In this article, a Michigan Aquaponics farm helps explain the idea and system of aquaponics. Aquaponics is the marriage of hydroponics (vegetable farming without soil) and aquaculture (fish farming). When you combine the two a symbiotic relationship is formed that is beneficial to both plant and fish.
Great Lakes Aquaponics (GLA) is a business my father, my uncle and I started during the beginning of junior year. My dad purchased a commercial building in Royal Oak, MI the summer of my sophomore year. Originally the building was purchased to be converted into a laboratory since my father is a biochemist, but soon it started becoming much much more. Our aquaponic business has a goal to get a ROI in 6 to 8 months. To see what has become of the building visit the Pictures page.
What is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. For those who don’t know what those are, aquaculture is the science of fish, for example fish farms. And hydroponics is a form of growing plants without soil. Some of you might say that is impossible but in fact plants do not require soil to grow at all, only the basic nutrients that most soil/compost has to offer, the macronutrients: NPK. (Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorus) in addition plants also require other micronutrients like iron, manganese, zinc etc. although these are not as important. There are many different forms of hydroponics such as aeroponics, Dutch Bucket, Ebb and flow, Continuous, etc. Even something as simple as putting plants in a vase of water is considered hydroponics!
So what IS aquaponics? Well essentially it is just combining those two principles. You use fish instead of chemical nutrients to feed your plants. Fish poo is actually one of the best organic/natural fertilizers in the world along with bat guano and worm castings. A brief summary of how an aquaponic system would work goes as follows: You have a tank with your fish in it and another tank with your plants floating on top. You have a continuous cycle of water from your fish tank into your plant tank and your plant tank into your fish tank. When the fish water goes into the plant tank the nutrients are then absorbed up into the plants by their root systems that are dangling in the water. Thus the plants grow.
Why use aquaponics?
There are many benefits from aquaponics opposed to gardening with soil and even hydroponics! First of all you save a lot of money on expensive chemicals and fertlizers because everything is completely organic! In addition to saving money plants actually grow faster and bigger than their counterparts in soil. You are also able to reuse the water in the systems meaning less pollution and less water costs. This turns out to be extremely vital in dry/arid countries where water is a precious commodity. Due to the nature of hydroponic/aquaponic systems you are able to put plants closer together allowing for more plants per acre than in soil. The difference in yield is astronomical. NASA even has programs doing intense research on hydroponics/aquaponics because it will allow us to grow plants in space and provide us with fresh vegetables and fish.
Not only are you getting plants out of these systems but you are also breeding fish. Although the fish are not harvested as frequently due to our small scale system, in some of the larger systems such as in the University of the Virgin Islands they are producing tons and tons of fish on a yearly basis. Their fish waste is then used to A) feed their own aquaponic systems and B) the excess is then given to local farms as organic fertilizer to help out the local business.
How does our system work?
Well my father and I have actually created a completely self sustained ecosystem inside/outside this commercial building in a completely urban area. We like to call it urbanfarming. One of the first things that revolutionizes our system is our European Night Crawlers. We breed these worms for a few reasons: A) we can sell the worms, and their castings to make even more profit. B) We can then use extra worms as a means of feeding our fish to reduce cost with fish food. C) We can use these worm castings as a way to start our plants and give them a extreme boost in their early stages. and finally D) they are an extremely easy animal to breed, they multiply by two every 90 days and will eat just about everything you can think of aside from plastic. We literally use our worm beds as trash cans, throwing old food, cardboard, shredded paper, leaves, you name it and it gets thrown in the worm beds.
So we have the worms feeding the fish, the fish feeding the plants, and then the extra plant cuttings from harvest feeding the worms. On top of that we are doing research in purchasing fresh water prawns (Shrimp) for the troughs to help keep them clean and eat any algae that may form.
As soon as we can afford to do so we are going to invest in solar/wind power to run this whole operation and the building itself. The building creates a wind tunnel which on a daily basis has a very high speed which could be spinning turbines for power, we also have an enormous roof on the building which could potentially be absorbing all that solar energy. Essentially in the next year or so this entire system could be self dependent leaving the costs/amount of man hours down to a bare minimum. Great Lakes Aquaponics.
By using this method it is possible to use about 10 percent of the water that is used in normal vegetable gardening making it very practical for arid areas of the world. These areas traditionally are the home for large populations of people and very poor soil conditions making it impractical to produce large enough crop productions. The inclusion of the fish helps supply homegrown organic protein that normally would be out of reach locally.