This Water Garden is a good example of a simple aquaponic system. “Aquaponics” is a combination of two words: aquaculture (farming fish) and hydroponics (farming plants in water).
Aquaponics is an ancient practice – Japanese rice farmers used to keep carp in their flooded fields. The carp ate pests that might damage the rice, created waste that fertilized the plants, and served as an additional food source for the farmers.
This synergy between plants and animals is the basis of an ecosystem. There is not yet an aquaponic system that is truly self-sustaining while sealed, but the reuse and recycling of nutrients between the inhabitants is a step in the right direction.
As for this Back to the Roots aquaponics system – I think it’s a great introduction for beginners to the hobby of aquaponics. It does everything an aquaponic system should in a quiet, efficient manner. There’s no confusing set up of pumps and grow beds, no light fixtures or nutrient supplements. Simply fill it up and plop it on a window sill.
Please Take Proper Care of Fish
That being said, this product encourages poor fish-keeping. It includes a coupon for a betta fish, which it wants you to keep in the Water Garden. The Water Garden Systen, however, holds only 3 gallons. Despite the prevalence of bettas in tiny cups, they are never happy or healthy in such an environment.
Frankly, the treatment of bettas is one of the greatest sins of the pet trade. I won’t condone the Back to the Roots Water Garden’s sponsorship of the practice. They need to be in tanks of at least 5 gallons, preferably 10.
A rule of thumb for fishkeeping is you can stock 1 inch of fish per gallon of water. Anything more will crowd you tank and stress out the fish (and look bad too).
Only thing is, most small fish are schooling fish so you need several or else they get lonely (and die).Try something like the neon tetra. They are easy to care for, pretty, and the correct size for such a system. Make sure you buy 3-4, it should cost less than $5 at a regular pet store.
Alternatively, you could keep freshwater shrimp like ghost shrimp. They’re very hardy and interesting to watch. Invertebrates don’t produce very much waste, though, so your plants up top might grow slower.
Make sure you grab some decorations for the tank. A couple of plants (fake or real), maybe a moss ball. Your fish will appreciate it and it’ll be more aesthetic.
Some Maintenance Required
The product description states “no water changes needed”. This is false.
Aquaponics systems are never 100% efficient. Plant roots are also not 100% efficient. And the likelihood of having an established bacterial population capable of converting fish waste into nitrates usable by the plant roots is pretty low (and those aren’t 100% efficient).
No, waste will build up in this tank like any other. You’ll have to do water changes. And just adding tap water doesn’t count. You have to remove water, and then add more (conditioned) water. Otherwise your fish will suffer.
I know I’ve been a bit harsh on the Water Garden, but I don’t think it’s a bad product. As an introduction to aquaponics, it does quite well. It minimizes maintenance and nutrient input.
Additionally, the practice of aquaponics is always a great step towards being self-sustaining. As always, a bigger system could do this more effectively (and allow you to grow fish that are edible!)