Do you love growing your own food? Maybe you have a garden and some livestock like chickens, but you want to create more sustainable food systems for you and your family.
Consider aquaponics, which has been around for years, dating all the way back to primitive systems in early civilizations in Asia and South America.
While the idea has been around for centuries, aquaponics in the modern context has gained popularity over the past decade. This system might be one of the most effective food production systems you can create.
What Aquaponics Is and How It Works
Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture, rearing fish, and hydroponics — growing plants without soil. Both practices complement each other perfectly, making aquaponics one of the most self-sufficient food systems you could create.
The main issue aquaculturists come across is getting rid of the fish’s waste in an efficient manner. In order to do this, a portion of the water from the fish needs to be taken out on a daily basis. Naturally, this ends up being quite time-consuming – not to mention figuring out where to dump all that waste water.
Similarly, those with hydroponic systems often spend a large amount of money on feeding their plants since, of course, the water alone doesn’t contain enough food/nutrients for vegetables and fruits to grow. Also, hydroponics systems need to be flushed periodically, leaving people with this system in the same predicament as aquaculturists.
While hydroponics and aquaculture are both excellent ways to grow produce or fish, aquaponics solves the disadvantages of both while simultaneously providing both foods. You really can’t beat that.
Some other advantages of using aquaponics:
- It saves a ton of space
- You save time from weeding and watering
- Lifted produce beds mean less bending and back strain
- Plants grow faster, healthier and larger
- You have access to fresh fish whenever you want
- Aquaponics systems can be set up literally anywhere, indoors or out
- You will no longer need pesticides and fertilizer
Making Aquaponics Work on a Small-Scale
If you’ve already looked into aquaponics and were put off by images of giant systems, don’t fret. Aquaponics is completely doable on a small scale.
There is some argument about how efficient small-scale aquaponics is. The general consensus is the larger the system, the more efficient; however, a small aquaponics system is still more efficient than traditional soil gardening or aquaculture. In short, small-scale systems do work, but try to make a system as large you can so you can reap the most benefits.
What You Can Grow in Small-Scale Aquaponics
There are a few different species of fish that work perfectly for aquaponics:
- Tilapia. Tilapia is pretty much the ideal fish to raise in an aquaponics set-up. They taste great, grow fast and breed readily. They do require warm water and are very forgiving of beginner’s mistakes. Diet includes plant-based food, which also makes them perfect for aquaponics.
- Trout. Trout have a super-fast growth rate and convert their food to meat well to boot. They do need cool water, so you won’t have to heat your tanks or building. This species is carnivorous, so you will need to feed them an appropriate diet of insects, feeder fish or a meat-based fish pellet.
- Catfish. Catfish are a varied family of fish, most species being great for aquaponics. Like trout they have a quick growth rate and food-to-meat conversion. Catfish is really nutritious, and growing your own means you know they have been in clean water. Diet is generally omnivorous.
- Carp. Carp are another type of fish that work well for beginners because they are so hardy and adaptable to their surroundings. Carp are an “oily” fish and great for your health. They reproduce well and most species eat an omnivorous diet.
Species that work well but can’t be eaten:
- Goldfish. Goldfish don’t get very large and shouldn’t be eaten. Despite the downside of not being able to eat them, they do work well for growing plants for one big reason. They produce a ton of waste for their size. Waste equals nutrients for your plants. Goldfish are also cheap and you can pretty much buy them anywhere.
- Koi. Koi are definitely an ornamental species. Similarly to goldfish, they could potentially be eaten but are notoriously bony so it isn’t worth the effort. Koi can be pretty expensive but they are appealing to the eye, breed easily, produce a lot of waste, have long lifespans and are amazingly resistant to parasites. As another bonus, you could make a pretty penny from selling the offspring.
As for what plants you can grow, it’s really limitless. A few of the easiest plants to grow for beginners include the following:
- Leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, mustard greens, etc.)
- Most herbs
- Dwarf fruit trees
- Berry bushes
There is seriously an endless list of what you can grow in an aquaponics set up. The only group which don’t thrive or are difficult to grow are root vegetables. Here is an awesome thread  on a reputable aquaponics forum of proven produce grown on this system.
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There are many different set-ups you can use for aquaponics that all work effectively. Click the following links to get an idea of what you could make.
- Aquaponics System Prototype 
- How to Build a Vertical Aquaponic System 
- CTSA Guide to Small and Large Scale Aquaponics 
A small-scale aquaponics system is a wonderful, rewarding way of growing more of your own food.
Have you considered aquaponics or even already have a system for your home? Please share your thoughts and links to help educate others in the comment section below: