Wednesday, September 9, 2015


     Peanut butter and Jelly. Salt and Pepper. Milk and cookies. Peas and carrots. These things go together perfectly. They compliment each other and seem like they were made for each other. Another such partnership is hydroponics and aquaculture. Yes, I know. This doesn't just roll off the tongue and it isn't as obvious as the others. However, these two match together better than the others so perfectly that nature herself agrees.

Evidence in Creation

     Nature seems to think that fish and plants work well because that's what we see everywhere in nature. That's obvious. Ponds naturally have plenty of fish surrounded by plenty of plants. What is not so obvious is that they need each other desperately. If you think back to elementary school, you'll remember learning about a food chain. That is when energy starts with the sun and flows toward the producers then the consumers and then ends with decomposers. But there is an even deeper connection between plants and animals in a pond.


     The fish, like other living organisms, expel waste (they poop). This waste becomes toxic over time unless something intervenes. In an aquarium, the owner cleans the tank periodically. Unless I'm very confused, most ponds don't have a caretaker to pump out the pond and ponds have been around for a long time without such help. do ponds get rid of this waste? Plants turn this poop into food. If this is confusing, check out our post about how Plants Love Poop. So, the fish produce "food" for the plants to eat which cleans the water for the fish to continue living. This is an example of a symbiotic relationship called mutualism. Both organisms benefit.

     Since nature has been functioning like this for as long as humans can remember, we can try to mimic this in order to make food. This mimicry is called aquaponics. It combines aquaculture (growing of aquatic animals) with hydroponics (growing of plants without soil). That's why the word aquaponics is a mixture of AQUAculture and hydroPONICS.

How do aquaponic systems work?

Aquaponics typically has fish growing in some sort of confinement and the water from that area is pumped into an area of plants that turns the waste into something productive which cleans the water in the process. This can happen in a small pond where water is pumped into a gravel bed with plants growing. This can happen with huge tanks with thousands of gallons where water is pumped to a greenhouse with veggies. This can happen in a 1-gallon fish tank that grows wheat grass for a nutritious smoothie. All of these are examples of aquaponics and all of these mimic nature's relationship between aquatic animals and plants. This mixture of hydroponics and aquaculture is more sustainable. If we want to create food production systems that are more sustainable, this is a step in the right direction.
PGM students explain our classroom Aquaponics system to STEM supporters

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