kellenw

Article: What is Aquaponics?

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Aquaponics is the combination of two well-known food production methods, aquaculture and hydroponics, functioning together in a semi-symbiotic manner. The word "aquaponics" is a word blend, or better stated, a portmanteau that attempts to more precisely describe the practice of integrated aquaculture (growing aquatic animals like fish, mussels, crayfish and others in combination with plants). The "aqua" portion comes from aquaculture, and the "ponics" portion comes from hydroponics. In other words...

....Aquaponics = Aquaculture + Hydroponics. So, let's take a look at the two growing methods that form the foundation of aquaponics.

Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS)

Recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) are capable of efficiently producing massive amounts of fish and other aquatic livestock in a very small footprint. However, the organisms (fish, crayfish, mussels, etc.) in these systems produce a copious amount of nitrogenous waste, which becomes increasingly toxic to these inhabitants as it builds up in the system. In order for the fish to survive and continue growing, this waste must be dealt with. A well designed RAS will include mechanical filtration and bio filtration components. The mechanical filtration removes solids (fish excrement, bacterial floc, algae, etc.). Next, bio filtration converts toxic ammonia in the water to nitrite and then to nitrate by utilizing nitrifying bacteria. Nitrate is far less toxic to fish than ammonia and nitrite, but it still must be dealt with, otherwise it will continue to accumulate. In extremely high concentrations, it too can be toxic to fish, and there is a risk that it can "revert" back into toxic forms if left in the system.

Methods to reduce these nitrogenous compounds can include partial water replacement, chemical treatment and fairly elaborate off-gassing systems. As you can imagine, handling, treating and removing these nitrogenous wastes can represent a considerable expense when running a traditional RAS system. Aquaponics seeks to turn this "negative" into a "positive" by utilizing plants to remove the nitrogen, primarily in nitrate form, from the system. Essentially, when you harvest plants from the system, you are removing nitrogen. So what was once an "expense" can potentially be a "profit".

Hydroponics Systems

Hydroponics gardening is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions in water, without soil. Terrestrial plants may be grown with their roots in direct contact with nutrient solution or in an inert medium, such as expanded clay, gravel, mineral wool (rock wool), perlite, vermiculite, coconut husks, etc. Hydroponics systems are capable of producing massive amounts of plant mass in a high density, controlled environment. However, the nutrient inputs tend to be quite expensive, and require fairly routine flushing and replenishment. The flushed chemical solution is still quite high in nutrients, particularly nitrogen and concentrated minerals, leading to concerns of proper and ecologically responsible disposal. Aquaponics seeks to provide the bulk of the nutrients required for hydroponic systems via fish waste.

The Two Become One

There is no doubt that both recirculating aquaculture and hydroponics are extremely efficient methods of producing food in their own right, but by combining the two methods in the form of aquaponics, we seek to more fully utilize the "waste" from both methods, and thereby gain efficiency that neither method would technically achieve on its own. It is important to note that beneficial nitrifying bacteria are what really make an aquaponics system work. Nitrifying bacteria are quite literally the tie that binds the aquaculture and hydroponics components together, allowing them to work together. While it is entirely possible to establish this bacterial population (called cycling) with fish present, we strongly encourage first-time aquaponics growers to establish a strong population of these beneficial bacteria prior to stocking fish (called fishless cycling).

I'll leave you with a quote from Gary Donaldson, author of The Urban Aquaponics Manual: "While fish and plants are the visible biological elements of an aquaponics system, beneficial bacteria are the key to its successful operation."


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For me it's

 

"Symbiosis between any type of aquaculture and any type of hydroponics "

 

I go for symbiosis because closest explains relationship.

 

Symbiosis ( from Ancient Greek"together" and "living" ) is close and often long-term interaction between two or more different biological species.

 

 

gl&hf

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For me it's

 

"Symbiosis between any type of aquaculture and any type of hydroponics "

 

I would extend it to any type of agriculture and/or ornamental gardening where the excess nutrients from the AQ part is used.

 

It's AP when you grow/cultivate, for the purpose of harwesting, on one, the other, or both in my view.

Including separated systems (open loop).

 

Gary put this Q up some time ago here http://aquaponicsnation.com/forums/topic/7518-what-is-aquaponics/

I think it came in a "tsunami" of Q's so it was hard to "answer" or respond to all (when he started building the Q/A section)

So like this Q is dubble posted/raised, so are a few other themes, and unfortunatelly the links between the same Q's adressed, on the old HQ platform is dead ends, might be confusing for new and old APN members ? When searching/reading Q/A's

 

cheers

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IMO, separated systems (open loop) is Integrated Aquaculture under which belongs AP ( as one of many types of Integrated Aquaculture ).

 

Unless If it is considered that these are two names for the same thing.

 

For me isn't.

 

gl&hf

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I tend to agree Caca.  In my view, aquaponics is more or less just a fancy and relatively new portmanteau for the practice of growing plants and aquatic animals together, within the broader concept of integrated aquaculture.

 

So, aquaponics is integrated aquaculture, but integrated aquaculture isn't necessarily aquaponics.

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Hi Kellen,

 

I agree entirely.......and, in my view, integrated aquaculture is the future of farming......for which aquaponics is a mere sideshow.

 

Gary

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Agreed Gary.  It's merely my hope that the "fad" of aquaponics serves to make more people aware of the more robust concept and practice of integrated aquaculture.

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Agreed Gary.  It's merely my hope that the "fad" of aquaponics serves to make more people aware of the more robust concept and practice of integrated aquaculture.

 

I think anything that raises awareness of how clean fresh food is produced is going to be helpful.   While many of the backyard practices cannot be directly translated into commercial integrated aquaculture, they may act as trigger points for competent businesspeople.

 

And I share your view that aquaponics is (as things currently stand) a fad.

 

Gary

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Here's what I've compiled so far in attempt at our own official answer to "What is Aquaponics"....

Any suggestions on modifications, additions, etc.... are welcome and appreciated! :)

-------------------

 

What is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is the combination of two well-known food production methods, aquaculture and hydroponics, functioning together in a semi-symbiotic manner. The word "aquaponics" is a word blend, or better stated, a portmanteau that attempts to more precisely describe the practice of integrated aquaculture (growing aquatic animals like fish, mussels, crayfish and others in combination with plants). The "aqua" portion comes from aquaculture, and the "ponics" portion comes from hydroponics. In other words... 

 

....Aquaponics = Aquaculture + Hydroponics.  So, let's take a look at the two growing methods that form the foundation of aquaponics.

 

Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS)
Recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) are capable of efficiently producing massive amounts of fish and other aquatic livestock in a very small footprint.  However, the organisms (fish, crayfish, mussels, etc.) in these systems produce a copious amount of nitrogenous waste, which becomes increasingly toxic to these inhabitants as it builds up in the system.  In order for the fish to survive and continue growing, this waste must be dealt with.  A well designed RAS will include mechanical filtration and bio filtration components.  The mechanical filtration removes solids (fish excrement, bacterial floc, algae, etc.).  Next, bio filtration converts toxic ammonia in the water to nitrite and then to nitrate by utilizing nitrifying bacteria.  Nitrate is far less toxic to fish than ammonia and nitrite, but it still must be dealt with.  In extremely high concentrations, it too is toxic to fish, and there is a risk that it can "revert" back into toxic forms if left in the system.
 
Methods to reduce these nitrogenous compounds can include partial water replacement, chemical treatment and fairly elaborate off-gassing systems.  As you can imagine, handling, treating and removing these nitrogenous wastes can represent a considerable expense when running a traditional RAS system.  Aquaponics seeks to turn this "negative" into a "positive" by utilizing plants to remove the nitrogen, primarily in nitrate form, from the system.  Essentially, when you harvest plants from the system, you are removing nitrogen.  So what was once an "expense" can potentially be a "profit".
 
Hydroponics Systems
Hydroponics is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions in water, without soil. Terrestrial plants may be grown with their roots in direct contact with nutrient solution or in an inert medium, such as expanded clay, gravel, mineral wool (rock wool), perlite, coconut husks, etc.  Hydroponics systems are capable of producing massive amounts of plant mass in a high density, controlled environment.  However, the nutrient inputs tend to be quite expensive, and require fairly routine flushing and replenishment.  The flushed chemical solution is still quite high in nutrients, particularly nitrogen and concentrated minerals, leading to concerns of proper and ecologically responsible disposal.  Aquaponics seeks to provide the bulk of the nutrients required for hydroponic systems via fish waste.
 
The Two Become One
There is no doubt that both recirculating aquaculture and hydroponics are extremely efficient methods of producing food in their own right, but by combining the two methods in the form of aquaponics, we seek to more fully utilize the "waste" from both methods, and thereby gain efficiency that neither method would technically achieve on its own.  It is important to note that beneficial nitrifying bacteria are what really make an aquaponics system work. While it is entirely possible to establish this bacterial population (called cycling) with fish present, we strongly encourage aquaponics growers to establish a strong population of these beneficial bacteria prior to stocking fish (called fishless cycling). 
 
I'll leave you with a quote from Gary Donaldson, author of The Urban Aquaponics Manual: "While fish and plants are the visible biological elements of an aquaponics system, beneficial bacteria are the key to its successful operation."


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Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture (the growing of fish) and hydroponics (the growing of plants in water without soil). This integrated system works so well because the two form a symbiotic relationship;  and nutrients and resources are recycled between the two. The fish provide waste, which the bacteria turn into plant nutrients, providing the plants with food and the fish with clean water. Indeed, bacteria is the linchpin which keeps the whole system running.

With regards to the set-up, it is actually very simple. You have the fish tanks, in which you grow fish, and on top of the tanks sits the grow bed. The grow bed is the surface in which the plants are rooted and is the location of most of the bacteria in the system. The grow bed can be made of different materials, but a common one is gravel. Gravel is ideal because it filters the water and provides support to the roots. In addition, it has a large surface area and can house a large number of bacteria.

In an Aquaponics system, water is pumped from the fish tank to the grow bed, where the bacteria reside. The bacteria break down the fish waste and convert it to nitrates, an excellent fertilizer. The plants take up the nitrates and some of the water, and in the process filter the water. The water is then returned cleaned to the fish tank via gravity.

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