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Soil Media Use in Aquaponics – Pros and Cons

Many of you know I like to use soil, almost exclusively, as the plant growing media in our small integrated aquaponic designs (eg the popular Earthan Bed designs).  I do so for very good reason.  Soil media use in aquaponics has many benefits but also has some drawbacks.  Here is an overview of them both. [heading] Soil Media use in Aquaponics [/heading] Would I use it in a commercial setting?  If the client was after a particular outcome, most certainly.  There are already successful examples of using soil media around (see above) and it also helps achieve organic certification, at least in Australia.  But it is not as easy as it appears. Soil media use in aquaponics or integrated aquaculture is not that complicated but it does come with its own set of challenges.  Which we will cover in a later article. Today, I wanted to list (impartially) some of the pros and cons of using soil as your plant media in an aquaponic system at home. Let’s take a look at some of the cons that come to mind: Without adequate drainage plants will get wet feet.  This is easily solved if you choose the right soil for the job. Requires organic inputs.  This is also a pro because it helps keep the nitrogen:carbon mix right for the plants and adds nutrients not otherwise available in aquaponics Water will have more tannin (tea color).  Again a pro also.  Most native species prefer darker water because it replicates the rivers and streams they come from Can have higher suspended solids.  When first started the solids suspension can be high but it does settle down quickly Can be quite heavy to work with (filling beds).  Lighter than gravel but heavier than clay media.  Not a massive issue. Heavy rain will stir up solids and dirty the water.  This happens in other media but not quite to the extent of soil.  Over time the re-suspension of solids is reduced. Some of the pros, there are many but here is a few: Inexpensive media for growing plants, Full range of nutrients for all plant types. Perfectly suitable for growing any type of plant, root or otherwise Excellent water retention and oxygen properties. Soil can be built with additional organic mulches Very little to no requirement for pH or alkalinity adjustments Massive surface area for bio filtration Thermal stability with very little variation in soil temperatures which is especially important for the root zone This list could go on but you get the idea.  We have successfully used soil in combination with gravel beds and raft garden systems and gardens which use both soil and gravel and ones that only use soil as the media. Please tell us about your experience using soil in aquaponics in the comments below. Regards Paul…

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