Aquaponics are a very interesting development in the world of permaculture and offer some great benefits and advantages. Let’s take a look at hydroponics and aquaponics to see what they offer, and how aquaponics functions in comparison to hydroponics.
Hydroponics – the ingenious and highly optimized system of growing plants in water. Commercially available nutrients provide all that is needed for the reservoir and after these nutrients have been added the growing begins. This is really great for those who want to hit the ground running.
Careful attention needs to be paid when adding elements to the system though as it needs to be completely sterile. This sterile system uses a flood and drain technique allows for fertigation (fertilization and irrigation at the same time) and optimal water as well as nutrient levels. Of course, there are many supplements available to maintain the perfect nutrient levels, for the right price.
As previously mentioned, absolutely everything that comes in contact with a hydroponic system must be sterilized in order to ensure that pythium, otherwise known as root rot, doesn’t take hold and destroy one’s plants. This fungus is an absolute scourge in hydroponics. The temperature of the system needs to be kept below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything above that temperature and the root rot will have a prime environment.
Regular dumping of the water makes sure that the nutrient imbalances that inevitably developed are controlled. There is eventual build up of the nutrients that are supplied in mineral form, and this needs to be balanced out again. This is tested by checking for electrical conductivity in the water due to all the salts and minerals added. Dumping this water can be tricky if there isn’t a safe and convenient location though. Everything in a hydroponic system is scrutinized and controlled, from the water pH level to the temperature, because the natural systems that would prevent things like root rot have been sterilized right out of the equation.
Aquaponics shows us that following Mother Nature’s recipe is best. While hydroponics may work for some people, the fact is that aquaponic systems work with nature, instead of against it. A self-sustaining ecosystem is created with aquaponics, and with that comes natural defenses against diseases like root rot. By creating an ecosystem with a fully balanced cycle, the plants and fish are able to live out happy, healthy life cycles that provide the benefits of the desired plants and fish to you, the cultivator of the system.
Like most good relationships, aquaponics isn’t a short fused jump to start. It takes about a month for nitrifying bacteria to settle in and build a large enough colony to be able to do the work you need them too. These fantastic bacteria are the probiotics to your aquaponics. Without them, the ammonia in fish waste would go to waste.
Remember, ammonia breaks down into nitrates, something that is highly beneficial for plant growth. With nitrates, there is no need for supplements to enhance plant growth. You will have the most natural and beneficial form of fertilization going on in the water already. These nifty nitrifying bacteria are the foundation, the very engine of an aquaponics system, and prove that nature has her own, superior mechanisms for life and growing it. Sterilization, unfortunately, kills good and bad bacteria, and so leaves the burden of maintaining every little detail to the cultivator of a hydroponic system.
Now that there is a balanced system that will process the fertilization being automatically added to the water by the fish, there is no need for any dumping. The water simply needs to be added when evaporation drops the water level. A healthy system will maintain itself so there will be no need for pesticides or antibiotics – with all parts functioning in harmony they protect each other. This also means more natural temperatures, pH level and electrical conductivity. Electrical conductivity is not a concern in aquaponics because mineral supplements are not needed.
So what do you get out of having an aquaponics system that you wouldn’t get out of a hydroponic one?
● Instead of having to dump water; water costs are reduced by only needing to top up the water.
● Because there is no need to dump the water that is imbalanced and, therefore, bad for the environment, there is no need to carefully plan for dumping the water.
● Supplements and plant nutrients are not needed.
● Fish food is inexpensive and provides two benefits:
A. The money invested in fish food results in the fertilization that the fish supply as well as beautiful, delicious fish (if you wish to eat them.)
B. The time and effort saved by not having to apply intense monitoring and control to a sterilized environment.
● A beautiful, natural, symbiotic relationship taking place that provides great plant growth and animal life.
● No more root rot!