One of Small Scale Engineering’s recent jobs for a client, was to remove a DIY aquaponics system out of the yard of a family that emigrated. Three bakkie loads later, we find ourselves with a pile of random bits of plumbing pipe, water pumps, old baths and river stone. We had a decision to make. Are we going to use these items to set up our own DIY Aquaponics system, or are we going to just get rid of it all?
One of the things we’ve always wanted to do, since moving out to the countryside, is grow our own food, one way or another. However, we didn’t think we’d have a good opportunity until further on in our project. But, now we have an opportunity to set up our own aquaponics system! There is very little that we would have to buy to set up this existing system for ourselves.
What is Aquaponics
Aquaponics is an amazing symbiotic system, similar to hydroponics, for producing food. Fish waste is converted into nitrogen rich nutrients by bacteria. The nutrients in the water are used to fertilize the plants. The plants filter out the nutrients and clean the water for the fish. You can therefore breed edible fish and grow your fruit and vegetables all in the same system.
This system uses less water than conventional farming methods and takes up less space. Aquaponics is a truly organic method of farming because you cannot use pesticides (as this would kill your fish). It has proven to be a very successful method of growing food.
Interestingly, Chinese paddy fields can be considered “aquaponics” as fish are often cultivated along with the rice.
A Steep Learning Curve
The truth of the matter though, is that in order to set it up, we will have to learn quite a lot. None of us knows anything about fish. We believe it is a little bit tricky getting the balance right between the waste produced by the fish and the bacteria that converts this waste into something that the plants can use for nutrients. Also, there are a few different ways one can set up the system. When you have exactly zero experience, it’s hard to know the best route to take.
Another problem is load-shedding. As long as our current electricity supply in South Africa is under pressure, we will also have to cater for those times when we have no power. If the water is not filtered through the plants often enough, the fish die. And by often enough, I mean that all the water has to go through the entire system twice an hour if the system is running at full capacity.
DIY Aquaponics – To Do!
After a two week debate, we decided we’re going to go ahead. As a result, we’ve had to do some thinking about landscaping because it’s not very easy to move a fish pond. We need it in the right place from the beginning. We have decided to make a bit of a water feature out of our aquaponics fish pond so it will serve a dual purpose (a garden feature and food production).
We’re expecting some highs and lows as we start learning, mostly by trial and error. We are quite excited about this new development, and are looking forward to sharing our experiences with you. Would you like to hear about our successes and failures?
But what about you, our readers? Have you ever seen or tried out hydroponics or aquaponics yourselves? If you were to set up your own system, what would you be keen to try growing for yourselves?