Understanding Aquaponics: A Quick & Simple Guide to Growing Food with Fish

If you want to grow a garden but feel limited by your lack of outdoor space or short growing season, aquaponics may be a solution to consider…

No matter where you live or what climate you live in, you can still enjoy the many benefits of homegrown food with the help of an aquaponics system, which allows you to grow food anywhere – even indoors. The quick guide below will give you the basics of what you should know about this unique growing method before getting started:

What Is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is a hydroponic-based method of growing in water, but it uses fish to provide vital nutrients for the plants. In aquaponics, plants are grown on top of or next to a fish tank. The fish living in the tank produce waste, and bacteria break the waste down into minerals and nutrients that are usable by the plants. The water is delivered to the plants’ roots either via a pump or by growing the plants directly in the tank. The plants are housed in a bed or a floating raft and are typically grown in gravel or clay pellets. The plants help to clean the water which is then cycled back into the tank, creating a closed-loop system for growing food.

What Are The Benefits Of Growing with Aquaponics?

Some of the main benefits of using aquaponics include less overall maintenance than with a traditional garden. There will be no weeds and should be few if any pests. Using an aquaponic gardening system also allows you to grow food indoors in cooler climates or areas where you may not have space for a traditional garden. You can also breed and consume the fish as food if you like, creating multiple food sources from one system. Aquaponics also lends itself well to organic gardening, and indeed, chemicals should not be used in an aquaponic system as they may harm the fish.

What Equipment Do You Need?

The aquaponics equipment you’ll need depends largely on the type of aquaponic setup you are considering. There are three main types of systems: media beds, deep water culture, and nutrient film. All forms of aquaponics require a tank for the fish to live in, although the size of the tank will depend on the type and number of fish being used.

A media bed setup utilizes planters that are placed either alongside or on top of the fish tank. A pump is placed inside the tank, with lines running from the tank to a watering setup located above the plants. The watering rig and pump deliver water from the tank to your plants. If the media bed is located over the fish tank, any excess water will filter down through the plants and back into the tank.

A deep water culture setup uses planters that float on top of the tank like a raft. The roots hang directly into the water, so there is no need for a pump or watering system.

A nutrient film setup is basically a cross between the other two systems. This type of system involves pumping water from the tank through PVC pipes to the plants. Small holes are drilled in the pipes, and the plants’ roots are allowed to grow into the holes. As the water flows through the pipes, the roots absorb the nutrients.

What Kinds Of Plants Can You Grow?

With aquaponics, you can grow just about all the same things that you would in a traditional soil garden. However, there are some plants that are better suited to growing with aquaponics than others. Some types of plants that usually thrive in an aquaponic system include leafy green vegetables, salad greens, and herbs. Tomatoes, squash, beans, cucumbers, and other vining plants may also work well and can be grown vertically to save space.

What Types of Fish Should You Use?

You can use just about any type of fish in an aquaponic system. Tilapia is one of the best as they rarely spread disease, are generally low-maintenance, and are able to survive well under many different conditions. If you plan to eat the fish in addition to using them to help you grow vegetables, tilapia is a good choice. Other good options include goldfish, koi, and carp.

The Bottom Line

Aquaponics makes gardening accessible even when you don’t have enough outdoor space for a traditional garden, or when you live in a cooler climate and aren’t able to grow food outdoors for a large part of the year. Aquaponics systems are generally easy to set up and even easier to maintain. If you would like to learn more about getting started with aquaponics, we recommend Aquaponics: 4 Easy and Affordable Ways to Build Your Own Aquaponic System and Raise Fish and Plants Together, by Richard Bray, and Aquaponic Gardening: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Vegetables and Fish Together, by Sylvia Bernstein.



Rose S.

An avid gardener since childhood, I love sharing my passion for gardening with others! I have gardened in a number of different climates and settings, from large fenced garden plots, to tiny patio and container gardens, and I firmly believe that everyone can learn to grow at least some of their own food - no matter where you live. Growing your own food can help you take control of your own health and food supply, and there has never been a better time to get started!

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