Aquaponics is a sustainable method of raising both fish and vegetables. Indoor Aquaponics systems form a type of agriculture (aquaculture) that combines raising fish in tanks with soilless plant culture (hydroponics). In aquaponics, the nutrient-rich water from raising fish provides a natural fertilizer for the plants and the plants help to purify the water for the fish. Aquaponics can be used to sustainably raise fresh fish and vegetables for a family, to feed a village or to generate profit in a commercial farming venture, year-round, in any climate.
Indoor aquaponics systems are a great example of year-round, indoor farming. It can be done anywhere, providing fresh local food that is free of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. It is safe, easy and fresh! The best part is that you are providing both vegetables and fish for your table. If you have a larger space, this can easily be scaled up to a commercial venture for a market garden and more.
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Indoor Aquaponics Systems – Benefits
Aquaponics is a completely natural process that mimics all lakes, ponds, rivers, and waterways on Earth. The only input into an aquaponics system is fish food. The fish eat the food and excrete waste, which is converted by beneficial bacteria to nutrients that the plants can use. In consuming these nutrients, the plants help to purify the water. You cannot use herbicides, pesticides or other harsh chemicals in an aquaponics system, making the fish and plants healthful and safe to eat.
Benefits of Aquaponics
- Use 1/6th of the water to grow 8 times more food per acre compared to traditional agriculture
- All-natural fertilizer source from fish waste
- No reliance on mined and manufactured fertilizers as in hydroponics
- Efficient, sustainable and highly productive
- Produce is free of pesticides and herbicides (it has to be or it would kill the fish!)
- Fish are free of growth hormones and antibiotics
- Allows continuous production of food
- Produces both a protein and vegetable crop
- The integrated system is sustainable and earth-friendly
- Eliminating soil eliminates soil-borne diseases
- When combined with Controlled Environment Agriculture, you can grow year ‘round in any climate
Any kind of leafy vegetable can be grown in aquaponics – from lettuce and herbs to tomatoes and cucumbers. The type of fish can include tilapia, catfish, trout, bigmouth bass, barramundi or even shrimp. If you are growing out-doors, cool water fish such as trout would be best. Even goldfish and koi can be used if you want to grow in a small living room set up and are very ornamental.
Methods of Aquaponic Growing
There are a few primary methods of aquaponic growing widely in use today:
(DWC) or raft based growing uses a foam raft that is floating in a channel filled with fish effluent water that has been filtered to remove solid wastes. Plants are placed in holes in the raft and the roots dangle freely in the water. This method is most appropriate for growing salad greens and other fast-growing, relatively low-nutrient plants. It is also most commonly used in larger commercial-scale systems.
Media growing involves growing plants in inert planting media such as expanded clay pellets or shale. The media provides both the biological filtration (conversion of ammonia to nitrates) and mechanical filtration (removal of solid wastes) in the same system. Media-based systems are great for home and hobby scale systems so you can grow a wide variety of crops. In particular, large fruiting plants do really well in addition to leafy greens, herbs and other varieties.
(NFT) NFT systems work by flowing nutrient-rich water through a narrow trough, such as a PVC pipe. Plants are placed in holes drilled in this pipe, and the roots dangle freely in this stream of water. This method of growing works very well for plants that need little support, such as strawberries and other herbs. NFT is also a great way to utilize unused space because they can be hung from ceilings above other growing areas.
One of the greatest aspects of aquaponics is its ability to grow an incredible amount of food in a very small area. No method does this better than vertical aquaponics. Plants are stacked on top of each other in tower systems. Water flows in through the top of the tower and flows through a wicking material that the plant’s roots absorb water and nutrients from. The water then falls into a trough or directly into the fish tank. This form of agriculture makes the most of each square foot of space and works very well with leafy greens, strawberries, and other crops that do not require support to grow.
The Sky is the Limit!
The size of your aquaponics system is only limited by the amount of space you can devote to it. Much has been done in unused basement spaces. Check out the following video that shows a large, commercial, greenhouse aquaponics grow and then watch them take it down to a $75 DIY project for at home!
Home Aquaponics Systems
Whatever you do, do NOT buy tiny aquaponics systems that look like either of these:
These units, although available at Amazon, provide no aeration for the fish, not enough space for the fish and no aeration for the plant roots. First of all your fish will die and then shortly thereafter, the plant. They look cute but they most certainly do NOT work! Fish need at least a 10-30 gallon aquarium for optimal health and an air stone to keep the water aerated or you’re just looking to kill fish (not to mention the plants)!
Joyfay Aquaponic Fish Tank- Fish Tank, 3.2 Gallon, Hydroponic Cleaning Tank, Fish Feeds The Plants and The Plants Clean The Tank
The Joyfay Self Cleaning Fish Tank is an easy clean fish tank that requires very little effort on your part. This is the kind of fish tank you dream about when you’re stuck with a tank that needs to be cleaned frequently. If you’ve had and cared for fish before, you already know what a tedious and time-consuming task it can be to clean a fish tank. This state of the art fish tank integrates the hydroponic growth of plants into the filtration system.
Normal filters don’t always pick up all the grime left behind by the fish, causing you to have to clean the tank periodically. This hydroponic filtration system cycles the dirty water from the tank to the roots of whatever plant that is growing. Whatever you have growing on the top of the tank will then pull all of the dirty substances from the water and use it as nutrients. The water doesn’t get dirty from the fish waste since that’s used to fertilize the plants.
This kind of tank is perfect for fish and can grow many different kinds of plants. Some plants that work well are green onions, bamboo, and basil. Plants, aquarium rocks, and fish are sold separately. They can be purchased at your local pet store and garden center. One year guarantee included.
Here is what one commenter thought about this unit:
The filter is super loud if you open it all the way but I contacted the seller (they got back to me super fast) who said to only open it halfway and that has worked out well. Rinse the pebbles before you add them or you will have a dusty mess in your water. Get a pipe cleaner to help clean the tube part of the filter or else you can’t get in there. I give my fish ” breaks” during the day and turn it off at night– the current can just be a little much for them to have it running all the time. Speaking of giving your fish some “shelter” like the floating log in my tank also gives them some reprieve. My fish hangs in there a lot. The last thing, there are minimal to no instructions and they are in Japanese. It’s not hard to figure out though by looking at the pictures on Amazon. For the most part, it’s pretty low maintenance and the fresh wheatgrass has been great! I’m going to try herbs this winter.
Click HERE to see more.
- Cute little system that will fit on your counter
- Not large enough for big plants but will work well for short leafy vegetables and herbs
- Has no light source so it should be put by a window or supplemented with an LED light.
Darlene’s Opinion: I think this would be a great little system to educate your children with. I would consider growing microgreens in this.
AquaSprouts GardenThe AquaSprouts Garden is a self-sustaining aquarium & aquaponics kit for the home, office or school. You can grow a variety of veggies, herbs, greens and decorative plants all year long. This is updated model includes adjustable drain extenders to quiet water flow.
Click HERE to find out more.
- A removable light bar to which you can affix any standard light fixture of your choice. This way you aren’t stuck with using a fluorescent fixture but can upgrade to a decent quality LED light which will give your plants the needed full spectrum of light.
- The kit includes a submersible 9.5 Watts / 120 V 160 gallons per hour pump. Along with a 24-hour timer that can be set for 15-minute intervals. Both the pump and timer include a 1-year warranty.
- Clay grow media replaces soil from traditional gardening and serves as the support for your plants in the grow-bed. They also provide a surface area for the bacteria to grow and convert the fish waste into nutrients for your plants. The grow media traps fish waste and uneaten fish food– making the grow-bed a mechanical filter.
- Need to buy a separate 10-gallon fish tank
- Does not come with lights but I actually think this is a pro (see above)
- Rather small
Darlene’s Opinion: I’m surprised at the Amazon rating as most comments were absolutely glowing. However, since this only fits a 10-gallon tank, the growing space will be limited. This could be good if you only have limited space but negative if you want to grow more.
Ecolife ECO-Cycle Aquaponics Indoor Garden System with LED Light Upgrade
Grow fresh organic produce all year long on your 20-gallon fish tank with no water changes. Fish fertilize the plants. Plants clean the water for the fish in this closed-loop, sustainable system. Advanced, programmable LED lights help your plants grow faster using less energy. 4 grow settings, remote control, and built-in timer give you the most efficient, easy to use system available. Instructional videos, email and phone support included. Water pumps into the aquaponics section of the setup, It goes through the sponge filter into the biological section which then flows through the plant roots, back into the tank.
Click HERE to find out more.
- This is a larger unit so will support more plants.
- It comes with LED lights instead of crappy fluorescents.
- Larger size aquarium will support underwater plants
- As with the other units you need to buy or already have a 20-gallon fish tank
Darlene’s Opinion: Of the three options, to me, this is the best and most complete setup. I also prefer the larger size so as to grow more plants. The comments were all very glowing and I agree with them.
Crazy Darlene’s Large Aquaponic System
Unfortunately, the above units really don’t grow a whole lot of plants. If you are looking for a system that will grow a decent amount of plants then check out the WePlant or DreamJoy systems on my previous blog on Best Indoor Hydroponics Systems. Rather than using a Rubbermaid reservoir as per my suggestions there, use a 40-gallon fish tank. You will get the same water filtration from the plants as described in the units above but will get the all-natural fertilization of the fish. This takes a bit more of a DIY touch but is totally do-able. To me, this is the easiest way to grow a large amount of produce aquaponically using prefab materials.
Indoor Aquaponic systems are truly the best of two worlds – aquaculture and hydroponics. Soilless growing systems are becoming more important because they grow food many times faster than soil-based systems and consume much less water. Recirculating systems also protect our environment from Nitrogen and Phosphorous pollution. With urban sprawl growing, we need to come up with alternative solutions to grow healthy food for our families and to reduce our carbon footprint on the planet. With these solutions, you can feed your own family or go large and create a commercial enterprise. The sky is the limit and the choice is yours!
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