How Aquaponics Works

What is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil). Aquaponics combines these two techniques in a recirculating, closed loop system that grows fish and plants simultaneously. Since aquaponics is a closed loop system, no resource is wasted, making it more efficient than aquaculture, hydroponics, and traditional agriculture.

How Aquaponics Works

How Aquaponics Works

How does it Work?

In an aquaponics system there are two components: a fish tank and a grow bed.

When the fish are fed, they produce waste in the water of the fish tank. This water containing fish waste is then pumped from the tank to a grow bed. Bacteria that naturally occur in the grow bed convert the waste into plant fertilizer. The plants in the grow bed then use the fertilizer to grow, simultaneously filtering the water of its contents. The clean water then drains or is pumped from the grow bed back into the fish tank. Then the cycle repeats.

 

Additional information can be found on these sites:

http://theaquaponicsource.com/what-is-aquaponics/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquaponics

http://www.backyardaquaponics.com

Santa Barbara to Seattle

As operations were just starting to come together in Santa Barbara, California, I had to move locations to Seattle, Washington and leave behind all tangible progress towards becoming sustainable.  Before I left, I gave all of my sustainable creations:  the planter boxes full of vegetables, the aquaponics system, and the fish tank, to my neighbors.  Although it was disappointing to give away all of the tangible progress I made, the intangible progress, what I learned during the process, is what’s most important.

Planter Boxes of Vegetables

Goodbye Planter Boxes of Vegetables

I learned that building planter boxes is easy, and becoming sustainable is hard.  The main obstacle I encountered when growing vegetables was a lack of space.  Spacial constraints prohibited me from growing enough food to revolutionize my diet.  I was, however, able to grow enough food among the planter boxes to noticeably reduce the amount of vegetables I needed to buy from the store.  

In my experiment, the plants that were most productive were the foliage plants.  By foliage plants, I mean the plants that have edible leaves and/or stems, opposed to flowering plants where you have to wait for the plant to grow a flower and wait for that flower to be pollinated before anything edible starts growing.  Romaine lettuce, red lettuce, and sweet peas were the three plants that yielded enough in the small space available to eat consistently.  The Romaine lettuce and red lettuce (foliage plants) produced substantially more than the sweet peas (flowering plant).  So, if you are a college student trying to grow vegetables with limited available space I would highly recommend growing Romaine lettuce and red lettuce, and keep sweet peas in mind.

There are also some simple ideas you can use to expand the space available for growing.  Rather than being limited to growing everything in garden beds on the ground, consider these options:  you can build pots to place on your window or hang; you can build planter boxes where there is no garden already; you can build raised garden beds if the ground doesn’t get enough light or you just want easier access to the plants without the hassle of bending over.  When using these ideas, or any of your own, keep in mind that vertical orientation can save a lot of space.  Vertical orientation is essentially using the vertical space in your garden rather than just the horizontal space.  For example, you can arrange multiple planter boxes, pots, or whatever you’re using, in a vertical stack, in such a way as to let light shine on all the plants in the top planter box while simultaneously allowing light to reach all of the subsequent planter boxes underneath.  There are many examples online of gardens utilizing vertical orientation.

Aquaponics System

Goodbye Aquaponics 1.0

When you don’t have the ability to garden outside, aquaponics is a cool way to do it inside.  The first aquaponics system I built worked better than I ever imagined.  The plants in the aquaponics system grew about twice as fast as the plants outside.  The plants that thrived most in the system were melon plants and tomato plants.  Before I left Santa Barbara, the melon and tomato plants were growing one to two inches per day!  Although the original aquaponics system had to be abandoned, my goal of creating a more intelligent system is still underway.   The Aquaponics 2.0, a system of similar design to my first system, is currently running in my house, growing a cherry tomato plant, an edamame plant, a rosemary plant, and a bay leaf plant.  All is going well in the new system, but there is always room for improvement.

Fish Tank

Goodbye Fish Tank

Goodbye, beautiful Santa Barbara.  It’s been fun.  Hello, Seattle.

Sustainable in College?

After taking a year off to travel abroad, the thought of reducing my ecological footprint has always been on my mind. Like many, I seldom made changes to become more sustainable, even though I was often thinking about it. This year, when I deviated from my regular scholastic regiment of economic and business related classes and took botany, everything changed. The teacher’s brilliance coupled with the intriguing subject matter motivated me to change my habits, and more importantly, to put forth a greater effort in the advancement of sustainable products.

December 5th, 2013

December 5th, 2013

My initial master plan to grow enough food to largely supplement my diet consisted solely of building my own planter boxes. I built planter boxes and filled them to the brim with vegetables but was disappointed.

December 30th, 2013

December 30th, 2013

Although everything has grown wonderfully, not a single plant has perished, the planter boxes have yielded far from enough calories to make a sizable impact on my diet.  I have, however, been able to grow all of the lettuce necessary for several salads a week, enough sweet peas to have a couple a day, and a constant supply of rose merry and basil. I’m waiting on the carrots, onions, chives, zucchini, broccoli, peppers, radishes, tigger mellons, and tomatoes to fully mature.

December 30th, 2013

December 30th, 2013

From my experiences thus far, the main obstacle in between me, and probably many other people like me, and self sustaining food production is space.  In order to grow enough food to fully support myself I would need a lot more space than I currently have, which means the average college student would have the same problem.  After this realization I started exploring alternative methods of growing that would help reduce the amount of space required to grow plants.

The two popular methods that I found were hydroponics and aquaponics both of which reduce the amount of space needed to grow plants.  After further research, it was apparent that aquaponics, the marriage of hydroponics and aquaculture, was by far a more effective and sustainable way to feed myself.  I have since read several books, made several systems, made several prototypes, and am working on perfecting the indoor aquaponic herb garden as Mutualistic Symbiosis’s first product.  The goal of this first product is to expose both adults and children to the benefits of aquaponics, its simplicity and effectiveness and how it’s the perfect way to grow organic food locally.

20 Gallon Aquaponics Prototype

The 10 gallon fish tank was quickly expanded to a 20 gallons.  Rocks, plants, and frogs were all added to the tank to increase biodiversity inside the microcosm.

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Our first prototype was completed after countless hours of engineering and construction.  Since then there have been many since improvements to the product.  Bellow: Tigger Melon grown in the aquaponics system:

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Growth of 11 inches in one week was achieved during the only week documenting the growth of this plant.

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