Here are some of the many advantages of aquaponics as a method of growing plants.
Producing a crop of tomatoes from regular farming methods means putting a seed into soil and watering it. This very simple act can actually lead to a number of problems:
- The soil around the tomato seed soaks up all the water and only a small quantity of it goes directly to the tomato plant.
- The water may feed other plants, such as weeds, which may flourish instead of the tomato and even ‘strangle’ it.
- There is a fine balance between how much water is sufficient and how much is too much. The tomato grower needs to know this and be careful that their plants are getting just the right amount of water.
Aquaponics removes all of these issues:
- Rather than sitting in soil, the roots of the tomato hang directly in nutrient enriched water.
- If you are growing tomatoes, then those are the only plants in the aquaponic set up and so the only plants getting watered and fed.
- Aquaponics work in a ‘closed-loop’. This means that there is no water evaporation with aquaponics and the water in the system is constantly recycled through the fish tank and plants.
- The only water lost is the water that the plant uses.
- Because the water in an aquaponics system is continually being recycled from the fish to the plants and is ‘cleaned’ as part of the process, you don’t have to change all of the water regularly. You can simply top it up as the plants use it.
In fact, water conservation is so effective with an aquaponic set up that research shows that it needs only 10% of the water of a regular farming system. For many would-be growers, this one of the most important advantages of aquaponics.
For more on water usage in aquaculture and aquaponic systems, this fact sheet is useful.
Rapid Plant Growth
Plants raised in an aquaponics set up can grow 3 times faster than those reared in soil, which should be enough to make even the most reluctant gardener sit up and take notice!
If you put a seedling in a patch of soil, that little plant will send out a tap root to find nutrients and this process takes a lot of energy.
If you put your same seedling in an aquaponics system, all its roots are suspended directly in nutrient-rich water and it doesn’t have to waste valuable energy looking for nourishment. This means the plant can put all of its energy into growing and the result is much faster growth.
This makes aquaponics very attractive to commercial farmers. After all, if you can get plants to grow 3 times faster than with conventional farming methods, then you have the possibility of producing 3 times the yield in the same time frame.
The following PBS film clip gives more insight into the future use of aquaponics in commercial farming:
Reduced Fertiliser & Pesticide Use
It is possible to operate a completely organic aquaponics system and to avoid using fertilisers and pesticides all together. Given the polluted state of much of our planet, this has to be one of the main advantages of aquaponics.
One of the huge attractions of aquaponic cultivation for the grower who wants to get back to organics is that it has its own built-in fertilisers in fish and marine life waste. As long as you also have the right kinds of bacteria present to break down the ammonia in the waste and convert it into nitrates, your plants shouldn’t need anything more.
There is no ‘soil’ with aquaponics – only a growing medium and nutrient-rich water. This means that soil-borne bugs and bacteria are totally removed from the growing environment and so aren’t an issue.
Also, if you construct your aquaponics tanks and growing beds in a closed environment like a greenhouse or even simply place a fine-holed net over it, you should be able to keep bugs and insects to a minimum.
Fish don’t like chemicals!
Pesticides, in particular, can be disastrous to fish. So try to keep your loop as ‘closed’ as you can and work towards an organic environment for your produce.
We’ve already talked about this above, but if you can keep fertilisers and pesticides away from your fish and plants, you’ll have beautiful organic silver perch with a side salad of lush mixed leaves for your dinner. Food as natural and untouched as that can only be healthy.
And eating healthy food means a healthy body for you and your family.
Sadly, not all the fish pulled from our oceans, rivers and lakes are free from pollution, so your aquaponically raised trout may actually be a healthier option than one caught on a fishing trip.
If you choose to try aquaponics yourself, then you’ll have a regular food supply literally on your doorstep.
The nature of the system means that you really don’t need much space to raise fish and plants. It’s possible to practice aquaponics in a regular suburban garden, on a high-rise balcony, in a disused industrial space or even on a rooftop. Not needing soil gives enormous flexibility once you have everything up and running.
With of the biggest advantages of aquaponics is that the farmer has a huge amount of control and this results in food security. A grower can have a system running in their garden and be very confident about how many fish it will produce and how long plants will take to mature. And if that structure is in a protected place like a greenhouse, then even variables like the weather and temperature will have little effect on yield.
Low Maintenance, Once Running
There is definitely a financial and time cost in setting up a system in the first place, but once you have done this, aquaponics is amazingly low maintenance.
There’s no soil to tend or work, no fertilisers and pesticides to spray and as most structures have the plants at waist height, you don’t even have to bend over to harvest them!
All you have to do is to monitor your water quality occasionally and plant new seedlings once the old plants have run their course.
If you take many of the points that I’ve already mentioned and analyse them, what you get is a model for socially responsible farming.
We’re talking about an incredibly environmentally friendly system of raising marine life and plants in harmony. Fertilisiers and pesticides are unnecessary and you can set up an aquaponics structure in very little space virtually anywhere. If you are farming only for your family at home then you are still reducing the air miles needed to produce your food. You nurture both fish and other marine creatures, along with vegetation and both are organic and healthy. Water is conserved, there is reduced pollution and the whole system is a great example of recycling.
As we become more aware of the environmental costs of feeding the global population, it’s no wonder that many are seeing aquaponics as the farming trend of the future.
If you are interested in hearing the other side of the aquaponics debate and would like to know about some of the disadvantages of aquaponics, read more here.