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Aquaponics is simply the combination of (fish farming) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil).  Hydroponics is growing plants in a water and nutrient solution, without soil. The solution is created by adding the elements a plants needs to water, which is fed directly to the plantís roots. In some hydroponic systems the roots are in a growing medium which keeps them moist, aerated and helps to support the plant. Hydroponics provides the plant with the ideal water and nutrient ratios and optimum conditions for growth.

In aquaculture, the water quickly becomes nutrient rich due to the fish digesting their food and excreting waste. The waste water is usually filtered and/or disposed of to keep the tank water free of toxic buildups.

In aquaponics, the fish waste provides a food source for the growing plants and the plants provide a natural filter for the fish. This creates a mini ecosystem where both plants and fish can thrive. Aquaponics is the ideal answer to a fish farmers problem of disposing of nutrient rich water and a hydroponic growers need for nutrient rich water.

The aquaponics system at Kirby Peak Ranch uses 4-1250 gallon fish tanks and float beds for the plant growing area.  The float beds are 100 feet long, 2 of which are 8 feet wide and one is 4 feet wide. 

Commercially, aquaponics is in its infancy but, as the technology develops and is refined, it has the potential to be a more efficient and space saving method of growing fish, vegetables and herbs. By incorporating aquaponics, hydroponic growers can eliminate the cost and labor involved in mixing a fertilizer solution and commercial aquaculturists may be able to drastically reduce the amount of filtration needed in recirculating fish culture. Although there is currently a limited number of commercial aquaponic operations, many people are expressing a strong interest in this intensive method of food production.

Although the practices of fish farming and soil less plant culture have been traced to ancient times, the combination of the two is quite new. Research in aquaponics began in the 1970ís and continues today. Several Universities worldwide are dedicating resources to further the technology. At the University of the Virgin Islands, Dr. James Rakocy and his associates have developed a commercially viable aquaponics system designed for use in the tropics where natural fish populations have been depleted and most agricultural products must be imported.

On a hobby scale, aquaponics has the potential to catch on quickly. A home aquarium, with ornamental or food fish, can be combined with a mini garden, growing herbs, vegetables or flowers. A hobby system can serve as a beautiful show piece or a food production system, depending on the size. Many backyard gardeners are setting up systems to grow hundreds of pounds of fish and all the fresh vegetables a family needs.  

Visit  www.aquaponics.com  for more information on aquaponics.  You'll find books, CD-Roms, videos, school curriculums and  the Aquaponics Journal, a bimonthly publication covering aquaponics.  Each issue offers interesting, informative features on commercial, hobby, research, and educational applications of aquaponics.

Kirby Peak Ranch opening spring, 2002
1-800-946-5262, Mariposa, California

Richard Radanovich

Kirby Peak Ranch 
PO Box 2099, Mariposa, California, 95338  USA

copyright 2001, 2002 - all rights reserved