by Brian Wall
For two years now I’ve invested money in getting an annual fishing permit. What have I gained in return? Lost bait, hooks, weights, and even half a fishing pole, yet not a single fish to show for it. I’m starting to doubt if I can even shoot a fish in a barrel! That’s why, as I’ve been learning about self-sufficiency, I became very interested in an exciting method of growing your own food called aquaponics.
The concept of aquaponics involves the merging of two food sources – fish and vegetables – to create a system of food production that works wonderfully together. When you put a fish in a clean bowl with fresh water, that fish will poison itself within a week simply by the ammonium waste it produces (that’s why it is recommended to replace a third of the water in a fish tank every other day to begin with). Eventually, bacteria will grow in the bowl that convert ammonium to nitrites. Other bacteria will also appear that convert the nitrites to nitrates. None of this is particularly helpful to the fish. However, this nitrate-infused water is tremendously beneficial in the garden.
The most obvious step, then, is to save the water that you replace in your fish tank and use it to water your garden (and other plants). This is a great idea! Your plants will love you for it. But there’s more you can do. In a community that is highly concerned about water conservation, kudos will be given to enterprising individuals. So kudos to the person who figured out that, as the plants happily soak up the nitrates in the water, they are intrinsically filtering the stuff out of the water that is bad for the fish. What we have, then, is the perfect formula for a symbiotic relationship between fish and plants! Enter aquaponics.
In its simplest form, an aquaponics system is comprised of a fish tank, a vegetable grow bed, and a water pump (there are guidelines regarding the ratio of tank size to grow bed size, fish per cubic foot, etc., but we won’t delve into those details here). The system can be as small or large as you choose (within reason). The grow bed is typically placed above the fish tank and is full of clean gravel. Tank water is regularly pumped into the grow bed to water the plants, then siphoned back into the fish tank. The vegetables in the grow bed absorb the nitrates out of the water, which essentially filters and cleans the water so it remains clean for the fish. The plants grow at an amazing rate and produce bountiful crops.
Meanwhile the fish remain healthy and continue to grow and reproduce. Aside from some general system maintenance and feeding the fish, the established aquaponics system keeps itself in balance quite well. What you end up with is a low maintenance, high production system leading to fresh vegetables and fish for your plate!
So far my understanding of aquaponics is limited to research and testimonials. I haven’t tried it myself, but I plan to one day. Like any other topic of interest, the Internet is your go-to resource. One such website is www.backyardaquaponics.com, which has a plethora of free information that can be downloaded, as well as a fairly active online forum. There is also a DVD you can buy called “Aquaponics Made Easy.” The creators of this DVD sell pre-fabricated systems, and also tell you how to make your own homemade system.
From what I’ve read and seen, constructing your own aquaponics system is fairly simple and not very expensive. So why not give it a try yourself? If you do, I’d love to hear from you. I’m sure I’ll be doing it soon. After all, it’s guaranteed to be a better investment than that darn fishing permit!