Aquaponics: What is it and How Does it Work?
As the name implies, aquaponics combines aquaculture and hydroponics into one farming system. Although this technique, which was quite ahead of its time, can be traced back to ancient civilizations, it is yet to gain popularity in the modern cultivation industry.
Compared to conventional agriculture, aquaponics gardening does not require soil and it utilizes far less water. For this reason, it is a sustainable crop solution that can help minimize water consumption and boost food security.
In this blog post, you will learn how aquaponics works and why it’s something the world needs.
What Is Aquaponics?
As mentioned earlier, aquaponics is closely associated with aquaculture and hydroponics. In a nutshell, aquaculture refers to the growing of different aquatic animals in a controlled environment while hydroponics deals with the soilless cultivation of plants.
Outdoor or indoor aquaponics also rely on the two symbiotic relationships between the plants and animals. The marine animal wastes serve as the crops’ “food” while the latter purifies the water that goes back to the former.
Furthermore, different microorganisms play an essential role in the plants’ growth in an aquaponics system. These useful bacteria accumulate in the gaps between the roots, converting the fish waste and other solid materials into substances that allow the plants to grow. Through this process, aquaculture and gardening, all at the same time, becomes possible.
The level of acidity, measured through the “power of hydrogen” or pH, is an important aspect of aquaponics gardening. However, dealing with three living organisms (plants, bacteria, and fish) when creating an aquaponics system can be challenging.
Ideally, aquaponics requires a neutral pH of 6.8 to 7.2. To maintain the right acidity level, you need to use pH adjusters and closely monitor the aquaponics system.
Remember that high and low levels of acidity may either cause your fish to die or the plants to wither. Therefore, it is important to keep a neutral pH level to make the most of your aquaponics system.
Types of Aquaponics Gardening
If you’re planning to set up your aquaponics system, it’s important to learn the different gardening techniques that you may utilize. Aquaponics systems may be designed through the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), Media Bed, or Deep Water Culture (DWC).
Here’s a quick rundown of these three types of aquaponics gardening:
1. Nutrient Film Technique
The Nutrient Film Technique or NFT is the most popular aquaponics method. It’s one of the most convenient options, most especially when it comes to space efficiency and labor costs. With this aquaponics system, crops can be cultivated on a vertical shelf or plane. It is then easier to access during harvest time.
The downside of this aquaponics gardening technique, however, is that it is vulnerable to clogging. The water temperature may also fluctuate more often than other aquaponics methods. Also, you can only plant light, leafy vegetables and it may not be suitable for fruit-bearing and flowering plants.
2. Media Bed
For beginners, the media bed may be the best choice since it does not require complex engineering or plant science background. Plus, it’s an economical aquaponics option that only requires containers with rocks, such as gravel or expanded clay for root support.
Media bed also acts as a biofilter to sift any breakdown wastes. The bed is then filled and drained of water for nutrient and oxygen supply. Thanks to this aquaponics technique, farmers can easily grow plants with large roots, unlike the NFT.
Commercial aquaponics companies, however, should opt for other techniques. This is because media beds for large-scale operations may be more difficult to set up
3. Deep Water Culture
The last aquaponics technique is the deep water culture. This technique utilizes floaters or rafts to hold the plant roots into the aerated and nutrient-rich water. The roots drift into a one-foot deep water pool.
Among the three aquaponics gardening techniques, the deep water culture is probably the most stable option. It’s the go-to option for commercial production since temperature fluctuates less often than the other methods.
However, its biggest disadvantage is the need for an extra filtration device due to a lack of media. It also takes up a lot of space with high labor and cost demand.
Aquatic Animals for Aquaponics
The fish in your aquaponics system supplies the nutrients for your crops. Typically, these aquatic animals are freshwater dwellers, such as tilapia and barramundi. These types of fish can withstand different water conditions and tend to grow faster.
For colder water temperature, consider breeding trout. You may also add snails and shrimps to your aquaponics garden. Note that high pH levels can harm the fish in your aquaponics system.
Vegetables for Aquaponics
Small vegetables, such as lettuce, kale, arugula, watercress, herbs, and spring onions are some of the most popular crops for aquaponics. These vegetable plants do not require heavy nutrient input, making them easier to maintain.
For larger aquaponics gardens, cabbage, cucumbers, beans, cauliflower, and broccoli are good options. These vegetable-bearing plants, however, require more nutrition than the previous ones. Plants that require acidic or alkaline water are not suitable for aquaponics.
Managing an Aquaponics System
Aquaponics is a sustainable farming method that mimics nature. Cultivators, however, need to work hard to maintain the system’s balance and secure optimal conditions for the plants and aquatic animals.
The primary aquaponics production factors are as follows: light; pH level; carbon dioxide concentrations both in water and air; dissolved oxygen; concentration of macro and micronutrients; and water and air temperature.
Benefits of Aquaponics
Compared to traditional cultivation methods, outdoor and indoor aquaponics uses 90% less water. While the starting water requirement to build your aquaponics system can be intimidating, it’s still a more sustainable option since all of the water used is reused and recycled. Farmers only need to add more water when the level depletes.
Aquaponics farmers may also generate income from the vegetables and fish that they grow at the same time. Indeed, it’s like hitting two birds with one stone. For consumers who are into organic food products, they can rely on aquaponics to produce pesticide-free vegetables since farmers are very meticulous with whatever they add or put into the system.
Undeniably, aquaponics is a remarkable farming method that can surpass other traditional techniques. It is a sustainable option that can help in food production, water conservation, maximize farm operation, and minimize production costs. Consider aquaponics as an alternative method, if you are planning to build your own commercial or backyard farm.