, the clean water flows back to the fish and makes them happy. This retailer has a very basic video detailing one of the systems they sell, and will help give you an  idea of what to expect.

So why is this so important? Well, first of all, it's a highly sustainable process. You can grow huge quantities of food this way in a very small space, using very little energy. You can do this with a small aquarium near a sunny window in your living room. Some people have built small systems for the balcony in their apartments. In fact, one group in Wisconsin is growing one million pounds of food on three acres. They're growing veggies and leafy greens and edible fish, almost a complete diet!And quite a bit healthier than a lot of the stuff we tend to grab at the grocery store.

So what does a system like this require? You can see from the photos that all you really need is a small fish tank, a small grow-bed, a pump, and some creativity. It's possible to use decorative fish like goldfish or  koi, but it's also possible to use tiliapia, trout, and any number of other popular food-fish.Because the water is recycled, you use only a fraction of the water it takes to farm traditionally. You do have to feed the fish of course, and you will need to pump and aerate the water. You may also need to heat the water. In a small system, this can be done very inexpensively. In fact, even a larger backyard system might only cost you a few dollars a month if it's planned correctly. But don't take my word for it. Do some research. A small investment in a system like this just might be able to save you a lot of money down the road, and this food is healthy!

Backyardaquaponics.com has some great articles and basic info, and they sell pre-fab systems of all sizes, similar to this:




DIYaquaponics.com is also a great resource, with a fantastic forum dedicated to this subject. The forum link is at the top of the page. Here's another great example of what you can do with a little creativity:


Obviously, some of these giant prefab systems cost a LOT of money. If you've got it, more power to you. I'm sure it's worth the investment just to know what you and your family are eating is real, healthy, un-messed-with food. But the beauty of this system is that you don't need a lot of money to get started. You can pick up the basic materials second-hand and even build your own growbeds. Do you see a use for a system like this in your life? Do you know someone else, a friend or family member perhaps who might benefit from aquaponics? If so then please let them know and forward these links.

For a brief update on my auquaponics adventure, check out this post





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