Aquaponics has proven more popular with gardeners than with any other group. This is hardly surprising when we look at the extensive list of strengths afforded by this method of gardening. The ease of production, high rate of productivity and the inherent versatility of the system will ensure that aquaponic gardening is here to stay.
Let’s begin with the strengths first of all.
- 90% less water. All the water used is retained in water-tight containers and is prevented from draining away naturally. Only that lost through evaporation and transpiration needs to be replaced. It’s not surprising that aquaponics is so popular in Australia.
- No digging. The plants are grown in lightweight media and the nutrients supplied via a constant supply of water. There is no compaction and digging is a thing of the past.
- No watering. The plants always have access to water and nutrients. Provided evaporation losses are made up there is no requirement for regular watering. A simple ball-valve could be used to automate any top up required.
- Very little weeding. I wouldn’t say that there is no weeding but any weeds that do appear are very easily dealt with. It’s almost a joy!
- No soil borne pests and diseases. Lack of soil reduces the presence of both plant and fish pests and diseases. The life cycle of many pests are naturally broken in the absence of soil. As a consequence there is less need to resort to pesticides.
- No messy soil. Often we quite like to get our hands dirty. There are times however, when we, and the kids, would rather be kept clean Clean conditions are specially welcome when growing and harvesting salad crops on a daily basis.
- No Bending. It is often possible to have our grow beds at bench height. This makes gardening a real comfort. For many people, in many situations, this is often essential. It also helps to keep the plants away from ground level pests such as slugs, snails and even rabbits.
- Greater productivity. The constant supply of water and nutrients allows closer spacing of plants than would normally be the case. Growth rates are also generally greater and hence allows us to produce more plants in a given area.
- Great for polytunnels and greenhouses. Aquaponics lends itself remarkably well to polytunnel and greenhouse gardening. Both the fish and the plants , not to mention the gardeners, greatly appreciate the higher temperatures and protection from the great British weather.
- Organic. This is becoming more and more important to more and more people. Aquaponics does not involve nearly so many pesticides and artificial fertilisers. They can often be completely eliminated. They are not necessary and besides, could have a catastrophic affect on the health of the fish.
- Excellent wheelchair access. Disabled gardeners should not be restricted by aquaponics in any way.
- Aquaponic systems can be located anywhere. Systems are not dependent upon local soil conditions as none is required. Equally, water availability is less important. Even light levels can be raised with simple lighting kits.
- VERSATILITY. I’ve saved the most important strength ’til last. Aquaponics is nothing if not versatile. The range of fish and plants suitable for aquaponics is extensive and can be chosen according to individual preferences. Systems can be entirely functional or geared more to display. The choice is yours.
Well I didn’t expect quite such a long list of strengths. I’m sure you can think of many more. Remember, aquaponics is extremely versatile and everyone can have a system tailored made.
It wouldn’t be fair however, not to discuss potential weaknesses and pitfalls. None of these are insurmountable. Indeed, many people would see some of the following as strengths.
Opportunities for aquaponic gardening
- Disabled access. Engage with adults and children of all abilities. Wheel chair access is easy to incorporate. Remember no bending is needed.
- Use of redundant buildings. The addition of lighting, heating and ventilation systems allows the use of many redundant buildings. Rooftops, basements and wasteland can all be put to good use.
- Year round production. The additional costs of lighting, heating and ventilation can often be offset by all year round production.
Finally, it is important to recognise that there are some potential threats to aquaponic gardening. Careful system design and a bit of preparation turns a potential catastrophe into a minor inconvenience.
- Power failure. Fish depend upon the continuous operation of pumps to provide oxygen and clean water. Overcome the threat of power failure by using an air pump as an additional source of aeration and have a spare water pump always available. Keep fish stocking densities as low as possible to maximise survival times for the fish in the event of a power failure. Today, there are more and more opportunities to mitigate this threat by developing smart monitoring systems over the internet.
- Disease. This is always a threat with any living creatures. In a farming situation with high densities of livestock this becomes even more important. Organic plant pest control techniques are essential in order to safeguard the health of the fish. Above all else, the importance of finding a good reliable source of disease-free fish cannot be overemphasised.
These are my personal recommendations to ensure success with any aquaponic gardening system.
- Start off small. Give your biofilter time to mature. Fish can grow remarkably quickly when operating systems below their maximum carrying capacity. Aquaponics is a rapidly expanding technology. Every system is unique so it’s really useful to get to know how your own system performs before committing to a full-scale operation.
- Install in a low-cost polytunnel. If you, like most gardeners, prefer a fully productive system rather than pure display then put your aquaponic system in a polytunnel or greenhouse. Weather proof gardening without bending is a wonderful thing for many of us.
- Install a small lighting system. Demonstrate the connection of light and plants. and extend the growing season.
- Pick the fish that’s right for you. Obvious really! To help you decide see our advice on best fish for aquaponics fish.
Have I missed anything out? Share your thoughts and help make this a better resource for everyone.