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Blog 2017-10-25T09:22:34+00:00

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Indoor farming and the year 2017

A company that offer software that helps indoor farmers to manage their production, brings every year a report about indoor farming and the data are interesting and we bring you a summary about aquaponics.

The report evaluates over 150 responses from growers around the world, but most of the responses (93 %) are from northern America (USA, Canada).

The most popular system of growing is Hydroponics (49 %) and the Aquaponics is on the third place with 15 %.

Almost half (47 %) of respondents grows crops in the greenhouse and 30 % grows crops in indoor vertical farm.

Most respondents (61 %) are growers with a small farm. Small farm is a farm that have the area lower than 930 m2 (10.000 ft2).

The most popular crop is leafy green. The tomatoes grows 16 % of growers and then are herbs (11 %), flowers (10 %) and microgreens (6 %).

The most profitable system appeared aquaponics, that beats the hydroponics by 2 %. After the hydroponics on the same values are aeroponics and soil-based growing. As the least profitable seems the combination of Aquaponics & Hydroponics & Soil, where 75 % of the subjects using this type of growing is unprofitable.

Source: https://www.agrilyst.com/stateofindoorfarming2017/

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Aquaponics

What is aquaponics?

Have you heard about aquaponics and are you interested what is the purpose of this agriculture changing system? Which vegetables can be grown in aquaponics and which fish to breed in tanks? What is needed to run aquaponics?

Aquaponics is a combination of breeding fish and growing vegetables or fruits in a recirculating system. Fish excrements are turned into nutrients, which plants can absorb as a food, the clear water is then returned to a fish tanks. This way it is possible to breed many kinds of fish and grow large scale of vegetables, herbs and even fruit. Water consumption is minimal compared to growing in soil medium and nearby environment isn’t polluted by a water from fish breeding, that would have to be changed regularly. System like this is an ideal in locations where is not enough ground or bad conditions for the classical agriculture methods or hard access to clean soil and water.

An aquaponic system is made out of three parts, which can’t operate without each other. Fish food – commercial fish granule, ecological feed, but also processed kitchen waste serves as basic food for bred fish. They’ll use part of it to grow, however their imperfect digestive system excludes lots of nutrients back into the water. The substances are not available for the plants yet, but the substances are eaten by bacteria and other microorganisms and are changed into basic substances. Plants can absorb those basic substances through the roots and use them to grow or create fruits. This clears the water at the same time, so it goes back to the tanks. This cycle works naturally in every pond and is cleverly used in aquaponics to grow foodstuffs. In aquaponics it is also called Closed-loop System.

Fish

Breeding fish creates a lot of waste. But that can be used to grow plants. The Cycle begins with feeding fish and is very similar to nutrient flow in the nature. Fish can be decorative for example Koi Carp. Tilapia is the most common consuming type but also many kinds of carps, salmonidae or percidae fish. Fish are bred in big tanks, which should meet requirements for good water circulation. More about tanks in part Systems Types.

Bacteria

Fish waste is decomposed by helpful bacteria and other microorganisms to simple nutrients suitable for plant growing. In aquaponics there are two the most important processes that are handled by helpful bacteria. It is nitrification and mineralization. More about them can be found in part Biology and chemistry. The process of changing nutrients couldn’t work without the bacteria. You can’t use antibiotics or other drugs in an aquaponic system, because you would lose the most important part of the system.

Plants

Roots of plants are bathing in the water, which contains many nutrients that are available for plants. Roots work as a delicate filter, which catches only what plant needs to keep growing. Plants can grow in some of suitable substrates, or on so called rafts, which flows on the water; however they can also be bathed by dispersed water in an aeroponic system. There are many ways how to grow plants in aquaponics. More about them is written in part Systems Types. Cleaned water returns back to tanks and whole cycle begins a new.

History of aquaponics

What is the history of aquaponics?

Even though aquaponics represents big revolution in today’s agriculture and many see big future in it, it isn’t a novelty. It has rich history with natural nations. It was known by Aztecs for example. Read the history of aquaponics.

Aztec Indians in Middle America were probably the first who has used principles of combine breeding fish and growing plants. Crops were grown on artificially built islands Chinampas in lakes in Mexican valley. Farmland created this way was watered by shallow lake water, which was rich with nutrients. On these rectangle fields they were growing corn, tomatoes and beans and were fishing in canals in between them. Some of those artificial islands were preserved to nowadays and are on the list of UNESCO. In old China they have used carps and catfish to fertilize rice fields.

Present term aquaponics probably originates from the 70’s. Aquaponics as a combine system of breeding fish and growing plants was discovered by American aquaculture f armers, who were looking for solutions to lower their dependence on large amounts of fresh water for their breeding and to use the waste water for growing plants. Fish are traditionally bred in half-open offshore farms on the coasts of all seas or in freshwater ponds; however aquaponics originated from so called Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS). Their advantage is that fish can be bred in larger amounts and in lower volume than in natural reservoir. Disadvantage of those intensive systems is fast accumulation of waste, which have to be released back to watercourses. Polluted water from these fish farms has to be replaced with the fresh one. This breeding consumes a lot of fresh water and releases lots of nutrients, which burdens the environment. Many kinds of filtrations and various water plants were tried for cleaning and reduction of water consumptions. Later we went to plants planted in inert substrate like for example sand or gravel. It was found that this system is also good for growing various edible plants.

The beginning of aquaponics is most often connected with work of Dr. Mark McMurtry at the North Carolina State University. In 1969 he has established the New Alchemy Institute, where he dealt with various concepts of permaculture growing. At about the same time doctor James Rakocy has created and examined an aquaponics system as his doctor’s work at the Auburn University in Alabama. After finishing his studies, he has moved to the University of the Virgin Islands in Caribbean, where he established aquaponics research program for breeding Tilapia. In 1997 James Rakocy and his colleagues invented the first big aquaponic system using the so called rafts, thus floating plates with planted vegetables in shallow tanks connected with fish tanks. Until then plants were only grown in some type of substrate, through which the water flew through.

Aquaponics in the world

Aquaponics in the world: Look where it works

Aquaponics is running successfully on many different places all around the world. It is developed and researched by prominent companies in the USA, England, Switzerland, Germany or northern states. Look where are aquaponics farms celebrating success.

North America and Australia

Aquaponics as a concept of alternate growing of plant and breeding fish was researched and tested in many places during the last 40 years. The first aquaponics research originated in the USA and for many years they were only experimental systems and testing of its many variations. Probably because its climatic conditions the Australia is nowadays considered a superpower with its thousands aquaponics.

Probably the biggest and most experienced company which deals in an aquaponics systems in the USA is Nelson and Pade. Till 2014 this company has built projects of total area of a few hectares. Small projects are appearing in American’s jails, to give work to inmates and also to give them new skills which they can use after returning to freedom. Many American schools and colleges have an aquaponics system nowadays as a part of agriculture research and teaching, because an aquaponics system includes problematic of many fields (engineering, agriculture, fishing, biology, chemistry, physics, construction or agribusiness).

Europe

Aquaponics got to the Europe in the last few years. Basel in Switzerland is home to company UrbanFarmers AG, which focuses on designing and realization of roof aquaponics farms in cities. They are using old ship containers, whose are rebuilt into growing systems. Berlin is home to their franchise Efficient-Farming Systems (ECF) that has opened the first bigger aquaponics farm in Germany. The farm is part of conversion of an old malt-house.

The most successful in England is GrowUp Farms Ltd., which focuses on projects in cities. Same as swiss UrbanFarmrs AG started with demonstrative ship containers that they rebuilt. GrowUp has successfully built aquaponics farm in an empty warehouse that they named „Unit 84“. The farm takes an area of 6 000 square feet in London – Beckton and produces over 20 000 kg salads and herbs and 4 000 Kg fish yearly.

Aquaponics systems are also tested within scientific grants in northern countries like Germany or Iceland. In 2013 the European Union has announced, though their scientific cooperation program with COST, memorandum about cooperation of member countries in the research of aquaponics systems as the relevant technology for sustainable production of fish and vegetables in member countries of EU.

Aquaponics projects can be found all over the world. Other countries where aquaponics is being developed are Israel, India, China and Africa.