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Fish Plus Plants = Aquaponics

by Wina Garrett and John Geib

Are you wondering, like I did the first time I heard the word Aquaponics, what is that? The simplest definition I have heard is that it is the marriage of aquaculture (using fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system. The fish waste provides an organic food source for the growing plants, and the plants then provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in. This type of garden can be as large or as small as you would like for it to be. Basically, aquaponics gardening is a sustainable plant production system that is growing in popularity. Aquaponics allows families to grow vegetables and more with year-round with the right equipment.

Just about any vegetables can be grown in an aquaponics system, but certain ones do better than others. Green leafy plants like spinach, swiss chard, and lettuce do very well. Tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers also work well. A small aquaponics system can produce many pounds of produce in a season.

Several types of fish can be used in an aquaponics system. If you are not into eating fish, ornamental or pet fish can be used. Before you buy your fish, you need to see if what you are wanting to use is legal to purchase in your state.

Mother Earth News lists the following as the good news about aquaponics:

* Aquaponics enables home fish farming.

* Aquaponics uses 90% less water than soil-based gardening because the water is re-circulated and only that which the plants take up or evaporates ever needs replacing.

* Aquaponics results in two crops for one input (fish feed).

* Aquaponics is four to six time as productive on a square foot basis as soil-based gardening. This is because with this type of gardening, you can pack plants about twice as densely as you can in soil and the plants grow two to three times as fast as they do in soil.

* Aquaponics systems only require a small amount of energy to run a pump and aeration for the fish.

* Aquaponics is free from weeds, watering and fertilizing concerns, and because it is done at a waist-high level, it is easy on the back!

* Aquaponics is completely scalable. The same basic principles apply to a system based on a ten-gallon aquarium or a large commercial operation.

Aquaponics are straight forward to set up and operate in your own backyard. They can even be constructed using recycled materials, including old bathtubs and commercial containers used to ship liquid food items. Ron Nelson, a Permian Basin Master Gardener, built his system out of recycled items. He has his garden set up in a greenhouse made of old glass windows and sliding glass doors with food-based barrels for his plants and fish. He has beautiful tomatoes all year round.



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