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Aquaponics--The Ultimate Micro-Farming Method

Updated on May 2, 2013
A Hydroponic Bed
A Hydroponic Bed | Source

Aquaponics and Micro-Gardening

For the urban dweller, the prepper, or the land owner who wants to make the most of their land, Aquaponics is not only the most eco-friendly solution, it is the most efficient use of space. With most of the commercial and do it yourself systems and plans, you can produce enough vegetables and fish to feed a family of four for a year--in 200 square feet (or less). In other words, if your landlord doesn't object, you can use your patio as a personal grocery store :-).


These systems don't have to be ugly--if you use some creativity and build your own, you can produce a beautiful, functional and very eco-friendly food source for your family, without breaking the bank. In this lens, we'll take a closer look at the modern version of an agricultural practice that may be thousands of years old.

Aquaponics HOW TO by the Urban Gardeners

Aquaponics--The Basic Principals

As you probably gathered from the very good video above, aquaponics is related to hydroponics--but there are differences. In true hydroponics, only water is used as a nutrient bath to grow the plants. With aquaponics, the plants are grown in a medium like vermiculite, or pebbles, that is kept constantly infused with water from your fish tank. While red tilapia are the most common aquaponic fish, bluegill, and blue tilapia, are also used.

Tilapia are the most common in places with hot climates, because they love it hot. Carp, trout, and catfish are also used for food fish in aquaponics systems. If you are a fan of escargot, then throw some snails in your tank as well--just remember to feed them only cornmeal for 24 hours or so before you eat them :-). Technically, the fish are there to make fertilizer, by turning their pellet fish food into waste--which then feeds the plants. But most people like to eat the fish as well, and tilapia breed very easily, as do carp and catfish.

The water from the tank is then circulated through the growing beds or growing pipes, and back to the fish tank. In both India and China, rice paddies have been aquaponics systems for perhaps thousands of years. In India, they have grass shrimp in the paddies, and larger shrimp can be grown in paddies and eaten. Typically, the tiny grass shrimp can be harvested and made into a fermented shrimp paste, used as a seasoning. These types of strong fish pastes are common throughout the Cambodian peninsula, and most of Asia.


Vertical Salad Garden--Use Your Fence!

The fish tank and pump would be on the ground next to the fence
The fish tank and pump would be on the ground next to the fence | Source

Aquaponics--Types of Systems

Aquaponics systems can range anywhere from do it yourself jobs made from large garbage cans, PVC pipe, and other scavenged materials to beautifully designed luxury models produced commercially. They can be horizontal and take up ground space, fully vertical to use almost no ground space, or a combination of the two. In theory, you could incorporate an aquaponic system into almost any landscape theme--for instance, turn your ornamental koi pond into the source of the water, conceal a pump behind landscaping or inside a container, and intersperse artistic containers of vegetables between your flowering plants or shrubs.

There are a large number of plans available online for the do it yourself aquaponics that are both attractive and affordable. The commercial systems can be quite pricey, but for those who have the money and are not the do it yourself type, they are worth the investment. Depending upon the types of vegetables you grow (you can even grow gourmet mushrooms in theory), your system can pay for itself quite quickly.

I personally favor a combination of vertical and horizontal systems for those like myself who have a patio--I like to have space for my barbeque and patio furniture. With this type of system, the only ground space taken up is the tank for the fish and the pump--and you can build some very ornamental fish tanks--it doesn't have to be a plastic drum. My personal vision is a natural appearing concrete and stone pool with a waterfall, and terracotta colored piping on the wall to hold the bush vegetables. The climbing vegetables, like beans and tomatoes, can be trellised up the sides of the waterfall. The water is pumped to the top, runs through the pipes, then down the waterfall back to the tank. Each pipe releases into a different part of the waterfall, of course, and at each stage, the waterfall has a pool in it to control the flow of the water and prevent splashing. You could even put water lilies in the individual pools--or cattails in the pond, as all parts of a cattail are edible :-).

DIY Aquaponics With Ordinary Stuff--IBC Tote

Aquaponics The Easy Way

The video above shows the most basic of systems, and it would work very well. The beauty of this type of system is you can get the parts anywhere, and may be able to scavenge some for free. While it isn't the most beautiful garden around, it would keep your family in fish and fresh veggies quite easily.

As you can see, you can build something like this in a weekend, and they are very low maintenance as well. Generally, the only thing you have to do is make sure your pump works, feed your fish, and remember to harvest the veggies and fish as needed. This makes aquaponics one of the least time intensive forms of micro-gardening, so you can enjoy the food without having to devote half your day to growing it.

Aquaponics Supplies

TetraPond Water Garden Pump, 325 GPH
TetraPond Water Garden Pump, 325 GPH

A good pump for tanks up to 250 gallons

 
AquaParts SS3 Aquaponics Plumbing Kit
AquaParts SS3 Aquaponics Plumbing Kit

For those who are plumbing challenged--or want it quickly!

 
Red tilapia--these are the most common fish choice
Red tilapia--these are the most common fish choice | Source

Aquaponics--Is It For You?

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Aquaponics and Fish Selection

While Tilapia are the most common choice, you can use almost any freshwater fish in aquaponics. When it comes to choosing your fish, you have some things to consider:

  • Personal preference--what kind of fish do you like, and if you like several kinds, can they live together?
  • Climate--In the southwest, if you use anything other than Tilapia, you will have to cool the water--an additional cost, and something else that can go wrong. On the other hand, if you live in Virginia, and like Tilapia, you'll need a big heater--trout, catfish, perch or bluegill would be a better choice.
  • What Do The Fish Like? Some breeds of freshwater fish, like bass, require deeper water, or perhaps live food as opposed to bags of fish food. Other breeds of fish won't tolerate crowding. Knowing what fish like is important, unless you want your fish to die before you can eat them.

Once you have selected your fish, based on your climate and the tank arrangement you have, you'll have to find a place to buy them. Most aquaponics suppliers can help you with this step, so it won't be an issue. If you live in the right area, you could possibly catch them yourself--catfish being the one that is easiest to find, and catch (and keep alive to get home). But in general, buying them is smarter, because then you can be fairly sure you'll end up with both males and females--and you'll save a lot of fishing time. Of course if you are like my other half, you are always looking for an excuse to fish anyway...

Aquaponics--The Final Analysis

For those who are interested in micro-gardening, and want more than just vegetables, aquaponics is the answer you are looking for. There are other forms of micro-garden of course--square foot, container, and hydroponics--but none offer both a ready protein source and vegetables in as small an area as aquaponics does. So if you have a few hundred square feet that isn't being used, and you would like to really cut your food budget, give aquaponics a try!

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