Aquaponics – A Revolutionary Form Of Food Production

The term Aquaponics is derived from a combination of the terms Aquaculture i.e. fish farming and Hydroponics which means the growing of plant without soil. The process of Aquaponics combines fish and plants in a “closed” integrated system and it is one of the most efficient methods of farming yet devised. Because its a closed system – meaning that there is no water loss – aquaponics uses at little as a tenth of the amount of water that traditional farming requires, meaning that it is especially suitable for hot and arid countries.

The system is a fantastic example of a symbiotic relationship. What I mean by this is that the two components of the system – the fish, and the plants, complement each other prefectly and they both contribute equally to the overall success of the process.

Basically, Aquaponics works like this:

how aquaponics works

The fish poo is turned into fertiliser for the plants by bacteria in the water and, at the same time, the plants return the favour by cleaning the water as they grow. This, of course helps the fish to survive and grow bigger which then helps the plants to flourish as they produce waste material, and so on.

Aquaponics is a true win-win situation.

In fact, Aquaponics such a beautiful model of cooperation that once you have set your aquaponics system up, all you have to do is top up the water and feed the fish, and in return you get two fantastic sources of organic food.

Of course, it is important that you set your aquaponics system up correctly in the first place because its vital to achieve  a certain  balance in this delicate eco-system. For example, if you have too many fish compared to plants,  there won’t be enough nutrients produced to keep the plants fed and,in turn, the plants will diminish in size and number and so they wont be able to clean the water sufficiently to support the fish.

The reverse is also true. If you have too many plants in your system then there will be too few nutrients in the water to support them and therefore their ability to extract enough of the nutrients and clean the water will be diminished. As you might deduce – this will mean that the water will get polluted and the fish will die as a result. So, balance is key.

Now, this might sound difficult to achieve, but it is actually a lot easier than it sounds!

Commercial Aquaponics operations are being set up all over the world, even in desert regions where it has, traditionally, been very difficult to grow crops and farm fish. These are large scale affairs, as you might imaginrequiring million dollar investments but, essentially, you can employ the same processes and techniques to benefit from Aquapnics in your own back yard.

The secret to building an effective aquaponics setup is , as you might imagine, to plan everything out before you start. Of course, I hope that you will follow this blog as I show you exactly what needs to be done, and also what you need to avoid doing wrong to benefit from this amazing new farming method, but if you really cannot wait to get started then I recommend that you visit this leading aquaponics guide web site and get hold of the excellent Aquaponics4You book by John Fay which is, to be honest, what got me started.

Its a comprehensive guide to setting up and running your own Aquaponics farm from one of the industries most respected figures. John has been developing his techniques for many years now and has learned from his past failures, and of course from his great successes as well. The guide is beautifully written, full of good, hard facts and also comes with detailed plans that show you how to build the  right kind of setup for your environment. It also shows how to stock it and how to maximise the yield. In fact, nothing is left out from filtration methods to feeding schedules and even what kind of plants to buy to get the best results. If you are looking for an introduction to the subject that is both readable and authoratative then this is the guide that I recommend.

Well, thats a brief overview of what aquaponics is all about – in the next post I’ll start describing the best way to set about making your own fully working  farm.

 

 

Aquaponics and Aeroponics – How do they compare ?

The practices of aquaponics and Aeroponics are actually very similar.  In fact, after reading this article you may feel that Aeroponics is a type of aquaponics.  In a way it is.  The Aeroponics system took the basic aquaponics system to the next level of medialess or dirtless gardening.

Aquaponics is the practice of growing plants outside of dirt.  You may use a growing medium to substitute for dirt.  It works like dirt to hold the plant stable and wicks the water to the plants roots.  Dirt also holds nutrients which plants feed on.  In an aquaponics system the nutrients must be added to the water.  This is an essential difference between dirt gardens and aquaponics growing plants.   The growing medium must also be loose to allow air to reach the plants.  aquaponics systems are designed to provide everything the plant needs directly to the roots.  This way your plants spend as much time as possible growing vegetation rather than sending out long roots to search for water and nutrients.  In a way you are nurturing your plant with nutrients.

The different types of aquaponics are passive, ebb and flow, drip feeding, wicking, nutrient film techniques, etc.  Passive aquaponics is the simplest form of aquaponics and it makes extensive use of growth medium.  Ebb and flow aquaponics gardening allows a timed flow of nutrient rich water fill the plants pots and then drain away, providing water, and nutrients while flushing the aquaponics system regularly.  Drip feeding is similar to ebb and flow except that it provides a continuous trickle of water.   Wicking is a setup that allows the roots to get water via a wick which brings the water to the plant from a separate container of solution.  A nutrient film technique is interesting because the plants are set into a channel or tray set at a slight angle with a thin layer of nutrient rich water running over it.  The plants grow through holes in a thin sheet of plastic set over the tray.

Aeroponics is the growing of plants without a growth medium.  This is very expensive method of aquaponics and you would probably be a serious aquaponics gardener if you were involved in this form of aquaponics garden.

There may be an initial amount of growth medium used to get the plants started, then they would be transferred to an Aeroponics system.  In the Aeroponics system, plants roots are suspended in a chamber that contains a mix of nutrient solution and water.  A pump inside this chamber sprays the solution or fogs it into the air around the plant roots at a relatively constant rate.  The unabsorbed water drips off of the roots into the reservoir.  This is an effective method of aquaponics and is very good at recycling nutrients and water

NASA is credited with leading to the creation of Aeroponics because of research they’ve done into aquaponics as a method of growing food in space.  Both Aeroponics and aquaponics may never become widely used in commercial enterprises because the setup is so expensive and it takes more involvement with the plants to get them to grow well.  If you want to grow plants indoors, or are looking to grow plants without exposing them to possible bacteria and parasites aquaponics and Aeroponics is the best way to go.

Aquarium Lighting for Fish Health

It probably doesn't occur to most of us that the aquatic creatures that inhabit ponds, lakes, rivers, what have you live the same way that we do – on energy from the sun. It's easy to look down into the gloomy half-dark world they inhabit and to feel that in an aquarium, they could not need anything more than to be kept in a dark corner and, occassionaly, be blinded with bright lights when guests need to see how the light bounces off their iridescent scales. As it turns out, fish and all the pretty plants in an aquarium don't quite work that way. The light from the sun and moon may not be quite so bright for them in their natural habitat, but it does exist, and if you see yourself running an aquarium full of bright happy and healthy fish, you do need to replicate for them in your aquarium lighting, the kind of light and darkness that they would have enjoyed in their natural habitat.

Aquarium lighting comes in all kinds intensities and technologies. There are the regular fluorescent strips, the compact fluorescent lamps, metal halide lamps and light emitting diodes – every kind of lighting technology there is, as you can see. If what you have on your hands is an aquarium with freshwater fish, these can survive very well on low-intensity fluorescent lighting. Fish actually like fluorescent lighting much better than incandescent bulbs. Fluorescent lights run cooler, and the light they put out is closer in appearance to daylight. If you've been kind to your little finny friends, you'll have a few little plants colorfully waving around your tank looking for a little light for their photosynthesis. Plants can't do with the mild lighting that fish can get by on; they will need brighter aquarium lighting, typically around 5 Watts of fluorescent light for every gallon of water your tank holds. Plants actually use the light they receive for energy; if you have a saltwater aquarium, the algae on the live rock you'll have used, will appreciate much better lighting too. The key word here is “full spectrum lighting”; these life forms need to receive light on all the wavelengths or colors that the sunlight would let them have. Regular fluorescent lighting will work fine, but actinic light will work even better for plants and algae.

But there can be too much of a good thing too when it comes to lighting. The fish have wake- and sleep-cycles just like us; the idea is then to give them as much darkness as they would have in nature. About 12 hours of darkness would not be a bad idea. Using aquarium lighting of too high an intensity or leaving it turned on for too long can be harmful for the environment in the tank; nuisance algae tend to feel encouraged and tend to take over your tank if there is too much lighting too. A good way to go about it would be to buy an aquarium light timer. The fish will have a steady day- and night-cycle they can count on and you can be sure that you will never forget to make the sun come up or go down for the fish. You wouldn't want to pull a Truman Show climax-like scene on your fish now would you? Of course, in any good aquaponics system the quality of the lighting, either external or artifical is of paramount importance.

Aquaponics Growing Techniques

In general aquaponics growers rely on one or more of eight different aquaponics techniques. These techniques range from beginners easy to professional difficult and what technique you use really depends on the size of your aquaponics garden and what plants you intend to grow. In this article we will discuss about passive aquaponics, raft cultivation,  Ebb/Flow, Drip and Wick feeding techniques to feeding your hydroponic garden

Beginner Techniques

The easiest technique is Passive aquaponics.  The plant is ‘planted’ in a container filled with a growth medium (such as vermiculite) with holes in the lower sides.  This container is placed in another container filled with water and nutrient solution.  The growth medium can then wick the water solution up to the plants roots through the holes.  You simply need to keep your solution properly balanced and flush out your plants growth medium occasionally.  This is a good technique for container garden tomatoes and orchids.

Another good technique for beginners if the Raft cultivation method.  Plants hang suspended in a container filled with aerated nutrient solution via holes in a floating ‘‘raft’ which sits on the water.  This is a good method for growing leafy veggies such as Lettuce.

Intermediate Techniques

For those who have achieved success with the more basic techniques, there is the Ebb and Flow method of aquaponics growing. Systems of this type require a shallow tray and a pump that works on a timer.  The tray is filled with growing medium and has several plants in it.  Every hour or so the timer triggers the pump to fill the tray with water and nutrient solution.  After it turns off the water solution drains back into the reservoir of solution.

Drip feeding is an aquaponics gardening method just like Ebb and Flow except that the pump provides a constant flow of water into the tray for fifteen minutes or so.

Wick feeding is an interesting form of aquaponics in that it relies on a wick to provide water to the plant.  The plants container rests on one end of a wick (which can be any substance that will naturally draw up water) and the other end of the wick runs down to a container of water and nutrient solution.  This is a very slow but constant method of delivering water and aquaponics nutrients.

Advanced Aquaponic Growing Techniques

These are levels of aquaponics growing systems usually only practiced by commercial growers and aquaponics green houses.

The Nutrient film technique involves plants placed in sloping channels with a thin plastic sheet over them.  The plants grow through the sheet, but the sheet is light-proof so algae doesn’t grow in the channels.  The channel contains a constant flow of water and nutrients which run down to the reservoir and is pumped up to the top of the channel in a cycle.

Aeroponics is a very unusual form of aquaponics gardening.  In Aeroponics the plants are placed into holes in the sides if an enclosed box.  The roots of the plants hang suspended inside the box while the plant top is free to grow outside.  In the bottom of the box is the reservoir filled with the water nutrient solution which nebulizers or misters spray into the air around the roots.  This makes the solution incredibly easy for the roots to suck up, while not drowning them in water.

Building a homemade aquaponics system – Intermediate Level

Aquaponics and its many advantages have been covered well in other topics. Now that you feel like you have gotten a handle on the basic aquaponics system, its time to give up the passive aquaponics and move up a level. This article gives you good directions on building your intermediate level homemade aquaponics system using an aquarium [ acquarium ] or other hardware that may be lying around

There are several ways to build yourself a homemade aquaponics system. The simplest is perhaps the aquarium aquaponics system. Some of you may have tried your hand at pet fish or lizards and they died within two weeks right. Well, here is a good use for the aquarium that was shoved into your closet.Besides this, you will need for your aquaponics system one sheet of plastic or board to hold your plants (whatever it is it will need to float on the water), plastic cups, some growing medium, an aquarium air pump and oxygen stone.  This isn’t part of the aquaponics system, but don’t forget your nutrient solution, and ph test kit.

Okay, now that you’ve assembled your materials for the aquaponics system, cut the plastic sheet/board to slightly smaller than the aquarium.  After this you need to cut the holes in the plastic sheet/board to hold the cups your plants will rest in.

Depending on the thickness of the sheet and what its made of you may need to use a saw to cut the holes.  It’s very important before you cut the holes that you measure them to be slightly smaller than the top of the plastic cup, that way it will hang down low enough for the bottom part of the cup to be resting in the water that will fill your aquarium. Also you will want to make a small ‘U’’ shaped indentation in one side of the sheet for the plastic tubing of the air pump to run into the aquarium through. Poke several small holes into the bottoms sides of your plastic cups and widen them to around a quarter of an inch in diameter.  It is time to assemble.

Fill your aquarium with the water and nutrient solution.  Hook up your air pump and oxygen stone and place the stone in the bottom of the aquarium. Turn it on and make sure it works.  Do not put the air pump into the water!  You should have the oxygen stone in the aquarium attached to a plastic tube which leads out of the aquarium and attaches to the air pump.   Now you can fill your plastic cups with a growing medium.  My favorite is vermiculite, because its good at wicking water up to the plant roots.  Plant your seedlings or seeds in the medium.  Slide the plastic sheet/board into the aquarium and place each of the plastic cups in their holes.  
This completes your homemade aquaponics system which you can use to grow leafy greens such as lettuce, mustard, or even herbs.  When the water level is low you can simply refill it with water and nutrient solution.  Good Building and good luck.

DIY Aquaponics – The Costs

In order to make DIY Aquaponics a understandable topic, I decided to include some of the nitty gritty details of one of my own systems. (I have implemented three different types) Things like setup costs and operating costs as well as discussions about nutrients and such. Probably the biggest question that most people have is “Is it worth it? Well that is going to have to be for the individual to determine for themselves. The costs were an important factor to me because… well… I am not made of money. I knew I was going to have to buy some stuff to start it but I was primarily concerned about the ongoing costs. So I tried to breakdown the costs of my first system for you here. Truth be told, I was experimenting with the technology to determine what was going to work best and although it worked well, I have moved on from this system to a system that incorporates more of the vertical aspects of the technology, but that is a subject for later. This system may be for you or it may not be. So here goes…

The monthly operation costs of my hydroponic system were comprised of only three parts: electricity, water, and nutrients.

Monthly operating costs of my first hydroponic system

Electricity

The electicity is necessary to run the air pump and the water pump for keeping the roots oxygenated and hydrated with the nutrient solution. The cost is minimal. Here is the breakdown of the power usage and associated costs.
I used a 120v 2.5amp utility pump for my system. This means it is 300 volt-amps or 300 watts. If the pump ran for one hour it would use 300 watts of electricity. assuming that i alternate the pump 30 minutes on and off for 30 days then that would be 12 hours per day or 360 hours per month. 360 x 300 equals 108000 divided by 1000 equals 108 kwh. I pay about $.14 per kwh for electricity leaving me with a monthly cost of $15.12 for power. (Honestly I didn’t notice my bill going up by that much, but I wasn’t very concerned about it either) The air pump was only about 20 watts. This translates into roughly 7 cents a month.

You can use a submersible pump that consumes less electricity if you like, however, you must be sure to keep it free of the roots unless it is a powerful utility pump like the one i just mentioned. If you used a smaller pump that only pumps 400 gallons per hour (all you need for this system) then your power consumption would only be like 33 watts per hour. That would reduce the power cost to about $1.70 per month.

Water

My water costs me about .7 cents per gallon. If I fill the reservoir with 20 gallons initially then add 20 gallons every week for an average of 85 gallons per month of nutrient solution per month then my water usage costs me about 60 cents for the month. (85x.007=.595)
so now we are up to a monthly cost of $15.79

Nutrients

Then the nutrients cost me 39.95 plus tax and shipping for about $54 dollars. I buy the dry nutrients and mix them myself. I get 4 pounds of the stuff 2 (1lb bags of one part and 2 1lb bags of the other part) and it makes about 500 gallons of the nutrient solution. So my cost per gallon for the nutrient solution is roughly 11 cents. at 85 gallons a month for a monthly cost of around $9.35
now were up to a monthly cost of $25.14.

This may sound like a lot, however you need to factor in the number of plants that you can feed for that amount. With hydroponics you can put your plants much closer together and therefore grow more in less space than with traditional gardening. In my first system I had 19 plants so the cost per plant per month was $1.33. Compare that with the cost of feeding and watering a traditional garden.

Even if you have a drip irrigation system and depending on where you live, you can expect to add $40 per month to your water bill alone. the cost of conventional fertilizer is $25 per bag which lasts almost the whole summer (3 months) for a garden approximately 14′ x 14′ or $8.33 per month. Already we are up to $48.33 per month which doesn’t include any fuel costs if you use garden equipment such as a roto-tiller or garden tractor.

So you be the judge… take up your entire backyard with a garden that costs you upwards of $200 in a season or take up only fraction of the space for half the price. I’ll take DIY hydroponics any day!

Aquaponics Growing Techniques

In general aquaponics growers rely on one or more of eight different aquaponics techniques. These techniques range from beginners easy to professional difficult and what technique you use really depends on the size of your aquaponics garden and what plants you intend to grow. In this article we will discuss about passive aquaponics, raft cultivation,  Ebb/Flow, Drip and Wick feeding techniques to feeding your hydroponic garden

Beginner Techniques

The easiest technique is Passive aquaponics.  The plant is ‘planted’ in a container filled with a growth medium (such as vermiculite) with holes in the lower sides.  This container is placed in another container filled with water and nutrient solution.  The growth medium can then wick the water solution up to the plants roots through the holes.  You simply need to keep your solution properly balanced and flush out your plants growth medium occasionally.  This is a good technique for container garden tomatoes and orchids.

Another good technique for beginners if the Raft cultivation method.  Plants hang suspended in a container filled with aerated nutrient solution via holes in a floating ‘‘raft’ which sits on the water.  This is a good method for growing leafy veggies such as Lettuce.

Intermediate Techniques

For those who have achieved success with the more basic techniques, there is the Ebb and Flow method of aquaponics growing. Systems of this type require a shallow tray and a pump that works on a timer.  The tray is filled with growing medium and has several plants in it.  Every hour or so the timer triggers the pump to fill the tray with water and nutrient solution.  After it turns off the water solution drains back into the reservoir of solution.

Drip feeding is an aquaponics gardening method just like Ebb and Flow except that the pump provides a constant flow of water into the tray for fifteen minutes or so.

Wick feeding is an interesting form of aquaponics in that it relies on a wick to provide water to the plant.  The plants container rests on one end of a wick (which can be any substance that will naturally draw up water) and the other end of the wick runs down to a container of water and nutrient solution.  This is a very slow but constant method of delivering water and aquaponics nutrients.

Advanced Aquaponic Growing Techniques

These are levels of aquaponics growing systems usually only practiced by commercial growers and aquaponics green houses.

The Nutrient film technique involves plants placed in sloping channels with a thin plastic sheet over them.  The plants grow through the sheet, but the sheet is light-proof so algae doesn’t grow in the channels.  The channel contains a constant flow of water and nutrients which run down to the reservoir and is pumped up to the top of the channel in a cycle.

Aeroponics is a very unusual form of aquaponics gardening.  In Aeroponics the plants are placed into holes in the sides if an enclosed box.  The roots of the plants hang suspended inside the box while the plant top is free to grow outside.  In the bottom of the box is the reservoir filled with the water nutrient solution which nebulizers or misters spray into the air around the roots.  This makes the solution incredibly easy for the roots to suck up, while not drowning them in water.