What is aquaponics and how does it work?
The concept of using fish waste to fertilise plants has existed for centuries, with early civilisations in both Asia and South America using this method. Aquaponics, in the form we know it, evolved into a modern viable food production system during the 1980s and 1990s. The 1980s and 1990s saw innovations that led to the creation of closed systems that allow for the recycling of water. North Carolina State University showed in their initial systems that water consumption in integrated systems was just 1% of that used in pond culture for growing Tilapia (a tropical fish grown worldwide). The integration of systems also meant that damage to the environment was lessened considerably by the reduction in use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers.
Although in use since the 1980s, aquaponics is a still relatively new method of food production that warrants further research and discovery. In recent years, aquaponics has received greater attention and is being explored by hydroponics experts, aquaculturists, and hobbyists the world over. To a large extent, aquaponics has been, and is being, used on a commercial level. However, there is a fast-growing hobby/enthusiast approach to aquaponics that offers important lessons to first-time users that should not be overlooked.
Aquaponic food production combines soil-less vegetable growing (hydroponics) and fish farming (aquaculture) within a closed re-circulating system. Water passes from a tank or reservoir populated with fish to growing beds, rafts or pipes where crops are planted, and then returns to the fish tank. Through this process, fish waste is converted into an organic fertiliser by bacteria living in the system, which in turn is used to fertilise the plants. The plants absorb the nutrients, filtering the water before it returns to the fish tank. This system mimics natural waterway eco-systems and comprises a highly effective growing method for food production. Through the recirculation and re-use of water, aquaponics uses considerably less water than ground-grown crop production. The majority of the nutrients required for plants are made available in the system, although some supplementary nutrients, such as iron, must be added for optimum growth. One of the advantages of Aquaponics is that it also provides the grower with two products, fish and fresh produce, at the cost of one input.
Aquaponics is an integrated aquaculture (growing fish) and hydroponic (growing soilless plants) system that mutually benefits both environments. The waste from fish is treated with natural bacteria, converting the waste into an organic nutrient solution for the growing plants. As the plants soak up the nutrients in the water, the water is purified before flowing back into the fish tank. Both systems are mutually beneficial and no chemicals or fertilizers are used at any stage, reducing the overall cost to the environment and the financial cost for small growers. Aquaponics requires only a fraction of the water needed for ground-grown plant production, making it an ideal system for water-scarce urban areas. The only regular input to the system is food for the fish.
What are the advantages of Aquaponics?
The use of Aquaponics has the following benefits: Enabling self-sufficiency – Providing household self-sufficiency of fruit and vegetable production.
Conservation of water – Maximum water conservation due to constant water reuse and recycling.
Efficient use of land – The elimination of the need for agricultural land to produce similar crops. Preserving the environment -The overall reduction of environmental footprint for crop production.
Natural fertilisation – Organic fertilization of plants with natural fish emulsion.
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