Aquaponics may sound like a ridiculously complicated form of water aerobics, but it’s actually a sustainable way of using fish feces to grow plants in water.
What’s perhaps most surprising about this novel form of farming is that it’s not new at all. In fact, such food production systems have been around since Aztec times .
By definition, aquaponics is the combining of traditional aquaculture (raising fish, crayfish, prawns or other aquatic animals in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water).
Quite simply, the fish feces provide valuable nutrients for the plants to grow, and the plants return the favor by making the water nice and clean so the fish can breathe.
Better still, plant waste that results from harvesting can then be used to make compost in a wormery. And fish think worms are simply delicious.
What makes aquaponics relevant to the average person is that it need not be conducted on a massive scale. In fact, a small-scale system can be set in your own backyard.
The first step in setting up an aquaponics system at home is to punch holes in a tray. Then, poke plant cuttings through the holes and float the tray in a vessel containing water and a selection of aquatic creatures.
Soon, the floating mass of plant life will be growing just as happily as if it were firmly rooted in soil. Of course, the fish will be happy to boot.
Those who feel adventurous may wish to create a system of flood and drain beds by using any unused plastic trays that happen to be lying around.
Maintaining an at-home aquaponics system doesn’t require much work. The fish and plants sustain each other, so there’s no need to worry about changing the water.
Besides being self-cleaning, the system loses only a little water to evaporation and none to seepage. That means 95% less water usage compared to soil planting.
Growing plants does not have to be limited to herbs or greens, either. It is possible to grow fruits and vegetables, too.
The produce that results from the fast-growing crops is cheap and tasty, and of course the fish or crustaceans are also edible—although you’ll have to replace them if you want the system to stay up and running.
Alfablue, November 2012