Aquaponic Gardening

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It is often touted that aquaponics should be strictly done with cold blooded creatures to mitigate the chance of spreading human diseases. What are the factors influencing this?

For those of you that have experience with gardening with manured water from (warm blooded critters) ducks, geese, chickens etc... let us know your experience or what you do to make ensure the safety of the food you grow?

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I don't use the Duck-a-ponics water to grow food for ourselves.  Or I should amend that statement to say that the only crops for us that get the duck water are the fruit trees.  No salad or possibly raw eaten veggies get duck water.  The duck-a-ponics is meant mostly to keep the water nice for the ducks since it would be a huge waste of water to dump their pool and re-fill it even every third day (by which time it would be really nasty.)  The duck system grows mostly fodder and bananas (which banana plants seem to be a favored food of my birds.)


I highly encourage composting of warm blooded animal poo before using it in gardening.  I highly encourage composting to properly deal with all warm blooded animal poo (including the human poo) because it is the best way to deal with pollution and pathogens but it must be managed properly (which isn't really that hard but Please go to the expert on that )


Mixing of solid waste with water really isn't a good idea so if the creatures are not already aquatic (Like the ducks) then I wouldn't add their manure to water, the water is too precious and trying to de water the sludge later and then purify the water after that has a whole load of problems.

Personally I would go so far as to say that "warm blooded aquaponics" is an oxy-moron.  Aquaponics is the blending of aquaculture - or the raising of cold-blooded marine species - with hydroponic growing techniques.  As soon as you are growing with other animal waste it is something else Duck-a-ponics in TC's case.


It is natural to use poop in Aquaponics, but it needs to be limited. Please remember the system is balanced between the ammonium from the poop to the nitrates. If a large clump of poop is deposited in a small system, say 500 or 700 gallon system, it will shoot the NH4 through the roof in a day. The system will grow bacteria to take care of the extra NH4, but most likely not in time for not killing your fish.

About pathogens in the poop; yes, there are pathogens. Having pathogens in your Auqaponics is OK in small quantities. If the system is compromised with too much NH4 or NO2 in the first place, then the pathogens will have a chance to take hold.

Another place where pathogens take hold is in the amount of O2 in the water and the pH change. Raw poop will most likely go anaerobic in a short time. This will change the pH and allow human pathogens to populate. Most human pathogens are anaerobic (especially if we use really "hot" poop from humans or chickens) This can be a good and bad thing. Nature controls the water pH by minerals and by allowing colonies of anaerobic material to flourish or die. That is a good thing. However, in small systems like Aquaponics, there is not enough water ballast to have reserves of dormant bacteria to take care of the extra NH4. This is a bad thing.

Last, it is OK to put some raw poop in an Aquaponics systems, but very little. It is best to compost the poop before putting it in the water. If you use a 400 um mesh bag to strain out the compost microbiology, you will find your fish tanks cycles faster and there is no need to add poop. Add fish. They poop for you.

If you want more information on this subject, please look at the link below.
Great discussion. I knew this one could bring out strong opinions. To push it a little further. Would you recommend using manured water on plants in soil? What about aged or composted manure not withstanding adding too much nutrient to the system. Nasty stories of liver flukes are welcome, but I am trying to explore the subject with the possibility of repurposing warm blooded critter waste. Seems so far, cold blooded 1, warm blooded 0. TCLynx, I liked your idea for keeping your duck water clean, do you use aquatic plants to do the trick?

Aquatic plants don't survive long where the ducks can get to them.  I'm just filtering the duck water through gravel beds with fodder crops growing in them to keep the duck water clean.


I don't recommend manuring water if you can avoid it.  Simply compost the manure and then use the compost to grow the crops.  Fresh manure from warm blooded animals should not be used on crops or added to water if you can avoid it.  Composting it is the best way to use it.  Manure is not a waste, it is a valuable compost ingredient and as any gardener will tell you, you can never have enough compost.  (well they might not tell you that after a day of hauling it.)


And there is another possibility for using manure but I don't know that much about it myself yet.  Bio-digester.  Which you can then collect the methane from the digestion process and then when you remove the sludge it can still be further composted and used as fertilizer.

I do have some concept ideas of how to make a self contained Aquaponics Fishless system for growing flowers.  It looks like this.....


Kidding aside, I do have a suggestion for a fishless Aquaponics system using only bunny poop. Here is the general setup I do....


1) Make a traditional flood/drain planter with ballast tank of 40 gallons or more.

2) A small 15 watt pump to move water from the ballast tank to planter bed.

3) Make sure water is circulating and everything is working.  Make sure to place the ballast tank in a dark area.

4) Plant plants in bed.

4) Add 1/4 cup of liquid kelp into the water.

5) Add 1 Teaspoon of Chelated Iron into water.

5) Get 4 cups of wet worm compost (this compost has never been dried)

6) Get 2 cups of high bacteria dominated soil compost (better than 10,000 um/cm3).

7) Place all 6 cups into a 400 um weave mesh bag and place in the ballast tank.  Slosh it around to release the bacteria and micro organism into the water.  It will make the water go muddy.  It will clear up later.

8) Remove 400 um mesh bag and through remaining compost back into the compost heap.

9) Get around 1 1/2 tablespoons of rabbit poop.  That should be about 30 turds.

10) Dissolve the rabbit poop into water and make a watery slurry.

11) Add bunny slurry to ballast tank.

12) Check ammonia levels for the next week.  See if the system is processing the ammonia.

13) Add an air pump into the main ballast tank to give O2 into the water.  This helps prevent the system smelling like a sewer.

14) After 1 week, start checking for NO2 and NO3. 


 The plants should be growing right away because of the kelp, but that runs out quickly in about a week. This process jump starts the tank break-in process.  You will need to make adjustments the poop input depending how large your tank it and planting bed.

I think a fishless AP system is essentially a traditional hydroponic system using new inputs.  Like vermiponics.  Same idea but definitely not aquaponics. . . . also, hot manure in any type of system is a bad idea.  Like TC said just compost it first.  People are using animal manures as organic inputs in hydroponic production systems all over the world- and it works, but it's no longer aquaponics. . . . it's a much smaller food web/cycle.  This in an of itself is one reason I'm not particularly attracted to it.  I eliminate my disease issues with a broad and competitive microbial ecology and covers multiple niches within the system.  The more niches the better because it amplifies the effects of competition effects.  Ever wonder why you don't have too many problems with pythiums or rizoctonia or any of the other root rots in a healthy AP system?  It's not because it's not anaerobic, it's because it's a complex cycle built from thousands of tiny ecological niches.  In order for reinfection and pathogen life-cycle completion, the spore or cell or whatever your particle is has to "run the gauntlet" of multiple other biomes. . . This means the the complex ecology surrounding fish metabolism, the anerobic zones the aerobic zones- all the millions of tiny niches that establish with every macroinvertebrate or higher organism. . . Each of these big critters is a world in and of itself- and a world that fundamentally protects your plant production via the competitive and vicious little microbial biomes that surround them or feed off of them or their wastes in one way or another. . .

Hi Nate, 

My thinking is along the same the same lines. In shimp culture it is not uncommon to fertilize with compost or chicken manure. This alllows microscopic algae and microbes to proliferate, and then be filterer by the shimp. The key is to not over fertilize (same for fish food) and to make sure the environment in aerobic. Fully formed compost is safe and so are heat sterilized manures. To further mitigate the chances of ecoli. A bed with Cattails can act as a filter. The water can then flow to a fish pond/tank with mussels and fish and onward through some growbeds. After the growbeds though a pond/tank of azzola which fixes nitrogen and is a food source for humans and chickens. The cycle is complete. 

Aquaponics is only one type of IBS (integrated bio system) but in it's pure form is not yet sustainable. I believe that warm blooded animals can and should have a place in the nutrient recycling process. However, I too agree that processes should be separated to minimize contamination. I think it is appropriate for warm blooded animal feces to be routed through a bio-digester to extract methane before going through a two step composting process before going through the organic (hydro-organic/ bio dynamic) part of the systems nutrient cycle.


I believe in bio diversity to an extreme. Every creature has a job and function. It is up to us to define the appropriate symbiosis and do what we do best; separate and segregate. Though much better than traditional hydroponics, AP by itself is simply not sustainable.


In my newest system, I have "duck water" running into a mosquito fish pond then into the mosquito pond to produce fresh, live feed. The last step of this part of the nutrient cycle is to clean the water by growing duckweed and or algae, which is also used in the feed making process. The next step is to find the appropriate ratios.


Please have a look and tell me what you think.

Using up the methane is definately an interesting plus. Thereby making the manure do double the work. Methane is a great by product of decomposition, but is necessary for the safety of the recycling ecosystem (aka. aquaponics)?


I will check out your system for sure. 


@ Miguel: I do not think it is necessary to use a bio digester in AP esp. in smaller systems and may even be illegal in some counties. My situation dictates the use of both black and gray water, plus due to the way I raise chickens, produce quite a few contaminated carcasses. The mortality rate of day old chicks to maturity is around 5/6, so to get a healthy flock of two hundred healthy birds, I wasted  a lot of lives. 


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