Aquaponics, are we missing the point?

     Aquaponics, the art of using recirculating pumps to provide habitat for fish growth and nutrition for soil-less agriculture, is commonly becoming available to everyday people via the information exchange on the interwebs. It is potentially a viable gardening technique for apartment dwellers and others who don't have access to even a small plot of semi-arable land, but does require electricity.
     After reviewing systems and advice for days on end, I have decided that aquaponics practicioners are completely missing the big picture...that Humanity needs start utilizing other plant sources more effectively, and that using electricity to run pumps to grow tomatoes IS STUPID. Besides, when have Tilapia ever produced an attractive pumpkin? The answer, of course, is never.
     Cattails, on the other hand, are efficient bog plants that have been staples in Native Americans' diets for thousands of years. Managed effectively, Tilapia could probably make some huge cattails, taro, watercress, duckweed, azolla, water chestnuts...and probably dozens of other potentially delicious yet unexplored margin plants. Even without fish farming, more bog plants should be explored as efficient (space and resource) fodder and food sources.
     The electricity and equipment cost of aquaponics is another factor that is best forgotten until afterward, largely because the majority of people that practice aquaponics seem to be aquarium lovers who want to take their fish raising large scale, or hydroponic plant farmers who want to take their nutrition dollars away from store-bought salts. The pumping power to mechanically aerate and filter the highly stocked tanks will never be cheaper than just buying fish meat, expecially when you factor in fish feed and time. And frequent chemical tests. And the possibility of fish disease ruining your whole crop.
     Just think about it.

     There are very few people working on doing this sort of thing sustainably. Perhaps the best and easiest solution would be custom-built ponds with floating plant beds on the surface, with only inexpensive bubblers for aeration and circulation. There is still the fish feed issue, but perhaps it could be lessened with Azolla, Duckweed, Black Soldier Fly Larvae, and Redworms. All of which would need support systems and engineering, but are currently being done well on the small scale. There is still the solids issue. Solids are not really a problem if you have a garden, which everyone who can probably should have anyhow.

     A few (mostly) sustainable residential backyard aquaponics practitioners:
Garden Pool - eggs, tilapia, vegetables. Run on solar power.
Aquaponics HQ - fish, duckweed, rabbits, Black Soldier Fly.


Survival Gardener, AKA David the Good said...

I've been chewing on this as well. I don't like high-tech solutions to problems... I'm wondering how heavily I can stock a system without electric pumps being required. Apple snails are another idea I'm considering instead of fish. I definitely am all about the edible aquatics. No luck finding water chestnuts yet, though.

chrissy bauman said...

i have been tossing around the snail idea, it has a lot of pros. like that they can live in filthy water, breed like crazy, eat algae. so they would be very easy to raise for good, organic protein. awesome. but who is going to get their hands into that scummy water and then de-shell those little buggers? i don't think it'll be me unless i'm very, very hungry!!! i'm going to keep thinking about it though.

chrissy bauman said...

also, i've been thinking about how to do a more energy efficient aquaponics setup...i think laying out roof gutters horizontally next to one another, with a small pump pumping into the first trough. the water will slowly wash over duckweed and then drain into the next trough. then drain back into the pond or into another double set of gutters. that would have a serious maximum surface area for the duckweed with a minimal amount of pumping. the water would be very well oxygenated by the time it returns to the pond if this is engineered properly. plus, a lot of duckweed for your fish and animals.

Anonymous said...

David the Good- I got my water chestnuts at

Thomas Olson said...

They are using it in poor countries. That should tell you everything you need to know about the cost vs. effectiveness. Actually, they are the people you want to be paying attention to on youtube.

chrissy bauman said...

Thank you for your reply.
Yes, aquaponics is being used successfully in the "poorer" countries to provide healthful food in areas that cannot support other agriculture. It's pretty big in India, particularly the areas that lack adequate rainfall and soil fertility, no doubt because of manmade climate change. I still think we need to re-engineer aquaponics to a mixture of aquaculture and edible bog plant culture, in order to lessen our need for electricity. The germans are doing some interesting things with aquatic plant culture and sustainable buildings
here and I think we need to start looking into something like this. There's no reason we can't culture spirulina and cool our southern homes, maybe feed some fish too!