What is AQUAPONICS?
1. Aquaponics is a semi-closed loop ecosystem.
2. Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture (raising fish in a controlled
environment) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil, providing the
nutrients to the plants mixed into the water fed to the plants).
3. Aquaponics is a manmade version of Mother Nature's pond, stream, and field
In an aquaponic system, you feed the fish, the fish wastes feed bacteria, the
bacteria wastes feed the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish.
Fish live in their own bathroom. They can't help it, they have nowhere else to
go. And fish waste is mainly ammonia nitrogen, that evil smelling stuff you
clean windows with. If you feed the fish too much, and their ammonia laden
wastes build up, the fish do the same thing that you would do if immersed in an
ammonia bath,... they die. Even if they don't eat the food that you toss in the
tank, the natural breakdown of the food will kick the ammonia level through the
roof (fishtank?), and poof, dead fish.
Luckily, nature provides a way to eliminate this deadly hazard. Good thing for
us that it does, or else the world's seas would be big pools of water filled
with dead fish long before man crept out of the primordial ooze. Certain
bacteria eat ammonia, they LOVE it. They thrive on it, can't live without it.
The most voracious ammonia eating bacteria are called Nitro Sommonas bacteria.
They gobble the ammonia down, use it to fuel their tiny bodies, and give off
wastes full of nitrite nitrogen. Most fish can handle up to 10 times as much
nitrites as ammonia. BUT...if the nitrites become to strong, there goes the
fish, belly up again.
Now, fish have been doing fine for eons. So obviously, something is taking care
of the nitrites. Nature always provides a way of taking care of wastes. This
time it's another bacteria, Nitro Bacter. These wonderful little beasties feast
on nitrites, eat it like we would feast on ice cream on a hot afternoon. And
when their bodies are done, they excrete nitrates. NitrAtes are 10-100 times
less dangerous to the fish. Still, if the levels of nitrates ever manages to get
too high, it can still kill the fish.
Luckily, nitrates are the form of nitrogen that plants love to eat. Not just one
or two types of plants, nearly all plants love nitrates. From the lowest form of
blue/green algae to the tallest Redwood tree, they all use nitrates as their
nitrogen source. And, next to Carbon Dioxide, nitrogen is the highest chemical
on the plant's food list. Without nitrogen (nitrates), the plant won't grow.
Give a plant plenty of nitrogen (along with plenty of light, water, CO2, and
about 13 other tinier amount of other elements), and it grows big and strong. It
also locks that nitrogen up in it's leaves and stems, removing them from the
When the plant dies, other forms of bacteria (along with bugs, fish, animals,
and humans) feast on the plant. Their wastes start the cycle all over again.
An AQUAPONIC system contains all three of the necessary parts of the
ammonia/nitrate cycle, fish to produce the ammonia, bacteria to break the
ammonia down to nitrates, and plants to feed on the nitrates to create fishfood
to start the cycle all over again. In the simplest classroom sized aquaponic
system, the fish live in a standard fish tank. A pump that sits in the tank with
the fish pumps the water (and fish wastes) up to a series of troughs sitting
nested into the top of the tank. As the water sprays out of the pipes leading
from the pump, it picks up oxygen, and flows down the troughs. Plastic pots
sitting in the troughs contain blocks of rockwool, a sterile growing media
similar (in appearance) to fiberglass. The water (and dissolved fish wastes)
feeds up into the rockwool by capillary action, where bacteria are cultivated.
The bacteria do their thing on the ammonia, and feed plants that are also
growing on the rockwool cube. The cleansed water then flows down the trough, and
pours into the fish area in the tank, completing the cycle.
More complicated (and more efficient) aquaponic systems use the same basic
concept, but they are more efficient at gathering the fish wastes, have several
types of hydroponic systems to handle separating the fish wastes into suspended
verses dissolved solids, more elaborate hydroponic systems for nitrate removal,
and perhaps other systems to maximize the growth of bacteria and removal of
non-organic materials from the water. They also may contain automatic monitoring
systems, backup pump systems, auto feeding systems for the fish, and other
systems to maximize the growth of the plants.
Aquaponics can be integrated into an indoor pond system to create a beautifully
landscaped show system. Picture a mountain lake glimmering in the sun, with fish
leaping and breaking its shining surface. Picture a babbling stream with fruit
laden trees lining it's banks. Picture a pristine waterfall feeding that stream,
with vines trellising down the sparkling rocks that bracket the falling water.
Now picture this idyllic scene, in miniature, babbling away in your atrium or a
corner of your living room. It's possible, quite possible.
A aquaponic system needn't be a geometric conglomeration of plastic troughs and
tanks. With a little ingenuity and foresight, you can form an aquaponic system
into a work of art. All of the basic ecological processes are still integrated
into this miniature mountain glen. The lake can be formed from a preformed
ornamental pond. The stream can be formed from properly prepared concrete, with
the "fruit laden trees" being bush-type cherry tomatoes and sweet basil. The
waterfalls can be formed from a mound of native stone, or easily positioned mock
stone blocks, covered with trellising spider plants. And all of the plants can
be rooted in rockwool cubes to provide the home for the bacteria that handle the
"dirty work". You CAN bring Mother Nature into your home, it just takes a little
planning and the right resources.
For more information on setting up YOUR own aquaponic system, whether it be a
hands-on learning system for students in your school, or a awe-inspiring
miniature alpine glen in your private atrium, contact Hydro/Aquatic
Technologies. We can help you set up the perfect system of your dreams!