Aquaponics: Farming Fish

Swapnil K
Wednesday, 30th March 2016

Aquaponic and hyrdroponic growing can provide a valuable income from a closed-loop system. By incorporating fish farming with vegetable production you can create two products from one system that sustains itself.

Ever thought about incorporating fish into your vegetable production system?

Aquaponics is becoming a popular way to grow plants with multiple benefits. By incorporating fish into the system, their waste can be used as a natural fertiliser for the plants, and they can even be grown in the water, elliminating the need for soil. This closed-loop system reduces the need to add fertilisers, which means less work and lower costs, whilst producing fish that can be eaten or sold.

Understanding aquaponics

Aquaponic systems combine traditional fish-keeping with plants that can grow in more aquatic systems, creating a harmonious environment whereby plants and fish can help each other to grow. Using waste products from each to feed the other, the system allows organisms to work in tandem and makes use of every possible nutrient and process. Integrated Fish Farming (IFF) takes the concept of aquaponics even further, adding in crops and livestock that can thrive off the byproducts of the biosystem that the fish and plants are inhabiting.

Many aquaponics systems use a variety of water creatures such as shrimp, snails and fish to get a variety of different minerals and waste products. The fish themselves can be sold on for profit, or used to further the farming system with expanded tanks and greater crop yields. If you have been looking for a way to bring simple farming to your back garden or allotment, the IFF method can be applied on a small or large scale to suit your business plans.

Through waste recycling, fish polyculture and agricultural production using aquaponics and hydroponics (where the plants grow in nutrient dense solutions instead of soil), you can come up with your very own thriving ecosystem that delivers an ethical, safe farming environment and reduces the harmful impact of traditional fish farming.

As a business

Some of the UK's brightest and most promising entrepreneurs got their start in farming. Cottage industries that are able to succeed with limited space and resources have the potential to become big money earners, so the simplicity and symbiosis of IFF make it a very attractive option for agricultural start-ups.

Research by VoucherBin.co.uk suggests that more of us than ever before are seeking additional income through a home based business - or aiming to give up the 9-5 schedule for good. If farming is your niche, you could be on the route to success with an IFF agricultural system.

Challenges

Farmed fisheries in Europe are said to produce 460 to 1,700 million fish each year. Fish farming has become a popular alternative to open water fishing, which has led to worldwide reductions in fish stocks, is a notoriously dangerous industry and often faces heavy criticism for unethical practices. Farming methods also face tough scrutiny, as it is thought that the mass production and processing of the animals can cause them serious suffering, with non-humane practices frequently employed. 

Farmers seeking a more sustainable and ethical alternative that promotes wellbeing in livestock and crops should consider methods such as IFF. Systems that encourage harmony between plant and animal life create a better environment for fish and animals, and lead to better plant quality as well.

Set ups

IFF systems are simple and easy to set up, and can even be portable for ease of management if you have a small space to start with. Most centre around a tank containing water-based livestock, and these produce the waste products which will fertilise your produce. Plants can be grown directly in the rich water, therefore removing the need for soil (using hyrdoponics), or they can be grown in pots and channels that run across the top of the tank, with water fed to them (aquaponics). Used water can be recycled straight back into the tank, ensuring that there is minimal waste and maximised output. 

The way you set up your system depends on what you want to grow, the fish you wish to keep and the size of the project you are establishing, but you can adapt and change the aquaponics environment to match your intended results. For some farmers, trial and error will come into play at the early stages. All systems will include a tank for keeping the livestock, a biofilter to control the passing of nutrients and water, and a cultivation centre for plant growth. Once you have established a system that works together, you can expand the enterprise and start focusing on commercial production that is sustainable, ethical and practical.

Further resources

Aquaponic Gardening

Watch: How to build an aquaponics system: gardening with fish

Aquaponics in a swimming pool

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