Fancying something new in fishkeeping? New projects and challenges?
What is Aquaponics and why should I be interested in this as a fish keeper?
Here is a photo of a ready made out-of-the-box AQUAPONICS FishPlant unit:
Aqua Allotments: Where I purchased my aquaponics unit.
Aquarist Classifieds Pinterest page for Aquaponics.
if you are a hobbyist enjoying pond keeping, especially you serious koi keepers, then aquaponics should be a real interest to you. The top priority for ponds and koi keepers in the maintain top quality water for the fish to flourish in. Better water quality equals healthier fish with less tendency to diseases.
Aquaponics is the hybrid between aquaculture and hydroponics. It is usually applied to raising food fish, but equally applies to ornamental coldwater fancy hobby fish.
Aquaponics provides the perfect way to give your fish superb water quality, even at higher stocking levels.
The pond water is cycled through a large deep growing bed full of expanded clay media. This gives an enormous surface area for filtration bacteria. This is called the 'growing bed' because here is where you grow your kitchen food such as lettuces, brassicas (broccoli, kale, cabbages, etc), strawberries, onions, radishes, and loads more types of food crops. You can grow flowers of course if you prefer.
The cycle is: Feed your fish normally. Water is pushed through the media using a flood and drain method (also called ebb and flow). The nitrifying bacteria love this and thrive because of ample oxygen and food in the form of fish wastes. The massive bacteria colonies change this to plant foods (nitrates, etc). The plants take up the plant foods. Fresh cleaner water is returned to the pond.
The appeal is a closed system food producing 'factory' that provides clean water back to the fish. The only electrical equipment required is a pond water pump tp push the water up into the growing bed. Additional options are cheap simple plug timers.
The water level in the growing beds goes up and down throughout the day, hence the term 'flood and drain'. My system does this every 30 minutes. The water comes up to the near top of the clay media, then by means of a bell syphon, is returned back to the pond and the water level drops back down. Bell syphons are the work horses of the aquaponics unit as they ensure the high and low water levels. I back mine up with a £10 plug timer to be sure.
My new system below:
Your crops grow like crazy in this perfect environment, much faster than in soil, as they have controlled moisture and oxygen to the roots, plus plenty of nutrition thanks to the fish wastes and bacteria.
This is a closed circular system producing both salads and food for the table, plus top quality water for your fish.
Just like wih any filtration media, unless you can speed up the bacterial cycle to maturatation by adding some media from your current filter, it takes a few weeks for the bacteria colonies to grow and populate the media. Once you get to this level, the fun really starts and your crops can really get growing. I added a starter culture in my setup and also added very carefully a small measured dose of maxicrop liquid fertilizer to give my crops some nutrition, as I wanted to start planting up straight away.
My plants are growing very fast. I have calico ranchu and some large gold lionheads as my fish. They seem very happy. Some aquaponics hobbyists keep food fish such as carp, trout, and others. Koi will thrive, as will goldfish, shubunkins, comets, orfe, and fancy goldfish.
Once you look into aquaponics, you easily get hooked, it appeals because of its simplicity and effectiveness.
You can buy an off-the-shelf unit ready to go, which is what I have done. This includes everything such as a large raised pond, 2 big growing beds, pump, syphons, tubing, growing media, framework, everything. Or, you can purchase the add-on kit which assumes you already have the pond installed. This will probably be the most popular method.
Or, you can build your own system from scratch. There are loads of help video clips on youtube, and several useful forums.
The only real addition to the aquaponics system is some iron and possibly micro trace elements, to ensure the plants have everything they need to prosper.
Will add some photos and links soon. Must get some pics of my own system displayed.
From a plant producing point of view, aquaponics is effective as you are not watering and feeding your vegetable plots and seeing that food and water just drain away into the subsoil wasted. Aquaponics is a sealed-system as the water and nutrients rotate. All you add is fish food, and you pick your vegetables for the kitchen table. Once you 'get' how it works, you may be hooked, and start sketching out ideas.
Can the aquaponics system be applied to tropical indoor aquaria? Yes, but of course you need lighting for plants photosynthesis. Below are are examples:
There are of course some 'do nots'. Do not use plant insecticides as these would affect the fish. Do not use chemicals for the fish, as this would affect the crops (unless you are growing flowers). Here are some of my photos, dated 13 June 2013. The unit has been running for about 4 weeks. The 20+ ranchu are very happy in there. My unit is standing back-to-front, the pond usually is placed forward of the beds, but I wanted easy access to the growing beds. The overhanging lamps are actually solar powered UV instect killers, to drop some free food into the fish below. Of course, the grow beds must be horizontal and not on a slope, as you see in my example.
An off the shelf half size unit below:
Will continue adding to this little essay of mine another day, with some recommended links (no financial interest) ... You need to get the best advice and support to really get this working for you. I may decide to have a section iin the classifieds for Aquaponics. If you have comments, please contact me at [email protected]
Aqua Allotments: My personal recommended seller
Just wanted to make a suggestion of some of the easiest and quickest plants to grow, to suck up those unwanted nitrates and phosphates. Pea shoots and sunflower shoots. Shoots are the young plants about 6 inches high. Pick them at this stage when they are extremely nutritious (I am harvest mine now), in fact one of the healthiest vegetables you can possibly eat. They get to this stage after just a few weeks. They are both cheap to buy, get a bag of sunflower seeds for the birds for a few pounds, and dried marrowfat peas for cooking from the pulses iasle in your supermarket very cheaply. Any green salads also do really well, as nitrates are the primary result of the aquaponics system. Or, keep the missues happy and grow flowers ...
If you already have a pond, then no need to buy a full off the shelf system like mine. Instead go to Aqua Allotments to purchase just the growing bed(s), syphons, media and pump if you need one. Then all you need to do is mount this higher than the pond as you would a gravity output external filter, then plug in your system and start planting. Here is a nice retrofit system for an existing pond. Of course, you can always fully design your own system, all the growbed is, is a tank with media, fed by a pond pump and using either a plug timer, or a bell syphon, or combination, to give the ebb and flow. Frequency is usually 15 to 30 mins per flood cycle, to feed those bacteria, and the plants.
Another great outcome of aquaponics in an existing pond is full reduction of nuisance algae such as 'green water' species and blanketweed. What you are providing is a more desirable growing environment for plants other than the algaes. The growing bed plants should out-compete algae. The GROW BED PLANTS GROW FASTER THAN THOSE IN SOIL because they are in the perfect environment; plenty of oxygen around the roots, perfect amount of moisture and natural fertilizers. The produce is organic as well. The media is also perfect for our freindly bacteria which flourish.
My beds get a flooding of the pond water every seven minutes or so cycle increment timer (my timer recommendation). You want to get as many flush-thrus through the media as possible. I previously used a 15 minute increment timer, which resulted in only half hour flushes (flood and drain cycles). This was insufficient. So now with the 50 second timer (link above) I have lots more flexibility and can get 7 minute flushes. The water quality is already improving.
Maintenance of an aquaponics system besides feeding and caring for the fish includes ammonia testing (to check the bacteria are doing their work) and ph testing for optimal plant growth. 6.5 to 7.0 is the 'sweet spot'. You can syphon out sediment in the pond if you wish. The fish droppings are perfect for aquaponics fertility, and can be watered ito the growing bed for bacterial breakdown. You could hoover out the mulm straight into the water input spout in the grow beds. Many aquaponics enthusiasts also add some earth worms into the bed, which tend to thrive, and keep the bed clean.
Just a quick word on the expanded clay media used. But the best from the recommended seller, as some have a small amount of salt in the pellets, which hampers plant growth. The media will keep your water crystal clear, being both a physical filter as well as bacterial. Compare the sheer amount of filter material in your growing bed to the amount in any external filter, the beds have a MASSIVE filer media area. The combination of flood and drain provide the bacteria with food and oxygen. YOU WILL BE HARD PRESSED TO FIND A MORE EFFICIENT CULTURE MEDIUM FOR FILTRATION BACTERIA as this is both inert, of open internal structure, and in the grow beds of comparitively massive quantity. How many external power filters media area could compete with that of a medium sized grow bed?
What fish can you keep in an aquaponics system? The process was initially designed for food fish. So in the UK this could be carp, trout, and other coarse fish. But fish are fish, and you can keep any coldwater fish you want to, such as goldfish, orfe, shubunkins, fancy goldfish, koi, or others. Of course if you adapt the whole process to run indoors, then as long as you provide light, you can tag an aquaponics unit onto any freshwater tropical tank, and at last solve algae issues. A giant external refugium in effect, producing food for the table. No limits on what you could do.
Successful crops include all salads, loads of herbs, most flowers, fruits include tomatoes, strawberries, and many more. You could add some organic potash liquid feed to boost crops. One idea that needs research is that of growing garlic and other onion relatives, to deter any whitespot, as they will release essnces into the water, and as it is a closed system, this can be useful for the fish health. Also interesting if you have a gardening side to your personality, is to play with companion planting to minimize any pests. Another advantage from a gardinig point of view is 'no slugs and snails, plus no rocky soil to dig, you just push your plants and seeds into the clay granules. I also use seed tape to help in placing finer seeds to stop them getting ewashed down too deep into the media. At first, some of the plants you grow will have insufficient nitrate as seen in pale leaves, but this is just because the bed has not yet matured.
WARNING: Aquaponics is highly addictive, and will result in lots of sketching on paper and maybe changing around your nice neat garden, It is a bug that needs more and more scratching.
So much more to say ... that will do for today. I invite any feedback. I am just an aquaponics hobbyist, not a pro, but happy to communicate on the subject. Email is: [email protected]
PS: The pond water is excellent for any houseplants, a ready made diluted fertilizer.