How to Add Aquaponics to Your Fish System

Looking to decrease your water changes and grow some delicious veggies for your family to enjoy? Then you need AQUAPONICS!

What is “aquaponics?”

Aquaponics utilizes “natural” fertilizers in water to grow plants. It is similar to “hydroponics,” which uses synthetic fertilizers to grow plants. Aquaponics most often refers to growing fish and plants simultaneously, using the fish waste to grow the plants. In these setups, plants utilize the nitrates, produced by the last stage of the nitrogen cycle, to grow.

What fish are best for aquaponics setups?

Any fish can be utilized to grow plants, it really depends most on how many plants you have for a certain number of fish. Most tropical fish tanks do not produce enough nitrate. Tilapia are a commonly cultivated fish for their fast growth and commercial market, but they like warmer water than most plants. Koi and goldfish are a good setup for aquaponics, but you are likely to not make a lot of money on the fish since they are ornamentals, not sold for food.

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What plants are best for aquaponics?

Many plants can be grown using an aquaponics setup. It mainly depends on what pH your water settles out at. For beginners, leafy greens, such as lettuce and chard, and tomatoes are recommended. Once you have the basics down, you can branch out!

What do I need for an aquaponics setup?

If you already have an established tank or pond, you’re halfway there! Unestablished or new systems have to be fully cycled before getting started with aquaponics. This is because you need the final stage of the nitrogen cycle, nitrate, to fertilize your plants.

You will need a method of diverting water from your fish to your plants. You can consider a static flow system or a drain and refill. Drain and refill are slightly more complicated, but growers have gotten better yields. You can simply place a float on the surface of your tank or ponds, but don’t be surprised if curious fish eat your roots! For best results, divert water from your main system to a separate growing system.

Plants grown in aquaponics will require special substrate for their roots to grasp. There are many different options available and may depend on what veggies you want to grow.

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Why should I consider adding aquaponics to my system?

Aquaponic systems are designed to pull nitrate out of your system, make it useful (growing healthy veggies), and not letting it return to your system. Plants in ponds are also great at scrubbing out nitrate, but if you don’t trim dead pieces consistently, you are adding ammonia back into your system.

In order to have a successful aquaponic system, you have to carefully monitor your water quality. Too much nitrate is bad for your fish, but too little and your plants won’t grow. Resist adding additional fertilizer to your pond! Your fish might not be happy with certain chemicals and levels.

And just because your plants are scrubbing out your nitrate does not mean you can completely forget about your water changes! Other compounds, such as stress and reproductive hormones can build up and stress out your fish if you forgo your water changes. You will probably be able to decrease your volume or frequency of water changes, but do not stop them altogether.

For more resources about aquaponics, click here.

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