Photo from Backyard Aquaponics.
[This is a guest-post by Gavin Leiminer. -Ed] I can’t say I’ve got a green thumb. Additionally, I haven’t ever tried to have fish as pets, let alone grow them to eat. Regardless of my pathetic self-sufficiency skills, the idea of producing my own food still appeals to me greatly. At present I’m a part owner of a solar house (I say part, as the bank manager would probably take offence to the lack of a mention), obtain water (that is heading to the sea) from a bore and have a sewerage system that processes all of the house waste. Unfortunately however, even though I live in an area of Australia that is quite productive, I can’t seem to purchase local vegetables and meat, let alone organic produce. That’s why I cannot get the idea of Aquaponics out of my head.
Aquaponics, from a layperson’s point of view, is the merging of aquaculture and hydroponics into a process that seems to take all of the positives from the above production systems and leave the negatives far behind.Basically, the process involves fish, plants and bacteria. The cycle consists of fish by-products (or to the less delicate … ‘poo’) being pumped into grow beds filled with gravel. Bacteria convert the ammonia from the ‘fish poo’ into nitrites and then other good bacteria convert the nitrites in nitrates, which are used by the plants as nutrients. The beauty of the system is that a balance occurs in the eco-system whereby the water is sufficiently filtered by the plants who inturn obtain all the necessary nutrients from the fish.
Those that wish to avoid chemicals in the growing process, will be relieved to know that anything poisonous used on the plants, will kill the fish. This ‘canary effect’ ensures that natural, chemical-free produce is the only alternative and depending on the fish feed used, ‘organic produce’ would seem quite possible. Those with a water supply problem, will be even happier to know that aquaponics uses approximately 10% of normal farming practices. Environmentally, aquaponics also stands out as there is no effluent discharge to dispose of. Consequently, a person committing aquaponics can achieve quite a constant warm buzz, as they know exactly what they are eating, whilst conserving a great deal of water.
Aquaponics seems to have been around for a fair while, but many attribute the founding of the present incarnation to the Speraneos group in America. In Australia, aquaponics has really started to gain momentum through three very helpful websites: Backyard Aquaponics; Practical Aquaponics; and, Urban Aquaponics. A massive amount of information is available from Forum members from each site. Of particular interest, is the incredible variety and ingenuity of systems on display, ranging from MacGyver-like throw-together inventions to large-scale commercially viable systems.
Regardless of budget or location, aquaponics allows anyone to grow vegetables and fish. It might just be one part of the solution to the problem of fresh, healthy produce supply, experienced by an increasing number of people in cities through relentless global urbanisation.
[This is a guest-post by Gavin Leiminer. -Ed]