An unavoidable part of any aquarium or aquaponics system is hard waste management. As you care for and feed your fish, they are producing waste that must be dealt with. For both aquarium and aquaponic systems, this entails you filtering those hard wastes from the main tanks into holding basins where they sit until you can fully remove them from the system altogether. This is where the two systems will differ and aquaponics shines!
For aquariums, standard units such as Hang on Back and canister filters means the largest part of your waste management utilizes plastic fiber filters. Some of these materials can be removed and cleaned but usually are thrown away and replaced every month. While this is a good practice for keeping your tank clean and healthy, you are also missing out on the most productive materials your system creates! That material is the hard waste itself!
Larger aquariums and aquaponics systems tend to utilize similar products for filtration, such as bead filters, that also possess the capability to backflush the system. During this step you drain the filter unit and in turn remove the hard waste that it has captured. At this point, most people (aquaponic growers included) take that waste and dispose of it, completely unaware of the black gold that they are wasting! The hard waste still contains many unused nutrients that can be used to feed your plants, be it in an aquaponics system or in a traditional soil-based garden.
Instead of discarding the waste, move it to a separate holding basin that you can use as a mineralization tank! (Aquaponics benefits as it can also partially perform this step within the system, see forum on de-nitrification.) Mineralization is the process where organic matter is broken down into individual elements via heterotrophic bacteria in both anaerobic and aerobic environments. You can achieve this process by adding heavy aeration to your waste (mineralization) tank, similar to the process of creating compost tea. (For more information on compost teas or for a different method of mineralization check out our Compost Tea Forum.) Filter out water from this tank and you will possess extremely nutrient rich waters that can be added to your plants!
Have you already been utilizing a mineralization tank? Share your success and failures or voice your opinions to the community!
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