Aquaponics is like hydroponics’ cousin from out of town. You’ve probably heard of it before, but you may not have been properly introduced. These two growing philosophies have quite a bit in common. Both are soilless methods that rely on water chemistry for plant growth. Both are enclosed systems that require close attention to nutrient levels. In hydroponics, nutrients are added to the water, whereas in aquaponics, the nutrient cycle starts with fish that create the nutrients for you. Hydro setups most often utilize flood tables or bucket systems, while aquaponics requires larger containers, such as tanks, because the biggest difference between the two is that aquaponics involves fish, and fish need space! The first thing to know when looking into an aquaponics project is how the cycle works. Fish eat and the inevitable happens: they soil their water. This soiled water is drained from the tanks. It’s full of ammonia and nitrates, and after nitrifying bacteria is added to it, it breaks down into nitrogen, a golden ticket to healthy plants. This nitrogen rich water is then pumped into hydroponic beds, where the plants feed on the nitrogen, and in the process, purify the water so after filtering through clay pebbles, clean gravel or lava rock, it can be pumped back into the fish tanks. And so it goes. Tilapia and trout are popular choices amongst fish species to farm aquaponically, but any commercially farmed fish is a viable choice. As for vegetables that thrive using this method, the list is long, but includes lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes and any number of Asian greens. You can even grow tomatoes, but be aware that they may require a higher fish-to-water ratio since they need water that is richer in nutrients. Aquaponics systems are in use the world over, and are proving especially awesome in addressing food shortages in developing countries—providing not only food, but jobs. Indoor systems furnish year-round groceries in harsh climates, and because the water is reused again and again, aquaponics makes sense as water becomes an even scarcer and more valuable commodity on our planet. Another emerging benefit of aquaponics is repurposing the waste water generated by commercial fish farms, which currently produce most of the fish marketed for consumption. Saltwater aquaponics is also being explored, growing bivalves, crustaceans, seaweed and algae. Bring your own wasabi and soy sauce! More information here.