Organic Aquaponics Growing Practices for Beginners

Introduction to an organic aquaponics growing

The Aquaponics system is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. The Aquaponics system uses these two in a symbiotic combination in which plants are fed the aquatic animals’ discharge or waste. In return, the vegetable plants clean the water that goes back to the fish. Along with the fish and their waste, microbes play the main role in the nutrition of the plants. The effect is a perfect collaboration between aquaculture and gardening. The fish waste provides organic food for the plants and the plants naturally filter the water in which the fish live.

A step by step guide to an organic aquaponics growing

Aquaponics is a form of agriculture in which vegetable plants, fruits, and herbs are grown in a soil-less system. It is a method of growing food that has substantial advantages over any other form of agriculture, be it in soil, hydroponics, or other forms.

The word aquaponics is a portmanteau of Aquaculture and Hydroponics system.

Aquaculture is also known as aquafarming, is the farming of aquatic organisms such as fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and aquatic plants. Organic aquaponics is an emerging industry that distinguishes itself through the high quality of the products and by the ability to deliver organic food consistently. It has many benefits over other farming techniques and its application achieves substantial benefits towards population and environment.

Aquaponics is the future of growing 100% organic vegetables or fruits and fish which will;

  • Contribute to self-sustainability on a local, national, and global scale.
  • Making use of growing seasonal crops can make you self-sustainable the whole around.
  • And allow for better water preservation, which is paramount in drought-stricken countries.
  • This results in cleaner farming with zero-emission, which is environmentally beneficial and as a result will reflect in better overall human health.
  • Healthy 100% organic growing food, which will contribute to a mentally and physically healthier society as a whole.
  • Decrease the dependency of corporations that method foods on a large scale using unhealthy manufacturing processes with chemical additives, disastrous for human health.

Fish are one of the main components of an organic aquaponics and play a vital role in your system as they will be the source of natural fertilizer for the plants. Fish provide food and fertilizer for plants, so it is very important to plan which types of plants you want to grow and pair them with the right type of fish species. Certain fish and plants thrive at specific temperatures, so it is essential to carefully choose the fish to raise in your aquaponics system to make sure that fish and plants will be successful in the given water conditions. There are many types of fish that you can raise in the system, depending on your local climate and fish availability in your area. Large, small, edible, and decorative, there are many options to suit your needs. However, not all fish can be used in an aquaponics system, so you must select fish species that will survive and thrive in your system.

The Aquaponics system is a big hope for sustainable organic crop production, aquaculture, and water consumption. The fish waste is recycled and then used for plant growth instead of throwing it in the ocean. The water is recirculated in a closed system lowering the consumption of resources. The Aquaponics system is a sustainable farming or gardening method in which you can grow fish and vegetables in just one system. Though, plants and fish grow together symbiotically, with the help of beneficial bacteria. Fish waste is converted into nitrates, the plants use as fertilizer; the plants then filter and clean the water for the fish.

Organic aquaponics is a balanced and self-contained ecosystem. No chemicals or fertilizers are added or required to help the plants grow and thrive in an organic aquaponics system. Pests are kept to a minimum by having the grow beds up off the ground, using a greenhouse, and by using natural, non-toxic gardening methods.

Importance of pH control in an organic aquaponics growing

A neutral pH level from 6.8 to 7.2 is good for the aquaponics garden. Because of the fish waste, the pH level will become acidic and you will need to use aquaponics compatible pH adjusters. If the pH is not beneficial for the system that is too low or too high, the plants will not be able to absorb nutrients optimally and fish will die eventually. It is important to monitor the pH level each day and to keep it within the neutral range.

Benefits of an organic aquaponics growing

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Benefits of an organic aquaponics growing.
Benefits of an organic aquaponics growing.
  • Organic aquaponics is a way to grow organically your fish and vegetables at the same time. That means you feed the fish and the fish will feed your plants through their waste output.
  • Aquaponics gardening is necessarily organic. Natural fish waste provides all the food the plants need and pesticides would be harmful to the fish so they are never used. Hormones, antibiotics, and fish additives would be harmful to the plants so they are never used.
  • No fertilizer required in aquaponics. With the help of beneficial bacteria, it’s formed organically from the fish waste, cutting out fertilizer expense.
  • Organic aquaponics easily adapted for home and small-scale needs. It can be sized for continuous, economically sound, commercial produce production.
  • Yields nutrient-packed carbohydrates and protein in the form of vegetables and fish.
  • In aquaponics, less water is used for the crops and aquaponics gardens use 1/10th of the water you would use for soil garden.
  • Makes it easy to grow organic by prohibiting the use of pesticides or herbicides that would harm the fish in the aquaponics system.
  • Regular gardening pesticides or other chemicals can’t be used as they would harm the fish. Then, this results in healthier and organic vegetables.
  • You can grow plants in a small space and have a great harvest.
  • Plants grow fast because they get nutritious substances from fish waste.
  • Water is used in a closed system and circulated effectively, reducing the consumption and also the water bills.

Not all plants take well to organic aquaponics type of growing. Generally, the same vegetables that do well in hydroponic systems can be grown in organic aquaponics setups. These consist of lettuce and other leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, and herbs such as basil, mint, watercress, and chives.

Root vegetables such as carrots and turnips can be grown if the planting media is deep enough. They’re difficult to raise in floating raft-type setups where they produce strangely shaped, twisted roots.

Fish maintenance in organic aquaponics growing

In aquaponics, feed fish 2 – 3 times a day but don’t overfeed. This can be achieved by only feeding fish what they can eat in 5 to 10 minutes. Utilize high quality organic pelleted fish food to ensure that the fish are receiving a well-rounded diet and this will help prevent the fish from becoming sick or stressed. A healthy fish is the first line of defense to maintaining an organic aquaponics system. It’s best to observe fish during feeding and notice their nature. They won’t eat if they are too cold, too hot or stressed. Monitor the water quality and temperature level to ensure that the fish are in the optimal conditions and test water quality every other day for the first month, then about once a week. A water heater will ensure that the fish are kept at the optimal growing temperature level which will greatly influence the health and well being of the fish as well as influence their growth rate.

Causes and prevention of fish disease

Causes of fish disease in the aquaponics system

Diseases can be introduced by a new fish, plants, live food, or equipment used in the system. There must be a delicate balance in the fish tank to ensure that the fish remain healthy. Like all animals, fish carry bacteria, viruses, fungus, and also parasites. Not all of these are harmful, but some of these microorganisms known as pathogens have the potential to cause diseases. The below factors can cause fish disease;

  • Environment or poor water quality
  • Not getting along with other fish in the fish tank
  • A poor or unbalanced diet
  • Fish Stress
How to prevent fish diseases in aquaponics
  • Quarantine new fish in a separate fish tank for 2 weeks before introducing them into an established fish tank.
  • Feed the fish with a good, varied, and a well-balanced diet.
  • Keeps the water quality in your system clean.
  • Ensure the system is within the parameters for pH level, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates for your particular fish.
  • Add extra aeration and you can rarely have too much aeration.
  • Reduce the frequency of opening and closing the lid on the tank and minimize scooping fish out to inspect them.
  • Treat the disease organically as soon as it is identified.

How is aquaponics gardening organic?

The nutritional value of vegetables grown in aquaponics tends to be higher than vegetables grown in the ground, and the great thing about having your aquaponics farm is that you control what goes into your plants. You don’t have to trust the farms telling you the plants they grow are organic. You can be confident your plants are organic as you know what went into growing them.

Your plants and vegetables will take in the nutrients and harmful elements in the soil that they are grown in. You could have great soil in your backyard, or maybe your soil has some good nutrients and some harmful elements in it. With organic aquaponics, you don’t have to worry about what’s in your soil because you completely control what goes into every one of the plants and vegetables that are grown in your system.

Growing with an organic aquaponics in simple steps

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An organic aquaponics.
An organic aquaponics.

In this, we discuss how to set up an organic aquaponics system that will allow you to grow your food at home by using the media bed system.

Step 1) Put your fish tank together

Your fish will need a certain amount of space depending on the species you decide to keep, which will determine the size of the tank. Depending on the tank size you choose, you might be able to get away with using or repurposing a standard acrylic aquarium. Though, most people choose to use large barrels or food-grade containers with opaque sides.

You’ll want to set the tank up as you would a normal fish tank dechlorinating the water and allowing it to cycle for between 4 to 6 weeks before you add any fish. Then, this gives the bacteria time to build up, ensuring there is enough present to break down the ammonia and nitrites into the nitrates needed to feed your plants. Be sure to include a pump, this allows the water to be drawn from the tank, to the grow bed, and back again.

Step 2) Build your media bed

The media bed can be built above the fish tank or to the side of the tank. Your media bed will be the container in which the plants grow and this is also known as a flood table. And use a large heavy-duty plastic tray or a wooden pallet crate. Once you’ve placed the media bed, you’ll need to fill it with chosen media. Clay pebbles are pH neutral and won’t affect your water. They hold moisture well. For these reasons, they are one of the most popular types of media to use in-home aquaponics system. When you first begin, stick to a ratio of about 1:1 between the size of the fish tank and the size of the grow bed, so that the volumes are the same.

Step 3) Add the fish

Once your tank has cycled properly, you can add the fish.

There are several different fish that work well in an aquaponics set up. Common choices include Tilapia, Goldfish, Koi, Pacu and any ornamental fish (guppies, tetras, mollies, etc.)

A few less common choices include Carp, Silver perch, Catfish, and Barramundi.

Step 4) Add the plants

Leafy plants tend to grow best in organic aquaponics setups. Though, if you have enough fish, you might also be able to grow fruiting plants such as peppers and tomatoes. Here’s a list of some easy-to-grow plants for your system they are Basil, Kale, Lettuce, Mint, and Watercress.

You might also be able to grow these plants if you have a heavily stocked tank and well established set up Beans, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Cucumbers, Squash, Tomatoes, Peas, Peppers, and Strawberries.

Step 5) Maintain your organic aquaponics system

You’ll want to feed fish a quality diet. You can use a simple flake food and give them the occasional treat. Just be careful that you don’t introduce diseases to the tank. For this, we advise against adding any live food for the fish.

Only feed your fish as much as they can eat in around 5 minutes, two to three times per day. You’ll want to test the tank water every week or two to check the pH, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrate levels. Ammonia and nitrite levels must always be non-detectable, and the nitrites should be low if the plants are doing their job properly. The pH should be neutral, between 6.8 – 7.2, which is ideal for the fish, the plants, and the bacteria. Aquaponics systems need to be buffered up (raised) because they’ll drop below 7.0 once the initial cycle has finished. To raise the pH level, you can alternate between calcium hydroxide and potassium carbonate, added to the tank in powdered form. Tend the plants as you would with your normal gardening methods, but you should find that not as many weeds grow.

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