Aquaponics in Vertical Farming: What is it and How it Works?

Plants and fish definitely go together. One can easily imagine a pond with plants as well as fish, but that is not quite what aquaponics looks like. It is more like farming, where tanks, pipes, and equipment are used to create plants and other products quickly and in a controlled environment.

Vertical Aquaponics is the process of growing fish and plants by circulating water with fish waste to plants that are placed above the tank through a pump. It takes up little space and allows clean oxygenated water for the fish while providing plants with nutrients they get from the fish waste.

Read on to learn more about aquaponics and the environmentally efficient way to create plants vertically!

How Does Aquaponics Work in Vertical Farming?

Aquaponics is the process of using water and fish waste to grow plants, while at the same time using plants to purify water for the fish. It is a mix between hydroponics, which is growing plants without soil, and aquaculture, which is growing fish. Normally this would mean that plants are growing on top of a fish tank, but when you throw vertical farming in the mix, a few things change.

Now, the water which contains the fish waste is circulated throughout a hydroponics system. In other words, water is circulated up to where the plants are so that they are getting the water with nutrients in it, then that water is circulated back down to the fish tank having been cleaned by the plants.

A pump is needed to circulate the water up to the plants in their vertical rows. Once the water is there, it trickles down the sides of the pipe or tower going through all the roots of plants at each level. As it does this, it is also gathering oxygen so that when it gets back to the tank, it has higher oxygen levels for the fish.

Bacteria also play a critical role in the plants’ ability to not only use the fish waster as nutrients but also to help generate more clean water.

“Beneficial bacteria gather in the spaces between the roots of the plant and converts the fish waste and the solids into substances the plants can use to grow.”

Types of Aquaponic Systems

There are three types of Aquaponics Systems designs; which one works for you will be determined by the resources you have and the scale of operation.

One type is the media-based aquaponics system, which follows the principle of flood and drain. The plant bed, which is filled with gravel (or other rocks), has water pumped into it until it reaches a certain water level. Once it does, a siphon begins to move the water out and back into the fish tank.

Another type is the Nutrient Film Technique. This is a horizontal farming system (but can be done in multiple vertical layers). It consists of pipes that run horizontal and have a shallow stream of water running through them. It does not take up much space and uses a pump to get the water into the pipes.

There are more systems, like the Raft system, which means putting plants on a foam raft that floats through the nutrient-rich water. Of course, there is also a vertical system like the one above and a hybrid system that combines two or more of these systems into one.

Challenges with Aquaponics

Just as in every situation in life, aquaponics comes with its share of problems. Anything can happen, but there are quite a few common challenges that people encounter.

The most common challenges are: having either the plants or their fish die, not getting the correct balance between fish and plants, algae growth or other molds, temperatures are not suitable for either the fish or the plants, or the plants are not getting enough nutrients.

These challenges, if not handled properly, could result in the loss of your crop or your fish, which means your hard-earned time and money will be wasted. It is important to learn to deal with and overcome these common challenges.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Aquaponics

Aquaponics is still being tested out, and while it helps in some places where the weather doesn’t allow substantial crops, it has yet to become a widespread solution. There are many disadvantages and advantages of being able to have a system and knowing how to use it correctly.

Advantages Disadvantages
Saves Resources High Initial Cost
Environmentally Friendly Prone to Maintenance
Easily Controlled Space Consumes Electricity
Can be done on a large or small scale Random Failure
Saves Space May Need Professional Help
Easy to Maintain Only Selected Crops Available
Less Labor
Great Source of Income

How Safe is Aquaponics?

In 2019, the Aquaponics Association presented a food safety statement establishing that the production of plants and fish with the use of an aquaponics system was safe. Farms also have the capacity to be certified by the USDA to be organic. As a matter of fact, aquaponics is “one of the safest agriculture methods against pathogenic risk.”

The microbes or bacteria that are used in aquaponics are what keeps the plants and fish safe. These microbes break down all the waste of the fish before the plant can even intake the nutrients from it. In outside farming, birds and other animals may cause bacteria to create harm for the plants, but in aquaponics, the environment is controlled and safe.

Companies Using Aquaponics

Nowadays, these systems are being implemented not only on small individual scales but in large-scale companies as well. These companies are using aquaponics to produce fruit and other produce that is organic and available to the population around them.

A good example of this is Ouroboros Farms in California. They not only grow to produce and sell it to local consumers, but they also offer a variety of classes about aquaponics and take people on tours of their farm. They are the largest aquaponics system farm in the country.

Traders Hill Farm is another system in Florida. They repurposed a chicken barn into a fish facility and now grow over 4,000 pounds of lettuce every month. Source. They believe in understanding where and how we get our food and being able to get it in a more clean and safe way.

There are so many more companies! Take a look and see that aquaponics is happening all around you.

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