The Aquaponics Guide Book by Bevan Suits has a powerful subtitle, "Aquaponics is proven worldwide as the most efficient and sustainable way to grow food, on any scale." Quite a claim and if it were true could prove essential as we attempt to deal with the resource limits we are reaching globally.
So, what is Aquaponics? "Aquaponics is growing fish and plants in one system, with fish waste feeding the plants. It works in many variations of scale and form, though the basic concept does not change: Fish, bacteria and plants working together in a recirculating, soil-less system. It resembles a living organism, with a heart (the pump) and lungs (aeration). The bacteria remove waste like the kidneys and the liver." As a long time aquarium hobbyist this sounds like something I could apply. I've got a tropical fish tank that does seem to perpetually produce algae and fill up with "waste".
So how does this Aquaponics fit into my fish tank? "Replace an aquarium filter with a pot of gravel. Put a plant in the pot. Let it
drain back into the aquarium. That's aquaponics, boiled down to its simplest form." That sounds reasonable. I have a fish tank with a pump that sucks in water from the tank and runs it through some filter materials before going back into the tank. So, this should be interesting, how do I stick a plant into my filter system? The book introduces this as the basic idea then says it can be scaled to a swimming pool size aquarium.
The basic principles are the same as in my tropical fish tank. We used to call the system for keeping my tank clean a "biological filter". The idea was that a pump would draw water through the gravel in the bottom. The fish waste would be consumed by the bacteria living in the gravel, turning the waste from the fish into nitrates. The nitrates are then part of the food that plants need to grow. My own experience with simple old fashioned aquariums is that trying to maintain a reasonable equilibrium takes a careful balance in the system and some ongoing maintenance.
The book after stating the many benefits dives into various configurations. The single page diagrams with notes are excellent. You get a very clear idea of how the systems work. Create a planter higher than the fish tank. Pump water from the fish tank up into the planter. Use a timer to control the pump. Use a valve to control the flow from the planter into the fish tank. So far so good, I think I could do this.
After a quick run through of the major components the book leads to a Getting Started section. This provides a high level view of how to get started with a small system. I am intrigued enough to now be contemplating how I can create one of these getting started systems working with my existing fish tank. Wait until my family hears what I've got planned. Fresh vegetables all year and maybe one day some edible fish.
That brings us to the point where we can look at what we can produce and how much it is worth. Plants are your primary food production purpose. The fish, like Tilapia as one option, are part of the equation but the real money apparently is in the plants. Getting beyond your own needs produces income potential. Basil apparently is a good cash crop. Many other options are available including root vegetables like carrots (although there are conflicting reports on this). As with all things sustainable coming to grips with the true economic benefits may require a re-working of our economic system to price in the cost of carbon and other pollutants.
Scaling up the business introduces you to the potential to grow the concept. Little detail on these scaled up systems is provided beyond links to more information. The idea seems to be that you learn from a small scale system and then as your knowledge and experience grows you'll be able to do the research into these larger systems. Much of the later part of the book is basically advocating for more education, research and support for the concept. Fair enough. The benefits of the local nature of production and ability to grow in a more controlled environment has a lot to offer in a world heading for an unpredictable future.
The bottom line is that there is enough in this inspiring paperless book to get you started trying Aquaculture. Also, there is enough information to start you down the path of creating your own small scale system to learn with. For the small cost of this eBook, I can safely say that all of us who value developing workable solutions for a sustainable future should read this book.