A combination between Hydroponics (growing plants with water and no soil) and Aquaculture (raising marine life n captivity)
California is facing one of its worst droughts in recorded history. Farmers all over California, of both meat and plants, are seeing crop failures in epic numbers. What if there was a method, a closed-water-cycle system that could change all of that?
There is… and its called aquaponics.
In its most basic essence, aquaponics is using live fish (waste) to grow plants and vegetables in a recyclable water system. Aquaponics is a symbiotic combination of hydroponics (growing plants without soil) and aquaculture (raising marine life in captivity).
While the science of aquaponics may seem to be relatively new, it is in fact an ancient and almost forgotten practice. The ancient Aztecs were the first culture we know of to practice aquaponics, and evidence exists that the practice has been used in the rice paddies of China for thousands of years.
Aquaponics is a relatively simple system to understand; however, it can get very complicated when the chemistry of the system is taken into consideration. An aquarium (varying in size from your home tank to large industrial warehouses) holds fish that are fed an organic, protein-rich diet which then in passing creates waste in the water. This waste is primarily composed of nitrogen and ammonia, but the bad news is that these compounds, if left unfiltered, will build to toxic levels and kill the fish and whatever else is in the tank. The good news is that these compounds are exactly what most vegetative plants need to grow and flourish.
Once the fish have been in the water for a little while and dirtied it up, the water is pumped up and out of the fish tank and into the hydroponic growing medium that is holding the plants, where it flows and filters through the roots of the plants. With the help of billions of bacteria in the growing medium, nitrogen is broken down into nitrites and nitrates which the plants then absorb.
The longer the water flows through the roots of the plants, the more the bacteria breaks down the nitrogen, thus the cleaner the water gets. Once the water has reached the end of the growing system, either through the use of gravity or various pumps, it then flows back into the fish tank as virtually clean filtered water.
Without the need for adding large amounts of expensive artificial nutrients for the plants or changing/dumping dirty water, aquaponics is a perfect closed circular system which, by all definitions, is completely organic. It is the best growing system for replicating what nature does on its own. Additionally, because we are adding less and less components to the system over time, and the fish end up reproducing by themselves eventually, the chances of introduced diseases becomes less and less.
The most popular fish used in freshwater aquaponics are talapia because of how quickly they grow and their general aesthetics. They can be harvested in as little as eight to nine months and can reach 1.5 pounds. They are incredibly hardy and can withstand pretty high levels of nitrogen and fluctuating pH levels. However, most fish that grow in the wild can be grown in an aquaponic system, including trout, catfish, prawns, crayfish, carp, koi and various snails. Additionally, most plants can thrive in the system too, provided that they get the necessary (sun) light to photosynthesize and are appropriately pollinated. Saltwater aquaponics, while still in our infancy of understanding, is a viable option to grow rare seaweeds and various sea grasses while growing shrimp, lobster, bass, cod etc.
Because of the way the system constantly runs, with nutrient-rich water being pumped into the grow beds 24 hours a day, the plants grow and vegetate extremely quickly. With the right kind of manipulated light, we can create an artificial ecosystem that runs nearly as perfect as nature intended, with each component in the system helping the next one out.
An aquaponic system is much like a great bottle of wine; the older it gets, the better it gets. Vegetable yields increase dramatically the older the system gets, because the fish get bigger and create more waste, and the build-up of beneficial bacteria increases, which helps break down the waste even quicker. Growers have seen their yields increase by up to 30-40% in the second year of the system running. With the added component of solar power, a completely off-grid system can be created.
1 – Because fish are being used to create all the nutrients the plants need, the $$ savings can be huge, depending on how big the system is.
2 – Because the water is constantly being cleaned and filtered by the plants, there is no need to dump it, which not only saves $$ but also saves the planet!
3 – An added revenue stream is created by way of the fish that are being grown, which can be applied to offset the cost of initial setup.
4 – The longer the system runs, the better it will get at maintaining itself, thus maintenance costs are reduced the longer the system runs.
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