Aquaponics -Henrique Pereira
1. What is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics is the farming of fish and plants in a closed recirculating water system. No soil or chemicals are used. Plants grow in water or in special grow–media. The fish create ammonia which is converted to nitrates (plant food) by beneficial bacteria.
2. Is it more efficient than a regular soil garden?
From our experience, some species of plants grow 2-3 times faster than conventional soil grow crops. In addition, you never have to water or de-weed, as is the case with plants grown in soil. You also use up to 95% less water in aquaponics.
3. How much effort is required in order to maintain it?
Once the system is properly cycled and stabilised (i.e. the beneficial bacteria are at optimum level) it’s fairly easy to maintain. Just need to make sure that all the pumps and pipes are in working order, and need to feed the fish on a regular basis.
4. What type of fish are best suited and what do they eat?
Tilapia is the most popular fish in Aquaponics in those countries where they are permitted. Species like the red-breasted tilapia (Rendalli) is arguably the best-suited fish for aquaponics as you can feed it some of the greens grown in the system. This reduces the cost of fish feed which can be expensive. However, one can use any type of fresh water fish in aquaponics, including carp, Koi and goldfish.
5. What can one grow in these systems and where can one obtain the seeds?
You can grow any type of vegetable or herbs in aquaponics. An exception is root-based plants such as potatoes, turnips, onions and carrots. We have managed to grow carrots and onions in our media based systems, but not as successful as in soil.
Seeds can be sourced from most nurseries. Many of our customers prefer the non-GMO heirloom seeds.
6. How much power does it consume?
With the advent of new power efficient water pumps, one does not need much power. We run our complete commercial system in Johannesburg, including water pumps and air pumps on less than 600 watts of power. Many people are now using solar power to run their aquaponics systems.
7. Do you need a green house?
It depends on the climate, but ideally yes. Greenhouses can prevent some bugs coming in and attacking plants and can be used to control air temperature and humidity as per specific plant’s requirements. You also need to cover the plants with plastic to prevent rain water from diluting the nutrients within the system. A greenhouse also protects plants from hail damage.
8. What is the best way to control bugs?
Pesticides are a “no-no” in aquaponics, as they may kill the fish. The best way is to cover the plants with fine netting. When bugs do penetrate the physical barrier, you may need to spray the plants with an organic pesticide.
9. Is it possible to use Aquaponics in every home?
Aquaponics can be done at home using a simple aquarium. Many of our customers also purchase our backyard system that can easily be assembled in a patio or verandah.
10. What is the smallest area needed and how much can one grow in that area?
We used to market a small 25-litre kitchen-top system. We grew enough herbs and micro greens to sustain the salad requirements for a family of 4. It took up an area 45cm x 30cm
11. When and where did Aquaponics start?
Aquaponics dates back to Aztec times in the 14th century where the locals, in what is today central Mexico, grew plants on floating islands called Chinampas, also referred to as floating gardens. Modern aquaponics, however, is still a relatively new technology evolved by Dr. James Rakocy at the University of the Virgin Islands in the seventies.
12. What was the purpose behind the start up of Aquaponics?
I think the main reason for the evolution of aquaponics was to create a natural food production system (protein and plants), without the need for chemicals or pesticides, using less water than in conventional soil-based systems.
13. What are your business goals in respect to Aquaponics?
Our main aim is to educate and help as many people to build their systems and grow their own food. We thus supply systems, accessories, design and consulting services and training.
14. What is the most rewarding part of your business?
We are a for-profit business, so to remain relevant we need to be able to fund our own way and make a profit. The most rewarding part of the business, however, is when we see our clients succeed in their own right.
15. As Aquaponics owner what is your biggest frustration?
Faulty water pumps from time to time and leaky pipes can sometimes be an irritation, but not really a frustration
16. How do you make contact with your clients, your suppliers and professionals / how do you network?
We are predominantly an online business. Our website is our focus. We also post many articles on our blog and social media, including Facebook and Twitter. Through those channels, we attract like-minded people, including potential customers and suppliers.
17. What are your challenges in respect to Aquaponics?
Changes in climate, stable electricity supply and general planning are our main challenges. We need to ensure that the fish, plants and beneficial bacteria are all kept happy for optimal results. We also need to plan on what needs to be grown and when to suit a specific season and markets.
18. Where does one find you and Aquaponics?
Our website: www.myaquaponics.co.za
Our Blog: http://www.myaquaponics.co.za/blog/
You can also network with other aquaponics enthusiasts in our forum http://www.myaquaponics.co.za/forum
All Koi photographs ©Julie Ellitt