The Great Aquaponics Experiment of 2011

So as our household hunkers down for the winter months we decided to try aquaponics. Aquaponics is the merging of aquaculture (farming of fish and aquatic plants) and hydroponics(growing plants without soil).


Fish naturally create byproducts, which are pumped into into grow beds filled with gravel. Bacteria convert the ammonia from the fish byproducts into nitrites and then other good bacteria convert the nitrites in nitrates, which are used by the plants as nutrients. Through this process, the water is sufficiently cleaned and filtered and returned to the fish, while the plants get the nutrients they need to grow.It is important to note that no chemicals can be used on the plants in this system, as it will kill the fish. This method of farming also uses approximately 10% of normal farming practices. For this reason, aquaponics is a great solution for farming in arid climates. Aquaponics also yields large amounts of food with little space, making it an ideal project for apartment dwellers.

A basic aquaponics system could be as simple as an aquarium on a sunny windowsill with some goldfish, with water pumped into some gravel filled pots above it, draining through the gravel back into the aquarium. Or a piece of styrofoam with holes poked through and sprigs of mint in it floating in the fish tank. Of course you don’t eat your little orange friends.

Our system is a hydroponics system above, with a 10 gallon fish tank of tropical fish below. I can’t tell you how excited I am (or the cats are) to have fish in our home. I haven’t had a fish tank since I was a child.

Once you have tried something simple you can progress up to a system with multiple grow beds and high stocking densities of fish. Larger systems may use ornamental fish like goldfish or koi or for more food output include edible fish. Types of edible fish in aquaponics vary on location and climate but most commonly trout or bluegill are used. Warmer areas may allow for Tilapia. The types of plants you can grow in an aquaponics system vary, but most herbs and vegetables will do quite well. Leafy greens, like lettuces, do especially well in an aquaponics system.

Aquaponics systems are easily built with scrap plastic drums for very little money, but can be purchased in pre-packaged kits generally for a few hundred dollars. Regardless of budget or location, aquaponics allows anyone to grow vegetables and fish.

  • G.J. Stiles

    Can Aquaponics work inside a condo?


    • Vanessa Williams

      Absolutely! Aquaponics is great for small spaces. Many people have systems set up in their basements. The only key thing to remember with aquaponics is that there is water involved, and thus moisture. In super small spaces you could create a bit of a swampy feel if you’re not careful. So far we have found this winter that the extra moisture is just fine with the dry air.