Do you absolutely love growing your own food? Maybe you already have chickens and a garden in the backyard, but want to take your sustainable lifestyle to the next level.
That’s where aquaponics comes in. It’s been around for hundreds of years, with roots in ancient China and South America, but is becoming more and more popular in modern society due to its incredible efficiency in growing both plants and fish.
What is Aquaponics and How Does it Work?
Simply put, aquaponics combines the best of hydroponics (growing plants without soil) and aquaculture (farming fish). When combined, both of these food production techniques complement each other perfectly. This is why aquaponics is one of the most efficient ways to produce food on the planet.
When you look at aquaculture on its own, the main problem is typically ridding the system of fish waste. Fish food goes in, and fish waste comes out. Usually a filtration system solves this problem, but that doesn’t solve the problem of the waste created – only removes it from the system.
On the other side, when looking at hydroponics, the principal input is usually nutrient solution. These expensive nutrients need to be flushed from the system periodically like waste in an aquaculture system, meaning there is an equivalent level of waste to a hydroponic system as well.
This is where aquaponics comes in to save the day…
It might sound like I’m trashing aquaculture and hydroponics – I’m not at all. They are much more efficient than growing in huge monoculture swaths of land like we produce food today.
But, aquaponics combines both of these practices and solves their disadvantages, all while producing both fish and plants at the same time. It’s a solution that’s hard to argue against!
Other Advantages to Aquaponics
- Very space-efficient
- No need to weed or water the garden ever again
- Growing beds are typically elevated, meaning you can garden standing up
- Plants grow quicker, are larger, and chock-full of nutrition
- You can pull fully grown fish out the system whenever you need them
- Can be run indoors
- No need for pesticides or fertilizer ever again
Small-Scale Aquaponics for Beginners
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One of the criticisms of aquaponics is that it takes a lot of knowledge and effort to set up. While this might be true for the giant systems that produce hundreds of pounds of produce and fish every month, this doesn’t have to be you! You can start very small.
Although you will lose some efficiency by starting out with a smaller system, it’s not a huge deal. You have to start somewhere and the smaller you start, the easier it will be to learn the details of the growing method.
What Types of Fish to Use in Small-Scale Aquaponics
While there are a lot of details that go into the type of fish to use based on where you live and your climate, there are some generally accepted ‘good species’ of fish that will work well most of the time.
- Trout – Trout grow fast and have a good food to meat ratio. This means that they convert the food you give them to protein very efficiently. You’ll need to keep the tank cool, which means you save money on water heating. Trout is a carnivorous fish, meaning you’ll need to feed them insects, smaller fish, or fish food that is meat-based.
- Tilapia – There is a reason that tilapia is the go-to fish for aquaponics. They taste great, breed well, and grow extremely fast. They require warmer water than trout, but are also very hardy (so if you make mistakes, you won’t ruin your system). They eat plant-based food, meaning they’ll do quite well in your system.
- Carp – Carp is a less common choice for a system, but it can work well. They’re hardy and adaptable like tilapia and are an oily fish, meaning eating them will fill up your omega-3 requirements more than other types of fish. They eat an omnivorous diet, so feeding them isn’t an issue.
- Catfish – There are many types of catfish and most of them are good fits for an aquaponic system. They’re similar to trout in their growth rate and efficiency of converting food to protein. If you’re a fan of the flavor of catfish, they may be the choice for you over trout or tilapia.
There are also some species of fish that work very well in an aquaponics system, but can’t be eaten. If you’re more interested in aquaponics for its efficiency than the ability to harvest both fish and produce, give these species a try.
- Koi – If you’re looking to build a beautiful aquaponic system, koi may be the species for you. They’re absolutely beautiful and a good fit for aquaponics. The downside is their cost, although they live quite long lives and don’t have many issues with diseases or pests. You can also breed and sell the offspring for a nice side income.
- Goldfish – Goldfish aren’t great to eat, but work well in aquaponics because of their waste production. Remember, fish waste = plant nutrition, so having a high waste to size ratio will be great for your produce growing above the fish tank.
What Kinds of Produce Can You Grow?
When you’re just starting out, it’s a good idea to grow simple plants that don’t require much care or special strategies. While you can grow most anything in an aquaponics system, keeping it simple at the start is a great idea.
Give these a try:
- Cucumbers or Zucchini
- Any type of leafy green (kale, spinach, mustard, herbs)
- Broccoli and cauliflower
This article just scratches the surface of aquaponics. Stay tuned if you want to learn more as we’ll be covering more about aquaponics in the near future. If this article has piqued your interest in growing food with aquaponics, check out the resources below to learn more!
How to Get Started With Your First System
You can start with a prebuilt system, or build your own if you want. There are endless ways to get started with aquaponics for your home. Here are a few recommendations that we have personally tested and approve of.
Questions about how to get started? Drop a line in the comments and we’ll help out where we can!
I’m the founder of Epic Gardening, a website dedicated to teaching 10,000,000 people how to grow plants. I enjoy skateboarding, piano, guitar, business, and experimenting with all kinds of gardening techniques!
Last update on 2018-06-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API