Aquaponics quick overview

What is Aquaponics? When you add aquaculture (fish rearing) + Hydroponic (soil-less gardening) you get Aquaponics. A manageable Eco-system to teach and feed your family wholesome meals. Who started it? Two schools of thought, three different techniques all very good ideas and yet arguments still abound. Was it the South Americans or Eastern Asians? Both could have started it and around the same time, great minds do think alike and really why fight about it? Why can’t we all just get along? Aquaponics is the most ingenious and perfect growing Eco-system you can find and the most rewarding to acquire.

In the beginning

Way back in time in tropical South America the Aztecs and Mayans used plots called Chinamapas and grew year around, farmers would layer lake gunk with green manures (leaves, grass, animal dung) to form grow beds. Arranged in lakes, marshes and on the Mexican floodplains, spaced far enough apart to get a canoe through fish, farmers and plants lived harmoniously. Similar to their northern neighbors, in now protected Wetlands, in Llanos de Moxos and the Beni region of Bolivia, where they would utilize the wet season in the Amazonian basin, but which limited farming to only one growing season per year.

On the other hand in far off East Asia you can see 1000+ year old rice fields climbing the slopes of the mountains. Streams were diverted towards the fields to flood the paddocks of rice,where they supplied the nutrients using their Eco-system of chickens in pens, suspended over pig styes with holes in the floor, covering finfish ponds that drained into the catfish and then finally in with the rice crops which usually have carp swimming among the roots all nice and happy in the order of a flow-through-system.

Once again ancient wetlands are protected as world heritage sites. In the northern Philippines where no one has a cell phone or computer, the Banaue’s 2000 year old rice fields are still mostly untouched by tourism. Although you can visit and trek the mountains from village to village in breath taking splendor, it still has its ancient ways with its ancient lifestyles. No heated bathroom floors here … or even bathrooms for that matter, makes me wonder about floors.

And Now …In more recent history the 70s brought us RAS recirculating aquaculture systems but produced some issues like high ammonia, nitrate and nitrite levels, a lot of the tank water was being wasted having to exchange old for new to balance it out. Then along came Dr. James Rakocy at the University of the Virgin Islands, who added plants to the system to function as filtration and the birth of modern aquaponics was born. The vision of New Alchemy Institute (’69 – ’91), now found at, where they created entire Eco-systems within Bio-Domes. The dream? To improve quality of life for all the world. The 80s and 90s have shown great leaps and bounds in system designs, bio-filtration and the optimal fish-to-plant ratios Dr. Rakocy and Wilson Lennard PhD leading to closed circuit Eco-systems.

here is an amazing basic set up

There are 3 types of aquaponics systems Media Beds, DWC and NFT. Each has its benefits and pitfalls. Media Bed Systems or ebb and flow systems are perfect for growing root vegetables, stalk plants like corn and tomatoes and can even support a tree. An Australian gentleman Murray Hallam grows Pawpaw trees in his system and they look so yummy. Check his stuff out, awesome guy knows his poop (pun intended).

Then we have DWC (Deep Water Culture) also known as Deep Flow System and Raft System. This is the easiest and cheapest way to start yourself with a small little herb garden. You get the beauty of the aquarium and the yummy tasty aromatic herbs ready to be cooked with. All you need for this system is a foam sheet with holes cut out and net pots with your seedlings or clippings dropped in. Make sure the foam in a little bigger than the tank so that you can place it on top leaving adequate room for air circulation, leave the roots dangling in the water and have at least 3 air stones to add oxygen to the water keep fish and plants happy. Word to the wise don’t get strict herbivores for fish they will love your roots to death.

NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) this is our system. Regardless of the cost this was the way we went to maximize growing space, sunlight and yield. It is very expensive start-up PVC is not cheap. You also have to add in a few steps like a clarifier and a bio tank to house beneficial bacteria. You can offset some of the costs, for instance BF works beside a bathtub re-fitter and we got a tub for free (outside fish tank) and he also was able to find water barrels in the classifieds for 20 bucks each. I found an old laundry sink on the curb that was used as a flower pot from the looks of it, perfect for a shock tank or nursery. We also had to add in air lifts to get the water to the top of the towers which are very expensive too.

Aquaponics is loaded with Pros and Cons. The cons are pretty harsh and include but are not limited to very big expense for initial start-up, along with high power demands, very time consuming with constant monitoring and any mistake can cause a complete Eco-system collapse. Aquaponics requires reliable sources of power, fish food and re-stocking, plant seeds and water flow. Balance is hard to achieve and there is a lot of trial and error for newbies that can be very costly. Once you achieve balance it is a cinch to maintain.

The pros far out weight the cons though. Roof top and backyard systems improve quality of life giving food security and a supplemental income for families. 3 square meters of an aquaponics grow space can feed a family with high quality proteins and complex carbs, aquaponics maximizes grow space especially in the case of NFT towers growing vertical.

Aquaculture is responsible for half of the world’s fish and aquatic life consumed globally if we had systems in every neighborhood no one would go hungry. Aquaponics is very Eco-friendly by preventing farm waste from entering into the water shed and relieves tired and over worked soil from mono-culture farming practices and reduces pest control, pathogens & diseases and poor sometimes toxic soil conditions..

Aquaponics can be manipulated to serve various cultural and environmental conditions for instance in some war ravaged countries families and communities are putting up aquaponics systems as a means of food security. You can establish an aquaponics system just about anywhere you can get your supplies to, hot arid deserts, big city roof tops or an apartment balcony. Reducing our carbon footprint and doing the best for Mother Nature should always be a priority in this day and age and nothing is better than some Fresh Fish Salad right from your own backyard.

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