I posted my first aquaponics video on YouTube on April 19, 2011. I have been running that system ever since. With some major upgrades, as well a few downgrades.
I love to grow food in aquaponics systems. I have my, Ph.D. in the school of hard knocks when it come to small scale home aquaponics flood and drain systems. Here is a typical presentation that I see on the Internet all the time.” Growing Food with Aquaponics ” While it is well done and mostly accurate. There is a few glaring error that seems to make every presentation I have seen. I fully understand why they omit the things they do. Because some smartass (like me) in the back of the room will ask a question they can not answer. Most teachers hate that with a passion. Me on the other hand, it’s a bit uncomfortable, and I don’t like it much, but it makes me stretch my knowledge base. I will go look it up and research it, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
I don’t have a problem with the First slide in their presentation. The problem starts on the second slide. With the statement, “IT PRODUCES ZERO WASTE”. While technically an aquaponics system can be built to handle all of its waste, in a commercial environment. You’re just not going to do it in your home based system. It’s just not cost effective on such a small scale, it is much cheaper to use the waste in other ways, such as water other plants that are not in you aquaponics system.
The next statement I have a problem with is. “It uses Trace Amounts of Water”. While it is true that an Aquaponics system uses 5 to 10% of the water that you would use in a land base system. The water had better be high-quality, such as rainwater or RODI water. If do not use high-quality water, plan on 1/3 water changes monthly, and this will the seriously affect the performance of your system, and add to the waste stream. Now Tap water, Carbon Filter tap water, and Well water, will cause issues down the road. An aquaponics system is designed to just add water to replace what has been used by the plants, and what evaporates. This can and will concentrate contaminants that are in the water to unacceptable levels over time, that you have no way of testing for, other than sending samples off to a lab for testing. Now Using water that is clean presents another set of problems, but it’s more manageable. Your plants need trace minerals, and these are easily added as necessary. This also requires you to have a deeper understanding of the plants that you are growing to spot these mineral deficiencies and take corrective actions. If corrective action isn’t taken quick enough you run right smack into my third issue. which is pest management? Healthy plants, for the most part, do not have many pest issues at all. If something is just a little bit out of balance. Here come the bugs.
I guess the biggest problem, that really gets me is the statement “No Chemicals”. Really? No Chemicals? OK, a lot of people promote using ammonia to start up an aquaponics system. Isn’t that a chemical? Yes. What about adjusting the pH or adding iron to your system. Chemicals again. What you can’t do is add pesticides or antibiotics. What a lot of people don’t understand, is what they are actually growing most of, they can’t even see. It is the bacteria and fungus, that make the whole ecosystem work in the first place.
Now as to the “Low maintenance” statement. Yes, 90% of the time it is less than 5 mins a day. On my days off I spend a bit more time because I check pH and the general health of the system. While I do a bit of preventive maintenance as well and harvest and replant. Now let something break or get clog up all bets are off.
All this being said Aquaponics has been one of my most enjoyable hobbies. My systems produce more food than it cost me to run them. You can make a lot of mistakes and still get a good yield out of these systems. The learning curve is steep, But I still recommend you try it if you have any interest in growing your own high-quality food.