Aquaponics is a specific type of hydroponics or water based agriculture. It incorporates living aquatic animals into the system to supply the nutrients the plants need and also another food source depending on the species used. These systems have actually been used by various cultures for thousands of years but have come into popularity more recently, as technology and aquaculture knowledge has made aquaponics viable for greenhouse operations worldwide. It is also one of the “ponics” systems of growing plants (aeroponics, hydroponics, aquaponics).
A Self-Supporting System
A well-balanced aquaponics system is a living, self-supporting ecosystem. The elements of the system support and benefit each other. The fish excrete wastes which makes perfect fertilizer for the plants. In return, the plants in an aquaponics system filter out the ammonia and nitrates they need to grow. Instead of having a mechanical filtration system, the plants keep the water clean which is needed to keep the fish healthy. The only inputs that the system needs are light, fish food, and occasionally, more water to replace what evaporates.
At its most basic level, an aquaponics system includes an element of plants and a living aquatic animal of some sort. Technically the popular betta bowls with a peace lily growing out of the top are the simplest form of aquaponics. A passive system where nutrients cycle from fish food to plant growth. The simple setup could easily be reimagined with a food crop such as lettuce or basil replacing the peace lily.
Typically, modern day aquaponics set-ups are a little higher tech than this though. They consists of two sections, one that houses the aquatic creatures and one that houses the plants. This is to be sure that both the plants and fish have room to grow without interfering with each other. These systems can be table top or can be scaled up to nearly any size and can fill acres of greenhouses in some cases. They can be low tech, needing input from care takers, or nearly fully automated with fish feeders and harvesting belts in some commercial cases.
Crops and Critters
There are very few agricultural crops that couldn’t be grown via aquaponics. However, the ideal crops are ones that don’t grow well in dry conditions because there is never a shortage of water with aquaponics. Commercial viability for aquaponics crops is also determined based on how quickly the crop grows and how much space they take up. The more crops that can be grown in a shorter amount of time means more profits.
For this reason, a lot of leafy greens and high value crops like lettuces, arugula, peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants are grown commercially with aquaponics. Thirsty crops like melons and cucumbers are also quite popular. There are many species of fish and even shrimp and crayfish that are produced in aquaponics systems. Some of the most popular are Tilapia, various carp fishes, and Nile catfish. The only thing that limits the combination of plants and animals in these systems is that both the plants and the creatures grown in the aquaponics system must like the same water temperature.
If you are just planning on starting an aquaponics system, this aquaponics course is very helpful on getting started. It shows you how, in a step by step format.
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