Aquaponics?

by John
(Australia)

Have you ever ventured into the awesome world of aquaponics? You've probably heard of it/got a system yourself, but if not it's just like hydroponics except you use fish which provide the nutrients the plants need.

I currently have a small setup using the flood and drain setup with every part bought from a hardware shop (minus air pump and air stones for fish - hydroton was available at the hardware store).



All I've used is: Fish tank 160 liters - so a very small system. Grow beds 30cm deep. 550 liter per hour submersible pump (with a filter sponge thing). Hydroton expanded clay as growing medium
home made siphon system using just hosepipe (I'm about to put in proper siphon system because I found the roots of the plants would grow into the hose causing it to block up!). Air pump with air stones for the fish. Fish are just some goldfish from a pet store.

Bacteria which grows naturally over time converts the fish waste into nutrients the plants use. A better aquaponics method is the nutrient film technique, which has better results than flood n drain.

Yes, I'm thinking about building a hydroponic system; however, I can't justify the cost of nutrients ($50/bottle in Australia from most places). I would grow outside, of course.

Answer: John- I have read about aquaponics a few times, but I have never tried it myself. One time I got on a survivalist kick and was researching this idea quite a bit....I got my hands on some report that was sold in the back of "Popular Science" back in 1982. It described how a couple of professors were trying to raise a pool of Tilapia and using the waste water to grow a garden of lettuce.

In a survival situation, it would sure come in handy....a source of protein, fresh veggies, and very little worries about where to get the fertilizer from. The biggest problem the guys had was getting the two systems to work in balance with each other. The fish waste was a little on the weak side as a fertilizer, so they chose to grow crops that required less fertilizer strength (ie the lettuce).

They were using a re-circulating system, so adding more fertilizer wasn't an option for them (as higher levels of Nitrogen began to harm the fish). It's been a while since I read the article, but I believe they had a small issue with keeping the pH in balance also....for anyone who has ever grown with hydroponics, this would be a very small problem to overcome.

I suppose if you were going to grow something a little more nutrient intensive, like corn, you would not be able to re-circulate the nutrient solution. Instead, you would probably filter off whatever fish waste you could than add some fertilizer to it. Since the nutrient would be given to the corn in a non-recirculating type system, you would need to replenish the water in the fish tank with a fresh source.

The whole system would be a little more water intensive at that point, but you would still be saving money on fertilizer (especially if you were making your own compost or vermi-compost for the additional fertilizer). Plus, you get to eat the fish!

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Jan 06, 2010
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thanks for the reply
by: John

I'm about to try watermelon aquaponically because I have heard people have had good results with it, growing massive big watermelons.

My mate grows strawberries and they have been consistently outperforming the soil grown ones for speed of growth and taste...the taste is just so much better than soil.

Ideally I would like to have a hydroponics system and aquaponics system side-by-side and compare the growth of the same plants in each setup. However, can you advise where a hydroponics system bought from a shop is better than one I can simply make? In terms of ease of use and reliability, I've seen whole setups for not very much. No point growing inside unless I were to grow something I didn't want the neighbors seeing, I'll just grow what is in season at that time. Also lights use HEAPS of power, which has gone up 52% in the past 2 years.

Why don't you setup a basic aquaponics system and document the differences in growth between both. You have to wait a few weeks for the vital bacteria to convert the fish waste into the nutrients the plant uses, but after that you will notice whatever is in there go crazy.

Response: John- a store bought hydroponic system is in no way superior to a homemade hydroponic system, particularly if you think through the design well to provide your plants with water, nutrients, and oxygen at the root level. It is also a very good idea to keep light from hitting the nutrient solution whenever possible (to prevent algae and fungus gnats).

Personally, I never buy hydroponic systems....I always build my own. From my experience, the biggest advantage to a store bought system is that the manufacturer has already spent many hours working out all the little problems, building in convenient features, and possibly including some "fail safes" into the design.

From my perspective a homemade system is often a work in progress, with a few adjustments along the way. These changes can be kept to a minimum by using a store bought system as your general blueprint. This is especially effective if you understand the reasons why something was built the way it was.

It is interesting you mentioned using your hydroponic system outdoors. Over the years I have collected many pictures and articles of hydroponic systems being used outdoors, but have not yet gotten around to writing an official page about it for the website. Perhaps it is time!

Unfortunately, I am in a location now where I cannot set up or use my hydroponic system, or even put a garden in outdoors :( For the time being, I will have to live vicariously through my website and my posts. It was great to hear from you again John....keep an eye out for that "Outdoor Hydroponics" page, and keep me up to date with your aquaponics if you don't mind- very interesting stuff!.....Jason W

Jan 05, 2010
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A few more things
by: John (original poster)

Well most people who try aquaponics actually find that it performs better than they expected (for me it was a lot better than I expected).

Current systems can grow just about any plant (not just green leafy vegetables) however, some plants would have a slight nutrient deficiency but all I know is the spinich tastes heaps better than the spinich grown in soil, and it also grows a lot faster (harvest enough for me every few days, big spinich leaves).

Tomatoes are my next grow, I plan on getting some sort of wire to support the plant as it'll get big.

I saw something where somebody managed to grow ~30kg of tomatoes off one single aquaponically grown plant. I also saw a picture of this plant- it was huge. I will try and find a link to the picture again.

Also, I haven't had any problems keeping the pH in check, it's been around 7.5 for a few weeks now and the fish and plants are doing great.

I suppose if you would prefer a completly controlled environment (lighting conditions, etc) you could put an aquaponics system indoors easily, which would enable you to grow more types of fish because there won't be so much temperature change throughout the year.

Thanks, John

John- thank you for a most interesting post....I know tomatoes require more nutrients than leafy veggies. Just wondering if this would cause a problem. Also, most nutrients are at their maximum availability to plants at a pH of 6.2-6.5. There are plants that do best at a pH of 7.0 or slightly above, but I thought I would mention it in case you are interested in experimenting at all. In any case, I would be very interested to hear how it turns out....thanks again,
Jason

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Hi everyone, Jason from Jason's Indoor Guide here. When I got started with hydroponic gardening more than 22 years ago, my first garden used rockwool cubes and B.C. Nutrients....and I remember thinking to myself yeah, sure, there may be a lot of advantages to gardening with hydroponics, for example there are very few pest problems, therefore very little pest control, no weeding, no plowing or tilling the soil, no soil testing or having to add things into the garden soil, no watering the garden....but for someone who just wants to grow their own vegetables and have more control over their food supply and the quality of the food that they eat, the cost of constantly having to buy grow media and hydroponic nutrients makes this an expensive hobby for most people.

I suppose when you take into consideration how much money you save NOT having to buy food at the grocery store, it is surely cheaper to grow your own food hydroponically even with the cost of high quality nutrients. Nevertheless, I didn't have a whole lot of money to work with and I needed to make my efforts as affordable and effective as possible....and in the last 20 years I HAVE learned a thing or two!

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