Category Archives: Garden
Shamelessly stolen from Balloon-Juice. Every Sunday morning, Anne Laurie, who cross-posts my Friday Recipe Exchanges, hosts a Sunday Morning Garden Chat and today she featured commenter MB’s aquaponics garden and I was so fascinated by it, I wanted to share it. So with apologies to John Cole (hey, you get like a million hits a day anyway) I took the whole post and reposted it here:
First a thumbnail sketch of aquaponics (AQ) in general and as practiced in the above pictured greenhouse. AQ is the process of growing plants in water like hydroponics but the fertilizer is (mostly) provided by fish who live in the water used to flood the plants. It is, at it’s heart, a symbiotic relationship wherein the plants feed from the fishes’ effluent which cleans the water that is returned to the fish who then, frankly, shit in it again. Fish gotta do what fish gotta do. The good news is that fish poo is just about the best poo you can use for plant food.
My AQ setup is housed in a 12×40 greenhouse and is comprised of a 600 gallon fish tank containing ~200 fish, four 4×7 gravel planting beds and a sump which runs most of the length of the greenhouse. I use one pump to pump water into the fish tank and the dirty water from the tank runs by gravity to the four planting beds. You have to have at least a 1:1 ratio between the volume of your fish tank and the total volume of all planting beds. You can support up to a 1:2 ratio. I have a 1:1.33 ratio. I have a total of about 1200 gallons in the whole system. The water is used over and over again and only lost to the system through evaporation and plant use. It it generally thought that AQ uses 1/10th the water needed for traditional gardening. This was a big selling point for me as I hate paying water bills and watering plants.
The water enters the bed relatively slowly but exits quickly through the use of a siphon (shown above) similar to the siphon used to evacuate your toilet bowl. The orange arrows in the above picture indicate the direction the water flows. When it reaches the top of that pvc gooseneck and begins to drain over, it kicks off the siphon. It takes nearly 30 minutes to fill the bed but less than 5 to empty it. This is important because it sucks oxygen into the root zone. This also helps clean the water as the gravel “polishes” it removing all solids which remain in the bed available to the plants. A lot of aquaponists use the bell siphon system but I found it to be very, very temperamental whereas the loop siphon works pretty consistently. The pvc piece in the upper right hand corner helps the siphon stop when the water level is low enough to suck air into the siphon.
Fish poo is unusual relative to other animal waste in that it is immediately suitable for use by plants without composting. Worms also like it and will populate any AQ bed and that serves to further break down any solids. Finally, of course, the system depends on the nitrogen cycle to clean the water of dangerous nitrites that would harm the fish. In fact, the first step in the setup of an AQ system is to get the nitrogen cycle started, usually using ammonia, before fish are introduced.
The cleaned water dumps into the sump where it is pumped back into the tank through a venturi nozzle that infuses the water with oxygen – good for fish and great for the plants. From the fishes’ perspective, the AQ system is a giant filter and the principles involved would be familiar to anyone who has ever kept an aquarium or done water gardening. However, the “filter” is overdesigned specifically so you can overcrowd your tank without endangering the health of the fish. You need a large number of fish in order to make enough fertilizer for heavy feeders like cabbage and tomatoes. If you use game fish in the system, they will mature and you can eat them. However, AQ should not be considered a way to raise fish for food because it will never supply enough fish to be more than a meal now and again.
I have a mix of catfish, goldfish and a few bream. If it were up to me, I’d only have goldfish. They are very tough fish where most game fish are more sensitive to water conditions. Also I like the pretty colors. The experts will tell you not to buy feeders because feeders aren’t well-bred. On the contrary, I have had very good results with feeders and they have 2 real benefits going for them:
- they are cheap as hell – just about the cheapest fish you can buy; and
- if you don’t buy them they’re going to end up as some other critters lunch. Probably some pampered 1%er living in some rich kid’s bedroom. (Occupy the fish bowl!) So I figure I’m getting some good karma off this and striking a blow for the oppressed.
That is pretty much the basics. There is, of course, much more to it and it is an ongoing learning experience for me. I’ve had fish in the system now for about a year and a half. The first year is really a shake down cruise though I did see some results and was generally pleased with the production.
Some plants do very well in the system, others not so well. Green, leafy things generally do very well and it is not unusual to see plants get really large really fast. I have an eggplant that is still producing that is over 6 feet tall. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and eggplant all do well. Okra, not so much. Above right is a picture of a cabbage currently growing in the AQ bed. On the left is a cabbage planted about the same time outside in my raised bed (outside cabbages are being fertilized with chicken poo – so it’s the battle of the poos, chicken v. fish.) The AQ cabbage is easily twice as big though the head is not nearly as compact. I really can’t get over how huge the leaves are on the AQ cabbages and I’m looking forward to eating this one on New Years with some black eyed peas, etc.
Finally, what Balloon Juice post would be complete without a pet picture? This is Vidalia, a 12 year old (11 in this picture) longhaired miniature dachsund, my constant companion and the sweetest dog that ever drew breath. Honestly, I don’t think she cares a whit about aquaponics, but she tolerates my obsessions and gives me a reason to get up in the morning.
If anyone has any questions about AQ or my project in particular, I’ll do my best to give a coherent answer or help direct you toward more information.
If you head on over to the Garden Chat, MB answers some great questions on the comments, too.
We’ve had a few killing frosts so soups and stews are going to feature more so than usual. Mmm… it’s a good day for chili! This has chorizo and ground beef with the usual beans and tomato bits with green chilies. I added some semi dried red chilies from a plant the frost killed. I’ll be gathering all of them soon and will dry them for flakes and a few I’ll leave whole for those dishes where they are expected.
Mmm… green beans and ham. The meat is some of the cured pork that we buy whenever we go up to the processor about an hour north of where we live. They bag and freeze chunks that are analogous to bacon ends. I’m not sure what their curing method is, soaking in a brine is my guess, then smoking for a spell.Mrs J is getting serious about wrapping up the patio container garden. I picked most of the peppers. The small sweet peppers are great for pickling – I have been using a simple water/vinegar/sugar pickle. The habs and the Anaheims were frozen whole. I noticed the jalapenos were starting to wrinkle so they got the same pickling as the little grape sized peppers. Still to go are a bunch of cayennes, and the ornamental tri-color peppers that have proved to be hot hot hot. Some other tri-colored peppers have no heat at all.They brought this long haired chihuahua to the shelter the other day. He was found running free by the roadside with his son. No tags or owner. They think he’s about 8 years old. Heartworm positive, he’ll be there a while, his son has been adopted and he is all alone.A neighbor called yesterday evening, telling Mrs J there was a momma cat and her kittens abandoned by the road. She found the mom and three kittens right away. They were hungry. Another sweep through the same area found three more kittens.They all seem to be healthy. We have them all in the back barn for now, all set up with litter boxes and bedding.Bookending the post with beans. These are red beans and rice. Kroger surprised me the other day with Andouille sausage. I bought a ring and used it here. Just about the perfect addition to the classic bean dish. I tossed in a few boneless chicken thighs to keep the sausage company.
My local Kroger store surprised me with lamb patties but I dithered about using them until tonight when I threw this dinner together. The yogurt came from one of those little cups – plain Greek yogurt with dried dill weed added and a little garlic. I’ve been collecting olives, the plate tonight has three kinds: Baby kalamatas, country style cracked green olives, and stuffed manzanillas. The garden is still producing tomatoes but the nights have been cooler so they will be coming to an end. Love them with feta and kosher salt.
From the kitteh playroom at St Francis. Somebody has to do it.This may be the last hummer of the season. We’ll keep a feeder up because birds passing through late may need a little something. I think we saw one in November last year.The last pastrami we made was so good I put another corned beef out in the electric smoker and set it for 175 degrees. It spent the night out there cooking. When I went to retrieve it for steaming I was shocked to see the thermometer stuck into the top vent reading past 300 degrees. Thermostat fail! I hoped to salvage a little and managed to save enough for a couple sammiches. The pups were not a bit disappointed as they got most of it. The manufacturer has a good customer support staff and they are sending me a new module.A bowl of ripe Anaheims. The mature red peppers are a little bit hotter than the green ones but not by much. I may dry these to see how well they work for a pepper sauce for enchiladas and such.
Shrimp fried rice with a few more of those dumplings I bought frozen at the International Grocery. I think these were chicken and veggie. They can be boiled or steamed. Pan frying works but you have to pay more attention to the process. I opted to steam these because I am lazy and a neighbor had dropped in for a chat.
The mini sweet pepper bushes are producing scads of small peppers. A while back I dropped a few into a refrigerator pickle I have going with cherry peppers and they did very well. I started a new pickle with these, equal parts white vinegar and sugar with a half teaspoon of salt per cup of solution.Made a big pot of chicken noodle soup the other day, and baked a loaf of white bread to go with it. Crackers are good and all but wouldn’t you rather dip a nice warm slice of bread into the broth?Here’s a pretty kitteh. Biscuit was sent home with a family but they brought her back after a couple of days. Mrs J says she hasn’t a clue as to why other than they just changed their mind about wanting a cat. Shame, she seems well socialized though is not much of a lap kitty. She likes to play feather on a string and all the other usual games.Here’s a nice cheesesteak sammich with a few of those little peppers. I used a little different method on these. Usually I just cook the meat with just salt and pepper but I used a simple marinade on the thinly sliced strips today: Olive oil, soy sauce, some A-1, black pepper, garlic powder, and paprika. Not a huge difference but it turned out well enough to go ahead with a marinade the next time, too.
The little smashed potatoes worked well with this. Boil the potatoes until they can be smashed easily with a spatula then pop them into hot oil. I had the deep fryer going for another project so I used it but they would fry nicely in a skillet with olive oil. The golden potatoes are good for this. That tomato was from the garden but I don’t know how much longer we’ll have them. We decided to rip out all but one tomato bush because I am done with canning sauces and juices and ketchup and soup. Last year was a near total loss for tomatoes so this year we planted extra fearing a repeat but it may have been the best year ever. I’ve been boiling down 3 5-gallon buckets per week for the last month and more and I deem our supply sufficient.
Playing around with strobes this evening. There are two behind the jars of jelly. I made the green this morning and got it too stiff, fearing a replay of the red jelly that turned out too syrupy. I redid some of the red with a new batch of pectin and managed to get it too thick as well, Sigh. Weather permitting I will get one more chance to get it right with jalapenos. Almost did a batch with red ripe Anaheims but went with the green jalapenos in the end.