Aquaponics: Is this the farm of the future?

What exactly is Aquaponics?  Aquaponics is the combination of recirculation aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants). It is an integrated system in which you grow plants and fish together.

aquaponics graphic


The plants provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in, and in return the fish waste (converted by beneficial bacteria) provides a food source for the plants, creating a sustainable ecosystem in which both the plants and fish can thrive. The origin of aquaponics dates back as far as the Aztecs. From the late 1960’s to now, the system has grown and been perfected to what it is today. According to The Aquaponic Source, interest in modern aquaponics is taking off because it is a way to solve drought and poor soil conditions that many regions on the planet have to contend with.

The Two Primary Methods of Aquaponic Growing

  • Raft Based Growing System: This system is more appropriate for commercial aquaponic farming.  It consists of plants that are placed in holes in a raft with their roots left dangling in the water. The raft floats in a channel of fish and water that has been through filtration to remove any solid wastes.
  • Media Based Aquaponics: This system is more appropriate for the home grower because no pre-filtration is required. It gets its name because plants are grown in inert planting media, such as clay pellets or gravel.

Advantages of Aquaponic food production:

Aquaponics is the combination of recirculation aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants). Combining the systems eliminates the drawbacks and capitalizes on the benefits of each.

  • If you are growing in a greenhouse or if your climate permits you can grow food in an aquaponic system year-round.
  • Soil borne disease is eliminated by eliminating the use of soil in plant production.
  • You cannot under-water or over-water.
  • You cannot over-fertilize or under-fertilize.
  • No water is wasted or consumed by weeds, resulting in the use of only about 1/10th of the water used by traditional field production.
  • Plant spacing can be intensive, allowing you to grow more plants in a given space.
  • Aquaponics provides a natural, organic form of nutrients for the plants.
  • The cost and time involved in mixing traditional hydroponic nutrients is eliminated.
  • Nutrient rich water from aquaculture that would have been wasted or needed to be filtered would be utilized.
  • Fully scalable from indoor systems to backyard family systems to full commercial systems.
  • It has eight to ten times more plant/vegetable production in the same area and time.

Types of plants and fish for Aquaponic systems:

For better chances at creating a successful system, it is best to choose plants and fish with similar pH and temperature needs. Generally leafy crops like herbs and lettuce and warm water fish will do the best. However, you can be successful with “fruiting plants” like peppers and tomatoes in systems heavily stocked with fish.

  • These breeds of fish have been raised with the best results: blue gill/brim, crappie, fancy goldfish, koi, pacu, sunfish, and tilapia (The most popular fish used because of its rapid growth, large size, and because it tastes great. Tilapia are also easy to raise.). In smaller systems ornamental fish like angelfish, guppies, and mollies may be used.
  • This is a selection of the plants that can do well in most aquaponic systems: arugula, basil, chives, kale, leafy lettuce, mint, pak choi, swiss chard, watercress, and even many common house plants.
  • Plants that will only do well in a heavily stocked system because they have higher nutritional demands: beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, peas, peppers, squash, and tomatoes.

After the initial set up, aquaponics can be a much easier way to grow food. It is less expensive than a fish aquarium and half the work of a dirt garden. You can grow under conditions that you control without all of the hard labor. Aquaponics is also good for the environment as it is free from pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and growth hormones. With its ease in use, environmental benefits, and solution to poor climate and soil conditions aquaponics is growing in popularity and may well be the farm of the future.

Local Resources

Here is a list of some of the Aquaponic stores, farms and resources in Arizona

Other Resources

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