By: Jonathan Martinetto | Founder of Melbourne Aquaponics
About the author: Jonathan Martinetto is the founder of Melbourne Aquaponics, a business with the aim to spread sustainable food production techniques through aquaponics. He is also the author of the digital aquaponics manual “The art of Aquaponics”, a comprehensive guide to successful aquaponics management.
Melbourne Aquaponics and Barefoot Solutions
I am personally a big fan and lover of permaculture, and always happy to hear and learn from new permaculture initiatives around the world. When I first came across Barefoot solutions I was intrigued and curious to discover the application of permaculture in Africa. Their website provides plenty of valuable information and has helped me to get a better understanding of their work and accomplishments. I have particularly appreciated the technical articles such as the one about the banana circles! There is so much we can do when we apply the right technique and work with nature…
I deeply believe aquaponics could also bring additional benefits. I have thus contacted the team as I would love to share my experience and passion with the Barefoot solutions community. So here we are.
What is aquaponics and why it represents an opportunity for the African continent…
Aquaponics is a food production technique involving fish and vegetables. Unlike most mass food production techniques, aquaponics is a real ecosystem where fish, bacteria and plants but also fungus, worms and insects work altogether. Aquaponics use the natural cycle of life also known as “nitrogen cycle”. Nothing is lost! Like in a forest or a river, everything is recycled. The waste of one species are used as a source of food for the others. No pesticides are used. The smallest amount of insecticide would damage the bacteria population that is playing a key role in the aquaponics ecosystem. Pest are regulated thanks to natural predators present in the ecosystem. Nature is doing the job by itself.
Why is it so well adapted to the African continent?
One of the main advantages of aquaponics is the supply of water required. As aquaponics work as a closed system, the water is recycled and kept, as opposed to a classic garden where it would be lost in the soil. The result is quite significant; this method actually consumes 10 times less water than in a classic garden and produces twice as much! Light and temperature also play an important role, so it seems it shouldn’t be an issue on this continent.
In Africa where water is such a scarce resource, this solution seems to be an interesting choice and avenue for food production.
What type of fish and vegetables can we grow in aquaponics?
A large number of fish is adapted for aquaponics in Africa. Among them, the tilapia and catfish. Those are hardy and adapted to warm water conditions. In aquaponics they will produce a nice flesh and offer nitrogen to the system.
From a plants perspective aquaponics allow to grow a large variety of species. To note though, leafy plants such as lettuce, spinach and silver beet are the easiest to grow.
What type of investment does aquaponics require?
When we talk about aquaponics it is important to differentiate commercial aquaponics and backyard aquaponics.
Commercial aquaponics generally use the 2 large scale techniques that are Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) and Deep Water Culture (DWC). The aim of this article being to give you a light overview of aquaponics, we will not detail those 2 techniques here.
The third technique accessible to everyone who desire to grow some food in their backyard is called grow-bed aquaponics. The simplest version consists of 2 tanks, one on top of the other. The bottom tank houses fish and the top tank is filled with rocks where vegetables grow.
In terms of investment a backyard aquaponics can be achieved with a very limited budget and recycled materials. Commercial aquaponics will request more expensive equipment and a greenhouse in order to maximize the system productivity.
What maintenance is required?
Nature is doing the job for you and takes care of everything. The ecosystem auto balances itself as long as the condition offered are adapted. The maintenance of an aquaponics system is mainly to feed the fish and maintain correct water parameters. There are no back breaking labour, weeding, watering or spraying required. As you can tell, maintenance tasks are very limited.
With few recycled tanks you can build a system producing fish and vegetables in your own backyard without effort!
Where to start?
Aquaponics is an effective solution to locally produce sustainable, healthy and tasty food. The only challenge being to offer and maintain a good environment to your ecosystem. Yes, specific knowledge in biology is required but don’t be intimidated, everybody is able to learn the basics and get started. My aim with Melbourne Aquaponics is to allow you to learn the needed basic knowledge to build and manage your own aquaponics system. You will find a free aquaponics training here that will help you to build your first aquaponics system and start producing sustainable, healthy and tasty food in your backyard!
If you need any further support we have an aquaponics website with a blog covering most of aquaponics questions. Click on the button below.