Ever heard of aquaponics? In the future more of our food will be grown using aquaponics. Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture (farming fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in water with added nutrients rather than soil).
The food that I eat and how it can be grown locally and in a sustainable way is important to me. This is true whether I am at home or away travelling. As more people travel and more people move into urban areas to live it creates a strain on the food systems that are currently in place. Aquaponics is one way that food can be grown more locally and in a way that fits with the idea of a circular economy – an approach that aims to minimise waste and pollution by design.
In order to learn more about aquaponics I visited the Incredible AquaGarden in Todmorden. I was shown around by Martyna who is the site and growing manager. I would like to express my gratitude to Martyna for the time she took to explain how the AquaGarden works and to answer the many questions that I had.
How plants are grown in the AquaGarden
The Incredible Aquagarden has several different types of growing spaces – traditional soil based growing beds, a greenhouse, a polytunnel and a section for aquaponics and hydroponics. The photos below show the range of traditional soil based growing beds and the types of fruit and vegetables available at this time of the year.
Hydroponics involves growing plants in water rather than in soil. The nutrients required by the plants to grow are added to water and to create a nutrient solution which in this case is stored in a bin and then pumped around the trays in which the roots of the plants are sitting. The plants take the nutrients they need to grow directly from the solution. Hydroponics uses less water than a conventional field crop.
At the AquaGarden they have successfully been growing tomatoes, chillies, kale, broccoli and herbs such as basil using this hydroponic method. The pinkish purple glow you can see in the photos are LED lights that are used to help the plants grow.
So how does aquaponics work? Aquaponics is a neat and circular way to grow food using fish poo! Yes, basically it works as follows: you feed the fish, the fish poo in the water adding nutrients to it that are good for growing plants, the water is pumped around the plant beds and the plant roots contain bacteria that can extract the nutrients from the water to help the plant grow and also clean the water at the same time. The water can then be returned to the fish tank and the process starts all over again. One of the benefits is that the plants grow faster than they would in a conventional soil based growing bed.
That was the basics and if you want to read about the aquaponics system in more detail then follow the link here and you can read a more detailed explanation illustrated by some easy to follow and helpful diagrams.
And how does the produce taste? Well the answer to that is delicious! The mustard and wasabi rocket that I tasted was full of flavour. Incredible AquaGarden sell the food they grow to restaurants and in local markets and continue to experiment with what food can be grown successfully using aquaponics. The photos below include some of the range of plants and herbs grown aquaponically and include pak choi, kale, chard, wasabi rocket, galangal, ginger, lemongrass and basil.
How does the aquaponic system work?
In aquaponics there are different ways to circulate the water around the plant beds. In this case the Incredible AquaGarden uses an Ebb and Flow technique which basically means that the growing bed fills up with the water and then the water drains away again so the roots of the plants get washed by the solution automatically at set intervals depending on the growing needs of the plants.
The pH balance of the solution needs to be checked daily or at least every couple of days and the fish, in this case Tilapia, are fed using automatic feeders.
If you are interested in the technical aspects of the aquaponic system and want to see the data from Incredible AquaGarden aqauponics then you can because the designs of the system are free and open source and can be found here. And details about the control system and associated data can be found here.
I found the tour of the AquaGarden fascinating and it will help me on my journey to setting up some hydroponic and aquaponic systems here in Leeds.
I also love the ethos behind Incredible AquaGarden
“…passionate people working together for a world where all share responsibility for the future wellbeing of our planet and ourselves.”
Incredible AquaGarden serves as a centre of innovation, of learning and as a producer of locally grown food. You can follow their story, see upcoming events and learn more via Facebook or go to the website and learn more about how to visit the site.
Do any of you know of any aquaponic systems in your town or city? If so please share details in the comments section as I am always interested in who is using aquaponics and their experiences with using it. Thank you!