What Really is Aquaponics Farming and How it Works – Aquaponics is an integrated aquaculture (growing fish) and hydroponic (growing soilless plants) system. This symbiotic cultivation of plants and aquatic animals in a recirculating environment is not new but share a common problem and concern, TOXIC WATER BUILDUP! In aquaculture, it is the fish emulsion, with hydroponics, it is the fertilizer water. This toxic water is not good for the fish or the plants. This water must be cleaned from time to time and it cannot be dumped any place in our environment without causing damage.
Aquatic animal effluent (for example fish waste) accumulates in water as a by-product of keeping them in a closed system or tank (for example a recirculating aquaculture system). The effluent-rich water becomes high in plant nutrients but this is correspondingly toxic to the aquatic animal.
How Aquaponics Work
First, the waste from fish tanks is pumped to a section of the system to be treated with a natural bacteria that converts the waste–which is largely ammonia–first to nitrite and then to nitrate. At that point, the fish waste is in a state that can be used to feed the plants. The fish wastewater is then pumped to a media bed or other hydroponic system to be used as nutrient solution by the growing plants.
Plants are grown in a way (for example a hydroponic system) that enables them to utilize the nutrient-rich water. The plants take up the nutrients, reducing or eliminating the water’s toxicity for the aquatic animal.
The water, now clean, is returned to the aquatic animal environment and the cycle continues. Aquaponic systems do not discharge or exchange water. The systems rely on the relationship between the aquatic animals and the plants to maintain the environment. Water is only added to replace water loss from absorption by the plants, evaporation into the air, or the removal of biomass from the system.
Aquaponic systems are gaining popularity and can be used to grow food for personal use or for commercial production. The most popular fish grown in aquaponic systems is tilapia. However, some growers have had success growing largemouth bass, perch, carp, crappies, bream, and some ornamental fish such as koi and goldfish. The plants that are traditionally grown in these systems are lettuce, other salad greens, and succulent herbs such as basil. Some commercial systems that feature densely stocked fish tanks can grow tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and even melons.
Both systems are in a controlled environment, meaning light and temperature are controlled. The primary crop is the vegetable and the fish are secondary, meaning commercially.