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Aquaponics: method to alternate farming

Editor's desk | Nov 20, 2020 04:19 PM IST

Increasing population and depleting resources is a major global concern. To meet the ever increasing needs, farming techniques need to be devised and adopted. With consistent efforts applied by agroecologists, world-wide, alternate means to conventional farming is increasingly becoming popular. With a larger section population still struggling with global food scarcity, the need to alternate farming is now a necessity.

Alternates such as permaculture, organic farming, eco-farming, natural farming, urban/peri-urban farming etc. is gaining popularity in different parts of the world. Organic urban/peri-urban farming is one such concept which is being realised not only as a need but also a necessity. With minimum inputs required, organic farming enables yielding maximum benefits. Not only the quality of food increases, but also financial viability with minimum usage of natural resources is achieved.

Organic urban/peri-urban farming is being practiced in various forms today. Urban/peri-urban farming is agriculture practice within and around the city limits. Due to paucity of land in and around cities, forms of alternate farming have taken place of conventional farming. Among the practices, aquaponics is a branch which is gaining popularity.

Why the Need of Aquaponics?

With growing population and demands, the pressure put on land for crop growth is extensive. Alternate form of farming practices provides for a remedial measure and the answer to the growing concern.

Aquaponics does not only provide a means to sustainable organic farming but also efficient system to cut back pollution and regular financial cost required for plant upkeep. The overfishing is decreasing the seafood in its natural habitat. Therefore, to provide a constant and continuous supply for seafood, alternate sources such as aquaculture provide an immediate solution.

What is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is a form of agriculture practice that combines hydroponics (growing plants without soil in nutritionally balanced water) and aquaculture (growing fish and other aquatic animals). Aquaponics is a form of organic farming, where organically maintained aquatic life (generally fish) balances the nutrient value of water to create a suitable atmosphere for plant growth.

The plants grown in this form of organic farming are fed the discharge or waste of fish. The microbes and bacteria (that come into play due to the discharge of aquatic animals) play an important role by providing the necessary nutrients to the plants necessary for their growth. The plants in turn clean the water that is introduced back into the tanks filled with fish or other aquatic animals.

This cycle helps in creating a balanced atmosphere for maintaining aqua life and growing plants.

Design of Aquaponics?

Urban/peri-urban areas where consolidated land for farming is less, practices such as aquaponics give a reasonable solution. Small farmlands can be converted into aquaponics gardens. Structures where atmospheric temperature can be controlled are converted into spaces convenient for plant and aquaculture growth.

Aquaponics enables integrating the production system involved in aquaculture and hydroponics. Aquaponics is built on the aquaculture present. Water tanks are created to keep fish or other aquatic life. The fish transforms the introduced food into the fish tanks into urine and faecal matter. The waste (rich in ammonia) along with uneaten food is passed through bio-filter before being introduced for intake by plants. The bio-filters that have bacteria present, help break the food particles and waste into nitrogen rich nutrient solution and control the toxicity level present in waste.

This nutrient solution now formed is introduced with regular water supply to the beds with plant seeds. The water supply runs through to provide the necessary nutrients for plant growth before being cleaned and re-introduced into the fish tank.

The plants growing enable cleaning of water naturally with no added man-made efforts. This cycle helps in creating a sustainable organic crop plantation combined with aquaculture.

The Management in Aquaponics System

Aquaponics mimics the natural way of farming. The method helps creating a circular balance system for crop growth and maintenance of the aquatic life. However, efforts need to be made to reach the effective cycle. The close parameters that need constant monitoring for the method to be effective are:

  • Air Temperature : the plants grown achieving the system of aquaponics need a viable temperature. Aquaponics is generally practiced in confined areas. Varieties of plants are grown by practicing aquaponics. Different plants require different atmospheric temperatures and humid levels. Therefore, temperature needs to be well maintained for a good plant growth and minimum damage to the crop.

  • Water Temperature : the maintenance of aqua life is essential. This can be achieved by keeping in check, the water temperature in accordance to the type of aqua life. Different species of fish and other aquatic animals used in aquaculture need different temperatures for their maintenance and growth. Hence, it is important to achieve and maintain the water temperature according to the aquatic life for their favorable growth.

  • pH control : pH balance is a very important factor in aquaponics. Right from a balanced pH level of water for fish growth, pH levels of water for plant growth to variables in between. pH adjusters are introduced in the system to maintain the pH balances of three important variables: the aquatic animals, the plants and the bacteria. The pH levels needs to be achieved and maintained in order to attain proper growth of aquatic animals and yield good and abundant crop.

  • Oxygen Levels : Optimal balance of oxygen in air and water is required for achieving a viable aquaponics system. The aqua-life, the bacteria, the plant, all require oxygen to perform their necessary functions. Therefore, optimum levels of oxygen need to be maintained through an able filtration system.

  • Carbon-dioxide Concentration : Increased level of CO2 may hamper growth or lead to early decay of plants or aquatic life. Regular check of CO2 concentration in air and water enables temperature control and a viable atmosphere for necessary growth.

  • Light : Sunlight is an important aspect for growth in living beings. Adequate light is needed to maintain necessary growth. Aquaponics introduces both means of natural and artificial light for growth in plants and animals.

  • Nutrient Check : a balanced nutrition intake by the aquatic life ensures balanced nutrition being provided to the plants. It is important that quality food be given to the aqua-life to ensure expected results. The bacterial growth also needs to be kept in check so that the necessary microbes enable the breaking and conversion process of animal waste to a natural nutritious solution (fertiliser) for the plant growth.

It is important to achieve the parameters to the level of perfection to achieve high system productivity. The better checks maintained at various levels, enables better results.vailability of the modern techniques and the experts to support, the final produce made available is of the best quality.

The Practice Methods in Aquaponics

Aquaponics is a combination of growing plants and aquaculture. However, various methods are adopted in growing plants. The few practices followed for plant growth are:

  • 1. Deep Water Culture (DWC) : a channel filled with water is used to grow plants. The water filled with fish waste is filtered and let into this channel where the plants grow. A foam based raft with holes is placed in this nutrient rich water, where the plants grow. With no soil in play, the roots of the plants grow in water and absorb the nutrients enabling a healthy plant growth.

  • 2. Media Based Aquaponics or The Wick System : the method involves growing plants with the help of a media (generally sand or clay). The system involves providing the stored nutrient water through a medium of a wick. There is no additional filtration system installed or available for removal of the waste or its conversion to nutrient rich water. The medium or the wick present performs this function. Though a dependable and low cost method, it needs constant monitoring to maintain the optimum oxygen levels for plant growth and maintenance.

  • 3. Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) : NFT system works with nutrient rich water provided to the plants through pipe systems. The pipes (generally PVC) have holes drained in them where the plants grow with roots suspended freely in this nutrient packed stream of water. Submersible pumps are used for ensuring regular flow of nutrient rich water.

  • 4. Vertical Aquaponics : one of the most viable and successful methods for greater yield, vertical aquaponics involves growing of plants in vertically placed trays through which the nutrient rich water is constantly flowing. Plants are grown in trays stacked one above the other in a tower format. The method follows the ebb and flow system of growing plants. A submersible pump in the nutrient rich reservoir floods the water through the drains when the pumped is switched on. The plants are stacked right above the reservoir, where the nutrient water once having reached the optimum level flows through all the plant’s root system before flowing back into the tanks filled with aqua-life.

The methods are determined on their scale of viability according to the type of plants grown and at the scale at which they are produced for the necessary yield.

Benefits of Aquaponics

Aquaponics is combination of growing plants (specifically vegetables) and aquaculture simultaneously. This process enables ready solutions and decreased concerns according its technology.

  • 1. No fertilizer's : with aquatic life providing the necessary nutrients to the plants for growth no fertilizers need to be added to the plants. This enables cutting back on the cost for procuring the necessary fertilizers. With no chemically or synthetic fertilizer being used, the process promotes organic farming.

  • 2. No insecticides or pesticides : the plants grow in water. This reduces the insects or pests that are attracted to the plants generally due to their growth in soil. No introduction of insecticides or pesticides to the plants ensure, retaining of the natural growth system in plants.

  • 3. No Soil Borne Diseases : aquaponics is maintained by growing plants in water. With no soil being used in the process, the diseases introduced into plants due to soil reduces. This enables few instances of crop failure.

  • 4. Water Management : the practice though heavily dependent on water, cuts back its waste. The process utilizes optimum water for the upkeep of aquatic life and growth of plants. The various techniques adopted in the practice ensure minimum wastage of water. The water is only lost through evaporation in the process. Further, with no additional components introduced in the cycle, the quality of water is also maintained. This reduces the ever increasing problem of water pollution.

  • 5. More yield : the farming technique adopted in aquaponics ensures a higher yield. With reduction in factors leading to damage of the crop, a healthy is ensured. The plants grow faster in aquaponics; therefore the final yield of the crop is more nutritious.

  • 6. No space constraint : aquaponics can be easily carried out in small spaces. With no requirement of large land chunks, the problem arising due to paucity of land in the cities reduces.

  • 7. Constant supply of sea-food : the system relies on aquaculture. This enables a constant supply of sea-food that is organically raised.


Aquaponics though being reliant on a crucial element, water is a sustainable way or organic farming. It enables a frequent and high yield of produce in the most natural way. The produce is not only organic but also nutritiously balanced, which is an important factor.

With the need of increased supply of food, aquaponics does serve to be a viable and immediate answer to the growing concerns.

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