Aquaponics – low cost, green, low carbon and sustainable?
I have always had an interest in agriculture from as long as I can remember, stemming from trips to my grandparents’ house and walking through their vegetable garden. I have always had a patch of waste land in the garden in which I could grow my produce with varying degrees of results. Beetroot crops eaten entirely by worms, strawberry plants burnt by an intense summer, and my refusal to use non-organic fertiliser/plant food to keep the plants healthy has resulted in numerous poor harvests, but other harvests have been good, including 36 gallons of cider from apples one year, several large pumpkins and many carrots/potatos/berries of various varieties. In my humble opinion, I think it is becoming more and more important that people can rely upon supermarkets less, by having a local, green access to produce.
(Me with one of my home grown pumpkins…!)
This led me to research an increasingly popular agricultural practice called aquaponics. Stemmed from hydroponics (growing of plants in a mineral rich water, with no soil), aquaponics introduces fish to the system, which completes the nutrient cycle.
Plants are grown into seedlings before being transferred to large beds, full of clay beads or pea shingle. These beds, situated over a tank of fish, get filled up with water from the fish tank, before it is emptied back into the fish tank. The fish defecate and urinate in the water, producing vital nutrients, and the plants absorb these nutrients and ‘cleanse’ the water, before it drains back into the fish tank.
This method of agriculture has shown massive potential, with incredibly healthy plants growing in record times, with fresh, local, green and non-GM produce available on a seasonal basis (depending on location). Furthermore, it is a relatively cheap system to get up and running, with the main costs being a water pump and a solar panel/wind turbine and battery to power the pump. Recycling large plastic containers is a widely used method of obtaining grow beds and fish tanks.
Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the best part yet – you can grow and harvest edible fish, such as Perch or Tilapia.
On top of this, aquaponics only uses a set amount of water, so constant irrigation is not necessary, just occasional top-ups if the system is subjected to evaporation/evapotranspiration. It will soon become possible to grow in the cities, in sky scrapers, producing even more local, fresh and green produce and meat, infinitely more than a 100m2 field could produce, as there are multiple floors and it is possible to grow upwards.
So, with a garden, a couple of chickens, a goat/sheep or 2, and an aquaponics set up, you are well on your way to being green and relatively self-sustainable for the foreseeable future, all at a relatively low cost.
There are even off the shelf aquaponic kits that you can buy and install now, but the possibilities are endless, and could be a viable part of a solution to the world food dilemma. Following are some pictures to illustrate a healthy aquaponics set up -click picture to view source file.
This links to a basic introduction from a woman with a similar mindset to me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DMylpQqVKI
Another walkthrough of how to build/maintain. Check out how healthy the plants look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_2wvCSKd2M