Some believe the Aztec were first to engage in agricultural use of aquaponics, raising plants on floating islands in fish ponds.
Others refer to ancient Egypt. Either way, it is clear that aquaponics have ancient roots.
What is aquaponics?
Aquaponics is the simultaneous cultivation of plants and aquatic animals in a symbiotic environment where the animal waste by-products that accumulate in the water are used and filtered out by the plants as nutrients, after which the water is recirculated back to the animals. The system consists of two parts; one of them a traditional aquaculture system and traditional hydroponics system, and basically takes the waste by-products generated from aquaculture for use as the nutrient solution for hydroponics. The hydroponics portion of the system in turn acts as the filtration system to maintain water quality for aquaculture portion. Aquaponic systems vary in size from small indoor units to large commercial units. They can use fresh or salt water depending on the type of aquatic animal and vegetation.
Aquaponics, consists of two main parts with the aquaculture part for raising aquatic animals and the hydroponics part for growing plants. Aquatic effluents resulting from uneaten feed or raising animals like fish accumulates in water due to the closed system recirculation of most aquaculture systems. The effluent-rich water becomes toxic to the aquatic animal in high concentrations but these effluents are nutrients essential for plant growth.
Plants are grown with their roots immersed in the nutrient-rich effluent water similar to hydroponic systems. This enables them to utilize the nutrient-rich water and filter out the compounds toxic to the animals. The water coming from the aquaculture part of the system is first allowed to settle in order to remove solid wastes. This also allows time for nitrification of ammonia in the system into nitrates usable by the plants as well as oxygenation of the water. The plants in turn take up the nutrients, reducing or eliminating the water’s toxicity for the aquatic animal. The water, now clean and oxygenated, is returned to the aquatic animal environment and the cycle continues.
Aquaponic systems do not typically discharge or exchange water under normal operation. The system relies on the relationship between the animals and the plants to maintain a stable aquatic environment that experience a minimal of fluctuation in ambient nutrient and oxygen levels. Water is only added to replace water loss from absorption by the plants, evaporation into the air, or the removal of biomass such as settled solid wastes from the system.
The main input to the system other than water is the feed given to the aquatic animals.
Hydroponics As a farming tool, many believe hydroponics started in the ancient city of Babylon with its famous hanging gardens, which are listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and was probably one of the first successful attempts to grow plants hydroponically.
Hydroponic gardening probably first became a modem reality around 1940 when the U.S. Army used hydroponic gardening techniques to grow fresh vegetables in the Pacific Islands. NASA was instrumental in advancing the field of hydroponics. They were developing a way to cultivate food in space in the absence of light. One of the major factors was the cost of putting these materials into space. They developed hydroponics systems as they are light, extremely efficient and have high yields. There are fully-fledged hydroponics systems in a number of American nuclear submarines, Russian space stations and various off-shore drilling rigs.
The development of plastics materials freed growers from the costs of constructions associated with the concrete beds and tanks previously used. With the development of suitable pumps, time clocks, plastic plumbing and other equipment, the entire hydroponic system can now be automated, or even computerized, reducing both capital and operational costs.
Recently, interest in hydroponics gardening has substantially increased. The reasons for this probably include: firstly some of the major countries of the world continue to have problems producing food under typical conditions–either because of poor weather or poor soil, or both. Secondly, the indoor growing of marijuana led to an explosion of use of hydroponics because it could be operated more clandestinely and chemical fertilization could be optimized to optimize plant and flower production.
There are two main types of hydroponic systems: an open system and a closed system. In the open hydroponic systems, a nutrient solution that is typically prepared from commercial fertilizers is periodically fed to the plants supported in an inorganic growth medium of sand or rock. The nutrient solution is drained through the growth medium to the environment. In the closed hydroponic system, the nutrient solution is periodically fed to the plants supported in an inorganic growth medium and then collected and recirculated for further use in later periodic feeling cycles. Closed systems are preferred for being more environmentally friendly, less wasteful of nutrient solution and hence more economic. On the other hand, they suffer from the disadvantage that the recirculated solution deteriorates with each cycle, both in terms of the amount of nutrient available to the plant and in terms of the amount of waste products and contaminants such as salts that build up, necessitating periodic flushing-out and cleaning of the closed system.
Problems include build-up of inorganic salts or other plant waste, fluctuations in nutrient available, root rot and excessive root growth. Other problems include build-up of algae and widely fluctuating pH of the nutrient solution due to accumulation of waste in stagnant pockets of nutrient solution. Therefore, there is a need for entirely organic systems, such as bioponis, that avoids these problems, yet that provides an appropriate environment for growing plants without soil.
Where did all the silo’s go?
Silos used to dot the countryside of America. That was back in the day, when farmers appreciated the value of green manures as a of fodder for livestock. Animals get a tremendous amount of nutrients from green grasses and plant trimmings. This is particularly true when anaerobic bacteria work to decompose and ferment the greens. When plant matter decomposes in the presence of oxygen, as is common in open fields or untended composts, greenhouse gasses form and vital nutrients are lost. Nitrogen gas, hydrogen sulfide and CO2 are the consequence of not using silos to store these valuable by-products of the farm.
Tilapia are like cows.
They are vegetarians, herbivores. Contrary to conventional thinking, fish do not prefer manufactured foods. They like plants and bacteria that decompose those plants. Plus they eat algae. Duckweed is an exceptional plant that tilapia feed on as are the roots of water hyacinth and alligator weed. But to grow even water plants we must start by adding a nutrient loop and preferably with the green matter of crop trimmings. Abundantly available grasses and greens give us the feed stock for livestock and also fish and their diet of aquatic organisms.
So here’s how it works, harvest the grass, and put it into a silo. The barrels below are what we find to be most practical, unless of course you already own a silo. Barrels can be transported and in fact, when loaded with fish and animal fodder, are a commodity to farmers. Then store the green manure, letting it ferment. When raising fish we take some pounds of the manure and put it into our anaerobic or aerobic digester, or within Fertilizer Tea Bags, direclty into the Bigarden.
Silage fodder for herbivore fish, like tilapia and carp.
After a few weeks of decomposing in the silo we feed the grasses to our tilapia and make fertilizer teas for the Biogarden. Chickens like grass as do other foul and livestock. This is a great way to sustainably raise fish food, plant fertilizers and simultaneously, sequester CO2 and other greenhouse gasses.
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