Aquaponic Gardening: What Is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics or integrated hydroponics is the symbiotic cultivation of plants and aquatic animals in a re-circulating environment. Aquatic animal waste matter (accumulates in water as a by-product of keeping them in a closed system or tank. The effluent-rich water becomes high in plant nutrients but this is also toxic to the aquatic animal.
In this re-circulating system the plants are grown in a way that enables them to utilize the nutrient-rich water. As the plants feed on the nutrients, the water's toxicity for the aquatic animal is reduced or eliminated. The water, now clean, is returned to the aquatic animal environment and the cycle continues.
Aquaponic systems do not discharge or exchange water. The systems rely on the natural relationship between the aquatic animals and the plants to maintain the environment. The only time that water is added, is to replace water loss from absorption by the plants or evaporation into the air.
Aquaponic systems vary in size from small indoor units to large commercial units. They can use fresh or salt water depending on the aquatic animal and vegetation.
There are unique advantages to Aquaponics. Some of these include:
* Preservation through constant water reuse and recycling.
* Organic fertilization of plants with natural fish waste.
* The reduction of needed cropland to produce like crops.
* The overall reduction of environmental footprint for crop production.
* Small efficient commercial installations can be built close to markets therefore reducing the amount of miles food must travel.
With the advantages come the disadvantages. Those inherent with aquaponics are:
* Initial expense for housing, tank, plumbing, pumps and grow beds.
* Some Aquaponic installations rely heavily on man-made energy, technology solutions, and environmental control to achieve recirculation and water/ambient temperatures. However a system designed with energy conservation in mind can be extremely energy efficient.
* Aquaponics systems can have multiple 'single points of failure' where problems such as an electrical failure or pipe blockage can lead to a complete loss of fish stock. But again, you can design the system to avoid such failure.
While Aquaponic may not appeal to the average gardening enthusiast and it may not be as sustainable as the old fashioned dirt method, aquaponics is, nonetheless, a unique way to grow in a symbiotic arrangement which mimics one of nature's best systems.