The folks at the non-profit ECOLIFE Foundation are dedicated to providing, as they put it, “ecologically sustainable water, food, and shelter to communities through education applied programs.” Part of this mandate involves the promotion of community aquaponics projects – systems that symbiotically combine aquaculture and hydroponics. Now, the group is bringing scaled-down aquaponics to classrooms and homes, in the form of its ECO-Cycle Aquaponics Kit for aquariums.
The kit is designed to fit on top of a standard 20-gallon (75.7-liter) aquarium, or any other tank with a 12 x 24-inch (30.5 x 61 cm) footprint. Here’s how it works ...
A submersible pump first brings “dirty” water up from the aquarium, and into a prefilter section. There, a rinsable, reusable sponge catches solid waste, while a bio-filter brick provides some initial biological filtration.
From there, the water flows into a grow tray, which holds 13 three-inch (76-mm) net pots containing greens or herbs of your choice. Instead of soil, the growing medium in these pots consists of clay pellets like those commonly used in hydroponics. Not only do these pellets serve as a substrate for the plant roots, but their surface area also provides a home for beneficial bacteria that perform further biological filtration, as the water flows through the perforated pots.
Finally, the filtered water returns to the aquarium through a drain at the end opposite the prefilter.
“Once cycled the system is very stable and requires little maintenance beyond harvesting and reseeding the plants, topping off water lost to evaporation and transpiration – and feeding the fish, of course,” ECOLIFE Aquaponics Specialist Michael Ready explained to us. “Compared to a regular home aquarium, there is much less algae growth because the plants in the grow tray are pulling out all of the nitrogenous compounds, leaving little to none for the algae.”
Each ECO-Cycle also includes a rack-mounted dual high-output T5 fluorescent grow light fixture for the plants, and a 7-watt LED light bar for the aquarium.
While the kit may provide users with greens and help keep their fish happy, its larger purpose is to educate people on the cycles of nature. “The ECO-Cycle may be used to demonstrate concepts such as the nitrogen cycle, the role of bacteria in ecology, the function of water in ecology, living systems, plant and animal life cycles, hydrodynamics, and the science of food production,” said Ready. “All of these principles can be demonstrated as students care for the fish and plants, germinate seeds, harvest vegetables, and monitor water quality.”
The kits are available now through the ECOLIFE website, for US$195. If you’re interested in a similar but larger-scale product – that throws the growing of worms into the mix – you might also want to check out the Fishy Farm. Additionally, a smaller set-up is available in the form of the Home Aquaponics Kit.