Having an aquaponic system is a fun and rewarding pastime. Its like owning an eco system where plants and fishes co-exist as they would in nature with the benefit of getting food from it.
Aquaponics is a great way to teach kids farming, since it can be both manageable and sustainable.
Aquaponics for kids would be beneficial because it teaches them a form of responsibility in taking care of the fishes and plants. It also brings science to nature and in this way, help them to apply the things they learn in school in a real life scenario.
There are multiple benefits for any kid who decides to start their own aquaponic system. It can be very rewarding and brings a great sense of accomplishment.
Seeing what their efforts can accomplish in bringing science and nature together to produce something meaningful will give your kid the right mindset to face anything in life.
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Starting an aquaponic system is simple and with the right guide anyone can see great success. We will delve into everything you need to know in giving your kid the right start when venturing into this exciting project.
Aquaponics for Kids: How Does Aquaponics Work?
Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture (growing fishes in tanks) and hydroponics (growing plants in nutrient rich water), where microbes convert the waste from fishes to nutrients or fertilizer, for plants to grow, in a recirculating system.
The waste from the fishes contains nitrogen in the form of ammonia (NH3). Plants love nitrogen and they use it to grow and produce green leafy branches.
We know that Ammonia is toxic to the fishes and luckily in aquaponics, there is a friendly bacteria which changes the ammonia into a nutrient that plants love.
There are two very important types of bacteria responsible for the conversion which takes place in two steps.
Nitrifying bacteria converts the ammonia firstly into nitrites, which is an intermediate step, the nitrites is then converted to nitrates which plants use as nutrients to grow.
Nitrifying bacteria, Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter are important microorganisms that help keep an aquaponics system in balance. Nitrosomonas bacteria converts ammonia to nitrites and Nitrobacter bacteria converts nitrites to nitrates.
The role of bacteria in aquaponics is very important. Apart from creating food for plants to grow, they also create a healthy environment for the fishes.
Components of an Aquaponic System –
Fish Tank –
This is where the fishes and aeration mechanisms are housed . Fish tanks can vary in sizes depending on the amount of plants in the aquaponics system which determines the number of fishes required to produce the required nutrients.
Mechanical Filter –
This is the first stage of filtration in an aquaponics system and is where most of the heavy poop matter ends up. This filter makes it easy to remove the heavy matter through drains and cleaning mechanisms.
The biofilter is the secondary part of the filtration system and is where the clean up action takes place where the bacteria converts the ammonia into useful nitrates for the plants.
The biofilter contains medium which greatly increases the surface area for helpful bacteria to live.
Plant Growing System –
The growing medium is where the plants are grown. Growing medium can be made from from gravel, hydroton balls, PVC pipes or floating rafts.
This is the component that houses the water pump and is usually a separate component of the system. Although the sump is part of an aquaponic system, in many cases it may not be necessary once there is protection so that the fishes don’t get sucked into the pump.
What Will My Kids Learn With Aquaponics?
- Time management
An aquaponic system requires some degree of care once it’s up and running. Water quality testing, feeding the fishes and monitoring plant health all takes time.
In addition of having homework, household chores and playtime a kid would have to ensure that there is also time to tend to the system to ensure its functioning as it should.
Having to look after other living organisms such as plants and fishes would give a kid a sense of responsibility because it all comes down to them (with the guidance of a parent) to ensure that the system is running smoothly.
From feeding the fishes to testing the water quality kids would know it’s up to them to keep both the fishes and plants alive.
As a parent, when the system starts to progress you can gradually reduce your input in performing routine tasks and hand over most, if not all the maintenance tasks to your kid.
Kids will eventually gain a great sense of confidence in themselves which would be applied to everything they do.
- How Plants Grow in nature
Plants in nature require both nutrients and sunlight to grow.
Plants in aquaponics also require nutrients to grow. Not just nitrates which is produced mainly from the conversion of fish waste.
Other nutrients such as phosphate and potassium have to be applied from the food that are being fed to the fishes.
- How Fishes grow in nature
Fishes in nature as well as in aquaponics require food and oxygen to grow properly. Water quality also plays an important role in how well the fishes grow.
Aquaponics will teach that the fishes have to be fed in a timely manner and the water quality has to be maintained properly for both plants and fishes to thrive.
Thriving fishes would tend to reproduce when they are grown and the babies will be an additional responsibility to take care of.
Important scientific lessons such as the life cycle of both plants and fishes would have to be understood in order to properly care for both.
- A sense of Accomplishment and Pride
When the aquaponic system is up and running your kid will have a sense of pride in what they’ve accomplished.
From something as simple as water in a fish tank to a thriving aquaponic system with flourishing plants.
Your kid will have a project which would benefit them for life with a more in-depth scientific knowledge on how plants and fishes grow and the symbiotic relationship they share when placed together.
Where Can My Kid Learn Aquaponics?
A simple backyard aquaponic system for a kid should be something with a small footprint.
An IBC aquaponic system is ideal for such a project and requires a small amount of materials.
One IBC tank can be cut into two pieces to house both fish and plants. The plants can be grown in a grow bed or a DWC system directly above the fish tank.
In such a system no biofilter is required since the growing medium provides enough space for the beneficial bacteria to thrive.
Indoor Aquaponics for Kids
A simple Indoor aquaponic system can take the form of an aquarium with a growing trough placed above the aquarium.
Again the substrates within the aquarium and the growing medium can provide ample space for bacteria to grow. The filter in the fish tank can also remove the heavier fish waste.
This system will be a bit different from the IBC setup. Since it’s inside the house, grow lights will have to be used to provide the lights required for the plants to carry out photosynthesis for growth.
An added benefit is that it can be easily monitored since its inside where you will be seeing all the time.
Aquaponics In The Classroom
This will take a similar form of the aquarium with a grow bed directly above the aquarium. The only difference is that the system will not be consistently monitored.
Aquaponic systems of this kind can be set to run some time without constant monitoring so leaving the system over the weekend will not have any adverse effects on the fishes or plants. Fish feeders also can be incorporated to ensure that the fishes are being fed on time.
A benefit of having the system within the classroom is that changes can be monitored and logged.
Aquaponics can be an excellent science project in testing and displaying
- symbiotic relationships
- Light and Plant growth
- Nitrification cycle
- Life cycle of the plant
- Modern agriculture techniques
What type of fish can be used in My kid’s Aquaponic System?
You can start your kids aquaponics system with fishes they already know and love like gold fishes, tetras or even koi. Tilapia’s and other fishes that are eaten can also be used in larger systems to give them the full experience of farming.
Since its the waste from the fishes that provides the nutrients for the plants. Alomost any fish can be used in the system once they can manage it.
That’s key! Management. You would want to give them a good enough footing so they can be confident enough to maintain and ensure the system runs perfectly all on there own with little guidance.
What Type of plants should I start my kid Aquaponics system with?
Simple plants that don’t require large amounts of nutrients should be used.
Plants like lettuce, cucumbers and pak-choi are great for smaller systems since they don’t require a great deal of nutrients and harvesting time is between 21 days to 30 days from planting seedlings.
Cucumbers are however not suitable for indoor system because the vines can get a bit out of hand.
What other Equipment will be Required for the system?
We know that we have a fish tank for the fishes and a grow bed for the plants. What else would you need to integrate them both?
- A water pump is required to circulate the water
- An air pump and air stones are required to provide oxygen for both plants and fishes.
- Grow lights are required for indoor systems such as aquariums, be it home or in the Classroom.
- Grow media is required for the grow bed.
- A water test kit is required to monitor the water quality.
Time Well Spent
An aquaponic system can have multiple benefits which will extend far beyond the classroom. Both plants and fishes require care and attention.
A kid will learn responsibility, time management, confidence and a sense of pride from starting and operating an aquaponic system.
The time spent tending to the system will create a well balanced individual which will in turn have lifelong benefits for a kid.