Aquaponics is based on productive systems as they are found in nature. It can be loosely described as the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics and this is where the name aqua-ponics originates.
Hydroponic systems rely heavily on the careful application of man-made nutrients for the optimum growth of plants. The nutrients are made from mixing together a concoction of chemicals, salts and trace elements to form the ‘perfect’ balance. Water in hydroponic systems needs to be discharged on periodically, as the salts and chemicals build up in the water which becomes toxic to the plants. Aquaculture systems focus on maximising growth of fish in tank or pond culture.
The fish are usually heavily stocked in the tanks often, 10kg in 100L of water. The high stocking rates often mean that the tank water becomes polluted with fish effluent which gives off high concentrations of Ammonia. Water has to be discharged at a rate of 10-20% of the total volume in the tank once a day, everyday. This water is often pumped into open streams where it pollutes and destroys waterways.
Aquaponics combines both systems, and in doing so cancels out the negative aspects of each. Instead of adding toxic chemical solutions to grow plants, aquaponics uses highly nutritious fish effluent that contains almost all the required nutrients for optimum growth. Instead of discharging water, aquaponics uses the plants and the media in which they grow to clean and purify the water, after which it is returned to the fish tank. This water can be reused indefinitely and will only need to be replaced when it is lost through transpiration and evaporation.
Is Aquaponics Complicated?
Not at all!
It’s as simple as it seems, pumping nutrient rich fish water past the roots of plants which extract the nutrient from the water. The principle method we deal with here is using grow beds filled with a medium, whether that's gravel, river stone, crushed basalt, or expanded clay. Plants are grown in the media filled beds and water is pumped from a fish tank into the grow bed, draining through the gravel, and back into the fish tank.
Experimenting with aquaponics can be as simple or as complicated as you like, it could be as simple as an aquarium on a sunny windowsill with some goldfish, with water pumped into some gravel filled pots above it, draining through the gravel back into the aquarium. Once you have tried something simple you can progress up to a system with multiple grow beds and high stocking densities of fish.
There are three basic styles of Aquaponic systems, which we discuss below in a little more detail.
Media filled beds
Media filled beds are the simplest form of aquaponics, they use containers filled with medium of expanded clay or similar. Water from a fish tank is pumped over the media filled beds, and plants grow in the rock media. This style of system can be run two different ways, with a continuous flow of water over the rocks, or by flooding and draining the grow bed, in a flood and drain or ebb and flow cycle.
DWC or Deep Water Culture
Deep Water Culture, works on the idea of floating plants on top of the water allowing the roots to hang down into the water. This can be done in a number of ways. This method is one of the more commonly practiced commercial methods. DWC can be done by floating a foam raft on top of the fish tank, however a more common method is to grow the fish in a fish tank and pump the water through a filtration system, and then into long channels where floating rafts filled with plants float on the water surface and extract the nutrients.
NFT or Nutrient Film Technique
Nutrient Film Technique is a commonly used hydroponic method, but is not as common in aquaponic systems. In NFT systems, nutrient rich water is pumped down small enclosed gutters, the water flowing down the gutter is only a very thin film. Plants sit in small plastic cups allowing their roots to access the water and absorb the nutrients. NFT is only really suitable for certain types of plants, generally leafy green vegetables, larger plants will have root systems that are too big and invasive, or they become too heavy for the lightweight growing gutters.
To get more information on how to start your own Aquaponics system visit Backyardaquaponics . There you will find information and videos showing you how to start your own system. Below I posted a couple of videos on how to start: