Fish + Plants = Aquaponics
UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County will offer an Aquaponics 101 Workshop on January 21, 2017 at 9 am.
Aquaponics is an intensive production system producing multiple crops with reduced water and fertilizer inputs. Aquaponic systems are more complex than plant- or fish-only systems because the optimal conditions for each group of organisms—plants, fish, and the nitrifying bacteria—are not exactly the same. Like many new technologies, it will be some time before firm recommendations for every aquaponic situation are tested and put into readily available production guides. It is recommended to start small and grow with the system, learning as you go.
Three organisms are involved in the optimum performance of aquaponic systems. The plants and fish are the cash crops, while nitrifying bacteria play an important biofiltration role, converting toxic fish waste ammonia to nitrate nitrogen, one of the most important mineral nutrients required by plants.
Tilapia is one of the most common aquacultured fish due to its tolerance of a wide range of water quality conditions and its fast growth under warm conditions (market size in 6–12 months). It fits well when grown with warm-season vegetable crops like tomatoes, peppers, or cucumbers. Tilapia has high-quality, textured white fillets. Worldwide tilapia farming is expanding at a rate of 12% to 15% annually. Other fish suitable to aquaponics but requiring more stringent water-quality conditions are channel catfish, koi, and other ornamental and bait fish.
Theoretically, almost any type of vegetable production system could be linked to an aquaculture system. However, linking pond aquaculture to hydroponics introduces potentially harmful microorganisms and algae to the aquaponic system, which could adversely affect the fish and plants. It is recommended to use well water or municipal water sources. Municipal water sources contain chlorine and/or chloramines, which are very toxic to fish and can kill them when present in very low concentrations. To minimize the risk of chlorine exposure, municipal water should be aerated in a separate tank for a few days before placing in the aquaculture tank. Ideally, water should be tested for the presence of chlorine before it is allowed to come in contact with the fish. Make sure you have all the facts before you start an aquaponics system. (Tyson, R and E. Simonne. 2014. A Practical Guide for Aquaponics as an Alternative Enterprise. UF/IFAS Extension. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs1252 .)
UF/IFAS Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises. http://smallfarms.ifas.ufl.edu/crops/aquaponics/