Considering setting up an aquaponics system to feed your family? Here's a few thoughts for the home gardner.
An aquaponic system with ten square feet of growing space can cost 1500 dollars and will feed you for about a week. Think I'm wrong? Here's the facts.
The aquaponic system in question comes with a 100 gallon fish tank. A one pound fish, lets say a tilapia, will yield two 4oz. filets. A one pound tilapia requires 3.74 gallons of water to survive. A 100 gallon tank will hold 26 one pound tilapia assuming you could fill it to the brim. The fastest growing tilapia, a hybrid between Orange Mozambique and Black Hornorum (Wami), will grow to one pound in 6 months if fed a very portion controlled amount of food. This means that you can get 13 pounds of fish every six months from this system under optimal conditions. A value of about 51 dollars at the grocery store.
This same system has 10 square feet of growing space. That about the area of a standard computer desk. What are you going to grow in ten square feet that can possibly justify the cost of the system? Lettuce? Some peppers? Forget corn or most root crops like carrots. Regardless of the claims of the aquaponics cult, there are far more crops that will not grow in hydroton balls without real soil than there are crops that will. Okay so you might get about a weeks worth of some salad greens. A street value of less than 50 dollars.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that its going to take you several years (if ever) to recover the initial costs of any aquaponic system assuming that nothing wears out, like the pump. So unless you have a die hard cultist attitude with a huge bank account, I highly recommend you just buy your lettuce and fish at the grocery store.
Now, whenever I write an article debunking the claims of an industry or business, I always offer a solution to the problems that I expose. The problem here being the costs. So here's my common sense solution.
Go to Walmart and buy a 14 dollar blue plastic splash pool. It's about a foot deep and six feet in diameter. Thats about 28 square feet for 14 dollars. Drill 4 one inch holes at the bottom edge as a drain and cover the holes with coffee filters so the soil doesn't wash out. Then fill it with 12 cubic feet of garden soil from Lowes for about 36 dollars. And there's your grow bed. It costs about 50 dollars. Now set up a kiddie pool. A 12 foot diameter pool with just 24 inches of water will hold almost 1700 gallons. Thats big enough for over 450 pounds of fish and will feed you over 225 pounds of filets every six months. You can buy your tilapia at BackyardTilapia.com for about a dollar each.
Now, every day, grab a five gallon bucket of water from your fish and give it to your plants. Your plants will grow just as fast as any aquponic system and you can plant a greater diversity to suit your taste. Oh and the time it takes to recover your set up costs? About six months.
In my own yard, I use splash pools for short root crops, three row high cinder block beds for deep root crops (like carrots) and I plant 72 corn stalks in plain old dirt about 8 inches apart in 4 rows. I grow over 30 different varieties of fruits and vegetables and they last all year.
Commercial aquaponics offers an exciting business opportunity with great income potential, but for the typical backyard gardener its just an expensive hobby.