In today’s increasingly growing world, our global population is soaring. With the number of people tapping our resources increasing by the minute, the amount of fertile land on which to grow viable food is declining.
While some are alarmed at this trend of increasing population and decreasing land and food resources, optimists are looking to aquaponics as a solution to future food production.
What is aquaponics?
Aquaponics is the symbiotic relationship of fish and vegetation, working together in harmony to feed off one another as they produce viable food resources for those who cultivate them. Aquaponics mimics a natural ecosystem by allowing waste products from fish to fertilize vegetables, while the growth of these plants in turn cleanses and purifies the water once more for fish to benefit from.
How does aquaponics work?
In a normal fish tank, waste products build up in the water over time; a filter is required to keep water purified and safe for them to use. With the introduction of plants to the aquaponics environment, fish waste becomes a rich source of fertilizer for the vegetation. A third element of beneficial bacteria must also be present in order for the fish waste to be converted to nitrates that the plants can use for energy. These nitrifying and heterotrophic strains of bacteria are allowed to grow on the pump, water delivery system, walls and organic matter. Maintaining a delicate PH balance of the system is required for all living organisms to thrive and co-create with one another.
What types of fish and plants are best for aquaponics environments?
In general, fish that mature quickly are best for these environments. Species like tilapia, white bass, crappie, and yellow perch are hearty and can withstand changes in oxygen level and temperature without being affected. A wide range of plants have been successful in aquaponics environments——-everything from fruit trees to potatoes have been sustained in this type of environment.
What do fish eat in aquaponics environments?
The most common aquaponics fish food is a fish pellet; a commercially derived blend of plant and insect proteins, vitamins and minerals designed to keep your fish healthy. Other acceptable types of aquaponics fish food include worms, insects, plant byproducts, and prepared and cultured foods specifically designed for this type of environment. Choose your food according to the types of fish that you stock, and don’t hesitate to ask questions about what will work best for your species.
How big are aquaponics tanks?
The reason you choose to start an aquaponics tank will have an enormous influence on what size environment you create. Ornamental fish require less space, and can comfortably coexist with smaller plant species in a large aquarium. For edible, plate sized fish, you’ll want a tank that holds a minimum of fifty gallons of water, and it must be lined with food grade-approved materials. Tanks can be created from a variety of containers–recycled bathtubs, barrels, stock and IBC tanks are just a few of the structures that can be repurposed for the creation of an aquaponics ecosystem.
How do I size up my fish?
Aquaponics fish tank volume governs both the size of your grow bed and the number of fish you cultivate. You wouldn’t attempt to squeeze an elephant into a bathtub; similarly, you’ll want the size of your fish to be appropriate to the size of the environment you are building. In general, there are guidelines for the appropriate growth and harvesting time for different species of fish that work well in your aquaponics fish tank:
1.Tilapia–6 to 8 months
2. Murray cod–12 to 18 months
3. Catfish–18 months
4. Trout–4 years
6. Salmon–2 years
When replacing fish, consider an ideal age for introduction into the pond with other growing fish. Fingerlings that are too young will not survive in a mature environment, while those who are introduced too late might disrupt a delicate ecosystem. Practice makes perfect; talk to others who have had experience harvesting and introducing fish to an environment to successfully maintain that delicate balance that is needed.
Tank volume: how many is too many?
People first starting out with aquaponics systems are tempted to overstock, as they want the most bang for their buck. This quickly leads to disaster, however, as the delicate balance of nitrates, bacteria, and living organisms can be upset with the slightest variation. A good general rule of thumb to follow is stocking one fish for every 20 liters of water; when you have more experience with maintaining balance, you can expand your repertoire of both fish and vegetation to the extent that you can still maintain the system.
Aquaponics is an easily sustainable practice that uses less energy and fewer resources than seasonal harvest operations. You and your family benefit from fresh, organic food, and you may even make a little cash on the side with your bountiful harvests. What are you waiting for? Dive into the aquaponics community and be part of a sustainable community of forward thinkers and food producers!