How to prepare your family to survive and thrive in todays uncertain world

Hydroponics and Aquaponics

I’ve talked before about some alternative growing systems, but I want to use an article I just read as an excuse to cover them again.


The first one is a classic that’s been around for years and years. Hydroponics uses a mineral nutrient solution in water to grow plants without any sort of soil. People have been experimenting with hydroponics since the 1600s, though it didn’t actually work without any soil until 1859.

Nowadays when you talk about hydroponics, mist people think about illegitimate uses for the method, generally oriented around growing pot.

But clearly that’s not the real reason to consider hydroponics. It can be effectively used for optimizing crop yield, especially in smaller areas. Hydroponic systems can grow plants far more densely than classic growing methods. Some people even stack growing beds.

Generally speaking, most hydroponics systems consist of growing beds, a growing medium, nutrient solution, and water. The growing medium helps the roots have something to grab onto, and can hang onto some of the nutrients after the nutrient system has receded somewhat.

The nutrient solution has all the good stuff that the plants need, dissolved into water. The growing medium sits in a growing bed, which is periodically flooded with the water containing the nutrient solution. This lets the roots get all the good stuff and the moisture without drowning them.

Obviously this is a huge nutshell explanation. Here’s some resources of various types that you can check out for more information or even instructions on how to do it yourself.


Aquaponics is quite similar to hydroponics, but it addresses a major drawback of hydroponics. In hydroponic systems, you’re dependant upon nutrient solutions that come from outside the growing system. Aquaponics addresses this by adding a source of nutrients… Fish!

In an aquaponic system you have a tank of fish that grow. You feed these fish whatever they eat. The waste byproducts from the fish accumulate in the water, which is converted to nitrates by bacteria in the system. This nitrate solution is then used as the nutrient solution for your hydroponics system. The water is then dumped back into the growing tank. This system is generally completely automated.

Tilapia and trout are two of the more common fishes used in aquaponics systems. Tilapia in particular can be fed duckweed, which can be grown in the hydroponics system, which helps reduce the overal systems input required.  And since you’re growing fish now too, you have a good source of animal protein that is quite sustainable.

Aquaponics doesn’t eliminate the need for external input into the growing system, but it definitely reduces it to something that most people can handle on their own, which is important for sustainability. It’s a lot easier to find duckweed for tilapia or worms and bugs for trout than it is to find a chemical nutrient solution for a hydroponics system.

When I have the space, I plan on trying out my own aquaponics system. Should be interesting!

Other Resources:

The Trigger Article

So this post was triggered by reading an article from Fast Company about a guy who is using shipping containers to house portable hydroponics solutions.

From the article titled ‘Localize It: PodPonics Grows High-Tech Organic Produce In Shipping Containers‘:

Liotta decided to use recycled shipping containers as “grow pods,” which are outfitted with organic hydroponic nutrient solutions; computer-controlled environmental systems to regulate temperature, humidity, pH levels, and CO2; and lights that emit specific spectrums at different points in the day. The system provides the exact amount of water, lights, and nutrients that a crop requires–so there is no wasted energy (though the pods are still hooked up to the power grid).

Go check it out. This system claims to produce an acres worth of produce in 320 square feet. Pretty astonishing!

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8 Responses to Hydroponics and Aquaponics

  1. Aquaponics sounds perfect for being self-sufficient. I would like to do something like this if I had the energy. I think if I saw one up and running and what it takes to maintain, then I could decide. My husband and I are just a little to old to start a project like this.

  2. I live at 4ooo’.Really bad soil. forced to use container growing and small green house. Getting poor results with yealds. Your articles about Aquaponics is somthing I can and will start this fall. do you have any articles spacific to container soil that would help me out?? Thanks

    • For container gardens I use a three part mix. One part each of peat moss, vermiculite or perlite, and a compost blend. For the compost blend we mix several different kinds together to get a balanced blend. This overall mix is very much like Mel’s Mix. We then augment it depending on what we’re growing in the container.

      Aquaponics and hydroponics don’t use soil though, they use a special growing medium. The articles and books I linked have more information.

  3. Aquaponics sounds like a very good system to operate below the radar in some environments. I saw this on one of the survivalist TV programs a while back. It definitely looked interesting.

  4. Nice post Rudy,
    Look forward to seeing what you decide to do for your first system. I have made two, well more like 1.5 systems so far. The idea of NFT from hydroponics looked appealing to me at first but after trying it out I would defnately reccomend flood and drain like everyone else is using. One thing I did nit have success following the trend with was the all powerfull Bell Syphon, I tried it, but after messing around for a while with no success I gave up and tried a loop syphon, it worked first try, and is nice because if you make the syphon outside the growbed you can adjust water height easily without disturbing the plants.
    Matthew Levy

  5. Steve,
    I have also thought of an off-grid setup, either as a proof of concept, or just to save some in electricity costs.

    I stumbled upon this link a while ago written by an electrical engineer who decided to live off grid. Since he has no power everything must be ran off batteries which, to most of us have a finite life, apparently thats not true.

    It would be a fun experiment to get a few car batteries, solar panels, this battery desulfator and see how self sufficient the system could be.

    You could even grow duckweed to feed the fish with, the only input after setup would be light from the sun!

    Matthew Levy

  6. Hi Rudy, we have been looking into aquaponics for quite some time now. Murray Hallam’s DIY aquaponics is VERY informative, although in Australia. Check out youtube. Tons of videos there if you are interested in finding out what its all about. Please remove aquaponics for you from your list. They are NOT good. From personal experience. Murray has a system using those IBC totes that are common to find. Video and everything. We have purchased those. The thing to remember is talapia and catfish, etc are warm weather fish. Trout for us northerners! They can take the cooler water unless you have an inexpensive way to heat the water.