A Brief Introduction to Aquaponic Gardening

image from wikimedia
By Jonathan Parker

Aquaponics is an amazing permaculture method that may have been practiced as far back in history as the Aztec civilization. There are records of the Aztec people raising fish alongside of crops that were alien to the growing environment, using the nitrite and ammonia rich water as a fertilizer base for the crops they were growing.

This is the basic premise of aquaponics, combining aquatic and agricultural ecosystems in a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship.

Hydroponics
Hydroponics is a method of growing plants that involves feeding the plants nutrients through the water source alone, sans soil. The various scientific discoveries that lead to the current systems of hydroponics were actually spaced over hundreds of years with each researching building on the foundations laid by his predecessors. Dr. William Gericke is considered by many to be one who finally pulled it all together and perfected the technique, naming the system for 'hydros' ( water) and 'ponos' ( working).  The benefits of hydroponic growing are many.

  • No soil is used ( although sometimes a medium such as clay balls or rocks may be included). 
  • You can control the level of nutrients your crop receives and balance waste more efficiently.
  • Pests and diseases are easier to manage due to mobile containers and the ability to isolate what you grow.
  • In a hydroponic system, many plants will grow just as well, and usually better than their soil based counterparts.
  • Plants grown in this system are much easier to care for and harvest.
And there are many other benefits as well.

Aquaculture
Practiced for hundreds of centuries by everyone from the Romans to the Chinese. Aquaculture is simply the farming of fish, eels, shellfish or any other 'aquatic' life. Something as simple as raising goldfish in a backyard pong could be considered aquaculture. There are concerns raised with aquaculture. The disposal of waste, protection of local species and interference with the natural environment are issues that anyone undertaking aqua-farming should consider.

 A more aesthetically pleasing design is optional of course.
Aquaponics combines many of the benefits of hydroponics and aquaculture and removes some of the drawbacks. When raising fish ( or any creature ) in a closed environment without natural water movement the waste produced by your little friends will accumulate and eventually make the water toxic. Whats interesting is that the same waste that will eventually kill your fish can be converted by plants into beneficial nitrogen. By arranging a pump that flows from the bottom of the Aquaculture bin to the connected Hydroponic bed oxygenates and cleans the water while nourishing the plants at the same time. A small system like the one to the right can be built for less than $100 dollars.

Aquaponic systems aren't for everyone. Although less than a regular garden, they do require a bit of work. The small pump, if not run off solar power, will add a little to your monthly energy bill. Consider this though. With a few lights over your system, and a relatively temperate indoor space, you could raise fish and crops year round. Will all the amazing advances in permaculture, there is no reason why anyone should not be able to have a flourishing and abundant food system in their own backyard, and this is just one of the many ways you can do that.

Jonathan Parker is an EMT-Paramedic and Preparedness Instructor with a love for emergency medicine, self-sufficiency and homesteading. His goal is to empower people towards a natural and sustainable lifestyle.

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