What is Aquaponics?Crystal Calhoun
A few years back Joe & I stumbled across an amazing system for growing food. It is called Aquaponics. I have written about in the past but for the sake of those that aren’t familiar with this concept I will recap. I will also talk about some new developments in Aquaponics. Let me start by addressing a few frequently asked questions
What is Aquaponics? Aquaponics is the a closed system in which you can raise plants and fish together. The fish are raised in a tank, then their waste dissolves in the water and creates a natural fertilizer. This water is then pumped to the plants. The plants clean the water and it it then returned to the fish.
If this is a closed system then how are the fish fed? You can include an extra growing tank in which you raise duckweed for the fish. You can also feed your fish table scraps. You can cheat a little an feed your fish commerical fish food.
What types of plants can you grow using Aquaponics? When Aquaponics first hit the scene it was mainly used for growing lettuce, then someone got smart and tried raising strawberries. Now it is being used to grow about every small plant that you can think of even shrubs such as raspberries. Most food plants and herbs grow well with aquaponics. The exception being root plants such as potatoes and plants that hate getting their roots wet.
What are the advantages of Aquaponics over traditional gardening?
The number one advantage is a year around supply of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Since it is a closed system, it is much easier to control pests. Pests are usually controlled by the introduction of beneficial insects and hand picking pests off the plants and throwing them to the fish. Snails are the most common pest so beer traps are also useful.
Aquaponics uses only about 2% of the water of traditional farming.
It is much less labor intensive. There is never a need to weed. You can position you planting beds as waist height therefore you don’t need get on your knees or stoop over.
It saves space since plants grow 50% faster than traditional gardening and you can get four plantings a year so you can significantly increase your food production per sq. ft. Combine that with Aquaponics being vertical planting friendly and you have winning combination.
Here is an example of how a lot of food can be grown on just a few acres.
Since Aquaponics can be grown under a shelter it is less vulnerable to nature’s wrath. You have the ability to influence how warm or cold you plants are kept. This will greatly reduce your chance of losing plants to frost or wind burn. If you use a covered system only hail large enough to break through your covering will endanger you plants. The likelihood of wind damage is greatly reduced.
What type of fish can be grown using Aquaponics? Tilapia, catfish and perch are the most popular. However any freshwater fish can be raised. You may have to make some adjustments such as keeping your water colder for trout. You can also raise freshwater shrimp pawns. You will want to do research on which type of fish works best for you before setting up your system.
Can I make money using Aquaponics? Yes you can but once again research this thoroughly. Some regulations of some state health department make this cost prohibitive. Even where regulations aren’t a problem you will probably only be able to provide a side income. There are some Internet videos they will lead you to believe that you can get rich off Aquaponics production. You only have to read the Aquaponics forums to see this isn’t true. Most commercial producers struggle just to stay in business. The main money in Aquaponics is in sales and training.
How much space do I need to use Aquaponics? Small systems can be setup in apartments using aquariums or using plastic totes. You will need to keep in mind the weight limits that your building can safely support. No this won’t be enough to live off of but it will allow you to supplement your diet and provide a starter stock in case you plan to bug out. For those of us that live on land there is no limit to how large you can make your systems.
Considerations on placement of your system. Your need to be on a flat well drained surface with easy access to water & electric. The pumps are relatively quiet but you might not want them under your bedroom window.
What is new in Aquaponics?
Some Aquaponics systems use soil so now earthworms can be used to increase the productivity of the soil. Growers are experimenting with growing fruit trees with Aquaponics. Also some clever person thought to include rabbit production in their system. Now you can have both rabbits and fish for your meat supply. The knowledge base on Aquaponics is exploding. You can literary find hundreds of articles and videos. I consider those not in the sales of Aquaponics equipment to be to most reliable such as extension agencies and Universities, however there are reputable suppliers that offer good products and good information.
What are the disadvantages of Aquaponics?
Electricity is required to run your system. As a prepper you will want to have an alternative source of power. A gas generator is fine for short term outages but a solar, wind or water generated power source will be necessary for a long term outages.
Cost of initial setup can be high, but there is a lot that you can do to overcome that. I’m in the gathering stage myself. I have a acquired some blue water barrels. I’m on the look out for cheap or free used pool pumps or grow lights. These can be found on Craig’s list and freecycle. I’m also scavenging for PVC pipe and materials for building platforms. Anyway you get the idea.
Before you start take time to learn, it will help you to avoid costly errors. It will also assist you in determining which type of system is best for your needs and budget.
Here are some good resources to get you started.
Short list of Aquaponics friendly plants
- My favorite commercial site is http://theaquaponicsource.com/. I like them because they don’t promote any get rich schemes. They have a wonderful community forum.
- The Oklahoma Food Bank offers monthly tours and you can get hands on experience in Aquaponics by volunteering for more information go to http://www.regionalfoodbank.org/Programs/Urban-Harvest.
What benefits of Aquaponics towards prepping?
Food security, in case of a system failure affecting the nations food supply your family will still have access to fresh fruits, vegetables and protein.
Safety is another big factor. It is a lot easier to protect a few buildings than a large garden. Hunting for meat will take you away from the security of your home and more importantly take you away from your family.
Secrecy is a consideration. You can disguise your food production. If you use greenhouse or hoophouses locate them away from prying eyes. If that is not possible consider putting out some misleading signs such as Penny’s Poinsettia Producers. Include a picture so people unfamiliar with the name will recognize that you grow a non-edible plants. Also state that you only sell to retailers. This will keep the average Gardner from stopping by.
The Portability of your food supply is another plus for Aquaponics. Include them in your evacuation plans. No I’m not suggesting that you try to move your setup in the middle of night while mobs are heading your way. However if you see that a crash likely in a few weeks, you can drain your tanks, pack up and move your system. If you only have a few days then take the items hardest to replace such as your pumps, solar panels, etc. If I only had time to take just one thing it would be my seed stock. Also know when to abandon your system. You will still have the knowledge necessary to start again.
I want to elaborate more on Aquaponics and rabbits. I have seen where rabbits or chicken cages are placed directly above the plants. The idea is that the animal poo is good for the plants. I think that this is a dangerous practice. I know that the risk is higher in commercial operations but I still think that it is an unnecessary risk. Rabbits carry ecoli and chickens carry salmonella. However they still are very companions for Aquaponics. You can use the leftover plant products to feed your animals. You can also use your Aquaponics to grow fresh forage for you animals year around.
You might could allow to poo to fall into a water tank and feed the nutrients to your plants that way. However it is possible for the diseases still to be transmitted. I’m not sure. If I run across the answer I will give you an update.
Aquaponics Stock Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CDC_South_Aquaponics_Raft_Tank_1_2010-07-17.jpg