Does this name sound very scientific, or is it just me? Incidentally, this hi-tech sounding name carries a very simple meaning: utilizing waste from water creatures to grow plants. So, waste from water animals – or more respectful, aquatic animals – becomes food for plants. Aquaponics is actually one of the ways to optimize the resources available to provide food with invaluable nutrients to people.
Of course, there is something unique about the whole process of growing the plants because you do not need earth, as in soil. In short, in this very unique process, the plants grow in water just like fish do; they call it hydroponics. This hydroponics also sounds very scientific but at least you know hydro is something to do with water; so it will not leave you bewildered. So this farming technique uses liquid to produce vegetables and suchlike food, just the same way we use water to rear fish. And we are talking of plants that would ordinarily grow on land; the ones referred to as terrestrial plants.
Will any water suffice in aquaponics? No and yes. Meaning?
The water could be from a river, lake or dam, but the most important aspect is the composition of nutrients in that water. Normally you know clean water has just a few minerals that include mainly hydrogen and oxygen, as in H2O, and those are, obviously, insufficient to grow your vegetables from tender seedlings to the dining table. So, clearly, the water used in aquaponics needs to be richer. And that is where animal refuse comes in.
How animal farming helps in plant farming aquaponics lies in between aquaculture and hydroponics. And remember we mentioned that aquaponics utilizes animal refuse as plant food. Now, if you notice, aquaponics and aquaculture have a similar beginning. The aqua part indicates that both deal with water or liquid material. Aquaculture nurtures both water living animals and water living plants in order to produce food; and its geographical zone is broad and varied – including wild habitat like ocean and sea coastal areas. Hydroponics, on its part, deals solely with nurturing of plants in a watery environment that could sometimes have sand or gravel; still for the purpose of producing food. Now the place of mutual benefit is what we are calling aquaponics.
Why marry aquaculture and hydroponics to get aquaponics?
As mentioned above, this is an issue of optimizing the available resources. It is important to keep the cost of production as low as possible if we are to feed the world adequately and in a healthy way. For example, in hydroponics, it takes a big wallet to be able to supply the plants with all the necessary nutrients. In any case, you have got to buy them. Incidentally, these nutrients can go up to 20 in number, and the only ones that you do not need to buy are the ones that the natural water provides; namely, oxygen, hydrogen and carbon. Just think of the following nutrients that you need to enrich your water when doing hydroponics:
Then again, you cannot go on pumping sodium, phosphorous, copper, potassium, chloride, zinc, and all those other nutrients endlessly, and expect the environment to remain still healthy for the plants. Not with the whole process of food synthesis and release of by products by the plants. So, understandably, there is need to periodically flush the systems in order to dispose of waste. These processes not only call for consistent injection of money into the project, but also time. Then there are the challenges on the part on aquaculture. This one now calls for daily attention: clearing some portions of water as a way of dealing with excess nutrients in the liquid. This is not cheap either, especially when it comes to labor and supply of water; hence, the logic in merging the two farming technologies.
So how, exactly, does aquaponics cost you less to farm?
Here it is. You have your fish in the usual place: tank, pond or such other place. As life continues, the fish are feeding and relieving themselves, because you obviously supply them with food.
Do you know what would happen if that water remained intact for long?
You would soon lose your fish due to toxicity. But in aquaponics, you have an outlet from your fish habitat, which carries the water with fish refuse to the plants’ hydroponic tray. The plants flourish from the richness of that water, and as they consume the nutrients, the water becomes cleaner. That water is soon clean enough for the fish to dwell in; and, at that juncture, it is let back into the fish dwelling. So, in aquaponics, the fish benefit the plants and the plants benefit the fish – all to your advantage.