The word AQUAPONICS originates from pair of words – Aquaculture and Hydroponics.
Aquaculture is the cultivation of fish in closed environments, and hydroponics is the cultivation of plants in a soil-less surrounding.
Thus aquaponics embodies the connection between aquatic life and plants that thrive in the water.
The most exciting feature of aquaponics is that it is a recreation of a natural ecosystem. Following the natural patterns of nature, aquaponics harnesses the power of bio-integrating the individual elements. It uses the waste products from fish to feed bacteria to be transformed into fertilizer for plants and return the water to fish.
Aquaponics vs. Hydroponics
Hydroponics is the process of growing plants on a soil-free foundation. Here, instead of soil, the roots of plants are submerged in water. The water flows through a predetermined system, and a set amount is constantly changing throughout the process. This helps the urban farmers who do not have to water plants frequently. So, both time, as well as water resources are saved.
Aquaponics unites aquaculture with hydroponics. Apart from cultivating plants in water, it also adds fish to the system. Fish are fed, and the waste from the fish, in turn, provides the plant. It is therefore not necessary to fertilize the plants.
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How Does Aquaponics System Works?
Fish consume food and then excrete waste. Beneficial bacteria then convert this waste into nutrients that plants can utilize. By consuming these nutrients, plants assist in purifying the water.
Aquaponics incorporates hydroponics and aquaculture into one system of production. It is dependent on the food provided to fish that acts in the background as an input for the plants. When fish consume the food and then process it, they convert it into fecal matter and urine, rich in ammonia. The large quantities of ammonia could be harmful to plants and fish.
After that, ammonia-rich water, decaying food items, and un-eaten plant matter flow out of the fish tank to the biofilter. In the biofilter, the bacteria break down everything into organic nitrogen-rich nutritional solutions to grow vegetables.
As you can observe, aquaponics freshwater systems depend on three primary components: freshwater aquatic creatures (the fish) and nitrifying bacteria and plants. All three living things depend on each other to be able to survive.
Without the bacteria that consume the waste of fish and plants wouldn’t be able to use nutrients – that’s why biological filtration is essential. Thanks to plants and development, nutrients are removed from the water, making the water clean for the fish.
A successful aquaponics system must effectively remove organic solids, which is the primary function of algae or bacteria. More than two-thirds of failures in these systems occur because of the inefficiency of the disposal of solids.
Advantages of Aquaponics
There are several advantages of adopting a aquaponics system for the production of food.
- Aquaponics allows you to establish a large-scale food production system that is environmentally sustainable.
- Aquaponics is a viable way to integrate livelihood strategies that guarantee food security and small earnings for low-income and landless households.
- From a nutritional perspective, aquaponics offers food sources in the form of protein (from the fish) and vegetables.
- It offers higher yields and a better quality of production.
- Aquaponics offers fish protein, an essential diet supplement for a lot of people.
- It offers two agriculture products, i.e., fish and plants, produced from a single nitrogen-rich supply (fish diet).
- Aquaponics is a highly efficient water-saving method of water conservation. It needs only one-third of the water to produce eight times more food per acre than traditional agriculture.
- It does not require soil and hence is not susceptible to diseases that are transmitted by soil.
- Aquaponics can be used in areas not arable like deserts, sandy soil not suitable for traditional agriculture, or salty islands.
- It doesn’t require any chemicals or fertilizers.
- It also implies a higher level of biosecurity and less risk from external contaminants.
- Aquaponics offers better control on production, which results in fewer losses.
- Aquaponics creates little waste since it is in line with nature’s circular approach.
- Tasks like planting and harvesting in an aquaponics system are time-saving and can be performed by all ages and genders.
- It is an entirely organic process found in all-natural water bodies like lakes and rivers.
Weaknesses of Aquaponics
There are specific weaknesses associated with an aquaponics model. These are:
- The initial startup cost of the entire setup is exceptionally high compared with hydroponics and the soil-based production system. There is high energy demand and therefore has a higher energy cost. Fish feed requires investment frequently, as the aquaponics products alone will not guarantee an adequate diet.
- It requires extensive knowledge of nature. To succeed, you have to be knowledgeable in cultivating vegetables and how bacteria and fish work. Additionally, a technical understanding of wiring or plumbing is also beneficial. Without adequate knowledge, it is sometimes challenging to find the perfect balance between plants and fish requirements (such as pH or temperature).
- Aquaponics offers fewer management options in comparison to standalone aquaculture or hydroponics. Inefficient management of the Aquaponics system could lead to failure. It demands daily attention and control of the system.
How to Build an Aquaponics System?
Aquaponics is a sustainable way of cultivating veggies and various plants. It is similar to nature, as the plant kingdom reuses the leftovers from the animal kingdom (fish). However, reaching and maintaining the system’s equilibrium, and ensuring optimal conditions for fish, requires tight monitoring of various variables.
Managing an Aquaponics System
The primary production parameters that must be set correctly to satisfy the requirements of fish and plants include:
- Air and water temperature
- The amount of macro and micronutrients
- Oxygen dissolved in the water and air
- CO2 concentrations in the water and air
Aquaponic systems are available in several sizes, for small indoor units as well as huge commercial ones. They could be freshwater systems or can contain salt or brackish water.
Perfect parameters ensure the better effectiveness of the system. Attention to these features will help in preventing the spread of pests, diseases, and other kinds of pollution. Additionally, maintaining a proper balance between the waste of fish and the demand for vegetable nutrients and ensuring adequate surface area to establish a bacterial colony to process fish wastes.
There are several primary techniques of aquaponics that are extensively used at present.
Deep Water Cultivation (DWC)
Widely known as raft-based cultivation, it uses a foam floating raft in the channel filled with the effluent of fish that has been purified to get rid of solid wastes. Plants are planted into holes within the raft, and their roots hang throughout the waters. It is also commonly employed in commercial systems that are larger and is the best method for the cultivation of green salad and other fast-growing, low-nutrient plants.
Media-based Aquaponic System
It involves the cultivation of plants in inert media, such as shale or expanded clay pellets. The media can provide biological removal of waste by converting ammonia into nitrates and mechanical filtering, that is, the removal of solid wastes within the same system.
Media-based systems are excellent for both hobby and home systems. It allows you to grow diverse cultivars, like large fruiting plants, leafy greens, herbs, and many more.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
NFT systems function by circulating the nutrient-rich water into a trough of PVC pipe, and plants are planted inside holes made in the pipe. Their roots are dangled easily in this flow of water. This method of growth is ideal for plants that require minimal support, like strawberries.
NFT is a fantastic method of using the space since they can be suspended on the ceilings above other growth areas.
Vertical Aquaponic System
One of the best advantages of vertical aquaponics is its capacity to produce an astonishing amount of food in a tiny area. The plants are stacked over each other in tower systems. The water enters from the upper part of the tower, and a wicking substance absorbs it. The water falls down the trough and then directly into the tank.
This farming method makes the most use of every square foot of area and works well with strawberries, greens, and other plants that do not require any support for growth.
As per FAO, aquaponics systems are comprised of components that come in various sizes and shapes. From tiny devices placed on kitchen tables that contain goldfish and other herbs to larger systems that grow gold perch, silverfish, and lettuce. At a more significant level, more complex units can produce tons of fish and a considerable amount of plants each month.
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