Just a year ago, I had never owned a real houseplant, only plastic accents sprinkled around my living room. I had definitely never heard the word “aquaponics” before, but I was (and still am) a college student. While pursuing my marketing degree, I surfed through different opportunities and found a position as a Social Media Coordinator at a company developing a hydroponic tower. This caught my eye. Though I didn’t know the first thing about hydroponics, I was excited to actualize my career and I was hired!
On my first day, there was obviously a lot to learn. As my new teammates helped me explore the basics, I started to take a more personal interest in agriculture and more specifically innovation in growing methods.
After hearing about a small aquaponic system, I decided to try my luck growing microgreens. This complete system had a 3-gallon tank and was recommended for a single betta fish. My betta, Katya, arrived shortly after my system and I set everything up correctly (or so I thought).
What is aquaponics?
Aquaponics are systems designed to use waste produced by aquatic animals (usually fish) to supply nutrients for plants to be grown hydroponically, and in turn purify the water.
Think… aquaculture (cultivation of aquatic organisms in a closed environment) + hydroponics (growing plants with no soil) = aquaponics
Katya’s tailfin started to disintegrate after only a few weeks and the panic set in. I did a little research and discovered he had fin rot due to high ammonia levels in the water. I left out a very important part of aquaponics… cycling your tank for the health of your ecosystem!
What does cycling your tank mean?
To cycle your tank you introduce beneficial bacteria that will help kickstart the nitrogen cycle. The nitrogen cycle converts ammonia (fish poop) to nitrite which is then converted to nitrate (plant food).
The API Freshwater Master Test Kit measures pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. It’s important for the health of your fish to check these levels every day when performing a fish-in cycle because high levels of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate can be lethal. You know your tank is cycled and balanced when there are small amounts of nitrate present with NO ammonia or nitrite detected.
My long-term solution was more frequent water changes and a larger home with better filtration and live plants. I quickly found multiple resources that recommended a minimum of 5 gallons for a single betta fish, so Katya got an upgrade and I got some peace of mind. His fin has *almost* made a full recovery and he is swimming his best life these days.
Luckily, I learned so much through this fish-keeping process, and a lot of the information translated directly to hydroponics. My old 3-gallon system transformed from an aquaponic to a hydroponic system and still produces some delicious microgreens to this day!
I haven’t given up on aquaponics just yet… stay tuned.