Aquaponics is the combination of hydroponics and aquaculture to create a synergistic environment for plants. Basically, plants utilize the waste and bacteria produced from the fish to produce a soilless and prolific growing environment for both fish and plants. People are flocking to the grocery store these days to by "organic" foods. The plants and fish that are grown in this type of system will never be touched with any type of herbicide, pesticide or commercial fertilizer. Every day the population of the world is growing, farmers are retiring, and farmlands are shrinking due to urban development. Based upon simple math, the way that we produce and process food globally is inadequate for the growth that we are experiencing as a whole. One viable and plausible answer to how we can produce more food in less space is Aquaponics. We are extremely excited about this venture and would love to hear from anyone that would like to learn more about what we are doing or teach us more about what we are doing. We will continually update this page so that we can share the fruits of our labor with any and everyone interested.
Let's take a moment to walk through the entire process. Aquaponics seems very difficult to understand at first but is much easier than it may appear at first glance. When I first became interested in this technique, I was quite intimidated. Hopefully, by the time that you reach the bottom of this page you will have a better understanding of what is going on and realize that anyone is capable of maintaining a small system like the one pictured here. Here we go!
This whole process begins with the fish. In this tank we raise about 30-50 tilapia. In our case, we keep the fish in here until they reach about 3-4 inches, then we move them to a large 300 gallon grow out tank. The only reason for this is so that we can grow more fish. We could keep them in here until we were ready to eat them if we wanted to with no problems. Many fish can be used in Aquaponics, but the common choice is tilapia due to their ability to thrive at wide range of temperatures and the speed at which they grow. We are going to start adding catfish this summer. We maintain a constant 75 degress for our water and ambient room air temperature. The fish are fed every morning until they are all completely satisfied. This usually takes about 20-30 minutes. Then, as anyone who has had a fish tank knows, waste could builds up quickly. This waste produces ammonia nitrate that can be harmful to both plants and fish at concentrated levels. What do we do?
The answer is easy. All of the waste goes into this tank. You can see by the picture that it is divided by a piece of plastic. Water and waste products come from holes in the stand pipe in our fish tank and enter this tank. Both water and waste must travel around the plastic divider in this tank leaving all of the solid waste in the bottom of this tank. One time daily we turn the system off, drain this tank, wash it out and fill it back up with fresh water. This is about the most time consuming part of running a system like this and it only takes about 20 minutes to do so. This is done at the same time that we are feeding the fish. Draining this tank allows fresh, clean water to be added to the system and solid waste to be removed. We drain our tank out into the pasture and it does wonders for our grass.
This is where the magic of this system happens. Any solids that slip through end up in this tank. This tank is filled with plastic netting. Lots of netting. This netting allows for the propagation and growth of beneficial bacteria. The bacteria will get produced naturally over time, but there are plenty of places to buy water additives that will speed this process up. We mentioned nitrates earlier and stated that they can be harmful to plants and fish. This bacteria converts the nitrates into nitrites which can then be utilized by the plants. This process is what scares most people. I could go into great detail about the whole process and make an entire page dedicated to organic chemistry jargon, but I will not. The simplest way to make sure your system is producing ideal levels is by simply buying some freshwater test strips that can be bought at any major pet store or online. Moving on...
The water continues it's journey to the oxygenation tank. The sole purpose of this tank is to super oxygenate the water before entering our growing rafts. Our fish tank, oxygenation tank and all of our raft tables have aquarium air stones in them to keep the levels of dissolved oxygen as high as possible. This is another vital part of any aquaponics system. Dissolved oxygen is utilized by the fish, the bacteria and the plants alike. You can see the high volume of bubbles being produced in our oxygenation tank to the right.
Now you are ready to plant in the grow beds. What you see to the left is cantaloupe growing in a styrofaom raft. All you have to do is start your seeds in a small`tray in a seedless media. Seed starting kits can be purchased with everything you need from Amazon.com or ask at your local gardening store. You will also need a growing media. We use rockwool to start our seeds in. Once the seedlings begin showing roots out of the bottom of your media, you are ready to transplant them to your rafts.
That is Aquaponics in a nutshell. It is really not as difficult as many make it out to be. Feel free to contact us here at the farm with any question regarding our system or how to begin your own. We want to help others get into this enjoyable and rewarding hobby. Thanks for reading and we hope that we have taken some of the mysticism out of the way these systems operate. Below are pictures of some stuff we grew during this winter.