7 Steps to Get Started with Organic Growing Using Aquaponics
Guest Post from Fishkeeping World
If you’re interested in growing more of your own food, consider organic growing using aquaponics! Not only can you grow more veggies, but you can add home raised fish to your self sufficiency plans with an aquaponics system.
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What Is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics is a self-sustaining system which incorporates growing fish for pleasure or to harvest (aquaculture) and soil-less gardening (hydroponics). Combining these two elements creates a system which has many benefits for the plant, the fish, and you as a gardener.
Because systems pretty much look after themselves once the initial set up and cycling of the water has been done, this reduces the amount of time you need to spend growing plants, picking weeds and carrying out water changes as you would have to do in your garden or a regular fish tank set up.
The fish produce waste which is turned into nitrates by the bacteria in the fish tank; these nitrates are then used by the plants, which in return clean the water for the fish.
But how exactly do you get started with growing organic food using aquaponics? This article is going to talk you through seven simple steps to get a system up and running for your family.
Select a Tank
The size and type of tank that you choose will depend on the amount of food that you want to grow.
As a rule of thumb, ten gallons of tank water will grow around one to two square feet worth of food. Therefore if you only want a small herb system indoors, you can use a 10 gallon tank. Regular fish tanks work well for tanks of this size.
If you’re looking for a larger outdoor system you can use a large container such as a barrel, a plastic container, or a livestock watering tank.
Whatever you choose, ensure it is food grade safe. You can use pretty much any container you like, as long as you line with an EPDM pond liner.
Once you’ve selected the tank you’re going to use, make sure wherever you place it is level, and close to a power source.
Just like a fish tank, most people who set up an aquaponics system choose to add gravel to their set up.
Gravel provides somewhere for the useful bacteria to build up which is vital for converting ammonia and nitrites into nitrates which are used to feed the plants.
Add a Water Pump
The water pump will siphon the water from the tank, to the grow bed and water and feed the plants. You’ll need both a pump and some extra tubing to set this system up.
The type of pump you choose again depends on the size of your tank. Smaller set ups can use a submersible pump, larger set ups will need a sump.
Install the Grow Bed and Media
Above, or next to the fish tank will be your grow bed which all the plants will grow. This can be made from a lined wooden crate, a plastic tub or anything that is watertight.
The grow bed to tank ratio should be between 1:2 and 1:2 (twice the volume of fish tank in comparison to the grow bed).
The grow bed can be built on a stand above the tank or it may sit next to the tank – which ever you find easier.
Remember if you put the bed above the tank that you’ll still need access to the fish to feed them so you should leave a gap of at least one or two foot.
Cycle the Tank
Just like a regular fish tank, you’ll need to leave the tank to cycle for a few weeks. It is essential to do this and not add fish straight away.
The tank needs to establish a bed of bacteria which will convert ammonia and nitrite into nitrates. If these bacteria are not present, the water conditions will be fatal for your fish.
Add the Plants
Once the structure of the aquaponics systems is in place you can start adding plants. Start off with more simple easy to grow plants such as cabbage, lettuce and leafy greens, and then once your system is more established you can grow other plants. This is a list of a few plants which have previously been grown in aquaponics systems:
- Swiss Chard
- Rocket (Arugula)
- Sweet corn
Depending on whether you want to harvest the fish you’re growing, or just have ornamental fish, there are a wide range to choose from.
The most popular edible species are Tilapia, Silver Perch and Trout, they are all fast growing fish. Tilapia are the most easy to breed if you’re looking for a system which is completely self-sustaining.
Make sure that if you want a completely organic system that the foods your feed your fish are the ones you’re growing in that system, or they are organically grown, and that any fish food products you buy are organic.
Only freshwater tanks may be used for aquaponics systems. The salts in a salt water tank will quickly kill your plants.
These are the basic steps to follow if you would like to grow organic food with an aquaponics system. Of course, there are plenty of books that give detailed instructions for setting up and maintaining an aquaponics system.
If you’ve kept fish in an aquarium before, you will be a step ahead of the game. For those who haven’t, you might want to try your hand with a 10 gallon tank set up first. This will allow you to learn with a smaller system, then add a grow bed with herbs, before you dive in head first with a full scale aquaponics system!
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In addition to writing for her own websites, Lisa has contributed articles to The Prepper Project and Homestead.org.
The author lives outside of Chicago with her husband, son, 2 dogs, 1 cat, and a variety of poultry.