by Sylvia Bernstein
What if I told you that you could catch fish for dinner right in your own backyard? And what if before you catch those fish they were growing the veggies for the rest of your dinner plate? Would you believe me? You should! This is all within reach using a new style of gardening called Aquaponics.
Aquaponics is, at its most basic level, the marriage of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in water and without soil) together in one integrated system. The fish waste provides organic food for the growing plants and the plants naturally filter the water in which the fish live. The third and fourth critical, yet invisible actors in the play are the beneficial bacteria and composting red worms. Think of them as the Conversion Team. The beneficial bacteria exist on every moist surface of an aquaponic system. They convert the ammonia from the fish waste that is toxic to the fish and useless to the plants, first into nitrites and then into nitrates. The nitrates are relatively harmless to the fish and most importantly, they make terrific plant food. At the same time, the worms convert the solid waste and decaying plant matter in your aquaponic system into vermicompost.
Here is the rest of the story.
• Aquaponic Gardening enables home fish farming. You can now feel good about eating
• Aquaponic Gardening uses 90% less water than soil-based gardening because the water
is recirculated and only that which the plants take up or evaporates is ever replaced.
• Aquaponic Gardening results in two crops for one input (fish feed).
• Aquaponic Gardening is four to six times as productive on a square foot basis as soil-based gardening. This is because with aquaponic gardening, you can pack plants about twice as densely as you can in soil and the plants grow two to three times as fast as they do in soil.
• Aquaponic systems only require a small amount of energy to run a pump and
aeration for the fish. This energy can be provided through renewable methods.
• Aquaponics does not rely on the availability of good soil, so it can be set-up anywhere, including inner city parking lots, abandoned warehouses, schools, restaurants, home basements and garages.
• Aquaponic Gardening is free from weeds, watering and fertilizing concerns, and because it is done at a waist high level there is no back strain.
•Aquaponic Gardening is necessarily organic. Natural fish waste provides all the food the plants need. Pesticides would be harmful to the fish so they are never used. Hormones, antibiotics, and other fish additives would be harmful to the plants so they are never used.
•And the result is every bit as flavorful as soil-based organic produce, with the added benefit of fresh fish for a safe, healthy source of protein.
•Aquaponics is completely scalable. The same basic principles apply to a system based on a 10-gallon aquarium as to a commercial operation.
•Aquaponic gardens are straight forward to set up and operate in your own backyard or home as long as you follow some basic guidelines. They can even be constructed using recycled materials, including liquid shipping containers and old bathtubs. Or purchase a system kit if you are not very DIY-inclined. The main point is to set a system soon and become fish independent! There is simply no reason to rely on the fish counter anymore.
Sylvia Bernstein is the former president of The Aquaponic Source and the author of Aquaponic Gardening: A Step by Step Guide to Growing Fish and Vegetables Together.