The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

What is aquaponics?


So, what is aquaponics?  The gist is that you keep a tank of fish, circulating their water through a plant grow bed to clean the water and feed the plants. 

Aquaponic cycleAlthough fish and plants are what most people get excited about, an aquaponic system is actually fuelled by a complex cycle including bacteria and worms.  Fish waste is full of ammonia, which is toxic to fish and which plants can't use, but two types of bacteria convert that ammonia first to nitrites (nitrosomona bacteria) and then into nitrates (nitrospira bacteria).  Plants love nitrates, so when you pump the fish-tank water up to flow around your vegetables' roots, the plants quickly suck up the nitrogen and return clean, aerated water to your fish.

Meanwhile, compost worms in the plant grow bed are cleaning up excess solids.  Without these wrigglers, dead bits of plant roots and larger particles of fish waste would build up Aquaponic exampleand require cleaning.  Luckily, compost worms can handle periodic inundations and do their part to convert particulate matter into chemicals plants can easily suck up.

The fish, bacteria, plants, and worms all work together to give each organism just the food and environment it needs.  I suspect this elegant, created ecosystem is why aquaponics has won so many fans in permaculture circles.

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This post is part of our Aquaponic Gardening lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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System a neighbor has that is very simple. She has a water tank, think watering trough, buried in the ground that she fills with water. Every spring after it's unfrozen she goes down to the pet store and buys a baggie of fish. Throughout the summer she scoops a 5 gallon pail out of the "pond" and adds another back. She does this every week or two. That's her "fertilizer water" she uses on her tomatoes etc.

She doesn't have the depth for over wintering fish but it does give her fertilizer for the garden for free and very near by. For someone without much access to transportation I thought it brilliant.

Comment by c. Tue Mar 5 12:35:28 2013

Rouse's, a New Orleans grocery chain is growing its produce with aquaponics. I listened to the story on NPR and it was fascinating.

I'm flippant about high-tech growing technologies. I don't even like potted plants much in my own gardening. I'm obsessed with soil and I want to see things growing out of the ground. Even so, it's interesting to hear what other people are doing.

Comment by Sara Wed Mar 6 08:29:11 2013
we also sort of have aquaponics in that we have a tank of decorative fish and rather than dumping the poopy waste water at the end of each week when we do a 10% change we use it to fertilize as many plants as a 2 gallon bucket can water.
Comment by rebecca Wed Mar 6 15:48:54 2013

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