How To Do A Useful Experiment In Aquaponics
Most people think of “science” as something which involves millions in research funding, and that is only done by PhDs. Not true. Using our adaptation of scientific method (which we unabashedly admit is somewhat “cowboy”), we have developed many economically successful new aquaponic methods and techniques (as well as a cheap, 100% successful method for hatching tilapia eggs) over the last eight years we’ve been operating our commercial aquaponics farm.
The most important thing about good scientific method is the “control”. This usually means that to obtain a valid conclusion about something, you have to have a minimum of two completely separate aquaponics systems to use in your experiment. One system is the “control” system, in which you change NOTHING, and the other system (or systems) are the “experimental” systems, in which you only change ONE thing (or “variable”) during each experimental “run”. The control system shows you what would have happened in those conditions without the change, and the experimental system shows you what the results of your change are.
We’ll use this as an example: we want to find out what the results of using different feeding rates of fish food is, both on fish growth and aquaponic vegetable growth. We have two IDENTICAL small aquaponics systems with exactly the same amounts of fish of the same total weight in each, and the exact same vegetables that were sprouted at the same time in the same manner in the same sprouting tray and table, AND that are located in the same manner as regards sun, rain and wind exposure, i.e. right next to each other.
Now, we feed the fish in one system the “normal” ration of food that we have been feeding all along (and we do NOT vary from this amount during the entire time of the experiment), and we feed the other fish at a different feeding rate (and we use the SAME different feeding rate, that is, we don’t feed them less sometimes and more at other times) for the entire time of one experimental “run”. In other words, the ONLY thing that would be different about these two systems during this time would be the amount of fish food that will be fed. We run this experiment for a reasonable length of time, say the time that it takes for the vegetables to become mature.
Now, we harvest the vegetables and weigh them, while observing any differences besides weight that we can between the two systems; and we remove and weigh the fish, noting the difference in weight and any other differences in the condition of the fish from one system to the other, and writing all this information down clearly and concisely. We may also take photographs if they best help to illustrate the differences between the results in the two systems.
There is other information that may have come to light during the “run”; did one system have a higher mortality and/or fish or plant disease rate? Was there a higher incidence of juvenile delinquency and mouthing off from young fish to their parents in one system as compared to the other? You get the idea. Keep your eyes open and observe ANY differences that you can; there is no bit of information that you can be certain will NOT be useful at the end of an experiment.
If, at the end of the run, you observe a measurable or observable difference in anything, you have obtained valuable information from an experiment conducted according to good scientific method. If you do NOT observe a measurable difference, you still have valuable information: changing fish feeding rates as investigated by this experiment does NOT make any difference in other parameters (not very likely, however, this is all hypothetical and illustrative).
Now, what kind of confidence could you have in your results if you had changed two things in the experimental system during this run, say the feeding ratio and the amount of fish in one system? You could not be certain that a result was linked to a single one of them. The result could be linked to either one of them, or to a combination of the two, and you still wouldn’t know which one or if it was a combination. You would have an experiment that had failed to give you any useful information because it had not provided you with any results you could accurately attribute to a single factor.
So, design your experiments accordingly. Because it takes time and energy to run an experiment, use your noodle and/or intuition to determine what to investigate first; look into things that will benefit you and your aquaponics systems if you obtain more information about them. You have to make an intelligent guess, or several, about what to investigate when setting up an experiment.
As we say in this manual: “IF you’ve changed things from the “standard systems” as shown in the plans, or are starting up or operating the system differently from the way it was explained in our materials, then you are embarking on an exciting experiment in aquaponics, and we can’t predict what will happen. We may not even be able to help you; you might be in completely unexplored territory!
Good luck with your experiment! Thank you for being willing to risk compromise or failure of your aquaponics system to advance aquaponic knowledge. Please let us know how it worked; if it was a success, we will be happy to put it in our manuals with your name as the discoverer. If it was a disaster, we will also put it in our manuals, but we will omit your name and any embarrassment you might experience as a result. Either way, the results of your experiment will be very beneficial to others!
IMPORTANT! Because of the possibility of compromise or failure of an aquaponics system in an experiment, we recommend doing aquaponics experiments with small systems that you can afford to sterilize and start over if the result is a total mess. Ideal small system size for such experiments would be our Tabletop Systems Manual (maybe a 10-square-foot system). The easy way to “start over” after dumping all the water and sterilizing everything would be to simply bucket or pump over enough system water from a healthy operating aquaponics system, plus fish (if you killed them too). This way, the reconstituted experimental system is up and operating right away, and you don’t have to waste time going through system startup before your experimental equipment is operational and ready for another experiment.