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Aquaponics: Growing Fish In Your Hydroponic Garden

Aquaponics is a fascinating new way of growing food. Aquaponics is a fascinating new way of growing food.


Aquaponics is a combination of hydroponics and aquaculture (or fish farming). It can be described simply as a symbiotic relationship between fish, plants, and the microbial life that surrounds them. In recent years, aquaponics has gained popularity all over the world.  Australia, Canada, The United Kingdom, The United States, and many developing countries have seen a spike in numbers of both commercial farms and home gardens. Many aquapons (Aquaponic Gardeners) are successfully raising catfish, tilapia, perch, barramundi, bass, bluegill, ornamental fish and more. Koi are a popular ornamental with serious value to the aquaponic gardener and are easy to keep. Tropical ornamental fish can be used in home aquaponics to the great enjoyment of people who already have them or are looking to set up a colorful display tank. These voracious warm water fish need frequent feeding, good biofiltration, and regular monitoring of water quality to maintain optimal conditions.

If you are already a hydroponic gardener you have much of the equipment you need to get started. Most standard hydroponic equipment is suitable for aquaponic applications. Pumps, air-stones, trays, reservoirs, media, tubing, pH monitoring, and ventilation are all necessary components for a healthy greenhouse or indoor aquaponic system. The way the components are best put to use depends on what plants you want to grow. For example, crops like tomatoes, peppers, and corn would prefer an ebb and flow design while others such as salad greens prefer a DWC or constant flow design.  

If you do not have previous hydroponic experience, not to worry, you can still be a successful aquaponic gardener.  Home systems are easy to construct and consume a small amount of energy. They can be designed to scale up or down depending on how much food you want to grow. This kind of flexibility gives you the option to grow fresh lettuce and herbs in your kitchen or feed your family in a small greenhouse or garage.

Aquaponic gardening requires few inputs other than fish food, there is little maintenance involved, and best of all - no water changes! Ever!

Regardless of your level of experience, an aquaponics course is a good idea. Aquaponic classes are increasingly offered both in small towns and large urban areas. Aquaponic farms often offer weekly or private farm tours and many are free to the public. Farm tours are an excellent way to see the inner workings of an aquaponic system and to ask questions from a professional.

Aquaponic consultations are another great way to obtain information. The one-on-one face time with an aquaponic consultant can save you time and help prevent you from making an inappropriate choice of plants, fish, or equipment for your situation.  A mistake in the beginning can be discouraging and costly if you lose your fish or plants. It’s also good to have someone you can contact to ask questions who can give you sound advice on difficult issues such as water quality and strategies to maximize production and efficiency.

Keep in mind aquaponics is an organic method of farming and involves live animals. The use of any chemical or organically derived fertilizers may result in the death of your fish. The fish create the nutrients that are essential for the health of your plants. It is important to feed them high quality fish food several times a day to ensure proper nutrient levels in your system. By adjusting the amount of food to what is consumed without extra after a few minutes, you can maintain high growth rates. Whenever possible, supplement your fish’s diet with live food. Although many of the usual hydroponic inputs are not necessary there are products you can safely use in conjunction with your system. For example, kelp-based products applied as a foliar spray benefit the plants without harming the fish. Before applying any product, make certain it is fish safe.

Fish are a complementary addition to any garden and help grow fresh organic food with little effort and great rewards. Aquaponics not only grows crops quickly and vigorously, but it has other benefits as well. Aquaponic gardening requires few inputs other than fish food, there is little maintenance involved, and best of all - no water changes! Ever!  Crops such as salad greens, onions, chives, tomatoes, strawberries and many more can be grown together in a single system. A family system can be maintained in a space as small as 3x6 grow bed. Additionally, the use of space saving techniques such as vertical growing can expand your garden space to its full potential.

To learn more about aquaponics check out the Grow It Right Facebook page, which has great photos of numerous aquaponics set ups, and offers links to published papers and aquaponic research. The page also offers tips and resources for all levels of aquaponic gardeners from hobbyists to commercial growers.

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Aquaponics is the a great option for home grown food.
Last modified on Monday, 01 October 2012 16:32

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