What Is Aquaponics?

— Written By Peg Godwin and last updated by
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According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the word aquaponics was first used in 1981. This relatively new word combines aquaculture (growing fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in a nutrient solution without soil). Therefore, aquaponics is defined as a food production system using the recycling of fish wastes to provide nutrients to support plant growth. The system has two products: fish and plants.
Aquaculture has been around for a long time. Over 4,000 years ago the Egyptians held Tilapia captive in natural ponds along the Nile River. Tilapia are tropical fish from Africa and the Nile River and are considered the oldest farmed fish on earth. The Egyptians fed and harvested Tilapia for food. Tilapia is still produced today because this fish species is very hardy and are very adaptable to poor water quality, temperature and handling. There are tilapia producers as near as Greene County.
Hydroponics began in the 1930’s as a research method to study the mechanisms of plant nutrition. This method of growing plants isolates plants from soil borne diseases while producing high quality food. Hydroponic systems include drip, deep water culture (reservoir), flood and drain (ebb and flow), nutrient film technique, wick systems and aeroponics. Different support for the plants is used with each system including: crushed gravel, expanded clay balls, rockwool, coconut coir, perlite, vermiculite. The nutrient solution is made available to the plant roots by different means.
An aquaponics system can be as simple as a tank with some fish and a container with plants that are supported by gravel, pebbles or other materials. The fish produce ammonia and naturally occurring beneficial bacteria break it into nitrate, which is a natural nutrient for plants. The water containing the fish and their waste is moved by gravity or pumps to cycle through the plant container. The plants absorb the nitrate and the water is cleaned for the fish.

Aquaponics is a good teaching tool to help students understand the natural recycling that occurs in nature and how to grow food without land. An aquaponic system can be set up for production on a patio, balcony or even a rooftop.