This is Chapter 1 of The Urban Aquaponics Manual – 4th Edition.

Imagine being able to raise your own freshwater fish – and salad – in your own backyard…or village…or commercial farm.

Well, you can…using aquaponics.

What?

Aquaponics is the integration of recirculating aquaculture and hydroponics.

Suffice to say, at this early stage, that nutrient-rich water from a fish tank is pumped through a hydroponics growing system. In so doing, the fish provide the nutrients for plants and the plants clean the water for the fish…and people get clean fresh food.

Where?

Here are just some of the options:

  • Your own backyard.
  • Villages or indigenous communities.
  • Commercial farms.
  • Correctional facilities.
  • Orphanages or aged care facilities.
  • Anywhere that soil-based horticulture is not practical…like hot dry arid areas, sandy deserts, concrete/asphalt jungles or polluted sites.
  • Schools…..you can build your own learning resource centre to facilitate the study of botany, biology, water, chemistry, agriculture, aquaculture, environmental sciences and many other subject areas. Not only do you have a very powerful learning aid at your disposal, but also you and your students can enjoy BBQ fish and vegetables as part of the end-of-year wind up.
  • Restaurants….you can grow fish, herbs and salad vegetables out the back and you could even have some of your fish in a display tank or an in-ground tank like they do in many Asian restaurants.
  • Businesses….during quiet moments you can slip out the back of your accountancy practice, panel-beating workshop or fast food business and watch your fish glide effortlessly around your tank. You’ll get clean, fresh fish and vegetables…and cheap stress reduction therapy – all at the same time.

This list of opportunities for aquaponics is not exhaustive and is limited only by your own imagination.

Why?

The rationale for engaging in aquaponics varies with each situation but there are probably four main reasons…bio-remediation, social acceptance, financial advantage – and the desire for clean, fresh food.

One of the downsides of recirculating aquaculture is the need to replace water – plenty of it. Dumping nutrient-rich water is wasteful and environmentally unacceptable so saving/re-using water and recycling nutrients makes sense.

Aquaculture developments are under increasing pressure to demonstrate that they don’t dump water or nutrients so integrating aquaculture and plant production finds favour with planning and authorities and a general public that is becoming increasingly aware of environmental issues.

Aquaponics allows growers to get two crops – fish and plants – for the same amount of water that it would take just to grow the plants…without the need to purchase fertiliser.

By the way, aquaponics can (depending on the method) dramatically reduce the amount of water used – up to 90% of that used to in conventional horticulture.

For us, however, aquaponics is essentially about clean, fresh food.

We hear about problems with our food supply chain on a daily basis. Current affairs programs often feature stories about food being prepared in filthy circumstances.

Who hasn’t watched footage of the wretched conditions that exist within a commercial poultry unit? Of even greater concern to me, is the notion that we might all be ingesting antibiotics when we eat the chicken meat.

Clean and fresh is what people most want from their food…..and they’re not getting either out of their supermarkets. The big players all make a noise about clean and fresh but they fail dismally on all counts. The food that they sell is neither clean nor fresh.

How can you describe something as clean when it’s been touched by dozens of hands, doused in a variety of chemicals and often travelled thousands of kilometres to get to you?

How can you describe something as fresh when the food was picked one day, travelled to the market the next, received into the distribution store the following day…and (if you’re lucky) you sat down to eat it on the fifth or sixth day?

Let’s remember, this is the ‘good’ stuff we’re talking about here. The situation can get much worse – particularly around fruit, baked goods, fish and chicken.

By contrast, we live in a world where fresh means it was living less than an hour ago. We know what our fish eat because we produce much of it.

Our vegetables and herbs are clean and fresh – as is our fish.

We eat food that is fresher than anything the finest restaurant can offer because it’s in our backyard – just metres from where it will be consumed.

Since we cannot use chemicals on our fish or plants, we can attest to the fact that it’s clean. Not something that any supermarket could legitimately claim.

In fact, the only thing that prevents food grown in an aquaponics system from being organic (in the legal sense of the term) is the use of non-organic ingredients in commercial fish food.   Of course, if the fish have been fed an organic ration, then the fish and plants that come from that system are (for practical purposes) organic.

In any case, the fish and vegetables that you produce in an urban aquaponics system will be cleaner and fresher than anything you can currently buy at your local fish shop or supermarket – and, for us, aquaponics is about wresting back control of our food chain from agribusiness and supermarkets.

Other Benefits

OK, so the bio-remediation capabilities of aquaponics encourage social acceptance…and being able to grow plants without having to buy extra water or fertiliser makes good financial sense. And then there’s the clean fresh food.

But, for the small producer, it doesn’t end there.

  • Aquaponics requires much less effort than conventional gardening – there’s no digging or weeding and properly designed systems will even eliminate bending. IA growing systems can be designed to meet the special needs of people with disabilities.
  • Aquaponics offers high productivity in a small footprint – a few square metres can provide you with plenty of clean fresh food.
  • Aquaponics provides for simplified control of the production parameters – making it easier to provide optimal growing conditions for both fish and plants.
  • Aquaponics costs less – lower water bills, reduced fertiliser costs, no herbicides or pesticides.
  • Aquaponics offers educational value – an excellent learning resource for any school or family.

Who?

Aquaponics can be practised pretty much by anyone with a hand and a heartbeat.

Men, women, old people, young people, students, people with physical and intellectual disabilities, those in correctional facilities and prospective entrepreneurs can do (and are already doing) aquaponics…and you can, too.

In the next chapter, we come to grips with the fundamental premise of aquaponics.

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In the meantime, I invite you to comment…to express any concerns that you may have…or to provide ideas or suggestions that you feel will improve the book – or add value to it.