5 Reasons to Have an Aquaponic Garden
Have you ever wanted to have fresh veggies readily available right inside of your home?
How about gardening all year round even in the winter months if you live in a temperate climate?
Having an aquaponic garden might be your answer to growing leafy greens while enjoying an aquarium even under a blanket of snow in January – right on your kitchen countertop!
What is an Aquaponic garden?
Aquaponic gardening or aquaponics is the practice of growing plants in soil-less or hydroponic conditions usually in combination with raising fish in the aquatic portion of that hydroponic system as one integrated micro-ecosystem. The fish are fed and produce waste in the tanks they live in, which then in turn provide nutrition for the plants that grow from those tanks. Simultaneously, those same plants filter the water for the fish allowing them to breathe and have clean water to live in.
Sounds like a perfect system, doesn’t it? How does it all work so well, you might ask…
Well, the keystone element of this microcosm are the bacteria or nitrifying microbes that feed off of the fish waste product. Fish produce ammonia in their fecal matter, which the bacteria convert into nitrites and subsequently nitrates. These nitrates in the molecular form of nitrogen that plants need to uptake in order to utilize it for photosynthesis and grow. The other portions of the solid fish waste is also turned into what is known as vermicompost, which acts as another source of plant food through absorption by their roots.
Easy and Sustainable Indoor Gardening
In combining both hydroponic and aquaculture systems, aquaponics capitalizes on their benefits, and eliminates the drawbacks of each.
As has been shown by many large-scale aquaponic farmers, the hybrid agricultural combination of hydroponic plants and aquaculture produces many benefits of both systems while reducing common deficits. Here is a list of how aquaponics is truly one of the most efficient and sustainble gardening systems:
- Eliminated need for additions of nutrient rich top-soil.
- No need for pesticide usage under controlled conditions as there are no weeds, intrusive pests, or soil-borne insects.
- Evaporation of water poured into the soil for plants is no longer a factor.
- Gardeners do not need to perform heavy digging or bending, which reduces the risk of back injury or strain.
- Aquaponic gardens can be located at any convenient place indoors, no need for large yards here!
What about Hydroponic Gardens, are they not more sustainable than Traditional Gardens?
Hydroponic gardens do solve many of the problems that are found with traditional gardening. However, they still have some difficulties to contend with. Here is how hydroponic gardens stack up against aquaponic ones:
- Hydroponic gardens rely heavily on the precise application of man-made (and usually expensive) nutrients. These nutrients are usually a combination of chemicals, salts, and certain trace elements. In aquaponics, the fish only need to be fed fish food (usually inexpensive) or food scraps in order to be sustained.
- Hydroponic mixtures need to be monitored regarding pH and their total dissolved solids or TDS levels. With aquaponics, after monitoring for the first couple of months, the microcosm system should be established enough that you would only need to check pH levels and ammonia amounts on a weekly basis to ensure that both plants and fish are in good condition.
- Periodically in hydroponic systems, water was be discharged to prevent chemical build-up which could be toxic to plants. This is an inconvenient routine that also involves finding a disposal location for the waste water. With aquaponics, this is not a factor as the only addition you need to add is water occasionally as it will evaporate from the tanks.
- Hydroponic systems can experience a disease known as “root rot” or pythium, which is very rare in aquaponic gardens.
What About Recirculating Aquaculture?
Using aquaculture that involves recirculation also has downsides that must be considered. Here are a few contrasts with it and aquaponics:
- Tank water becomes polluted with fecal matter from fish, which gives off a high concentration of ammonia. This causes the water to have to be discharged at a rate of about 10-20% of total tank volume daily. That is an enormous amount to move around! In contrast, aquaponic practices never need water discharging.
- Water that is discharged is often pumped into open streams where it causes concentrated pollution problems and issues for natural waterways (ex. algal bloom).
- Due to the effluent-filled environment, fish are prone to disease and thus have to be treated with preventative medicines, including antibiotics, to prevent outbreaks among their schools. Whereas in aquaponic systems, fish diseases are rare due to the clean environment they live in.
How Aquaponics Changes Gardening
Gardening with aquaponics truly changes what one can expect to gain from a sustainable garden system. Being free of weeds, disease, and small animal pests, these gardens offer much more low-key and less stressful growing units that can be placed anywhere they fit, even as little as waist-high towers.
Relying heavily on nutrient-rich waters helped along by the fish themselves, aquaponics has no toxic water to discharge, uses only 1/10th of the water soil-based gardening does, and less water than hydroponics or recirculated aquaculture.
With no need for harmful petro-based pesticides, chemical infusions, and herbicides, this type of gardening is all-natural, even if it stands vividly green in the midst of a white winter!
Another major plus for those who are elderly or who just don’t want to work outdoors too much, aquaponic gardens are low maintenance and free of the usual digging and back-strain. Therefore, gardeners can focus on the more enjoyable task of feeding fish and tending to their healthy fleshy plants. You might find yourself harvesting so many leafy greens, you will have to share with your neighbors. For urban city-dwellers, another major benefit is that aquaponic systems can be put anywhere – outside in a greenhouse, in a basement (especially if you use grow-lighting), a living room, even a small corner of your kitchen. Also, aquaponic gardens are scalable. They fit most floor space sizes and budgets. If you want a small herb garden on your countertop, aquaponics can help. If you would like to transform your backyard for year, aquaponics is able to accommodate. If you want to do full-scale farming, aquaponics can be your system for crops. This gardening system really can do it all.
The best part about aquaponics is that you can harvest both the plants and fish in your garden. Talk about raising your meal in your backyard or patio 😉
Different Type of Aquaponic Gardens
A few different ways of gardening using aquaponics exists. Here are some of the more widely used methods today:
Deep Water Culture or Raft-Based Aquaponics
Also known as DWC gardening, growers use a foam raft that floats in a channel filled with fish. The water has been filtered to remove solid wastes, but not all the nitrates the fish produce. Plants are positioned within holes in this floating raft where their roots can dangle freely in water. This style is more appropriate for growing salad greens and other fast growing, low-nutrient needy plants. It is also common among commercial large-scale growers.
This form of aquaponics involves growing plants in inert media, such as clay or shale. The media provides the biological filtration (converting ammonia to nitrate) and mechanical filtration (removal of solid wastes from water) in one system. Media-based aquaponics are great for home hobby systems as you can grow a wide variety of crops. For instance, large fruiting plants do really well in such microcosms as well as leafy greens and herbs.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
Using narrow troughs, such as PVC pipes, NFT systems work by flowing nutrient-rich water to the plants that are placed in holes drilled into this same pipe. Their roots dangle into the water to absorb nutrients from this stream. This method of growing works well for plants that do not need much physical support, such as some herbs and strawberries. This type of aquaponic gardening is also a great way to utilize unused space as they can be hung from ceilings above other growing or furnished areas.
Aquaponics has the great feature of being able to grow large amounts of food in much smaller areas than traditional gardening. No other method demonstrates this better than vertical aquaponic gardening. Plants are placed in stacks on levels of tower systems. Water flows in through the top of the tower, through a wicking material that the plants roots absorb this water from, and the water falls into a trough directly into the fish tank. This water is then pumped upward again to flow past the plants, downward toward the fish. This type of gardening makes the most of each square foot of space, which is great for those who don’t have or might not want to use a lot of it. Also, vertical aquaponics works well with leafy greens, small vine plants such as strawberries, and a variety of crops that do not require struts for support to grow.
For more on learning about aquaponics and how you can get started on developing your own sustainable fish & plant garden, check out this guide-book on aquaponic gardening:
And, take a look at this quick kit for beginners.
What would you like to grow in your aquaponic garden?