Article Written by Ella Venus
There are various tasks that fresh water fish tank owners have to complete to keep a healthy miniature ecosystem in their tanks. Imagine being able to keep a tank that also sustainably produces fresh produce. Aquaponics is a new and innovative way of farming that helps people living in the city or on ruined land produce food efficiently and sustainably. Aquaponics could even be turned into a backyard growing system.
The main goal of aquaponics is for the fish and plants to create a symbiotic relationship. The plants act as a filter that removes toxic waste such as nitrates and poop, and the water gets a fresh supply of oxygen along the way. The fish create the poop and nitrate along with healthy gut bacteria that supports a microbiome needed to produce the best quality food. The microbiome is stored in small pores of the growing medium that helps maintain healthy roots. We as animals also need this microbiome or as some nutritionists will call it “good gut bacteria” in our gut to help us digest and process food correctly and healthfully. Most food in the U.S. does not have this healthy microbiome as our soil is being destroyed through tilling, repetitive crops, and pesticides and other harsh chemicals that kill microbes. Humans, along with other animals, need microbes and bacteria coming from their food to support a healthy GI tract. In short, a healthier microbiome creates better quality of food that it produces and substantially a better quality of life for the people who then consume that food.
Finding the right set up for an aquaponic garden is an art. Generally, there are grow beds filled with lava rock or LECA (lightweight expanded clay aggregate). Both of these materials hold water well and allow for water to pass through easily, creating a viable space for roots to grow. Farmers are suggested to start with a ratio of six gallons of water for every cubic foot of growing medium. There is no specific requirement for the tank, however, a powered pump is vital. The pump should cycle the water slow enough for the water to get filtered by the plants. Farmers find that the whole system should circulate every two hours. There is a period of time that farmers will spend tweaking amounts of water for the fish population and plant population until the system is healthy and balanced.
Additionally, the types of produce that can be grown through this system are endless. Farmers can grow anything from hot peppers to strawberries. Small fruit trees such as dwarf lemon and lime trees have also been grown but are more challenging. Out of the different fish species, tilapia is the go-to fish choice as they reproduce and maintain their own population very well. They are also a fast-growing fish and can be harvested after 34 weeks after hatching. Other popular fish farmers choose to farm are bass, perch, catfish, and sturgeon.
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