How to Get Started with an Aquaponics System
Before you drive down to your local hardware store or Home Depot for supplies, we have to first discuss what exactly is involved in aquaponics.
Aquaponics combines the best traits of traditional aquaculture and the more modern approach to growing plants – hydroponics. Many enthusiasts and professional practitioners attest to the fact that aquaponics eliminates the disadvantages of the two older systems because everything becomes cleaner and easier to maintain.
A Balanced System
In order for any biological system to thrive, there must be balance. An aquaponics system is no exception.
Balance within this kind of biological system is achieved through the interaction of three key players: the fish, the plants, and the bacteria. That’s right – without the bacteria, an aquaponics system will simply not work. (Or it will take ten times more work to sustain it!)
Here’s what happens when you have an aquaponics system in place:
In one part of the system, freshwater fish (such as tilapia) swim around in about one thousand to two thousand liters of water. When you feed the fish, they produce waste material. Unused fish feed also becomes part of the waste in the water. Your fish will also produce a chemical known as ammonia.
After a while (as you can imagine), the water in one part of the system becomes quite dirty because the fish continually produce waste matter and ammonia.
That’s where bacteria come to the rescue. You see, over time naturally occurring microbes begin to grow in the water. Bacteria such as nitrobacter are capable of breaking down the ammonia that is being continually produced by the fish.
Once the bacteria have done their part in decomposing the ammonia (which can cause toxicity in the water), nitrates are produced. Nitrates are byproducts that usually occur in aquariums and other aquatic systems. In high amounts, nitrates can also cause problems because these byproducts can encourage the growth of unwanted vegetation in the water.
And that’s where the plants come in to balance the system once again. Plants have no trouble at all handling nitrates. Nitrates are natural nutrients for plants.
So in one part of an aquaponics system, you have the fish which produce ammonia (and consequently, nitrates). In another part of the system, you have the plants that literally absorb the nitrates and other waste products in the water. All the undesirable waste that comes from the fish section of the system is utilized by the plants so that the plants grow. Water from the fish section is circulated so that the plants are able to filter and clean the water several times per day.
The beauty of an aquaponic system is that you have an all-natural biological filter operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your fish never suffer from the difficulties of living in a closed system because you always have plants to help carry away the waste and detoxify the water. Over a period of time, the system will achieve a natural state of biological balance and all you have to do is to monitor water levels and ensure that there is no overcrowding in the fish tank.