Our new neighbors stopped by to introduce themselves a few days ago and soon the conversation revolved around our aquaponic system. After giving a quick explanation of how it works, Mr. Neighbor asked, “You’re not gonna grow marijuana are you?”
I’m not sure if he was asking because he didn’t want to live next to a pot farmer, or because he was looking for a supplier. It was probably the latter, because he seemed a little disappointed when I told him we were only planning to grow organic vegetables, fruit, fish, and prawns.
So, what is aquaponics anyway?
Aquaponics is the merging of Aquaculture (fish farming) and Hydroponics (growing plants without soil) in a recirculating environment.
In an aquaponic system, the fish release their waste into the water, and, as the water flows under the plants, the roots of the plants absorb the nutrients, which cleans the water for the fish. There are also bacteria in the water that convert ammonia from the fish into nitrites and then another bacteria that converts the nitrites into nitrates, which the plants will absorb and use for food. The entire aquaponic system is really an ecosystem with animals and plants that rely on each other to survive.
So why are we going to use aquaponics to grow food instead of just gardening in the ground the old fashioned way?
There are many reasons:
- Aquaponics recycles the water it uses, so it consumes up to 98% less water than gardening in soil. This will help the environment and save us some money on our water bill.
- Aquaponics can easily run off of solar power. Our system only uses 39 watts of electricity during the day and 15 watts at night.
- We will no longer need to use shovels, hoes, or any other back-breaking tools in our garden again.
- The fish provide an organic fertilizer for the plants, so there is no need to buy expensive chemical fertilizers or manure that can pollute the environment and our food. We will just need to buy fish food, but tilapia also like vegetables, aquatic plants and invertebrates , worms, insects, and smaller fish, so we can grow some of their food and save some more money.
- If we move to a new home, we can take our garden with us.
- We can grow food virtually anywhere, even on infertile soil, on a parking lot, or, in our case, on a concrete patio.
- The grow beds can be built at waist level, so we don’t have to bend over to plant and harvest the vegetables. While our current grow bed is on the ground, the plants will grow in net pots that will be in a raft that floats on the water about 14″ above the ground. Instead of planting and harvesting directly from the grow beds, we will place the styrofoam rafts on saw horses so we can plant and harvest in the shade. We also plan to add waist-level grow beds soon.
- No more weeds! We will never need to pull another weed in our garden.
- We will never need to worry about soil pests. Good riddance to the squash vine borer!
- More plants can grow in a smaller space, because they will all get plenty of nutrients from the water. We also have the option of growing plants vertically, to make best use of our limited space.
- Many vegetables will grow faster and will be ready to harvest in half the time.
- Our food will taste better.
- Aquaponics is fun!
- Neighbors and friends love it.
- And the #1 reason we are using aquaponics . . . We get to eat some fish and prawn with our fruits and veggies.