News: Aquaponics – How Integrated Fish and Plant husbandry can be Used to Supplement your Diet and Perhaps Feed the World
Aquaponics – How Integrated Fish and Plant husbandry can be Used to Supplement your Diet and Perhaps Feed the World
More and more people are beginning to discover the relatively unknown practice of urban aquaponics. Now hold on a second, don’t get the wrong impression here - when most people hear that I set up fish and plant habitats in commercial and residential spaces they often think I’m referring to a few Koi fish (goldfish in a pond in the backyard). However, aquaponics is much more than a few fish the kids didn’t want in their room anymore. It’s actually a sustainable, healthy, and cost effective way to help feed your family and is helping to put Vancouver in the spotlight as a world leader in sustainability and might even help us win the title of “Greenest City by 2020”.
Aquaponics systems are essentially the happy marriage between aquaculture systems and hydroponics into one comprehensive symbiotic culture of both fish and plants – an innovative pairing that works well for a number of reasons. The benefit for plants is that the need for soil, fertilizers, and pesticides are eliminated. The benefits for the fish: they don’t need antibiotics or other unnatural and potentially harmful chemicals. Aquaponics capitalizes on the nutrients found in fish waste which coincidentally plants require for their growth, such as nitrates, phosphates, and ammonia - while at the same time the plants clean the water for the fish through their uptake of these nutrients, which would otherwise be toxic for the fish. This makes the symbiosis a win-win relationship for both parties – food for the plants and clean oxygenated water for the fish. The diagram below illustrates the basic layout of a typical aquaponics system:
The systems are divided into four main parts – the rearing/holding tanks where the fish are cultured, the hydroponic tanks/plant beds where the plants are cultured, the solids separator, and the sump. The comprehensive system is all connected such that the water flows directly from the fish tank into the solids separator – where wastes such as fecal matter and uneaten food bits are removed. Thereafter, the water flows into the plant beds where the plants further uptake dissolved nutrients (wastes from the fish) such as ammonia, nitrates, and phosphates – which act as natural fertilizers that speed up plant growth. The water then flows out from the beds into the sump, where replacement water may be added to compensate for that lost through evaporation, and then flows from there back into the fish tanks and the cycle then repeats itself.
Aquaponics in Sustainable Living
But what makes aquaponics systems fantastic tools for sustainable living? The answer lies in the fact that the crop plants grow faster, they are healthier and more robust, and in what seems like the blink of an eye – a product of both marketable fish such as tilapia and fresh produce like tomatoes for example, is created in a continuous cycle. Moreover, not only is the produce “organic” since no artificial fertilizers or pesticides have been used in the culture, but the space required for the setup is tiny in comparison to the yield.
With the fast growing urban agriculture momentum in Vancouver, it isn’t surprising that aquaponics is becoming progressively trendy. In residences, even small setups of a couple of square meters can yield enough produce to put fresh salad on the table and a side of veggies for the main course, and do this on a continuous basis. In the business or commercial setting, hotels and restaurants can boast the freshest house-grown organic produce that comes from rooftop setups or can even be a centerpiece attraction. Imagine a beautiful fish tank wall and garden where you get to choose your own organic meal. Restaurateurs have also found that in addition to being sustainable from the environmental perspective, aquaponically grown herbs have also proven to be very profitable for hotels and restaurants that go through high demands on a daily basis.
The continued rise of aquaponics throughout metro Vancouver, coupled with the rest of the urban agriculture movement, will be the basis for our upcoming series– stay tuned!