Even if you don’t have a large amount of land available, you can still learn valuable homesteading skills, grow your own food, and preserve the harvest from your garden. You can do all these things through aquaponics. An aquaponic system can help maximize your efforts in growing your own food by letting you grow plants and cultivate fish for consumption without requiring soil or a lot of land for farming. This article will discuss what aquaponics is and why it is one of the best gardening methods for homesteading.
What is Aquaponics and How Does it Work?
Aquaponics is the cultivation of crops and fish in a controlled recirculating environment. In aquaponics, fish are kept in fish tanks while the plants are grown hydroponically (without soil). Fish wastes provide the nutrients needed by the plants to thrive in the system.
They pump the water from the fish tank into the grow bed or grow pipes. Plant roots absorb the nutrients in the water, and in return, plant roots clean the water before flowing back to the fish tank, where the cycle will begin again.
Why is Aquaponics the Best Gardening Method for Homesteading?
Aquaponics is well-suited to homesteading because it is a recirculating agricultural system that can be built indoors, in a greenhouse, or in your backyard. Whatever your gardening needs, there are several types of aquaponics systems you can choose from.
Aquaponics is a budget-friendly investment that is popular with DIYers who like using recyclable food-grade materials. This gardening method also allows aquaponics growers to use solar panels for an independent off-the-grid aquaponics system.
Here are some reasons why aquaponics is one of the best gardening methods for homesteading:
- Aquaponics will meet your dietary needs. The fish and plants will fulfill your needs while embracing a healthy lifestyle.
- Aquaponics does not use harmful chemicals and pesticides because it might harm the fish in the system.
- There is no waste in aquaponics. Decayed organisms and other debris are recycled back to the system.
- Aquaponics uses 90% less water than traditional gardening.
- With aquaponics, you can grow food all year round.
- Plants grown in aquaponics grow three times faster than other gardening methods, allowing you to preserve more of your harvests.
- An aquaponics system is cost-effective and may provide you an additional source of income in the long run.
- Knowing you’re providing healthy and organic food to your family through a sustainable gardening method will give you personal satisfaction.
Types of Aquaponics System Designs
These are the most commonly used types of aquaponics designs for home growers:
Media Filled Bed
Media-filled beds are the simplest type of aquaponics design. In this system, the containers are filled with growing media (expanded clay or similar) into which the plants are planted. The water from the fish tank is then pumped, or flows via gravity, into the grow bed so that plants can absorb the nutrients. The grow media also serves as a filter to clean the water before it flows back to the fish tank. This system can be run either by a continuous flow of water over the growing media or by flooding and draining the grow bed using a siphon. Examples of media-filled beds are IBC tote and barrel aquaponics systems.
Nutrient Film Technique
The fish tank’s nutrient-rich water is pumped through the PVC pipes in a thin film in this system. The pipes have holes cut on the top in which the plants are grown by using small plastic cups to allow their roots to dangle in the flowing water at the bottom.
The roots then absorb the nutrients and purify the water, and since their roots are only submerged partially, it allows aeration as well. The clean water is pumped back into the fish tank. NFT is only suitable for growing plants and herbs that have a smaller root system.
Also known as Deep Water Culture (DWC), the raft system uses a raft (polystyrene) to grow plants. These rafts float on top of the fish tanks or long channels. The rafts have well-placed holes in which plants are grown in net pots. This method is often used in large commercial aquaponics systems.
Hybrid Aquaponics System
The hybrid system combines the two or three main types of aquaponics designs into one system. The combination of a raft system and the media-filled bed aquaponics system is often used in this method.
The Necessary Components of an Aquaponics System
A variety of fish grows well in an aquaponics system. For the success of your aquaponics system, choose fish that is easy to grow and disease resistant. You can select between ornamental fish or fish that you can use for food. Ornamental fish are koi and goldfish, while food varieties are tilapia, catfish, bass, and bluegill.
Growing plants for food is the main goal of an aquaponics system, so you must choose the right plants. Remember that you need to avoid planting nutrient-hungry plants like tomatoes, peppers, and other fruit-bearing plants until your system is fully established. Leafy greens, lettuce, and herbs are great for a new aquaponics system. You add nutrient-hungry plants to your garden later, when the system is fully established.
Bacteria convert fish waste into nutrients absorbed by the plants. Make sure that your system has enough surface area for the bacteria to grow.
1. Fish Tank
The fish tank is an essential component of an aquaponics system as it serves as the home to your fish. Fish require specific conditions to survive and thrive, so you must choose your fish tank wisely. A round fish tank is recommended because it allows the water to circulate uniformly and transports solid wastes to the tank’s center through centripetal force.
2. Grow Bed
The grow beds are another important component of an aquaponics system. The grow beds will hold your plants and the water they need to grow healthy. Depending on your choice of aquaponics system designs, your grow bed can be PVC pipes, a floating raft, or a media bed.
3. Grow Media
Grow media is used to give support to the plants in the grow bed. It also acts as the place for the beneficial bacteria to colonize and convert ammonia into nitrates. The most common growing media used are clay pebbles, lava rock, and expanded shale.
Pipes are needed to move the water from the fish tank to the grow bed. The recommended pipes to use in an aquaponics system are PVC pipes.
5. Water Pump
The water pump carries the nutrient-rich water from the fish tank to the plants. So choosing the right pump for your system size is important to get the performance that you want. For smaller systems, a submersible pump can work well. The submersible pump sits in the fish tank and works to pump water to the grow bed, creating turbulence, which helps increase the dissolved oxygen in the water.
6. Water Test Kits
Water test kits are essential for aquaponics systems to test the following water parameters: pH level, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrates. Too much ammonia and too high a pH level in the water can harm the fish in your fish tank, so you must monitor and control the ammonia and pH levels in your system.
Getting Started with an Aquaponics System
Interested in setting up a sustainable aquaponics garden now? Here are a few things to keep in mind if you decide to build an aquaponics system in your homestead:
- It is better to DIY your aquaponics system than buy a pre-made system. DIY aquaponics is easier than you think, although you need to purchase a checklist of materials such as a fish tank and pump. You might also use flow meters in your system. What’s excellent with DIYing your system is you can use recycled materials to lower your startup cost. If you’re a beginner in aquaponics and want to DIY your system, don’t worry, there are many free online resources available.
- You must cycle your new system first to establish the beneficial bacteria. Depending on your method of cycling, it can take several days. So you have to be patient and do regular water tests to check your pH, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates levels.
- Climate has a significant impact on the success of your aquaponics system. Aquaponics thrive in warmer climates, so if you live in a colder climate, you may have to set up your system indoors or use a greenhouse to grow food all year round.
- Choose plants and fish that are suitable for your location and climate.
- Have fun with your aquaponics system. Aquaponics is an interesting way to grow your food. Get the entire family involved so that you’ll all learn and appreciate the benefits of having a sustainable garden in your homestead.
Where to Set Up The Aquaponics System in Your Homestead?
One question you need to address in setting up your system is; where to put your tank and grow beds? The best location to set up your aquaponics system is in any south-facing space or a place with access to at least six hours of sunlight, near to a water and electrical source, and easily accessible. If you have a large space available in your homestead, it is best to use a greenhouse because it allows you to control the temperature inside, and your plants and fish are safe from any intruders.
However, if you live in the city and do not have large space available but want to try homesteading, you can use your basement, garage, or any space inside the house to set up your aquaponics system. Also, invest in a good-quality grow light since sunlight and heat are essential for both fish and plants.
Homesteading is not a piece of cake, but having a sustainable aquaponics system that can produce both fish and vegetables will make it easier. A mature aquaponics system can grow a lot of food very quickly, making it the best gardening method for homesteads. Having a sustainable way of growing your own food will allow you to live a self-sufficient lifestyle. All it takes is proper planning and effort.