For those who consider Aquaponic farming a recent trend, I am sorry to say but you are wrong. The aquaponic farming concept can be traced back to the Aztec Indians who grew plants on the surface of the rafts above the lake. The concept was very simple. The roots of the plant will get nutrients from the fish waste in the pond, in return the plants will purify the water making it suitable for fish to reside. This was the complete symbiotic relationship between plants and aquatic life. Don’t worry if you didn’t understand the concept. In this article, we will look at aquaponic farming in depth. We will also look at how to start aquaponics at home as well as making it a commercial project. So read till the end to know about this beautiful concept of farming.
What is Aquaponic Farming?
Let us understand the concept behind aquaponic farming. The word Aquaponic can be segregated into Aquaculture and Hydroponics. Before understanding aquaponics, let us understand these two words:
- Aquaculture: Also known as aquafarming is the farming of aquatic organisms like fish, molluscs, and aquatic plants. The farmer makes an artificial arrangement in the form of a small lake or pond and rears the fish by feeding them. Once the fish is reared it is sold in the market to earn revenues.
- Hydroponics: We all know plants are grown on soil. But in hydroponics, water is used as a medium to grow the plants. The roots capture the nutrients from the water. This method uses very less water as compared to conventional farming on the soil.
When both of these concepts are taken together, they form Aquaponics.
Aquaponics is a synergy between the plant and the aquatic ecosystem. In this farming, the fish are bred, reared, and harvested. During the rearing period, the water containing waste material (excreta) created by fish is used as a medium to grow plants.
The plants get all the nutrients for their growth from the water containing the excreta of fish. In return, the plants and the good bacteria present in the roots purifies the water. This purified water can be reused to rear the fish. The farmer will be able to sell the grown plants as well as fish to the market and get a double source of income which in other ways would be very less if only plants or fish sold.
Aquaponics is a sustainable way of doing farming. Food can be organically grown without the use of any harmful chemicals to either fish or plants.
The farming setup is so easy to make that it can be practiced even at home or can be taken as a commercial project to earn revenues from the business. In the later part, we will also look at what are the essential requirements for the aquaponic farm setup.
What does it bring to the table?
Aquaponic farming comes with a lot of benefits. These benefits make them special to practice. Following are some of the benefits of aquaponic farming:
- The yield is about six times more than the conventional farming
- Aquaponics uses 90% less water than the traditional farming
- As it is practiced in a controlled environment, there are fewer chances of pest and diseases
- It provides a double stream of income i.e. fish and plants
- The fish and plants are grown organically without the use of any chemical substance
- Plants grow fast as compared to the traditional way of farming
- No need for any external fertilizer as fish waste acts as the best natural fertilizer for plants
- No need of owning expensive land as aquaponics can be started even at home
- Efficient use of resources in the aquaponics and less wastage
- Reusable resources decrease the operating cost of the farm
What is required to start an Aquaponic farm?
To start aquaponics, the farm setup is essential. The setup requires necessary tools, containers, and few ingredients to raise the fish as well as plants. The setup depends upon the technique used for aquaponics. Hence before looking towards the material required for setup, let us first look at different techniques to be used in your farm.
1. Media Bed Technique:
In this technique, the pants are grown on rock media like gravels and small round-shaped stones. This gravel acts as a supporting structure for plant roots and also filters the water containing the fish waste. The bacteria present at the root region will break down the fish waste complex molecules and make nutrients available for the plants. While the water filtered by rocks can be reused at the fish tank.
This method is widely accepted by people who want to practice aquaponics on a small scale. The setup can be easily created at your home, garden, or terraces.
2. Deep Water Culture:
In this technique, we use floating rafts to suspend the roots into the nutrient-rich medium. Hence, the method is also known as float or raft systems.
As gravels are not used in this technique, we have to pass the wastewater from primary filters to remove the solid waste. Water is also aerated constantly by the aeration pump for the availability of oxygen. The water is then passed to the tank above which rafts are floating which contains the plants. The roots are submerged in the water to take the nutrients.
The technique requires heavy initial capital investment hence widely used at a commercial level where the plants are to be grown in huge quantities.
3.Nutrient Film Technique (NFT):
In this technique, long PVC pipes are used to grow plants. Wholes are created on the upper surface of the pipe to put the seedlings. From the pipe, the water is passed after removing the solid waste. The roots get the nutrients from the water passing from the pipe.
It is one of the popular methods among the commercial practitioners of Aquaponic farming because of its efficiency in utilizing space. However, the method is not suitable for long-rooted fruiting plants as the roots will clog the pipes and free movement of water will get disturbed.
As per your objective, once you are clear about the technique to be used at the farm, the next step comes to build a setup to run the technique. There are materials, tools, and containers required for aquaponics. These materials depend upon the techniques you are going to adopt at your farm. The following are the requirements:
The size of the fish tank depends upon your objective. A small tank would suffice your need if you are planning to start aquaponic farming at your home. However, a big and durable tank is required for commercial purposes.
The tank is necessary to raise the fish and to feed them.
2. Air Pump
The air pump is needed to maintain the oxygen level for the fish tank. It is necessary to maintain the oxygen balance to maintain the health and growth of fish. If the water is constantly been changed with the freshwater, then an air pump is not needed. However, it is recommended to use the pump to avoid the risk.
3. Fish Feed
Fish waste will not be produced without feeding them well. And if fish waste is not created, plants will not get their required amount of nutrients. If you are planning for organic farming, you can buy organic fish feed from the market.
Keep feeding the fish regularly for best results in terms of fish growth and the waste created by them in water.
4. pH Balancer
The pH balancer is one of the key things which can’t be avoided in aquaponic farming. It is very important to maintain the pH of the fish tank for the best results.
The fish waste makes the water acidic. The acidic environment is neither suitable for fish nor the plants and bacteria at the root system. To keep pH in balance, buy a pH balancer from the market.
How can we forget the water without which nothing is possible? You can use the normal tap water for initiating the process. Make sure water is not acidic due to any reason. Moreover, it is also necessary to check whether the water is too much filtered so that it lacks some of the essential minerals from it.
All the listed requirements were the general necessities that are mandatory to start the aquaponic no matter what technique you will use to grow plants.
The following is the technique-wise list of material required. The below list will help you to get an estimate of the materials needed and also the cost associated with it.
1. For Media Bed Technique:
We have a clear understanding of the procedure of how media bed techniques work. However, to have a setup to follow this technique, we should have the following thing.
- Reservoir – It is a pot or a tank to be filled with gravels to grow plants
- Gravels/Stones – Supporting medium for plant roots
- Screener/Filter – Helps in removal of thick solid waste
- Organic Digester – Promoting the biotic activity at the root level to digest and simplify the fish waste
2. For Deep Water Culture:
As mentioned earlier, in this method the plant roots are suspended in the water medium on the rafts. Keeping the technique in mind, the following are the materials required:
- Reservoir – A tank to fill the media containing fish waste
- Air Pump – To supply oxygen in the water
- Air Stone – To spread the supplied air evenly in the tank
- Tubing – Connects the air pump and air stone
3. For Nutrient Film Technique (NFT):
The setup for this technique is somewhat complex as compared to the other two techniques. However, this is the most widely used technique by professional people performing aquaponics commercially. Following are the things which are required
- Reservoir – To store the media which will be floated to channel or pipes through the water pump
- Air Pump – To supply oxygen in the water
- Air Stone – To spread the supplied air evenly in the reservoir
- Tubing – Connects air pump and air stone
- Water Pump – Pushes water from the reservoir to channel or pipes and maintains the constant flow
- Water Pump Tubing – Connects the water pump to the channel to maintain the water flow
- Channel – It is a PVC pipe to grow the plants and to float the media/water
You know what? We forgot two basic things which are essentially required for aquaponic farming.
They are “Fish” and “Plants”
You might be thinking, which type of fish and plants can be raised through Aquaponics.
Here is the list:
Aquaponic farming in India is still at a nascent stage. One of the factors influencing the low adoption rate of this technique is its high initial capital investment. However, once the initial investment is done, the operating cost of running the system is comparatively lower than that of the conventional farming system. There are fewer risks involved in aquaponics in terms of pest and disease attacks, weeds, climate uncertainty, etc. Hence, it drastically decreases the cost of cultivation.
As we are going towards urbanization, the food demand is constantly increasing in these areas. While on the same side, the average landholding of the farmers is decreasing. Hence the gap between supply and demand is anticipated. In this scenario, growing food in urban areas in closed conditions to fulfil the demand gap makes sense. The future of aquaponic farming in India seems to be bright. It is just a matter of time when people slowly turn towards growing their food at their house, terraces and balconies and Aquaponics makes this possible.
After reading this article, we hope that you have a sound understanding of aquaponic farming and you are clear with what exactly is Aquaponics. The endeavour behind this article was to educate our readers and motivate them to start growing their food through aquaponics and take it on a commercial level.
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