What is Aquaponics? Your Questions Answered!

watercress in the aquaponics by Scrap Pile, on Flickr
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Many people have asked “What is Aquaponics?”…It’s a common question, and most people aren’t familiar with this form of gardening. While hydroponic gardening has become very popular, aquaponic gardening is a gardening style that has proven to be just as effective – if not more so. Understanding this type of gardening can help you to determine if it’s right for you or not!

What is Aquaponics?

Wikipedia describes Aquaponics as “a sustainable food production system that combines a traditional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as snails, fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment.”

Basically, it means growing plants in a symbiotic relationship with the fish. The water from the fish tank is filtered, pumped up to water the plants, and drips back down through the soil into the fish tank once again. It’s a simple cycle, but it is one of the most effectively means of growing produce.

Aquaponics in History

The Aztecs have long been known for their use of this amazing style of gardening. The Chinampas in the southern regions of Mexico City were basically islands that had grown on the water. The floating gardens are found on the lake regions of the city, and they provided the Aztecs with a place to grow their crops despite the limited land space in the mountainous terrain.

The Thai and Chinese people have often allowed fish to swim in their rice paddies, and creatures like the swamp eel, pond snails, and the Oriental loach have all been used to create a symbiotic relationship that promoted the growth of the plants.

How Does it Work?

The modern aquaponic gardening system is very simple:

  • Step 1: A tank is filled with water, and fish are allowed to swim around in the tank. The fish are fed, and their waste material sinks to the bottom of the tank.
  • Step 2: A pump sucks water from the tank, along with the fish waste. The water is run up through a tube, where it is used to water the plants.
  • Step 3: The water hydrates the plants, while the fish waste acts as a fertilizer that stimulates their growth.
  • Step 4: The water drains through the plants, where it is collected by the roots of the plants in order to help them grow.
  • Step 5: Water that isn’t absorbed into the plants’ roots drain through the gravel or pebbles on which the plants are grown — and it drops back down into the fish tank.

The simple cycle of aquaponic gardening sounds almost too easy, but the truth is that a lot goes into caring for the garden.

As with any fish tank, the pH levels of the water need to be balanced in order for the fish to thrive. Too much fish waste can cause the pH levels of the water to be altered, so the waste needs to be removed from the water via a filtration system.

The water needs to be pumped up from the tank to be used to water the plants, so an electric pump is a must. The right grow beds need to be used, as the water will need to drip down to collect in the tank.

It’s a fairly technical form of gardening, but you’d be amazed at how effective it can be!

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