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The Advantages of Different Aquaponics Systems

The Advantages of Different Aquaponics Systems

What is Aquaponics?

Aquapoincs is the method of growing plants in a soiless media where water circulating throughout the system contains all the necessary nutrients to feed the plants; nutrients that are supplied via process known as nitrification in which bacteria convert fish  waste into natural fertilizer. 

On first impressions you may be forgiven for thinking aquaponics is simply a form of hydroponics, and in some ways it is. Aquaponics modifies the hydroponics technique by adding an extra stage; which creates a closed loop system that becomes virtually self-sustaining, albeit with careful monitoring and maintenance. 

Benefits of Aquaponics

There are many benefits of using aquaponics compared with hydroponics or traditional soil cultivation, most of these advantages come as a direct result of the symbiotic relationship at the heart of the system. This relationship replicates the essential processes that occur between these living organisms in their natural habitat, and as a result, produces an organic, low power, low cost eco-farming technique that enables sustainable farming from your home, or commercial, property. 

Universal Advantages of Aquaponics

Natural Approach: One of the biggest benefits an aquaponics system has over a traditional hydroponics setup is in its overall approach, which utilizes natural processes to create a low cost, low power, manmade ecosystem.

  • Where hydroponics would use fertilizers to feed the plants, aquaponics uses naturally forming bacteria to convert the ammonia waste from the fish into nitrogen nutrients for the plants.
  • The plants then take on the nitrites to feed. 
  • Biofilters, such as sand, lava rock, pebbles, etc, act as a home for the bacteria to colonize, where it can perform the conversion and recirculated water back into the ecosystem.
  • Monitoring should be  done on a regular basis, but unless problems arise then all you’ll need to do is feed the fish. 

Free from Chemicals: Organic, natural; both are buzz words in many industries, but when it comes to aquaponics both are very true. What exactly does that mean for the ecosystem and the produce it makes available for harvest?

  • Plants are free from pesticides and herbicides
  • Fish are free from growth hormones and antibiotics

Self-Sustaining Ecosystem: Once an aquaponics system has been setup, cycled and balanced, the closed-loop ecosystem becomes almost self-sustaining, and in theory, only requires the addition of fish food to keep the process going. In practice however, the monitoring and maintenance requirements are that important they typically become a daily task. 

Production Fish as well as Plants: While the ultimate goal of most aquaponics setups is to grow and harvest produce from plants, many also opt to raise edible fish in order to fully leverage the systems food production capabilities.

Between the different aquaponics methods it’s possible to grow almost any edible plant. In theory, the same can apply to fish, however there are species that most experts advise, and other species that whilst possible, really aren’t suited to the conditions and turn around time.

For those who only want to raise fish for aesthetic reasons, then more attractive species such as carp are a common choice for aquaponics systems. Another popular choice is to use a sacrificial species such as goldfish since they are hardy and cheap. First time growers often go this route so any losses aren’t too consequential. If you’re looking to eat the fish you rear in the system, you can consider species such as:

  • Tilapia
  • Perch
  • Catfish
  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Barramundi
  • Sturgeon
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Walleye
  • Pacu Fish

Advantages of Different Aquaponics Techniques

Media Based Aquaponics

Inexpensive and Easy to Setup: The simple design of the media-based method is inexpensive, space efficient and easy to setup; often the choice for DIY aquaponics systems. 

Easy Maintenance: In addition the simple design also lends itself to easy cleaning, an important part of the maintenance process.

Stable and Resilient: The use of grow bed media provides a stable environment for the plants by acting like a buffer that can counter quick imbalances that may occur.

Suitable For Many Types Of Plants: The stability of the system also makes it suitable for growing many types of plants from leafy greens and certain herbs, to larger fruiting plants.

Increased Plant Growth: The Media based technique provides a stable environment in which the plant roots form, this allows them to grow larger and access more nutrients, which resulting in high yields.

Faster Growth and Harvests: The same reason that allows the roots to grow better, also cuts down on the time takes for the plants to grown, which leads to quicker harvests.

Best for growing plants such as: Leafy Greens such as Lettuce, Spinach, Kale, and Swiss Chard; some Herbs including Cilantro, Basil, Parsley and Mint; Root Vegetables like as Carrots and Radishes; Fruit-Bearing Plants such as Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Peppers and Strawberries; it’s also possible to grow flowering plants such as Pansies, Marigolds and Nasturtiums.

The Advantages of Different Aquaponics Systems Media Based

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Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

Saves water: This method passes very little water through the plants roots when compared with other aquaponics techniques, therefore requires much less water to function than other systems.

Easily Adaptable to Vertical Farming: The parts of an NFT system can easily be configured vertically; allowing for even more space-saving benefits.

Avoids Salt Build Up: Left over nutrients that aren’t absorbed by the plants cause excess salt to be deposited in the system, too much of this becomes toxic to the plants. The low amount of water that’s constantly moving helps to prevent this build up of salt.

Easy Maintenance: With plants roots that are easy to see and reach, it’s also easy to monitor the health of the plants, and to get to the roots should you need to disinfect them.

Fewer Parts: Most aquaponics systems require a growing medium to support the plant growth. NFT setups do not use a growing medium and therefore require less parts to get started.

Lower Costs: Requiring fewer parts, and running less water consistently throughout the system, NFT aquaponics system have both lower initial and operating costs.

Best for growing plants such as: Leafy Greens, such as bibb and cos/romaine type lettuces; cruciferous vegetables including kales and mustard greens; bok-choy, broccoli and cauliflower; as well as many herbs.

The Advantages of Different Aquaponics Systems NFT

Deep Water Culture / Raft Method

High Productivity: Providing an ideal environment with a consistent stream of nutrients, the DWC produces high yields.

Efficient Use of Water: Another aquaponics technique that uses water in a efficient manner. Although raft channels are deeper compared with NFT systems, the additional water allows for buffer against sudden changes that can harm the living organisms in your ecosystem.

Low Maintenance: Whilst initial setup costs for most DWC systems can be more expensive due to the additional components, once everything is set up maintenance is minimal.

Versatile: There are a number of different DWC system configurations, from the extremely basic Kratky Method that doesn’t even require electricity, to the recirculating systems that enable scaling up on a commercial level, it’s likely that you’ll be able to build a system that suits your specific needs.

Growing Media Outside Water: Grow media can trap solid wastes and eventually cause clogging and anaerobic bacteria growth. This requires thorough cleaning to rectify, a process that isn’t required in DWC setups since the grow media is mounted outside the body of water.

Best for growing plants such as: Leafy greens such as spinach and lettuce; some herbs including cilantro, parsley, lemon, basil and dill; cruciferous vegetables such as kale and mustard greens; as well as certain fruiting plants like strawberries, cucumbers and tomatoes as long as they’re supported with strings and clips. 

The Advantages of Different Aquaponics Systems DWC

Image Credit: New Agrarian, How to build a wooden Deep Water Culture Bed for Aquaponics! 2021.

In Conclusion

Aquaponics systems demand much less from nature’s resources as it utilizes less water, fewer synthetic fertilizers and dramatically minimizes waste. Each of the three main types of aquaonics , and the related variations, all offer slightly different feature sets with a number of different benefits. 

Between these variations, it’s likely you’ll find a system that meets your specific needs, without the need for much, if any, customization. But no matter what aquaponics system you go with, there are a number of universal advantages that all aquaponics growers can, and will, enjoy.

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