Guest post: Justin Perr
As our global population grows, we look for ways to produce more food using fewer resources, and with less environmental impact. Aquaponics has increased in popularity in recent years for its ability to grow large amounts of produce in an eco-friendly manner, with few inputs. However, with many farming techniques like hydroponics, organic, biodynamics, and aeroponic farming, differences are not always clear – read on to learn more!
What is aquaponics? Aquaponics is an ancient, traditional farming technique that grows plants in an aquatic environment along with fish. This system takes advantage of a symbiotic relationship where bacteria convert the fish waste into nutrients for the plants and the plants in return clean the water for the fish.
While aquaponics is based off of a simple and natural system, there are many different ways that aquaponics can appear in modern practice.
Aquaponics starts with fish. Typically, they swim around in their own space – a tank of various sizes and shapes, and can eat a range of foods from natural diets like black fly larvae, worms and algae to commercial feed – whatever a farmer decides to use. There are many types of fish used in aquaponics. Since aquaponics has the dual purpose of growing plants and fish, many farmers will choose to use fish that can also be eaten. Tilapia, trout, striped bass, catfish, and crustaceans like crabs, shrimp and crawfish are common options.
Some farms focus on ornamental fish like koi, goldfish or guppies.
To keep the fish safe, healthy and comfortable, it is important to maintain the proper temperature, space, and other environmental conditions appropriate for the type of fish being raised.
The fish in the tank, through their living and breathing, create nitrogen in the water. If the concentration of nutrients builds up to much, it can be harmful for the fish. Moving the water from the fish tank to plant beds keeps the water flowing and also removed waste from the fish tank.
Though invisible, bacteria in aquaponics is very important. Bacteria serve to clean the system and convert fish and plant waste into nitrate for the plants to consume.
plants are often the primary reason that most people engage in aquaponics. As fish create waste, and bacteria turn that into plant fuel (nitrate), the plant roots absorb the fuel as food to grow. This nutrient-rich water allows the plants to grow large and produce fruits, vegetables, and flowers. The plants thus “clean” the water of nitrates and the water can be circulated back to the fish, clean to reuse!
There are many shapes nad sizes of aquaponic systems an they can use various media in which to grow plants – from clay pebbles, to rockwool, to floating rafts, but the general function of the aquaponic systems remains the same.
Now that you know how aquaponics works, you may be wondering why someone would choose aquaponics over in-ground farming options. In truth, there are many reasons why a farmer or home gardener may choose aquaponics. For the sake of this article, we will be covering the three main benefits of choosing aquaponics.
The goal of a recirculating farm, such as aquaponics, is to recirculate at least 90% of the water back into the fish tank. In traditional farming, added water ends up draining into the groundwater and evaporating off the surface of the soil. In aquaponics, evaporation is the only significant source of water loss. All other water loss is through the plants absorbing the water to grow. As a result, aquaponics tends to use only ⅙ of the water that traditional farming practices require. This is not only cheaper for the farmer, but better for the planet! This point is especially important in Louisiana since agriculture uses 61% of the ground water available for the entire state!
Aside from operating on less water, aquaponic systems are able to produce much more food per acre. As a rule of thumb, aquaponic systems tend to produce eight times more food than in-ground farming. Since aquaponic systems are optimized for indoor and outdoor use, the growing season is extended for aquaponic farmers which allows for even more food to be produced.
In addition to the many benefits of growing produce in an aquaponic system, the value of the fish cannot be understated. Aquaponic systems are able to provide farmers and their communities with both fresh produce and hormone-free, antibiotic-free fish. This increases access to healthy, nutritious food without harmful aquaculture and agriculture practices.
Is aquaponics organic?
It is possible for plants grown through aquaponics to achieve a USDA Organic label.Currently there is no U.S. organic label for fish.
Is aquaponics vegan?
This depends on your definition of veganism. Fish are used in the process to feed the plants, so if your definition includes the use of animals or animal by-products for food production, then aquaponics is not a vegan practice. But, if your definition only excludes animal material in the final product, then aquaponic vegetables are vegan.
What is the difference between aquaponics and hydroponics?
Aquaponic systems utilize a symbiotic relationship between fish and plants. Hydroponics is simply a water-based system of growing plants. Nutrients are added to the water