Can Aquaponics Be Done Without Fish?

Can aquaponics be done without fish?

Aquaponics is a form of sustainable farming that combines hydroponic crop-growing techniques with aquaculture to form a mutually beneficial system. Growers use nutrient-rich water from fish tanks to fertilize and irrigate their plants while the plants filter the water, providing fish with a healthy environment in which to live.

Growing aquaponic vegetables without any kind of livestock such as fish or crayfish is possible if the grower has an understanding of the nitrogen cycle and substitutes in other sources of ammonia.

Aquaponics without fish requires an external source of ammonia, either synthetic or natural. Ammonia provides nitrogen for plant growth and is produced by both aquatic animals and bacteria inside filter material. Check our Aquaponic Systems as well. If the grower is not planning on keeping aquatic animals, they will need to look for alternate sources of ammonia such as:

  • Organic fertilizer
  • Synthetic forms like ammonium sulfate or ammonium nitrate fertilizer

The addition of these compounds must be carefully monitored and adjusted as needed to ensure optimal levels for plant growth.

Overall, it’s possible to do aquaponics without fish but it does require extra work from the grower to monitor ammonia levels. Alternatively, some plants can also absorb their nutrients directly from liquid fertilizers when set up in specific growing systems such as DWC (Deep Water Culture). This setup allows for an easier alternative to aquaculture involving no conserving of live animals involved at all.

What is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is a sustainable gardening system that combines aquaculture and hydroponics. This method creates a symbiotic relationship between two different ecosystems. In an aquaponics system, fish are typically used to provide the essential nutrients for the plants. However, it is possible to use other sources of nutrients and even create a fishless aquaponic system.

Let’s learn more about how this system works.

Components of Aquaponics

Aquaponics is a sustainable food production method that combines hydroponics and aquaculture, creating a symbiotic ecosystem in which plants and aquatic animals both benefit. Aquaculture is the farming of fish, shrimp, prawns and other aquatic organisms, while hydroponics is the practice of growing plants in nutrient-rich water. In aquaponics systems, nutrient-rich waste from fish acts as fertilizer for plants and the plants cleanse the water for fish. The cycle within an aquaponics system can be achieved without the presence of fish but it will require additional input from outside sources to provide nutrients to support plant growth.

An aquaponics system consists of two primary components: a re-circulating aquaculture system (RAS) and a hydroponic component. The RAS holds tanks with growing fish, shrimp or invertebrates which produce waste that provides nutrients for plants grown in hydroponic beds or trays. The bacteria living in the RAS decomposes nitrogenous waste into nitrates that can be used by plant roots to gain essential nutrients.

A recirculating filter within an aquaponic system continuously filters out solid waste produced by aquatic animals before it can enter and pollute the tank water. This filter removes large particles such as uneaten food and manure using strainers or mechanical filters made up of sponges or pads. Biological filtration then takes place within shallow gravel beds filled with beneficial bacterial colonies working to convert ammonia into nitrites and then into nitrates – creating an ideal environment for both fish health and plant growth!

In order to keep an efficient balance between all different components of an aquaponic system, it is recommended to keep one kind of fish at a time since some species may tolerate higher concentrations of ammonia than others and put more pressure on filtration systems as well as other systems components such as:

  • Lighting requirements
  • Pumps needed for proper circulation

in order to work efficiently! Utilizing good common sense when selecting your species based on their space requirements (size), temperature peculiarities, pH preferences or oxygen content necessary will help you setting up your own thriving mini-ecosystem!

Can Aquaponics be Done Without Fish?

Aquaponics is a unique blend of aquaculture and hydroponics that allows growers to cultivate both plants and aquatic animals in one integrated system. The aquaculture component consists of fish, which supply the water with essential nutrients for the growth of the plants. But can aquaponics be done without fish? In this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of running an aquaponics system without fish.

Benefits of Fish-less Aquaponics

Fish-less aquaponics is an efficient growing system that offers a number of benefits without the use of fish. Fish-less aquaponics systems can be composed of plants that filter and consume nitrates and other substances found in the water, which will help to maintain a healthy environment for growth within the system. This type of system requires very little maintenance, as there are no fish to feed and monitor on a daily basis. Additionally, it eliminates the risk of fish diseases from impacting other animals in the environment, so it reduces harms to other species.

This type of aquaponics has some drawbacks, however. It has been found that a traditional aquaponic system containing fish is more productive than a fish-less one. Further, in some cases this type of system might require more preparation before use than traditional aquaponics systems as users need to add source materials for nitrates such as compost or another source like manures. Despite these potential drawbacks, there are clear advantages to using fish-less systems over traditional ones when certain aspects are considered such as:

  • Aesthetics
  • Lack of need for additional resources such as labor or feed.

Challenges of Fish-less Aquaponics

Can aquaponics be done without fish?

Aquaponics is a system of growing plants in an artificial ecosystem which includes fish as part of the environment. The fish provide nutrients to the plants which helps them thrive and grow and, in return, the plants help to clean the water for the fish. This natural system offers many advantages such as water conservation, no planting medium or soil needed, smaller maintenance costs and can even be done with limited space.

Many people may wonder if it is possible to do aquaponics without using fish since they require so much attention and care.

The answer is yes! Fish-less aquaponics is becoming more popular with hobbyists who want to enjoy the benefits of a thriving aquatic ecosystem without having to maintain living creatures like fish in it. There are some challenges associated with this type of setup that one should be aware of before attempting it, including:

  • Reduced nutrient availability for plants
  • Lower overall system efficiency
  • Diminished plant growth compared to those grown in systems with fish
  • Higher pH levels which can cause damage to certain types of plants
  • Increased cost due to need for additional supplies such as electric pumps or air stones.

Despite these challenges, many hobbyists have been able to successfully achieve successful results by closely monitoring water parameters such as pH levels and proper aeration within the aquaponic system. For those looking for a low-maintenance approach with more predictable results from their aquaponic systems – especially those done indoors – then consider giving a fishless-aquaponic setup a try!

Alternative Sources of Nutrients for Fish-less Aquaponics

Aquaponics is a great way to grow crops in an efficient and sustainable way. Aquaponics systems typically rely on fish as the source of nutrients for the system, but what if you don’t have fish or don’t want to use them? Fortunately, there are alternative sources of nutrients for fish-less aquaponics that can provide the same benefits as those provided by fish.

Let’s look at some of these alternative sources of nutrients:

Compost Tea

Compost tea is a nutrient-rich byproduct of composting. It is made by mixing compost and other organic matter with water and allowing them to steep for several days. During this time, the mixture is aerated to encourage the production of beneficial microorganisms that can provide an excellent source of natural nutrients for your aquaponic system. Compost tea can also help improve the water quality in your system and provide additional sources of trace elements often not found in commercial fertilizers.

In order to make compost tea, you will need:

  • A container such as a 5-gallon bucket
  • Mesh strainer
  • Air pump
  • Air stone
  • Chamomile tea bags
  • Liquid molasses
  • An aquarium heater (optional)

Once all the ingredients are gathered, combine 3 gallons of dechlorinated water with 2 cups each of vermicompost and liquid molasses in the 5-gallon bucket then whisk everything together until it forms a homogenous solution. Next attach the air stone to the air pump so that it can aerate the mixture for several days at room temperature or until you notice aerobic activity. Once aeration begins, add 2 chamomile tea bags to boost microbial activity while they steep in the bucket over several hours or until they sink below the surface. Lastly test your compost tea solution before adding it directly into your aquaponic system as too much organic matter may build up and cause issues with beneficial bacteria populations.


Vermicompost, or composting with earthworms, is a sustainable and organic way of producing nutrients for aquaponics without using fish byproducts. A vermiculture system uses worms to break down organic matter, releasing nutrients that can be used to keep an aquaponic system viable. It is possible to integrate vermicompost into most aquaponic systems, creating a GMO-free nutrient source and reducing the amount of waste produced.

The primary benefit of using vermicompost in aquaponics is cost savings since there is no need to purchase commercially produced fish feed or fertilizers. The break down of organic matter by the worms also produces richer soil quality and reduces water pollution due to its slow release of nutrients into the environment. Additionally, this process increases beneficial bacterial colonies as well as providing an additional food source for fish, such as insect larvae or even small adult insects.

One popular way of incorporating vermicompost into an aquaponic system is through a ‘worm bed’; this consists of layering compost at the bottom beneath shredded newspaper for the worms to feed upon and keeping it constantly moist. As earthworms consume their food source they create compost tea that can be collected from below the bedding media and used as a liquid fertilizer in hydroponics systems supplying essential macro and micro-nutrients to aquatic plants without needing any inputs from fish or other aquatic species such as crayfish or shrimp.

Although not traditionally part of an aquaponics setup, implementing vermicompost can produce fruitful rewards for those looking at creating effective grow beds while offsetting much higher costs associated with traditional sources of nutrition such as pellets and feeders.

Liquid Fertilizers

Liquid fertilizers provide all the essential nutrients required for strong and healthy plant growth. They are easy to use and can be administered directly into the grow beds or media beds within an aquaponics system.

There are several liquid fertilizer options such as fish emulsion, kelp extract, feather meal, bat guano tea, seaweed extracts, liquid compost tea and molasses. All these options provide comprehensive nutrition for your plants; however, caution must be taken when using them in an aquaponics system to ensure they do not cause water pollution or clouding.


In conclusion, aquaponics can be done without fish – however, having fish is often considered the most efficient and effective way to incorporate aquaponics into a closed-loop system. While fish play an important role as nutrient providers in this type of system, plants and bacteria also play key roles in cycling nutrients so that the environment remains healthy.

Without fish, you can still have a functioning aquaponic system that is able to produce vegetables and fruits. The biggest challenge with such a system set up is maintaining balanced nutrient levels, as they are not being provided by the fish waste normally used in a closed-loop system. However, adding supplements and taking proper steps to ensure balanced nutrients can help make non-fish based aquaculture more successful.

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