Boost Your Hydroponic System With Fish
Many of us can’t live on vegetables and fruits alone, yet we want a clean, sustainable source to meet our protein needs. Finding clean protein often comes at a price, though, as suppliers charge higher prices for so-called organic meats. Furthermore, do we really know if the protein we buy is organic and sustainable? Of course, we can’t know for sure if it is unless we see first-hand what the protein source consumes.
When you garden hydroponically, you know precisely what your crops get because you select and administer the nutrients to them. Successful hydroponic gardeners often look for a way to expand their operations. The first step usually involves expanding into different crops, but if you’ve already done that and want more, consider converting some of your setups into a system that involves fish.
Growing fish as a source of food can be even more satisfying than raising crops alone. Not only that, if your operation gets big enough, but you can also even supply your fish to local restaurants and market that want clean, sustainable food, just as you can do so with your crops. Now if that isn’t an incentive, I don’t know what is.
Let’s take a look at what you’ll need to convert part, or maybe even all of your garden into a growing setup with fish so you can begin enjoying the benefits of fresh seafood. You’ll see just how easy it can be. After all, you already have the initial know-how thanks to your hydroponics experience.
Organic Gardening Doesn’t Get Any Easier
Essentially, hydroponics gardening with fish means adding a fish tank to your setup, which in turn feeds your crops. Instead of buying nutrient mixes to feed your crops, the fish do it for you with their waste. That makes an aquaponics system the ultimate in sustainable organic gardening. You don’t use pesticides because they can harm the fish, while hormones and antibiotics often used in fish farms are taboo too as these additive can be bad for the plants.
Virtually any type of freshwater fish works well in this system with Mother Earth News noting that in addition to tilapia, the favorite for a hydroponic garden with fish enthusiasts, you can also grow a tremendous variety of fish for consumption such as trout, bluegill, catfish and more. Even shellfish such as some variety of shrimp and crayfish flourish in this setting. If you would rather grow ornamental fish and sell them to pet stores, you can do that too by choosing species of Koi, goldfish or guppies.
Your new system won’t need much more energy than you would for a regular hydroponics setup, just an additional pump to provide aeration for the fish. Like regular hydroponics, you can set up your system anywhere you have the space to do so. Not only that, but these systems are also totally scalable. What works for a set up with one fish tank will work for a setup with 10 fish tanks. The only thing limiting you will be your available space.
Which Plants Won’t Mind Fish Poo for Food?
Virtually any crop that you grow in a hydroponics environment will also grow well when you add fish to the mix. However, be aware that some crops are easier to grow than others. Leafy greens such as lettuce, kale, arugula, and spinach are at the top of the list as are herbs such as basil and dill.
Green and Vibrant notes that among larger-scale producers, the most frequently grown crops are:
- Salad greens
- Head lettuce
- Basil and other herbs
- Bok choy
Other crops that you may eventually want to try include:
Most common houseplants do well in this environment as well as edible flowers such as sunflowers, orchids, nasturtiu, and violas, along with ornamental flowers like dahlia and cosmos.
Another consideration involves matching your hydroponic system with fish with the type of crops you grow. Your crops should have similar temperature and pH needs as the fish you raise. The closer the needs of the fish and plants are, the more success you’ll have with both.
According to Aquaponics.com, some crops have high nutritional demands and need a fully stocked fish tank in order to thrive. Plants with high nutritional needs include tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, beans, peas, okay, squash, melons, and sweet corn. Alternately, you can add a hydroponics nutrient mix that won’t harm the fish to your water supply.
Think of It as an Aquarium That Grows Plants
Every hydroponic garden with fish will have the same essential components. Obviously, you will have fish and plants, and like anything else, your setup will vary slightly according to your abilities and personal preferences. Let’s take a look at what you need.
According to In Habitat, a well-tuned system will accommodate one pound of fish for each gallon of water, but when you’re starting, you’re better off going with a ratio of one pound of fish for every 10 gallons so you can learn how to balance the system properly.
If you plan on building the system yourself, starting with a 225-gallon square fin or 55-gallon barrel is common as you can easily obtain these from food industry sources. Just make sure that these recycled containers didn’t previously hold toxic chemicals that can harm your fish. Another possibility is finding an aboveground swimming pool.
The containers housing your plants for your hydroponic garden with fish will be similar in structure to those for a hydroponics-only system. If you’re constructing your system, you have several choices in how to contract the growing beds, including using PVC pipe, which generally uses nutrient film technique (NFT) to deliver nutrients to the plants. Otherwise, you can build a growing bed out of a wooden pallet crate or a plastic tub container.
Place the grow beds on top of stands such as sawhorses than can support the weight. Fill the container with your chosen media. Eartheasy recommends clay pebbles for media as they are pH neutral, hold moisture well, and won’t affect the water. Coco coir is another popular growing medium in a system with fish, along with perlite. Eartheasy also recommends sticking to a ratio of 1:1 between the size of the grow beds and the fish tanks for beginners. As you become more familiar with this growing system, you can have a growing area that is up to 10 times the surface area of your fish tanks.
Hardware and Pumps
What makes a hydroponics system with fish work well is that the plants and the growing medium filter the waste from the fish to keep everything in balance. In other words, fish poo is the perfect fertilizer for most foods. The essential element in the mix is the pump needed to circulate water between the fish tanks and the vegetable bins.
To DIY such a system yourself, you need basic plumbing and electrical skills or at least have a friend who can help you. The aeration pump is essential for the entire operation to move the water from the fish tank through the pipes or tubes feeding the plant beds. You will also need an aerator to provide sufficient oxygen for the fish.
Take a look at this video from AST Filters to learn how to set up your system. This video will explain lots of different aspects, including how you can unhook your system if either the plants or the fish fall ill. You’ll also find a second video after this one that explains more.
What is Stopping You?
If you are honest, you’ll say that only you are stopping yourself from gardening with fish. There are so many benefits by combining a hydroponic system with fish that you’ll wonder why you didn’t do this earlier.
Growing plants in conjunction with fish produces so many benefits for the environment as well as for yourself that it’s really a no-brainer. Just look at what Go Green has to say about the advantages:
- Ability to grow food all year long while using 90 percent less water in the process
- Plants grow faster due to the nutrient-rich water
- A source of reliable income
- Does not require large amounts of space
- Organic growing without chemical pesticides or fertilizers
What are you waiting for, especially if you already have a hydroponic system? Converting is really easy. Start looking into raising fish along with your crops today and within a few months you could have double the production and profits.
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