When we first started considering homesteading, we wanted to use an aquaculture system to raise fish. Both my wife and I love fresh fish, and raising our own meant that we could have fresh fish year-round without worrying about mercury and other threats.
However, we quickly discovered that aquaculture has some down sides, including the buildup of excrement in the water. That meant it had to be cleaned on an almost daily basis. Wasting all that water didn’t seem all that sustainable to us, and at first, it seemed like we might have to give up the idea.
Then we stumbled onto aquaponics, and we haven’t looked back.
While the name might not be familiar to many homesteaders and Boomers, it’s not particularly complicated. It’s really just the combination of aquaculture (raising aquatic animals like fish), with hydroponics (growing plants in a mostly water-based system). We found it was ideal for our needs, as we wanted to grow our own vegetables and our own fish.
How’s It Work?
Basically, aquaponics is a system that lets you treat and clean the water from your aquaculture system while simultaneously providing water and nutrients for your plants. While there are a lot of different system types, they all work on the same concept.
Our system works in this way – water from our fishpond is sent to our plants, which remove nutrients that would otherwise lead to algae and mold growth. As the water is cleaned, it’s then recycled back into the fishpond. While we do have to add fresh water every now and then to replace what’s lost due to evaporation, it’s far, far less than what we’d have to do if we had a standalone aquaculture system.
The Right Fish
While you can raise many different fish species at home, not all are a good fit for an aquaponics system, which we found out the hard way.
Let me spare you some of the time we spent in trial and error. The best options for your needs include:
- Tilapia (warm water)
- Trout (particularly for colder water)
Now, you’ll notice goldfish and koi on the list. You’re not going to be eating them (some will say the same about carp, but that’s a matter of personal opinion). Not everyone wants to eat their fish. They may be vegetarians, and just want the benefits that come from the aquaponics system.
In terms of population density, you can go as heavy as you like, but understand that as the population rises, so does the likelihood of complications. If you have a lot of fish, you’ll have more work to do to ensure that the system stays functioning properly.
It’s really best to start slow and build up, learning as you go.
The Right Plants
Plant choice is just as important as your choice of fish, perhaps more so. You need nitrogen-fixing plants to help clean the water and absorb the nutrients from the fishpond. Not all plants are capable of doing this. Some of the best we’ve found include the following:
You’ll notice two root vegetables – beets and potatoes. Don’t start out with them in the beginning. You need to really understand the workings of your system to tackle them. I must say, though, that potatoes in particular, when done correctly, have massive yields – like all vegetables grown via aquaponics.
The rule of thumb here is to only plant vegetables and fruit that you’ll enjoy eating. There’s not much point in planting something that you don’t really care for. The yields that you’ll get from an aquaponics system virtually ensure lots of large vegetables, ideal for putting away through canning, freezing or fermenting, so you’ll be eating it all year long.
You also have to change the way you look at gardening here. You can’t really afford to harvest all of your plants at once, as you need live, growing plants in place to keep the water in your fishponds clean. Ideally, we’ve found that planting and harvesting sequentially is the best option.
When one vegetable is done growing and we’ve harvested it, we replant something else. With the right mixture of spring, summer, fall and winter veggies, you’ll find that you can keep plants growing year-round, giving you a constant supply of food, as well as keeping your water clean.
You can up the ante a bit with some creative greenhouse design – a few PVC poles and some plastic sheeting is really all you need to build a simple back yard greenhouse, and protect your plants from frost. That lets you grow an even wider range of vegetables and fruit throughout the year.
Aquaponics is a highly beneficial solution for homesteaders hoping to enjoy both fresh fish (or other aquatic animals) and vegetables and fruit throughout the year.
Need More Info? See Aquaponics 4 You
A much more detailed primer on Aquaponics will be included in the October 2014 issue of the Premium Membership Independence Report.