Who can practice aquaponics?
Aquaponics is for everyone. Our partners and clients include hobbyists, gardeners, survivalists, environmentalists, educators, schools, nonprofit organizations, colleges, FFA and 4-H organizations, Native American tribes, commercial farmers, and community groups. From the very young to older generations, our aquaponic systems are designed at approximately waist-height to prevent the need for bending and kneeling. The reduced manual labor increases the joy in gardening and minimizes the physical burden. Our systems may also be laid out to be wheelchair accessible. Aquaponics is for anyone with a will and an interest.
Do you need a greenhouse to do aquaponics?
No. Aquaponics does not require a greenhouse. Aquaponics can be done indoors, outdoors, in a greenhouse, using a koi pond, in a sunroom, or even set-up in a basement or garage. Using a greenhouse provides a year-round growing season and some protection from the weather and other elements. Outdoor aquaponics enjoys similar benefits of the extended growing season due to warmer temperatures of plant roots in an aquaponic garden. In locations that experience a high number of days below freezing, long winters, and short summers the growing season may be extended by approximately three to four weeks on either side of the traditional growing season. In places where the weather is milder, it’s possible for the growing season to be extended even longer.
What about salmonella, E. coli and other food-borne diseases?
In a well-designed system, only the roots in an aquaponic system come into contact with the water, reducing the likelihood of contamination from within the system. While there are many ways in which food gets contaminated, most often contaminants are introduced through food-handling and processing. The article On-Farm Food Safety: Aquaponics contains more information about this topic and provides a great list of good agricultural practices (GAPs). Another great resource to consider is your local health department which is responsible for food-handler safety classes.
Does the produce taste fishy?
The produce in an aquaponic system tastes better (and is more nutritious) than what is typically offered by most grocery stores. Even though an aquaponic system uses fish and fish waste as the primary nutrients for plants, it does not taste fishy. Many soil gardeners use fertilizers such as manure to help their plants grow, and, similarly, the produce does not taste like manure (or at least we should hope not).
How much does it cost to build an aquaponic system?
That depends on what type of system you want, the size of the system, the location of the system, and whether you're doing a DIY system or kit. For example, a DIY tabletop system to grow a few herb plants can be as cheap as $15; whereas, a commercial system can easily cost $50,000. Here's a shortlist of some of the major factors that will affect costs:
1. System type
Floating raft, for example, is cheaper than grow media, but limits the variety of produce that can be grown, has higher evaporation rates, and can be a potential source of contaminants in your system.
2. System size
This might be a single grow bed which is relatively cheap, or it could be multiple beds, more filtration, and more fish tanks. Commercial operations may particularly be interested in greenhouses which is another cost (but provide year-long growing seasons).
Many DIY systems forego the use of professional filtration equipment, opting to repurpose other items or forego it altogether. In a DIY or even kit design, this can provide significant cost savings upfront. Lack of filtration, however, can significantly reduce the life of a system causing production problems, component replacements, and even destruction to the best-designed system. When possible, we recommend using professional filtration to protect the life of your aquaponic investment.
Can you build an aquaponic system with stuff that you can find around the house or in your scrap pile of lumber? Yes, you can, but should you? Many great things have been created by repurposing and innovating, and many not so great things have also been constructed. For the purpose of creating a long-lasting, high-quality aquaponics system, we prefer to use components specifically created to fit their purpose. For example, all our grow beds are built to withstand hundreds of pounds (perfect for holding water and grow media) made of food-safe, fade-resistant, virgin plastics rated to last 20+ years without deteriorating into your system. Not all plastics are created equal - we recommend doing your research to make sure that the components in your system won't leach chemicals, deteriorate with constant exposure to weather and water, and can withstand the purpose you have for them. There are multiple companies with some great products out there that work well for aquaponics. If you're doing some comparison shopping, please check-out our grow beds - we happen to think they're pretty great.
With all this said, we offer system components, backyard system kits, custom systems, and commercial systems. Browse our online store to learn more.
How much time will I need to maintain an aquaponic system?
In general, while aquaponic gardening requires much less time than traditional soil gardening, there are some important tasks that should be considered. Because aquaponics relies upon a shared dependency on water, there is extra attention that is given to maintaining quality water. When starting an aquaponic system, it will be important to conduct water testing a few times each week. As the system matures, water testing should be conducted at least once a week. Most water testing kits require less than five minutes to perform. If you’re using filtration (which is highly recommended), you'll need a few minutes every month to backwash the system. The system will require planting and harvesting more frequently as plants grow faster in aquaponics systems. There is minimal need for weeding, and, if it is necessary, weeds are removed with a gentle pull. Like in all gardening, the occasional pests may need to be managed (there are a number of inexpensive, natural, DIY treatments that work). Beyond this, Symbiotic Aquaponic systems are mostly self-watering and require an occasional top-off with water a few times a month (depending on the growing environment).
Our community/business has no experience with aquaponics. Do you provide support and maintenance?
Yes. Aquaponics is a great technology that harnesses a naturally occurring relationship between fish and plants and makes it accessible. However, replicating what occurs naturally in nature in commercial (or smaller) systems requires knowledge and skill. For large-scale commercial operations, we offer staff training, maintenance agreements, and other technical support. For smaller systems that do not require staffing, we are glad to provide technical support and maintenance agreements. Educational classes are also available and are open to the public. Private classes can also be provided for organizations, groups, and businesses that desire targeted information.
What types of pants and fish can you grow using aquaponic agriculture?
There are hundreds of plants and fish species that have been proven to do well in aquaponic systems. Because geography, growing environment, and system design affect what can be grown, it’s important to know what you want from your aquaponics system and then use those needs to direct you to the appropriate system. In addition, aquaponics practitioners are experimenting and learning all the time and the list is therefore growing. As of November 2020, we are working with five different colleges to conduct research and further aquaponic knowledge. Here's a shortlist from proven studies and our personal experiences (some plants we started in an aquaponics system and then propagated or transplanted): lettuce, spinach, leafy greens, chives, sage, tarragon, oregano, basil, mint, lavender, green onions, herbs, strawberries, yellow squash, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, radishes, bell peppers, jalapenos, okra, corn, sunflowers, carrots, avocados, decorative flowers, tilapia, goldfish, koi, etc.
A forty-square foot system at the Community Foodbank of Eastern Oklahoma.
A forty-square foot system at the Community Foodbank of Eastern Oklahoma.