If one of the things you dislike about indoor gardening is the need to use treated soils and fertilizers, you may want to consider an aquaponics system. Not only do aquaponics systems allow you to put on your inventor’s hat and design something that only works for your space, but they also allow you to take advantage of the ways fish, plants, and microbes we cannot see work together to make each other stronger. Each system uses continuous flowing water to keep your plants thriving and save you a lot of time on watering. Though some water is lost to evaporation in this process, it still saves you a ton of water overall.
The basic components of an aquaponics system are:
A Fish Tank
A small set of fish will be living in the tank you choose for them, so make sure the one you buy offers easy access for cleaning and feeding. Many people opt to put their tank in a drawer basket (yes, the same one used for storage) so they can remain close to the rest of the system but can easily be moved for cleaning. While large-scale systems can be created with a variety of fish, simple goldfish from the pet store are a great choice for beginners — and they're usually pretty inexpensive. In an ideal situation, you would be to be able to eat both the fish in the system and the greens produced by it, always increasing your output despite having a very small input. In a small home system, however, just the pleasure of having some beautiful new pets can be enough!
Transportation Plumbing and a Flood Tank
At the very least, there needs to be a way for the water in your fish tank to reach your planting area, where it will be used for irrigation. Some prefer to connect the two by way of a flood tank, which is where “fish water” and regular water are combined to prevent high concentrations of fish waste from reaching your plants. Choices like these should be made based on the size of your system and by evaluating the systems of others who are working with the same scale as you. In addition to the plumbing, you’ll need a pump and a power source to move the water. Remember that you can always attach a timer to your system to limit the amount of water that gets pumped.
A Growing Surface with Great Drainage
Your growing surface will ideally be filled with soil, clay pebbles, or some other growing medium, as well as your actual plants. Whatever you decide to use, just make sure it drains easily, because the plumbing will constantly be delivering small amounts of water to it. There's no reason these plants should ever be lacking water, but if they're put in a growing medium that's too dense, the water might pool so much that the whole system becomes clogged.
Reaping the Benefits
Once these elements are all in place, you stand to reap a ton of benefits from your new aquaponics system. Many creative gardeners have come up with ways to grow all their favorite produce in similar structures, keeping their plants healthy with lots of nutrients while simultaneously keeping a tank of fish happy below.
If the fish aspect seems like too much to handle at first, you may want to consider a hydroponics system, which focuses on the continuous irrigation of well-drained plants without requiring an aquacultural component. While these systems do conserve some water, they tend to lose a lot to evaporation unless they're placed in extremely humid environments. For that reason, you’ll need to add water to yours every once in a while when you notice that the levels are down.
While aquaponics systems are especially good for greens like lettuce, kale, and spinach, other plants can still thrive in them. If you want to enjoy homegrown veggies all winter long, you'll definitely want to consider building an aquaponics system. A indoor setup can also be a great way to ramp up your veggie production in case the farmer’s market comes to town. Passerby will happily pay extra for fresh greens during a time of year when most other crops are being grown in industrial greenhouses.
The potential of aquaponics is only getting bigger, so start experimenting and find a way to utilize it in your own home!