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Fish + Plants = Lots of fun!

After taking a break from our page for the holidays and a trip to the NACAA annual meeting, we are back in the swing of things! Recently, our office has seen a rise in the number of people calling about hydroponics, aquaculture, and aquaponics. All three practices have been around the industry for a while and are nothing new to the state. However, the expanding number of small farms and the growing movement toward local products has meant that the market demand on these products has risen. Our team is currently planning several programs on these topics, but first we will give you a quick lesson on the meaning of each!

Hydroponics is a cropping system that integrates plants into a water based system. Common setups include plants floating in styrofoam or some other type of buoyant material that allows the roots to touch the water, but the plant to stay above the surface. Other types would be plants that are in a bucket system with media (per lite or pebbles or similar types of media) that allow the water to circulate throughout the bucket.  Nutrients are usually fed into the system by hand or through an irrigation line. They could be synthetic or  organic in nature. A wide range of plants can be grown in this system because of the wide range of setups. Popular types in the panhandle include lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, strawberries, and green onions.

Aquaculture is the raising of aquatic animals whether in a fresh or saltwater system. Some aquaculture farms are located in the open oceans with net type systems to restrict the movement of species, while others could be a small backyard pond or tank in someone’s garden. Some of the more recognizable operations would be catfish ponds in the Mississippi Delta or the large ornamental operations in South Florida. The panhandle has several successful operations raising a range of gold fish, koi, catfish, tilapia, and other aquatic species.

Aquaponics is an interesting combination of the two systems listed above. Fish and plants coexist for the benefit of each other. Tanks hold fish and the waste is piped into a system where plants are grown in water. The nutrients act as the fertilizer for the plants with only a small amount of added nutrients into the system. Water is cleaned through the plants and an additional filtration system, while later being returned to the fish holding tanks. The circulation allows for the reuse of water and providing a continuous product for farmers. Plants can be harvested daily in larger systems and provide a significant boost to the profit of the farm.

If you have any questions about these systems, please feel free to contact a member of our team: Rick O’Connor (roc1@ufl.edu), Libbie Johnson (libbiej@ufl.edu) or M. Allison Meharg (allisonm@ufl.edu).

Permanent link to this article: http://escambia.ifas.ufl.edu/smallfarms/2012/07/24/fish-plants-aquaponic-fun/