Starting an Aquaponic Farm in Ecuador
Have you ever wanted to have a garden, grow your own produce, without all of the labor that typical gardening requires? There are many systems for growing healthy, organic plants, but one system that has risen in popularity recently is aquaponics.
What is Aquaponics?
Even though aquaponics has really only gained popularity since the 1990s, it is a system that has existed for centuries. Aquaponics combines aquaculture- the raising of aquatic animals like fish, snails or prawns- with hydroponics- plant cultivation in water. It has been traced back to the Aztecs who used to create floating rafts for their plants to grow. These rafts would rest atop islands in lake shallows and the plants would absorb the waste and run-off, convert it into plant food, and the plants would flourish. Similar systems have also been traced back to South China, Thailand and Indonesia, where farmers grew rice paddies and cultivated fish in wet fields.
The Science Behind the System
At its core, the system of aquaponics is a simple cycle that produces both fish and plants for consumption. It is an organic process, and really the cycle is an entire ecosystem. There are three vital live components for any successful aquaponics system: fish, plants, and bacteria. Essentially, the tanks with the fish grow bacteria. The bacteria-filled water is filtered through the plant roots and turned into plant food. The nutrient-rich plant food helps the plants grow stronger and faster.
Methods for plant growth
There are two main methods for an aquaponics system. Researching these two options will show you the ideal plants, fish, and set-up for each method.
You have a grow bed filled with some type of media, meaning a material like gravel, rocks, etc. You plant the plants in the media bed. Because of the gravel’s properties, you don’t need to have a more advanced filtration system. The water from the fish tank comes into the media bed with the plants and the gravel helps filter out the bacteria and convert it to plant food.
This system is best for people looking to start aquaponics as a hobby, rather than have a full production system.
Raft/Deep Culture Method:
For this method, you create floating rafts from a material like Styrofoam. First, you cut holes in the rafts, and then you plant your plants so that their roots dangle in the water. This system does require a more advanced filtration process. It is the best method for commercial use because the rafts can be easily replicated, they tend to be very large meaning you can plant more plants, and once the crops finish, you can reuse the rafts again.
In terms of materials, you’ll need to investigate how to set up your tanks as well as the sizes of the tanks. Most people start with a 1:1 ratio of fish tank size to plant tank size. At least one tank is needed for the fish and depending on your method, one or more tanks are needed for the plants. You’ll need a pH tester so that you can determine the bacteria levels in the fish tank. You’ll also need access to power for both a water pump and an air pump.
Before you can plant your crops, you’ll need to get the correct level of bacteria. There are many tips online for how to get started. Some people start with fish, feeding them minimally, and wait 4-6 weeks for the bacteria to convert naturally. Others start without fish, using a chemical like ammonium to jumpstart the bacteria process. This cycle can take 10 days to 3 weeks before you add the fish and start planting.
You’ll need to take into account the seasons and weather when you start planning. Thankfully, the weather in Ecuador is ideal for aquaponics. The fish tanks do not need sun, but the plants need 4-6 hours of sun a day. If you only have one outdoor space, you can cover the fish beds with plants, or build a greenhouse, to help insulate the process. Situate the tanks in an open space so that you can monitor the tanks from all angles.
Depending on whether this is a commercial or just a personal endeavor, the costs vary from several hundred to several thousand dollars. The cost of labor in Ecuador is lower than many other countries, meaning that you can get the tanks and filtration systems built quickly and inexpensively. Much of the equipment needed- tanks, filters, pumps, media material, fish, and plants- can be found in the larger cities in Ecuador.