To understand the total aquaponic system you must first understand the two elements of the farming method and how they interact with each other to create a much more productive outcome than the individual methods alone. The two methods are, very simply, aquaculture (the growing of fish and other aquatic creatures in controlled situations), and hydroponics (the growing of plants in water with added nutrients). This is the basis for aquaponics.
There are many types of methods in aquaculture, but the system – by definition – is a closed system. This in itself poses a problem – the large amounts of water needed to successfully sustain a healthy colony of aquatic life. When you grow commercial amounts of fish or other aquatic species you must clean the water continuously due to the high amounts of toxins given off by the waste of the crop. This entails constant filtering and water replacement of the system, expending much time and money to keep the crops healthy.
Hydroponics itself poses problems of its own, namely the constant flow of water and addition of nutrients – a costly and time-consuming effort. Water must be constantly monitored for necessary supplementing with food and other components for plant health, and the constant, open circulation of water results in large amounts of evaporation of water that must be replaced continuously.
Enter the research that began in earnest in the 1970’s. If the fish needs clean water to survive, and the plants need constant nutrients, why not give each what it needs in a compatible, symbiotic relationship that, when balanced, becomes a complete ecosystem needing just a minimal amount of maintenance? That plan was put into place, and now we have the ever-expanding research of combining the two systems for the greater good, enabling more food to be grown in less space, and less water being used to grow it.
Have you ever studied a large pond or lake that has no maintenance done to it, yet it has a healthy population of fish and plant life around the shore? That is the perfect ecosystem of aquaponics at work. The best part is – it can be copied by anyone!