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Aquaponics or Water Culture?

This is a discussion on Aquaponics or Water Culture? within the General Orchid Culture forums, part of the Orchid Culture category; I have been searching the internet for info on aquaponics. I have a fish tank ...

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  1. #1
    Snerticus is offline Junior Member
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    Feb 2011
    Phoenix, AZ
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    Question Aquaponics or Water Culture?

    I have been searching the internet for info on aquaponics. I have a fish tank that I inadvertently put a small pruned branch of a miniature rose in the filter compartment a few years ago. I was upset because I accidentally cut off a branch with a gorgeous bloom. The only thing I wanted to do was keep the bloom fresh for the longest period of time. After the bloom faded and dropped, I forgot that the leafy branch was in my fish tank filter. A few weeks later, I noticed something unusual. The leafy branch had more leaves than I remember and a few flower buds near opening. I looked closer and the branch had rooted quite profusely. I ended up repotting the rose and I now had two beautiful miniature roses.

    Later on, I tried putting a small heart of romaine lettuce in the same filter compartment. The water moves over the media in the filter and is highly oxygenated. Also, the substrate in the fish tank is crushed coral/shells. So the water content is high in calcium. Anyway, after a few days, the romaine lettuce heart had started rooting and it wasn't long after that when new leaves began to appear on the heart.

    So recently I had been thinking about hydroponics; however, I found out that the art of raising fish in a tank system and watering plants on a regular basis with the nutrient rich water was called aquaponics. I searched for 'water culture' on the internet as well and it took me here to an old article in the forums. I read it with great interest but it was from back in 2006 and no one has mentioned it again. I searched the forums for any info on aquaponics or hydroponics for orchids and have not found any info.

    What I'm wondering is this: I recently bought a Miltoniopsis in near-blooming size. I would like to use the water from my small 5 gallon fish tank to set up a system of watering. Does anyone have any ideas on how I could achieve this? I am a bit concerned because the fact that the water is high in calcium means that the pH is also over 7.0 - probably 7.5 or so. However there are aquatic plants growing in the substrate already, so I know the water has sufficient nutrients. As well as the fact that it's the same fish tank I used for the rose and lettuce a few years ago.

    Does anyone have any ideas? I know orchid growers sometimes use hydroponics so I would appreciate any info anyone has on the subject. The thread on water culture seems to imply that you can keep orchid roots submerged in water and they will thrive, however, I want to be completely sure that I can do this. If I can find a way to submerge the roots in the filter compartment where highly oxygenated water flows back into the tank I would like to try it to see if it works. But I didn't think it would work with orchids. The 'water culture' thread seems to imply that it will work, but I really would like more opinions/advice before I try this.


  2. #2
    e.muehlbauer is offline Junior Member
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    Eric Muehlbauer
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    paphiopedilum, cypripedium
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    May 2004
    Queens, NY


    You cannot compare the growth of aquatic plants in a fish tank with that of orchids. Most aquarium plants require basic water, certainly no less than neutral. Most orchids, certainly Miltoniopsis, require slightly acidic conditions. While calcium is essential, a slightly acidic pH is needed...say, around 6.5. Many paph's require basic conditions, but I don't think your filter compartment would work. Yes, the water is relatively oxygenated, but not enough for the roots. Some people have had success growing paphs in semi-hydro culture, but I am not one of them. You could try the tank water in semi-hydro, but the bacteria would probably kill orchid roots.

  3. #3
    Dorsetman's Avatar
    Dorsetman is offline Senior Member
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    Geoff Hands
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    Cattleya ?
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    Oct 2010
    England, South coast.
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    I did a lot of experimental work with water culture back in the 90's and a lot of this was published on the 'net at the end of the century. At different times I used flood and drain - where the water level was raised to completely flood the pots, and then drained out; I used different media for this and this is one of the problems in that it does tend to get washed away and the plants move about, which is never good; but the media is only needed to hold the plant in place in aquaculture, not to provide nutrients, so alternatives are possible - e.g. salads are grown in polythene duct, which is filled with water- to make a tube several inches in diameter with the plant emerging trough a small hole in the top surface - when the water is drained, the tube collapses to lie flat , and grips the roots to hold the plant in place -but I never tried that with orchids. Vandas grew extremely well with this flood and drain - using ordinary pots stood in a tank (the plants were tied in place in the pots - rather a nuisance to do ) and flooded every 4 hours in mid summer, reducing to every few days in mid winter, but the plants were difficult to handle, to do anything with them when taken out of the tank ( shows, or even bring into the house) . The alternative I ended up with and have used for many years now, is often called semi-hydroculture, where the bottom say 1 or 2 cm of the pot permanently stands in water/nutrient , using a coarse open free-draining inorganic media - coarse Perlite ; I have a few hundred plants in this at present. The roots on the plant when introduced to this system die within months, but new ones grow, and these do not ( usually) extend into the water ; but for this reason it is good to introduce plants only when they are about to produce a new set of roots . I also take plants out of the water when the bulb is made up - this corresponds to the natural way plants grow, producing their growth in the wet season, and their flowers in the dry season , so as not to be spoiled by bad weather, then holding their seed pods to develop in the next rainy season, and so on. . You don't get brilliant root systems with this S/H, but you do get massive bulbs and superb flowers - when the plants have properly adapted , which can take a couple of growing seasons. It works very well with the oncidiniae , and also with other thin-leaved plants coming from very humid areas. Some plants hate it. I also tried it with cymbidiums , which will keep active live roots in the water - but these are new roots grown after introduction to the system, not the old ones ; but it took 3 years to grow a dense mat of thick lovely roots good enough to support a good flower spike - and I found cymbdiums easy in conventional mixes anyway so did not pursue that.
    Oxygenation will help keep the water sweet, but is not a substitute for the roots having direct access to air , which some orchids need. For example I have some Ansellias which are doing well in S/H ( will post a pic of one in flower in a week or two - only one flower open so far on the first spike) ; these have produced a set of roots coming out of the compost sticking up into the air, to get what the plant needs in this direction ; some of the Catasetums do the same thing I have noticed.
    If you try S/H , a tip is that the p/H and Ec need constat monitoring ; I adjust and correct every week -Perlite is a very variable material , and the p/H in particular depends on the exact chemical coposition of the siliceous sand used to make it. I had one batch recently where the p/H went up from the 6.0 the plants need up towards 8 in the course of 10 days , and I had to start off with p/H at 5.0 each time I changed, in order to avoid spending my life doing nothing else.

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