The most asked question about aquaponics is “What is aquaponics?” But a close runner up and usually follows the answer to the first by about 2.362518 seconds is “Why aquaponics?”
While the question does offer the opportunity for one to climb on the soap box and wax endlessly about the challenges and irresponsibilities of the modern agricultural industry complex, I think I’ll approach it on more of a personal level. For me, it’s about solving problems and overcoming challenges.
Challenges like find a sustainable way of providing fresh, clean produce for our family without the nasty pesticides and petroleum based fertilizers that cover most produce found in your local supermarket. Things like celery which are covered with so many chemicals it has landed at number 2 on the dirty dozen food list. By the way 6 of the dirty dozen are easily grown in an aquaponics system. Fresh clean and naturally grown!
Or overcoming challenges of traditional agriculture like dependency on oil, and high water consumption. Currently the agriculture industry is the second highest consumer of oil in the United States. Everything on a farm depends on it from equipment, to fertilizers and pesticides to shipping and processing. Agricultural accounts for the single highest user of the worlds fresh water supply, yet traditional methods of watering fields are some of the least effective ways of delivering water to plants. Much of the water bypasses the plants and washes chemicals into the soil.
Sorry, let me get off the soap box.
Aquaponics in it’s modern form, is the result of a search for a solution to a problem in the aquaculture field. Dr. James Rakocy, often referred to as the Father of US Aquaponics, did his doctoral thesis on the theory of using plants to remove nitrates from fish tanks. Fish farms were replacing 5-10% of their water daily. That’s a lot of water! He was responsible for the marriage of aquaculture (the raising of fish) and hydroponics (growing of plants in flowing water) that lead the way to massive reduction in water usage by his University of Virgin Islands aquaculture system and produced some amazing growth in plants.
When I started doing my research into hydroponics, gardening and eventually aquaponics, I quickly realized aquaponics mimics a natural ecosystem the closest. It reduces water use by recirculating it in a closed loop. Eliminates the use of petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides as they are harmful, if not deadly, to the fish. And the energy required to run the system can easily be provided by a small solar panel, or a health club power generating treadmill for those of you inclined to get a good workout in while growing your food.
Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?
So why haven’t more people taken the plunge? I theorize most people don’t know the “how” and think the startup cost can be prohibitive. Over the next few articles I will provide you with the basic principles and “how to” of aquaponics. And show you some reasonable examples of cost effective materials. Soon you’ll be building your own kitchen system with a small used aquarium from a garage sale, a few goldfish, and an old plastic wash basin. How fun!
Our System Update:
See these guys?
These are 125 Koi fish and they are the new engine of our system. We still have a few Tilapia in there too, but we found the Tilapia stopped eating when the water dropped to around 70 degrees. Fish not eating = very little nutrients for plants. Not good. Koi have a wider temperature range and therefore reduce the energy requirements of heating the water in the winter time here in Florida. 125 Full grown Koi will be more than required for our system, so we plan on using some to stock our pond, and will sell off some as they mature. Anyone need any Koi?
With so many tiny hungry mouths eating lots of fish food, I noticed we were getting a build up of fish solids (aka fish poop) in the sump tank. While a simple sweep with a broom would solve the problem by stirring up the solids and eventually they would find their way to the grow beds, I decided to build a simple radial flow filter to collect the large solids. Don’t worry, we plan on using them in our raised beds as they make excellent fertilizer.
Looks fancy don’t it?
In preparation for summer coming, I also installed our summer shade over the fish tank. It will help keep the fish water cooler. Cooler fish under shade makes happy fish!
It’s easily removed and will provide a place for shelter from the hot summer sun for us as well. I am planning on installing shade cloth over the grow beds to help prevent the plants from getting roasted.
That’s all for now….
PS – I think we should change the name of the site from Steamy Kitchen to Scott’s Aquaponics! What do you think?