Aquaponics System: Comparing Different Types of Aquaponic Systems


aquaponic system best

Aquaponics is a sustainable method to grow both fish and vegetables. It іѕ рорulаr wіth individuals, еntrерrеnеurѕ, educators, mіѕѕіоnѕ, аnd governments.  In addition, this type of indoor cultivation grows significantly more food with less water, land, and labor than traditional agriculture.

Aquaponics is a form of agriculture that combines fish farming in tanks with growing plants without soil. In aquaponics, the nutrient-rich water from fish farming provides a natural fertilizer for the plants and plants help to purify the water for the fish. Aquaponics can be used to sustainably grow fresh fish and vegetables for a family, feed a village, or generate a profit in a commercial farming business, all year round, in any climate.

Aquaponics systems combine two types of food farming: hydroponics and aquaculture.

In hydroponics, plants are grown in water instead of soil, and in aquaculture, fish is grown. Together they work in symbiosis and help each other.

The basic setup of aquaponics systems is that plants grow on top of the water, where one or more fish live. You feed the fish and the fish defecate in the water. Waste builds up over time, which is normally quite toxic to fish. However, in this system, the plants that grow on top of it hang their roots in the water and absorb the debris.

Fish poop contains many nutrients such as nitrogen and is used by plants as a fertilizer. This means that the plants are practically free of fertilizer, without having to add anything extra to the water. And at the same time, the plants purify the water for the fish, giving them a clean home! This makes regular water changes unnecessary. So you feed your fish, the fish waste becomes fertilizer, your plants grow well and you can eat the plants whenever you want. It goes without saying: in aquaponics, everything wins.

Aquaponics is a great example of indoor growing all year round. It can be made anywhere and provides fresh local food that is free from pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. It’s safe, easy, and cool!

What are the Benefits of aquaponics?

  1. Use of limited space – An incredible amount of crops can be grown in a very small space.
  1. Ability to grow vegetables as well as fish – In an aquaponic system, you can grow vegetables and fish at the same time. In addition, the system is fully symbiotic, with the fish providing the nutrients for the plants and in turn obtaining their purified water.
  1. Rapid growth of crops – The growth rate of crops is fast due to the sufficient amount of nutrients available to them.
  1. The system does not require the use of fertilizers or agrochemicals as the fish waste contains sufficient nutrients.
  1. Crop and fish production in a precisely controlled and controlled environment – The production of crops and fish takes place in a controlled environment where, among other things, the temperature can be controlled.
  1. Only 1/10 of water is used – In this system, only one-tenth of the water is used to maintain the plant. Therefore, the system saves water. In addition, the water is recycled, even more, saving it even more.
  1. The crops are purely organic – The crops produced are purely organic and the fish are free from harmful or toxic chemicals.
  1. Disease-free environment – There have been no cases of soil-borne diseases, pests, and infections because the soil is not used in the system.
  1. No accumulation of weeds – Due to the use of gardening to medium level, there is no accumulation of weeds in the aquaponic system.
  1. Minimal chores in the garden – The gardening tasks are minimal compared to conventional farming methods, the only tasks are to feed the fish and ensure that the system is running efficiently.
  1. Flexibility of cultivation method – The cultivation method can be applied anywhere due to the limited space required to perform it.
  1. Scalable agricultural system – The system is scalable and does not require a lot of capital to get started. It can be started in the backyard.

Different types of aquaponics growing methods

  • Media-based
  • Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
  • Deep-water culture

Comparison of the different aquaponics growing methods

Within the aquaponics system, there are three main cultivation techniques that can be implemented: media-based, nutrient film technique (NFT), and deep water cultivation.

1.      Media-based

The media-based method involves growing the plants in a large container filled with media, which can range from gravel to perlite. This method is usually the one with the fewest components, as the solid waste is broken down by the medium, eliminating the need for an additional buffer filter. However, this system does not provide a maximum yield of plant growth. The food film technique and the deep water culture method produce faster because they contain additional components. This method is good for aquaponics done as a hobby rather than on a commercial scale unless further developed. This can be easier and cheaper to implement in a classroom. It also provides a safer grow bed to accommodate taller plants, mainly of the fruit-bearing variety. In the classroom, it is not practical to grow fertile plants because of their longer growth period. Since the current method is not necessarily of commercial quality, it may not be the best method to teach about a likely solution to the problem of food insecurity.

media based aquaponics

Benefits

  • Simple and relatively inexpensive system.
  • It’s suitable for all types of plants, from green leafy vegetables to larger plants.
  • It is similar to regular gardening in that the substrate bed resembles a normal ground bed.
  • Air is present between the medium particles that supply the roots with oxygen.
  • The medium performs a filtering action, preventing dirt from entering the tank.
  • The trapped waste gradually reaches the bottom of the bin, in a meticulous purification process.
  • Red worms can be added to the gravel bed for further decomposition of the waste.
  • Suitable for home garden and hobby applications.

Cons

  • Regular cleaning of the grow bed is required.
  • A good quality medium can be a bit expensive.
  • Not suitable for commercial purposes due to lower productivity, labor-intensive, and difficulty in large-scale implementation.
  • Over time, the pores between them can become clogged, creating anaerobic conditions that are bad for plants.
  • Some types of rooting media can change the pH of the water.
  • Gravel beds are heavy and must be placed on the ground or in specially constructed strong structures.

2.      Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

The food film technique is most commonly used in hydroponics. However, in some cases, it can also be used for aquaponics. It іnvоlvеѕ grоwіng thе рlаntѕ іn nаrrоw сhаnnеlѕ (е.g. gutters), allowing a continuous but thin water flow, more oxygen, and a constant fresh supply of nutrients. However, this method is limited because only certain small plants (such as green leafy vegetables), without large roots, can be grown in the system due to the high risk of clogging. Organic fish debris can also get clogged, so close attention must be paid to the pipes, especially the diameter of the pipe. Due to the risk of clogging, this method is not widely used in aquaponics systems. In addition, it requires the addition of a biological filter as much of the system is not exposed to air. The NFT method requires constant maintenance, including constant pipe cleaning, and only a small number of plants can be placed in this aquaponics layout, so this may not be the best method for classroom integration.

NFT aquaponics

Benefits

  • Partially submerged roots have access to sufficient oxygen.
  • Enables continuous water purification.

Cons

  • Not suitable for larger fertile plants.
  • Narrow channels or pipes are prone to clogging.
  • In case of pump failure or blockages, the roots can be deprived of water, resulting in loss of harvest.

3.      Deep-water culture

The deep-water culture method, also known as the raft method, it involves drilling holes in a raft to secure the plants and also to let the roots hang in the water. For added safety, net nursery pots can be placed in the holes and filled with clay or coconut medium for the plant substrate. Fіltеrѕ аrе рlасеd throughout thе сусlе tо еnѕurе proper recirculation. Due to the raft, the culture beds must be larger than when using a media-based method or the Nutritive Film technique, this is beneficial in reducing stress and avoiding potential water quality problems in a fishbowl. The deep water culture method is probably the most productive method because of its design. The Deep Water Culture method is the most promising method for commercial and mass production endeavors as the raft can cover a large amount of space and once the plants are harvested it can be safely reused for another planting cycle. Since this method can be widely implemented, it is perfect for a systems model to address the global problem of food insecurity. The deep-water culture method provides an excellent model for sustainable food security and allows further exploration in a systems biology approach to science.

deep water culture

Benefits

  • The roots are exposed to most of the nutrients in this method.
  • It provides high productivity with low labor requirements.
  • It ensures a greater supply of the fish because the purification is carried out continuously.
  • It is the simplest and most economical of all aquaponic systems.
  • It enables efficient use of space by allowing the raft to be placed in the tank itself.
  • It is the most popular commercial production system, but it is also suitable for home garden and hobby applications.
  • The plants are easier to harvest because the roots are submerged in water and not in a medium.

Cons

  • Filtration is necessary as the roots are completely submerged.
  • Limited to the cultivation of green leafy vegetables and herbs such as basil.
  • The water is lost through evaporation in the spaces between the edges of the basin and the tank in which it is stored.
  • The roots are prone to microbial attack or can be eaten by herbivorous fish.
  • The filtration process increases costs and not only requires regular filter cleaning.
  • If the roots are covered with dirt from the tank, it can be harmful to the plant.

Factors to consider in aquaponics

1. Pay attention to the nutrient content. “In aquaponics, the EC nutrient content in the solution is much lower,” People say; they have very healthy plants in an aquaponics system and we can hardly detect nutrients in the water. It’s as if the plants get rid of the nutrients as soon as the fish put them in the water. But you have to watch your balance. Plants provide clean water for fish. If you don’t have enough plants, you can create harmful water for your fish.

2. Have a consultant on hand. “Talk to experts and leave them on board.”As soon as you enter the system, you probably have problems and you need to find solutions.”

3. Pest control can be challenging – you have to be sure that what you spray doesn’t harm the fish. This can be difficult, especially when it comes to controlling insects. People used a combination of conventional, biologically approved, and beneficial materials. But even organic materials can be harmful to fish and unusable for pest control, so its product group is limited. As a result, Brogue uses many beneficial insects and biological controls, as well as insecticidal soaps, in its aquaponics system. This is another area where having a counselor can help and should be part of his plan. You have to be very knowledgeable about each product and how to use it.”

4. Air pumps are essential. “You definitely need air pumps – One thing I have learned is it’s better to make the air pumps too big to have enough oxygen. Aquaponics producers should have systems in place to ensure pumps and filters are operating as required.

5. In addition to these air pumps, ensure that an alarm system is also installed. This is a difference between hydroponics and aquaponics. If you have a pump that goes off in a hydroponic system and you notice it four hours later, the plant may wilt, but you can turn the water back on and there is no leakage. In aquaponics, when a pump goes off, it can take a matter of hours before you lose your fish. “That’s why you need alarms to let you know when your systems are down, and you need switches. You have to anticipate what could go wrong and find a solution.

6. You need an aquaculture permit if you want to sell your fish. “Once you start selling fish, it must come from an approved facility.

7. Find a reliable fish farm. “Have a good hatchery where you rely on both the quality of the fish and the fish food

8. Fish food is not complicated – fish waste in the water is filtered through gravel breeding beds, so the plants act as biofilters. “Sometimes you have to add nutrients, but for the most part, the only input to the system is fish feed, which is commercially available. Over time, producers can experiment with their own food production and aquaculture experts are more than happy to help with the process.

9. You need a fish that grows quickly. I estimate that it takes 9 to 12 months to market the trout and 15 to 18 months for the sea bass. Faster growing fish are more efficient, eat more, and have a higher metabolism.”

10. Determine in advance whether you are going to process the fish yourself. When you started selling live fish to restaurants, they processed it. “But if you are going to sell fish at a farmer’s market, you have to coordinate the processing.

What can you grow?

If you’re thinking about getting your own aquaponics plant up and running, you’re probably wondering, what plants can I grow? The bottom line is the best plants to grow in your aquaponics system depend on their size. The fish and plants you select for your aquaponic system should have similar needs for temperature and pH. As a general rule of thumb, warm freshwater fish and leafy vegetables such as lettuce, vegetables, and herbs work best.

Small versus large systems

A small system has less fish, less waste, and therefore lower concentrations of nutrients. Larger systems have more fish, more waste, and higher concentrations of nutrients. Thіѕ dіffеrеnсе аffесtѕ thе tуреѕ оf рlаntѕ уоu саn grоw іn уоur system. Plants that can grow in small aquaponics systems include: A small, less nutrient-rich system is better for plants that require fewer nutrients, such as

  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard
  • Arugula
  • Mint
  • Chives
  • Basil
  • Watercress
  • Pak Choi
  • Wheatgrass
  • Radish Sprouts

Small systems can grow herbs and vegetables for your salads. So if you’re not ready to dive into aquaponics with a big system, but still want to give it a try, a small tank might be the perfect place to start.

Larger aquaponics systems are so large that they must be kept in greenhouses (which some people even do in their backyards). These more nutrient-rich systems can grow plants that have both low and high nutritional requirements. Large systems can grow the vegetables and herbs mentioned above, in addition to larger plants such as:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Beans
  • Pumpkin
  • Peas
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage

Simply put, the largest and most fertile plants and legumes need a lot of energy and nutrients. A lot of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium is required for plants to grow tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, or even broccoli and cauliflower. Since more fish means more nutrients, larger aquaponics systems will support the growth of these larger plants.

Gardening at home with aquaponics

While the phrase “gardening at home” conjures up images of potted tomatoes on a fire escape or backyard orchards, times are changing. Horticultural technologies improve and every year new products appear to help people everywhere in their garden adventures. Home gardeners can install small aquaponics systems in their homes at a relatively low cost. An aquaponics system can be as small as a countertop or windowsill aquarium. With a charismatic betta fish and fresh veggies growing on top of your tank, they’re super pretty to look at. They also require less maintenance than a normal aquarium.

Aquaponics systems can be expanded with more space, money, and time. The big ones will produce big, lush plants. They can even support fertile plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. In fact, larger businesses can produce quite a bit of food, enough to supplement your family’s diet or stalls at local farmers’ markets.

Whether you decide to invest in a large or small system, they are an attractive, efficient, and eco-friendly option for enjoying fresh food all year round.

Conclusion

Aquaponics is a system that combines fish farming with growing crops. Normally, when aquatic animals such as fish or crabs are raised in a tank, they excrete ammonia as waste, making the water toxic and must be disposed of. On the other hand, when plants such as herbs or vegetables are grown, they need nitrates to produce a good crop. So if the ammonia produced by fish is somehow converted into nitrates, then this is a suitable fertilizer for crops. On the other hand, ammonia-free water is ideal for returning to the aquarium.

While aquaponic systems work well on their own, they can also be used in combination to maximize the benefits of each type. An example of such a hybrid system is an aquarium connected to a bed of media and then to an NFT tube. In addition to growing tomatoes or cucumbers, the media bed also filters the water that enters the NFT tube, in which lettuce or basil can be grown. This eliminates the need to install and clean the filter equipment for the NFT tube.

Lindsey Glenn

I've been learning about gardening since 2015, helping friends and family to grow their trees. I am passionate about trees and love sharing everything I learn about them.

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