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November 2, 2015

What do you get when you cross aquaculture with hydroponics? Aquaponics! This growing trend in fishkeeping provides great opportunities to increase sales and attract new customers for retailers who specialize in aquatics.

Farming through the use of large-scale aquaponics has been around for quite a while. The practice of growing fish and vegetables within a safe system and creating an environment where each survive and thrive due to the presence of the other is an efficient and productive type of farming. Recently more people have become interested in aquaponics on a smaller scale, which provides a great new opportunity for retailers looking to create a buzz in their aquarium category.

There are many reasons why aquaponics is becoming more popular among aquarists. One is the fact that aquaponics provides a new set of plants to use in combination with an aquarium, increasing the variety over a traditional planted tank that uses only submersible plants. For people who are interested in both fish keeping and gardening, this provides a foolproof way to combine the two hobbies. Also, more people are concerned with recycling, eating and shopping locally, and taking better care of the environment. With aquaponics, people can grow herbs using their fish tank, which provides safe and locally sourced edible plants. And on the aesthetic side, an aquaponics system can make for an an interesting addition to any home’s décor.

Aquaponics is also popular because of the benefits that come from growing plants and keeping fish in the same environment. People with experience in planted aquariums know that the plants and their roots act as natural filters, which leads to a cleaner tank that requires fewer water changes. The fish also play an important role, as their waste is an ideal fertilizer for plants.

Aquarium Kits Make Getting Started Easy

The science of aquaponics can be daunting, but luckily there are kits on the market that can help customers get involved in this hobby.

For a customer who wants to set up an aquaponics system with a traditional filter, the Aqueon Aqua Springs aquarium kit—launched this past spring by Central Garden and Pet—is a exceptional choice. The frameless glass tank comes with a potted-plant ring adapter made for growing a plant that lives partly in the water. The plant is placed on top of the filter in a ring adapter and the roots are allowed to dangle down, which aids in filtering the water. In addition to the plant’s natural filtration, the tank also comes with an Aqueon Quiet Flow filter, which removes waste and debris from the water. These kits are available in 8.8 and 11 gallon sizes.

Elive Pet also has aquaponics kits available in 3, 10 and 20 gallon sizes. What makes this system unique is the AquaDuo filter, which can be used with a cartridge like a traditional filter or planted and used as an aquaponics filter.

“People are looking for alternatives to traditional filters that are aesthetically pleasing and also keep the tank clean,” said Phil Bartoszek, research and development product manager, Elive Pet. “The AquaDuo filter is more aesthetically pleasing with a live plant growing out of it, and it makes use of truly natural filtration, which more customers are looking for.”
Aquatop also has a new product line in the aquaponics category with its Nanoponic Aquariums in 3 and 5 gallon sizes.

“There’s a general trend right now for desktop aquariums and we felt small aquariums would appeal to a wider audience, including men, women and children, in a product that could be kept just as easily at the office as at home,” said Eugene Lee, Aquatop project manager.

These kits come with a plant tray, a quiet filtration system with a replaceable cartridge and an LED light for the fish.

Managing the Input

The practice of aquaponics creates a closed system that requires fewer water changes than traditional aquariums, which means it’s even more important to pay attention to what is added to the water.

“You have to be careful that what you put into the tank is safe, because minerals and heavy metals might build up over time,” Bartoszek said. “This is especially important if you’re growing vegetables or herbs that you might want to eat.”

For this reason it is important to look for substrates that provide a healthy growing medium for plants without artificial dyes or added chemical coatings. CaribSea’s Eco-Complete and Seachem’s Flourite and Onyx Sand are all good options for aquaponics.

“Eco-Complete is a geologically recent volcanic soil, which means it is full of all the trace elements plants need to grow without us having to add anything manually,” said Betsey Moore, vice president, CaribSea.

Flourite is also an all-natural product, made up of naturally mined clay stone rather than volcanic soil. The Onyx Sand is different because it contains some carbonates, which increase the hardness of the water slightly.

“This can be beneficial for people with soft water or aquariums with African cichlids that appreciate higher hardness,” said Daniel Griffin of Seachem’s technical support team.

Food is another input for aquaponics systems, and Elive Pet’s Fusion Flake is advertised as “aquaponics approved.” Made from whole ingredients such as bloodworms, brine shrimp or mysis shrimp, the flake is five times thicker than traditional flake food, which means you don’t get as many small particles and dust in the water.

Set It Up and Educate

Nothing increases incremental sales like having something new to offer customers. Set up a system in your store and be prepared to answer questions and talk about aquaponics with your customers. When people see the clean water, healthy fish and vibrant plants, they’ll be ready to try aquaponics in their own home.

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