The History of Aquaponics

Although aquaponics is revolutionary food production, its origin can be traced to the earliest civilizations. The Chinese and the Aztecs are well-known for utilizing the ancient farming principles that led to the aquaponics we are familiar with today.

Aquaponics research began in the 1970s and is still going strong, with several universities worldwide improving technology to boost output. In particular, Dr. James Rakocy of the University of the Virgin Islands has spent the last 25 years refining aquaponic systems. Aquaponics has gained popularity over the previous few decades, and its growing number of practitioners supports this.

When was aquaponics invented?

Although we cannot precisely identify how aquaponics began, it is safe to say that one of the early practitioners was the Aztec Indians. These people raised plants on rafts on the surface of a lake around 1000 AD, but it is still in its infancy as modern agricultural technology.

We can even trace some oldest examples of another branch are found in South China, Thailand, and Indonesia, where early aquaponics systems include the production and farming of rice in paddy fields in conjunction with fish.

The polycultural farming techniques occurred in several far eastern nations and bred fish such as the oriental loach, swamp eel, Common and crucian carp, and pond snails in the paddies.

Finfish, catfish, ducks, and plants coexisted in a symbiotic connection in the ancient Chinese integrated aquaculture system.

Aquaculture and hydroponics are relatively new industries that have only recently gained significant traction. The idea of mixing the two is even more unique, and it has only become possible as hydroponic farming and aquaculture techniques have advanced.

What civilizations first used aquaponics?

  1. Aztecs Plants were raised on stationary (or movable) islands in lake shallows. Waste materials dredged from the Chinampa canals and surrounding cities were used to manually irrigate the plants in a system considered to be an early form of aquaponics for agricultural use, where waste materials dredged from the Chinampa canals and surrounding cities were used to manually irrigate the plants in a system considered by some to be an early form of aquaponics.
  2. Chinese Since 11000 BC, rice paddies have been a staple of Chinese agriculture, far older than written history. Over thousands of years, rice farmers tested and developed their practices, which is unsurprising. Ducks, fish, and rice plants were utilized to form an early aquaponics system in the 6th century. The system has a lovely, understated elegance to it. Insects, vermin, and tiny fish were eaten by Peking ducks kept in rice paddies. Fish (most typically oriental loach and swamp eel) would eat the nutrient-rich duck feces. Nitrifying bacteria would break down the fish waste, and rice plants would clean up the nutritious 'waste' and thrive as a result.

How did the aquaponics setup evolve to modern-day techniques?

We owe the development of growing fish and plants by combining aquaculture and hydroponics to at least three groups of people. Their works were instrumental in paving the way for the advancement of aquaponics.

  1. John and Nancy Todd and William McLarney: These three founded the "New Alchemy Institute." The "Ark," a prototype Bioshelter, was built as the pinnacle of their work. This prototype was a self-sufficient, solar-powered bio-shelter that was supposed to meet the year-round needs of a family by employing holistic methods to feed fish, vegetables, and shelter.
  2. Dr. James Rakocy: He earned his Ph.D. at Auburn University in Alabama in the late 1970s. His study concentrated on growing plants alongside fish, producing an ecosystem where the fish provided fertilizer for the plants. In contrast, the plants absorbed the waste nitrogen and phosphorus generated by the fish, keeping the water pure and algae-free.
  3. Dr. Mark McMurtry: He is a teaching personnel at North Carolina State University and is frequently credited with coining aquaponics. Dr. McMurtry and a colleague invented the Integrated Aqua-Vegeculture System (iAVS), the precursor for the aquaponics systems we are familiar with today.

Why should we consider aquaponics for farming?

Aquaponics offers growers numerous advantages that traditional farming cannot give. This fact is a good reason why aquaponics needs significant consideration.

  1. It is sustainable: Aquaponics can be an environmentally friendly agricultural production method. Most plant nutrients can be obtained from fish feed via digestion/excretion and nitrification in biofilters, integrating nutrient flow. Plants can serve as biofilters, absorbing system effluent that would otherwise be released into the environment.
  2. It conserves water: According to the United States Geological Survey, irrigation accounted for 70% of global freshwater withdrawals. As a result, many drought-stricken countries rethink their water consumption habits, reallocating part of the water previously utilized in agriculture to other sectors in need. Aquaponics consumes 90% less water than regular farming, according to research. Water used in aquaponics is continuously recirculated from the fish tanks to the plant beds, unlike soil, which absorbs water quickly, especially in warmer seasons. The water is additionally filtered by the plant beds, resulting in a water-efficient solution.
  3. It avoids the challenges of using soil: Soil gardening has challenges that aquaponics easily avoids. For one, you need to constantly till the ground so that the roots can spread out properly and absorb more nutrients. Diversified microbiology is also required and a perfect blend of loam, sand, clay, and organic matter to help the plants reach their optimal growth. The soil also has to have the ideal consistency and not hold too much or too little water. Weeding is another issue with soil farming because these plants rob the crops of the nutrition they need. On the other hand, aquaponics gives the plant everything it requires in a perfect balance of nutrients, oxygen, and water, and it is entirely sustainable. So in aquaponics, plant roots do not have to dig through the earth to obtain what they need, and they can focus all of their energy on developing up into food plants.
  4. It does not require large tracts of land: Aquaponics does not necessitate fertile farmland or even land with soil. You can do it successfully on the sand, gravel, or rocky areas that would never be used as conventional farming.
  5. It helps reduce "food miles": Long-distance transportation of our food consumes enormous amounts of energy and gas, as well as polluting the environment and increasing our carbon footprint. Moreover, when our food gets transported from great distances, it implies more hands touching it, more refrigeration in many locations, more packaging. Add to this the possibility of increased food safety issues and less nutritious food because it has been out of the field for days or weeks. Thanks to aquaponics, we can grow more food at home, in schools, and communities. This implies more excellent nourishment because it's fresh and less of the drawbacks associated with long-distance travel.

How can I maintain an aquaponics setup?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, you should observe at least seven guidelines to attain a successful aquaponics setup. Here are some of them.

Tank selection

Fish tanks are an essential part of every aquaponic system. Any fish tank can suffice; however, spherical tanks with flat or conical bottoms are preferred because of their maintenance ease. Remember to use robust inert plastic or fiberglass tanks that are more durable and have a longer lifespan.

Water quality

The crucial role of water in your aquaponics setup cannot be overrated. Through the water, essential nutrients are delivered to the plants, and it serves as the habitat of the fish. Dissolved oxygen (5 mg/liter), pH (6–7), temperature (64-86°F / 18–30 °C), total nitrogen, and water alkalinity are five crucial water quality factors to monitor and maintain.

Water aeration and circulation

This aspect points to the utilization of air pumps to ensure that the water has high amounts of dissolved oxygen and has good water circulation. You help your animals, bacteria, and plants achieve good health by providing proper aeration and circulation. Remember that electricity expenses account for a large amount of the system budget, so choose your pumps and power source intelligently and consider photovoltaic power if at all possible.

Stocking density

One of the essential aspects that can affect the fish raised in an aquaponic system is stocking density. It impacts fish growth, feed utilization, survival, behavior, health, water quality, and gross fish yield output. Stocking fish at lower densities results in inefficient space utilization and low yields, whereas stocking fish at densities over the carrying capacity hinders fish development performance by accumulating metabolic wastes like feces, impairing fish social interaction, and deteriorating water quality.

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