For centuries, farmers have cultivated plants with aquaponic systems. Since at least 11,000 B.C.E, in China, rice has been grown in paddies. When the fields are flooded, fish come in. Ducks also arrive to enjoy the wetlands. The fish and fowl waste feeds the plants, and the plants keep the water clean. When the paddies are drained for harvest, the fish are easy prey, and they too are harvested.
In South America, the second-century Aztecs learned to build chinampas: a series of rectangular raised beds created in Lake Texcoco’s shallow waters. A system of canals between the beds irrigated the plants and provided access by canoe to care for them. Plants flourished in the nutrient-rich lake water, making it possible to harvest at least seven full crops a year.
Now this time-honored symbiotic growing technique is making the leap from commercial agriculture to homeowners. Instead of vast flooded fields or acres of floating gardens, manufacturers are making decorative fish tank systems that combine the soothing pleasures of an aquarium with indoor herb, flower, and vegetable gardens.