When I think of great combinations, certain classics come to mind, like macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, and a left jab followed by a right cross. Recently I have learned of a new combination that may be on its way to becoming as well known and as enduring as the aforementioned. I speak of aquaponics, a combination of two words and ideas: aquaculture (growing fish in a controlled environment) and hydroponics (growing plants in water).

What is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is an ingenious method of natural food production (fish and vegetables) that requires only two container tanks, some modest equipment and a little lighting. Through natural processes, the fish fertilize the plants while the plants clean the water for the fish, then return that cleaned water to the tank in an ongoing symbiotic relationship. With a meager initial investment, you can begin raising your own favorite fish and vegetables concurrently, year round. If you bake your own bread, you can practically grow your own fish sandwich.

By incorporating this method of growing, you can raise fresh fish for consumption, or use them to naturally fertilize your veggies. One great advantage to growing aquaponically is that it requires only the smallest indoor area to be successful, sustainable and even fun! In addition, you’ll have peace of mind knowing the veggies you grow are free of pesticides and the fish you raise contain no mercury or other harmful chemicals. Your harvest can be as organic as you want it to be because you’re in control.

Brilliantly simple in its design, this method of raising both fish and vegetables, once set-up, is nearly effortless to maintain and is continually productive. Essentially, it is what nature has been doing for time immemorial in lakes and ponds.

How Aquaponics Works

An aquaponic system set-up can be done without an engineering degree. One container is used to grow your favorite plants or veggies, and another is used to grow the fish. An electric aquarium motor pumps the water from the fish tank while circulating it through the plant bed. The upper tank is where your plants will be grown, sans soil.

The aquarium sits below or off to the side and contains the fish. Grab an electric aquarium pump for the tank, a little PVC pipe and some grow lights for the plants and you are growing aquaponically. For the true beginner there are attractive aquaponic kits available in many hydro stores. They contain everything you’ll need to get started. If you are handy, you can easily construct your own system in an afternoon. BYO fish and vegetables.

Benefits of Aquaponics

When it comes to the fish:

  • You are not taking fish from the world’s oceans, depleting their stocks further.
  • You know exactly what type of fish you are eating.
  • You know the fish is free of heavy metals and growth hormones.
  • A variety of fish can be raised in this manner. One popular choice is tilapia, a firm white fish with a not very “fishy” flavor that bakes beautifully.
  • Fish grow to table-size in nine to 12 months.
  • You can grow fish for food, for show or for both.

When it comes to the plants:

  • Vegetables grown using this method tend to be bigger, greener and purely organic.
  • The garden is perpetual and takes less time and energy than a traditional garden.
  • A vast variety of plants can be grown.
  • The plants can save you money as you spend less at the grocery store.
  • Plants are often richer in vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants than store-bought.

In general:

  • Aquaponics works beautifully and naturally in a limited space.
  • The system pays for itself over time because it reduces spending.
  • It doesn’t require a lot of maintenance.
  • Growing aquaponically has a low environmental impact.
  • The set-up provides big payoffs in harvests.
  • You receive a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.

Mother Nature knows what she is doing. An old adage declares, “If you want to be successful, do what the successful are doing.” With aquaponics, you are mimicking the perfection and balance of nature. The symbiotic relationship between plant and animal could not be more natural and your success is virtually guaranteed.

It isn’t the intention of this article to teach you how to set up an aquaponics system, or to break down scientifically how it all works, but merely to make you aware of the concept. If you decide to give aquaponics a try, I encourage you to look into it further. Best of luck.