Aquaponics and Getting Off the Grid

My goal with this series of articles is to discuss a wide variety of subjects which interest me, most of which have to do with getting off the grid, growing organic foods for my own use and that of my pets, and making more sustainable choices overall.

To that end, I will begin by discussing the ancient yet emerging field of aquaponics, which is the combination of aquaculture (growing fish and marine invertebrates) and hydroponics (growing vegetables with no soil). Aquaponics is, in effect, the marriage of Aquaculture and Hydroponics into one linked closed-loop system.

In traditional aquaculture, a large part of the expenditure comes from buying feed for the fish, chemicals to treat the water, and often complex filtration systems, in addition to the requisite water pumps. In traditional hydroponics, soluble plant foods, chemicals and micronutrients can be enormously expensive as well, and complex pumping systems are employed. There are also complex and expensive lighting, tanks and/or grow beds to consider in both systems.

In aquaponics, the two efforts are combined, with the result that both fish and plants are healthier and grow more quickly and robustly. One pump system serves both purposes, the growing plants provide the filtration needed to keep the water clean for the fish, and the fish waste provides the nutrients for the nitrifying bacteria to break down into a form which the plants can utilize. Chemicals are generally not needed, and since aquaponics employs a closed-loop system, it can be done 100% organically with relative ease.

Luckily, I am in the right place at the right time, as a wonderful series of aquaponics systems is maintained for educational purposes by Morning Star Fishermen, Inc. in San Antonio, Florida, about an hour north of my home. This is a nonprofit organization providing education to those who would grow their own organic fish and vegetables at home or commercially, and they have demonstration systems which range from apartment and single family size up to and including a commercial aquaponics system with multiple concrete tanks. The couple who started the organization, Hans and Sigrid Geissler, originally started in Largo, Florida, literally down the street from where I live. They have since moved the entire operation onto a ten acre parcel in San Antonio, Florida, near Dade City, which used to house a tropical fish farm in a series of large greenhouses – the perfect place in which to house their demonstration aquaponics systems. They have started educational programs in Haiti and Jamaica, and are well underway with another in Nicaragua. They also bring in villagers and missionaries from around the world to teach them how to set up their own aquaponics systems to feed their families and villages.

Happily, as an inveterate gardener, I had a lot of plants to share with them when they needed them quickly for an upcoming class, and they were kind enough to give me a couple of dozen blue tilapia fingerlings in return for my help. Although they are not too happy with our current VERY cold weather, they have been growing quickly, and let me know every time I come near their tank that it is time to feed them – even if they have been fed five minutes earlier.;-) Although most of the tilapia grown at Morning Star Fishermen are hybrids, blue tilapia are the only tilapia it is legal to possess in Florida without a special permit, and as blue tilapia are also the most cold hardy and among the best tasting, that works for me.

You can check out Morning Star Fishermen and their work here:

http://www.morningstarfishermen.org/

There are a variety of compact aquaponics systems marketed today, which I will probably not purchase myself as I am a bit of a do-it-yourselfer, but which would be an excellent starting point for an individual or small family without the time or resources to do the requisite research to set up their own system. The systems differ, though most appear to be very well designed, and although they are a bit expensive, I see no reason why they would not work for most applications.

Stay tuned to the blog for links and/or banners provided by the makers of some of these systems, as well as books and other products related to aquaponics. I will also be including instructions for my own systems, once we complete our move, and I begin to build them.

Cori MacNaughton

This article was originally published on the author’s blog. Check out the blog for additional photographs.



Source by Cori MacNaughton

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