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If you haven’t yet heard of aquaponics, you soon will. Aquaponics, a symbiotic system of growing plants and fish together, is getting a lot of media attention. Aquaponics isn't a new way of growing food; it was actually practiced by the Aztecs and is still practiced in the Far East. This ancient method is gaining in popularity in urban centers, backyards and on Caribbean islands because it’s sustainable and inexpensive.
Aquaponics is a method of producing food that combines aquaculture (raising fish) with hydroponics (growing plants in water). Practiced independently, aquaculture and hydroponics have some expensive challenges: aquaculture requires pricey nutrients to feed the plants and aquaculture requires that excess nutrients are removed from the system daily. Aquaponics turns both negatives into positives.
In a typical system, the barrel is used for the fish tank with a grow bed for plants on top. Water is pumped up from the fish tank to the plants then the water trickles down through the grow media, and is filtered by the roots of the plants and drains back into the fish tank as clean water. In this system, the fish waste feeds the growing plants and the plants clean and filter the water for the fish, Aquaponics systems can be simple or elaborate, created for single-family use or for large-scale commercial purposes.
The iBarrel in the photo above can be built in a few hours using instructions from Backyard Aquaponics. You would only get a couple of pet goldfish and some salad greens from a small system like this, but it’s a good gateway experiment to a larger system like those in the photos below:
Where the fishy friends look like this:
Photos from Backyard Aquaponics
Now we’re talking about a self-contained food production system.
The owner of Backyard Aquaponics, the creator of the incredible system in the photos, says he can “produce 50kg of fish, and hundreds of kilograms of vegetables within 6 months in an area about the size of your average carport, 8m x 4m”. If you’re interested in giving this a try, the Aquaponics Association even has $1000 microgrants to help you get started. You can fill out an application here. If you’d like to see someone else’s tank in action, click here to find a local aquaponics practitioner who will be opening his or her system to the public during the annual Tour de Tanks.
What Can I Grow?
Wondering what kind of fish and plants you can grow in your backyard?
You can grow basically all plants that grow above ground and don’t mind getting their roots wet. That’s almost every plant except root vegetables. Over 300 kinds of plants have been grown successfully in an aquaponics system.
A basic aquaponics system is an easy DIY project. Do some homework first and draw up your plans. Here are some helpful resources:
Backyard Aquaponics – materials list and instructions with photos
Getting Started with Aquaponics - YouTube video with clear simple steps
Barrelponics - getting started with a small system in a recycled barrel
Portable Farms - ready made aquaponics systems