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The Daddypotamus Intro to Aquaponics

on May 16 | in Uncategorized | by | with 21 Comments

Daddypotamus here. While Mommypotamus is preparing her presentation for the Tarrant County Birth Network meeting two weeks from now, I offered to pitch in and share one of my latest experiences with you.

As you may have deduced, I’ve not historically been the most proactive health guy. Understatement of the year. I would say I’ve passively benefited from the time and energy Heather has put into understanding health, food, and diet. Let’s be honest: I’m blessed to have her as my wife.

Maybe it’s because of this GAPS Diet (And FYI, I prefer to call it the GAPS Lifestyle, because I think it’s a lifestyle change – not just a diet), but I’ve decided to investigate a local community or two that focuses on sustainable living.

Field Trip #1: DFW Aquaponics Community

I drove up to Saxby’s in Farmer’s Branch. The coffee shop was closed (bummer), but there were 20 people sitting outside listening to a guy speak. Adam from Green Phoenix Farms shared some insight into various Aquaponic system setups and then opened it up for Q&A. I already knew the basic principles, but had no practical knowledge on how to build my own aquaponic system.

What is Aquaponics? It’s the joining of Hydroponics and Aquaculture. Wikipedia defines Aquaponics as “A sustainable food production system that combines a traditional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment.”

[info_box]In other words, you breed fish and simultaneously grow veggies or plants, and they work together. Fish waste and water flows to the plants, the plants filter the water, and the clean water is returned to the fish. Aquaponics is a major player in 21st century sustainability.[/info_box]

The first thing I learned from the DFW Aquaponics Community is that you can design an Aquaponic system to fit ANY situation. If your goal is to grow a ton of veggies but minimal fish, it’s doable. If you’d rather raise a lot of fish but have minimal work on the plant side, it’s doable.

Aquaponics is very versatile for farming. You can grow all kinds of plants, veggies, and fruits. Depending on the climate, you can grow strawberries, pineapple trees, avocado trees, papaya trees, tomatoes, lettuce, and much more. It may even be possible to grow non-vegetable plants for the purpose of homemade bio diesel.

Barrel-Ponics

According to Adam, Travis Hughey is a man worth learning about. Hughey developed an ingenious aquaponics system and trademarked the term “Barrel-Ponics”. It’s ideal for a third world country where supplies are few are far between. He took three 55 gallon drums, cut each one in half, and built his barrel-ponics system. Adam noted that since most of us have a Home Depot or Lowes within driving distance, we have the ability to modify the barrel-ponics system and make it even simpler.

Adam stressed the flexibility of Aquaponics over and over again. There’s no reason why you’d have to use a particular size containter for plant beds or for fish tank. In other words, you can try aquaponics on your apartment balcony with a fish tank or in your backyard or basement with a split barrel or a food grade IBC (Intermediate Bulk Container). You CAN make it work.

My First Concern

It occurred to me that veggies grown via Aquaponics might have a different nutrient density / structure than organic veggies grown the old fashioned way. Adam pointed me to Dr. James Rakocy, “Father of Aquaponics”, of University of the Virgin Islands. Though I haven’t read it yet, Dr. Rakocy has apparently addressed the issue with in-depth findings on the differences between aquaponic vegetables and simple organic. Hopefully I’ll locate this data soon and see for myself how they fare.

Commercial Viability

Out of the 20 people present, only three had operational Aquaponic systems. Most of the group were looking to launch in the near future and were gathering the necessary intel. During Q&A, one gentleman asked, “Is Aquaponics viable for commercial production?”

Adam explained that the answer is yes and no. Most commercially viable fish are salt water fish, so your system would need to be salt water in order to raise them. However, there aren’t a ton of usable saltwater plants (especially veggies), so you may not get any useful harvestable yield from the plant side. Adam has plans to experiment with a saltwater system later this year and will keep us informed.

If you DID try to go commercial with fish, there’s a ton of regulatory stuff standing in the way. The moment you sell meat, especially filleted / processed / cut meat, you have to have licenses and what not. There are currently no licenses required for selling produce (veggies, fruits, eggs), but the government is very strict on the sale of anything that could carry dangerous bacteria.

Unanswered Questions

I had to run after the meeting ended, and didn’t have time to get two of my biggest questions answered:

  1. Are any aquaponic groups or farms getting certified organic, or is that even an option?
  2. What alternative materials have been used to avoid toxins leeched from pvc pipe or plastic barrels?

I’m thinking bamboo could replace PVC in a pinch. Systems may have to be simplified in order to use something natural. Also, I’m unconvinced that ANY container makes for truly safe storage. And I’m wondering why they couldn’t just dig a hole in the ground (like they do in Aquaculture) and create a pond/veggie aquaculture alternative. I’m sure it’s being done already.

At this point, I couldn’t guess why so many doing Aquaponics are using barrels and man-made containers. Lack of available land? Easier to observe and clean? No idea. Maybe it’s just a simple issue of mobility. With barrels, you can modify and rearrange your system as it grows.

Why Any of This Matters

Why on earth would anyone in their right mind waste time raising fish and growing vegetables when the farmer’s market and local co-op pickup point are just down the street? A) Because the cost of food is rising dramatically and B) because our economy and food systems are not so stable that we can rely on things remaining the same forever. The time could conceivably come when food consumption has to go local again, and we may need this knowledge to thrive as a community.

I have the opportunity to attend a workshop soon and help assemble an aquaponics system, which should be a real treat. Once I have some hands-on experience, I’ll have a better idea of my long-term interest. Stay tuned.

For now, I’m just investigating and studying. But who knows? I could see myself getting into this. What do YOU think?

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nIL9hWW3-Q&feature=player_embedded]


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21 Responses to The Daddypotamus Intro to Aquaponics

  1. sapir says:

    very impressive! is that for saving water, or saving money? maybe both?

    • Daniel says:

      You definitely save water and money. Wikipedia says, “In the aquaculture, effluents accumulate in the water, increasing toxicity for the fish. This water is led to a hydroponic system where the by-products from the aquaculture are filtered out by the plants as vital nutrients, after which the cleansed water is recirculated back to the animals.”

      Without the plants to filter the water, you would have to replace a certain percentage of the water on a regular basis. You also save money on what you feed the plants, because the fish do that for you.

  2. Heather says:

    Did they mention what kind of produce can be grown? Are tomatoes possible. I <3 tomatoes!!

    • Daniel says:

      Tomatoes are definitely possible. There’s a whole host of possibilities. Some require a unique setup, however. If you want to do leafing vegetables, for example, you’d need to set up a raft system.

    • Adam Cohen says:

      Heather — it is most certainly possible to grow tomatoes in an aquaponic system. In fact, I have seen pictures of just about every type of plant possible growing in systems around the world. I even know of people here in Texas that are able to grow Pineapples and Papayas in their systems!

      If you want it, we can find a way to grow it! Welcome to the Good Food Revolution!

      • Daniel says:

        Hey, thanks for stopping by to comment, Adam! If you have time, I’d love to get your responses to my two unanswered questions in the post above:
        1. Are any aquaponic groups or farms getting certified organic, or is that even an option?
        2. What alternative materials have been used to avoid toxins leeched from pvc pipe or plastic barrels?

  3. Michelle Mccoy says:

    Sounds very interesting. Will have to do some research as well. Thanks for the enlightenment.

  4. Brynna says:

    Very cool post!! Am still in the process of reading the last of it, but reminds me so much of the “Living With The Land” ride in Epcot (which, ironically, I just posted a video of on my blog recently). Such interesting methods. My dad is a farmer here in the NW, so we all think these things are so important to learn (or at least, consider).

  5. Scott says:

    Daniel – I have been researching this subject. The problem with organic is that the USDA specifically includes “soil” in its definition of organic (unless the plants are aquatic plants). The reason for not using soil is that once soil is in the mix, both the area and the water required increase. Hydoponics is designed to be a small footprint and renewable. Water is not lost in the soil.

    • Daniel says:

      Ah… thanks for the insight, Scott. I figured there was a good reason. If we ever get that 1+ acre property we’ve been daydreaming about, we might be interested in trying both.

    • Adam Cohen says:

      Actually that is not entirely true…. There are several aquaponic (and even one hydroponic – that I know of) facilities that have been granted “Organic” status by the USDA. The truth, as I see it, is that here in the US, most people (and almost all government regulatory agencies, have no idea what to do with Aquaponics. This is not traditional aquaculture, and it is also not hydroponics. Therefore, we do not really fit into any of the normal “boxes” on the required forms.

      But, the short answer is that, yes there are aquaponic facilities that have applied for and received “Organic” certification from the USDA.

  6. wow- this was totally fascinating!!

  7. [...] doable. If you’d rather raise a lot of fish but … … Read the rest here: The Daddypotamus Intro to Aquaponics « The Mommypotamus ← Aquaponics Systems-a Review of My DIY Aquaponics – Home Aquaponics [...]

  8. [...] Lights Lead to Proper Growth of Plants and FishesAquaponics vs HydroponicsAmazing growth of plantsThe Daddypotamus Intro to Aquaponics var ajax = new Array(); function TrackClick(link,title) { var index = ajax.length; ajax[index] = [...]

  9. I’m a huge fan of Aquaponics. I’m planning on buying several aquaponics guides, see which one is better and share my reviews with you. Please let me know if you have a favorite guide on how to build such a system. Thanks

    • Adam Cohen says:

      Alex – come take a look through my site and drop a comment anywhere you have a question or would like to know more… I will help you as much as I can, and I won’t charge you an arm and a leg for the knowledge either. (There are some out there who will…)

      Let me know how I can help; I would love to see you (and everyone) start growing your own food and vegetables with Aquaponics.

  10. Padma Drago says:

    I heard somewhere (aquaponic farm on youtube) that you can put freshwater fish into mildly saline water for the last week of their life, and it makes them taste much better.

  11. Dana says:

    We’re in the process of setting up our first system, and just wanted to say that the reason so many people use these recycled containers is cost. It is a super cheap way to get started. There may be some issues with leaching, but I have a hard time imagining that it would be worse than what is on the market at the moment.

    Also, you’re supposed to be able to plant about anything, but root crops don’t fare as well. We’re hoping to get our plants in at the start of April and the fish in at the end of April, so we’ll see how that all plays out in reality!

  12. maryam says:

    Please my question here is; how can one construct the system(that is how to assemble the barrels)

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