Aquaponics

Course CodeBHT319
Fee CodeS1
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment
You Can Farm Fish and Vegetables Together
  • On a small scale or large.
  • Aquaponic installations can be as small as a couple of square metres or as large as dozens of acres. 
 
 Aquaponics is the integration of hydroponics with aquaculture technologies.
  • Hydroponics is the horticultural process of growing plants in mediums other than soil.
  • Aquaculture is the culture of aquatic organisms (such as fish and crustaceans) for commercial purposes under controlled or partly controlled conditions.
In an aquaponics system the nutrient-rich waste from fish tanks is used to provide plant food to vegetables and herbs grown in hydroponic beds. Chemicals (including nutrients) naturally increase in any water in which fish or other aquatic animals live. Some of these chemicals are the result of excrement from the animals, and others may result from decomposition of dead animal tissue or left over food (such as ammonia). Because of its nutrient composition, water that is used for aquaculture is a useful source of nutrition for growing plants. 

In an ideal aquaponic system, the aquatic animals are fed and grow causing nutrient levels to increase in the water. The nutrient rich water is then transferred to the roots of plants. The plants will extract nutrients, lowering the nutrient levels in the water. The water can then be returned to the aquatic animals, and the cycle can start again.

Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction
    • What is aquaponics
    • History of aquaponics
    • Why aquaponics
    • World food
    • Urban farming
    • Cost benefit analysis
    • Is aquaponics organic
    • The aquaponics system
    • Can it be used with salt water
    • Types of Systems:constant flow closed reciprocating, open, deep water, floating raft
    • Outdoor or indoor systems
    • Barrel ponics, wick, NFT, etc
    • Advantages and disadvantages of aquaponics
    • Scale of operation
  2. Aquaponic System Options
    • Recirculating systems
    • Non recirculating (open loop systems or micropnics)
    • Components of commercial fish rearing systems
    • Aquaponic sub systems
    • Deep water culture (DWC)
    • Intermittent flow (Ebb and flow)
    • Nutrient film technique (NFT)
    • Gravel bed systems
    • Barrel ponics systems
    • Equipment: commercial and backyard
    • System components
    • Tanks
    • Aeration devices
    • Solids removal: clarifiers, solids tanks, filters,screens
    • Biofilters
    • Sump and pH adjustment tank
    • Water heaters and chillers
    • Greenhouse houses and fish rearingfacilities
    • Alarm and back up systems
    • Hydroponic grow beds and types of media
    • Maintenance, water monitoring and adjustment
    • Organic vs non organic
    • Combining worms with growing beds
  3. The Science of Animal and Plant Growth
    • Plant growth factors
    • How plants grow
    • Plant structure: roots, stems, leaves, reproductive parts
    • Biochemistry and aquaponics
    • Biochemical processes in a cell
    • Photosynthesis
    • Mechanisms of nutrient uptake
    • Plant nutrients
    • Role of pH in plant growth
    • Animal science
    • Bony fish (Osteichthyes) and their biology
    • Crustaceans: crabs, lobsters, shrimp and prawns
  4. Nutrition and Controlling Growth
    • Water soluble chemical compounds: ions
    • Less water soluble chemicals
    • Complex chemical compounds
    • Understanding nutrient formulae
    • Hydroponic nutrient formulae
    • Atoms, elements and componds
    • How are chemical names written
    • What does a plant need
    • Calculating formulae
    • Mixing nutrients
    • Case study
    • Symptoms of nutrient deficiency
    • Nutrients in aquaponics
    • Variables in aquaponics: conductivity, ph control, oxygenation, beneficial bacteria in aquaponics
  5. Selecting and Managing Animal Production: Fish and Crustaceans
    • Choosing what to farm
    • Climate
    • Water
    • Finance
    • Scale of operation
    • Other resources
    • Market
    • Availability of animals
    • Risk considerations
    • Overview of main species to grow: in Asia, South Africa, Australia, U.K., Europe, North America, South America
    • Trout: Rainbow, Brown
    • Bass
    • Tilapia
    • Catfish
    • Barramundi
    • Carp
    • Mullet
    • Sunfish
    • Eels
    • Marron
    • Other species: ornamental fish, crustaceans and molluscs, lgae
    • Sourcing fish and crustaceans
    • Fish food
    • Which type of fish food to use: pellets, live food, daphnia, brine shrimp, tubifex worms, earthworms, oil meals
    • Other food
    • Fish food production: beef heartlegumes, seafood and vegetable mix,
    • Earthworms: setting up, adding worms
    • Compost: understanding, making, conditions for compost production
    • Fish health
    • Common pests and diseasesin aquaponics
    • Penaeid shrimp diseases
    • Fish diseases
    • Salinity and system health
  6. Setting up an Aquaculture System
    • Choosing the right sized system
    • Selecting the right components
    • Setting up the system
    • Getting started
    • Threats to the system
    • Using a greenhouse
    • Greenhouses: passive systems, active systems
    • Active solaqr heating
    • Greenhouse management
    • Controlling the growing environment
    • Light control
    • Air temperature control
    • Root temperature control
    • Relative humidity and vapour pressure deficit
    • Controlling humidity
    • Carbon dioxide and oxygen
    • Computer controls
  7. Aquaponic Plant Culture
    • Selecting media for aquaponic plant culture
    • Types of media Growing seedlings
    • Seed sources
    • Sowing seed
    • Seed propagating media
    • Sowing seed direct
    • Vegetables in aquaponics
    • Herbs
    • Successional planting
    • Flow charting a cropControlling plant growth: stopping, spacing, disbudding, trimming, training
    • Pollination
    • Pest, disease and other crop problems: overview, identification
    • Pest, disease and disorder control in aquaponics
  8. Applications and Opportunities
    • Aquaponics for profit
    • Economic thresholds
    • Harvest and post harvest management of fish
    • Harvest and post harvest management of vegetables and herbs
    • Harvested crop physiology: fruit ripening, respiration, when to harvesy
    • How to prepare salad mixes from harvested vegetables: chlorine levels in water for washing produce, preventing bruising and rots, packaging
    • CA and MA storage
    • Chilling damage and storage temperature
    • Harvesting and grading vegetables
    • Fruit grading systems
    • Marketing
  9. Managing an Aquaponics Venture -including a PBL
    • Case study: University of the Virgin Islands system
    • Case study: North Carolina State University system
    • Case study: Speraneo system
    • What is an aquaponic trial?
    • Running an aquaponic trial
    • Research methodology
    • PBL Project: Create and present a plan with specific strategies for improving the crop production of an aquaponics system in terms of amount and quality of produce harvested based on a clear understanding of the system’s requirements and its location (greenhouse or open air; temperate, subtropical, or tropical climate).
  10. Troubleshooting
    • Water supply problems
    • pH problems
    • Algae growth
    • Dirty, cloudy water
    • Water imbalances; high levels of ammonia or nitrite
    • Imbalances in gases
    • Fish troubleshooting
    • Controlling salinity and nutrients without damaging fish
    • Plant troubleshooting
    • Diseases
    • Pythium in aquaponics
    • Pests
    • Environmental physiological disorders
    • Nutrition problems in aquaponics
    • Deficiency symptoms
    • Correcting nutrient problems in aquaponics
    • Fruit set management: pollinationfloral initiation, fruit growth
    • Flower and fruit development problems
    • Fish eating plant roots
    • Power losses
    • Clogging with sediment
    • Fish to plant imbalances
    • Pathogenic contamination issues

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


Deciding whether to go into Aquaponics
 
Like everything else, aquaponic production has both advantages and disadvantages.
The scale of operation is not really such a big concern (people practice small scale aquaponics in their home garden; while others operate large scale commercial aquaponic farms.
 
Before making your decision, consider the advantages and disadvantages below:
Advantages of Aquaponics
  • Water conservation – water use is reduced significantly in a recirculating aquaponics as it is being continually cycled through the system.
  • No need for chemical fertilizers – the fish provide fertilizers for the plants to grow, while the plant roots provide additional filtration of the water for the fish to live in.
  • Fish waste used in cycle – ammonia is removed from the system by filtration
  • Less land space required – plants and fish are grown in close quarters.
  • Can grow food all year round – this will vary depending on your local climate and the location of the aquaponics system (inside/outside)
  • Faster growth of plants – a trial carried out in Canada noted that aquaponic growth rates can exceed hydroponic plant growth by up to four times for particular vegetables and herbs.
  • Lower susceptibility to disease – as the aquaponics plants are grown out of the soil, they are not prone to soil-borne bacterial disease. Fish in aquaponic systems are also less susceptible to pathogens that are common to aquaculture systems.
  • Reduced ecological footprint for crop production.

Disadvantages of Aquaponics

  • Cost –per unit area, it is more expensive than other forms of farming (but remember, being more intensive, what is spent on equipment is to a greater or lesser degree, saved on reduced property costs)
  • Technologically Complex –requires more expertise to run properly than traditional farming. You may need to spend more training staff or on consultants and technical services (eg. water analysis, advice on plant and animal health problems. You are on the one hand taking greater control over the growth of plants and animals, but because you are taking that control away from nature, you are removing buffers that nature may normally have in place for dealing with problems. Potentially an aquaponics system is more productive than a natural system, but it is also susceptible to greater risks.
  • If operated on a large scale it may lead to depletion of some natural resources that are required to run the system. Feed for fish or crayfish is made from less valuable animal products. Over use of natural resources can be a problem, and may end up leading to an increased cost for those feeds. The world may simply not be geared to rapid expansion of aquaculture. It may become necessary for larger scale aquaculture farmers to grow their own feed for fish or crayfish (eg. vermiculture)
  • The options for configuring a system are very diverse. As with many new ideas, all sorts of people can be attracted to aquaponics, for all sorts of reasons, and despite their passion, they are not always balanced in their understanding of the industry. Because it is relatively new, sound tried and proven technologies do dot yet exist; and the level of research underpinning the industry is as yet nowhere near as sound as what might be found in other areas of farming.

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Aquaponics is really "Smart Farming".
If you are up for it, you do need to prepare well, and become properly informed before risking a considerable investment in money and time.
This course is a great starting point.

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