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We are relative newcomers to this exciting movement called aquaponics.  Though there is a wealth of information on the subject out there, it can be a bit daunting sorting through it all and creating your own fish-powered food generator.  One of our goals is to help spread the word far and wide and encourage everyone out there to join the movement of taking on the responsibility of growing some of your own food.

We’re still learning, making mistakes, and improving on our systems, but we’re delighted with the quick and relatively painless results we are achieving.  Honestly, I’ve never had better tasting vegetables in my life.  I’m sure there is a certain amount of bias in eating the literal fruit of your own labors, but it’s incredibly gratifying to know EXACTLY what went into growing your food and that it is completely free of pesticides and God knows what else they are spraying on our food these days.  Which leads to our motivation for investing in aquaponics.

Our Motivation

My motivation for jumping into this venture centers around a couple of concerns that I know are shared by many today.

  1. The uncertainty of the food supply and a desire to no longer be 100% dependent upon grocery stores for my family’s sustenance.
  2. The safety, nutritional quality and freshness of the food that my family is consuming.

I began pondering the increasingly real possibility of some kind of major disruption in the food distribution chain.  A natural disaster, economic collapse, civil unrest, terrorist attack, etc. could empty out every grocery store in the region in mere hours,  and they could remain empty for days, weeks, or even months.  This is an uncomfortable thought and not something that we like to spend much time thinking about.  Yet, as we look at the dire economic problems facing our world and all the uncertainties of life, it seems foolish to refuse to consider what one would do if faced with such a crisis.

I recently read a great quote that I’m going to steal and use often.

“Every bite of food you grow yourself is an act of rebellion.”   

I’d go further and say it is an act of revolution.  It is your small, personal, but not insignificant victory over big agro, big pharma, and big government – all of which are highly committed to taking as much control of your food personal food supply – and your very life as they can wrestle from you.  I, for one, have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the centralization and monopolistic nature of the agricultural industry in our county.  We are raising generations of children who think food comes from grocery stores and losing the knowledge of how to grow our own food.  I’m not content to stand idly by and not put forth an effort to turn this situation around.

Think about this for a moment.  Every bite of food we eat has a story. Yet most of us don’t know a single detail of the story of our food beyond the store it came from.  Yet, we ingest this food and becomes part of us.

Start writing the story of your food.  Here’s our story…

Our Story

We live in a modest home in a cozy neighborhood just east of Tampa, Florida that doesn’t have a flat piece of ground anywhere on it that isn’t covered with concrete, save our tiny front yard.  Our HOA prohibits building any sort of greenhouse.  Our backyard is unfenced and openly viewable to anyone who strolls through the retention area bordering the rear of my property.

Even if I had the right piece of property, the thought of growing a traditional dirt garden that would be big enough to actually produce enough worthwhile food does not seem plausible.  Dealing with weeding, pest control, weather issues, etc. all made this pretty distasteful and unrealistic.  I run a business and the last thing I want to do is spend my weekends pulling weeds.

Relevant flashback: As a kid fresh out of school in the mid 70’s, I had investigated the idea of hydroponics – growing plants (I’ll let you guess what kind) in rocks using grow lights.  I was amazed that you could actually grow REALLY nice plants using this method.  Due to the proximity of law enforcement, I never actually started into this venture, and soon thereafter I found Jesus, experienced a dramatic change of lifestyle and lost all interest in “indoor gardening”.

Carey Pond

Carey Pond

On our small (16’x20′)  screened lanai we have a nice little 6’x8′ above ground koi pond with a waterfall.  We’ve enjoyed this pond for over a decade now, and our koi are happy and healthy, and it provides a nice, relaxing place to just sit and ponder the things of life.

Last year, I was sitting out there enjoying the peaceful sounds of the waterfall, thinking about how I could grow some food in this small, private space and still leave room for us to sit out there and those old memories of hydroponics came flooding back to me.  I began to visualize some kind of vertical growing system made of PVC that would allow me to create a wall of food along the rear, which happens to have a southern exposure with good sunlight all year long.

I then looked over at the fish pond and thought how nice it would be to raise some edible fish in there so I’d have a supply of protein as well (yes, I hear koi are edible, but that’s just slightly more appealing that eating my weenie dog..)  Tilapia are delicious and seemed like a possibility.  All I would need to do is expand my filtration to accommodate more fish.  I could build my towers and grow both veggies and fish.

Then, the true revelation stuck me.  I thought it would be pretty sweet to just water the plants with the same pump that feeds the waterfall.  I’d just need to plumb it so the water would drain back to the pond.  I could create some grow beds that would sit below the towers for bigger veggies and root crops.  All I needed to do was figure out what kind of nutrients would not harm my fish.  Little did I know that I had just stumbled upon one of the great miracles of nature.  After a little online research I discovered that my idea actually had a name – aquaponics.

And what I found out blew me away.  I discovered that there is a process called “the nitrogen cycle” that converts the waste products of the fish (herein after called “fish poo”) into the very nutrients that the plants require to grow yummy vegetables.  Having enjoyed (and labored) with a salt water aquarium many years ago, I had learned the dangers of high levels of ammonia, nitrite and nitrate in a closed system.  Good filtration and regular water changes are absolutely necessary for a healthy aquarium.

Conversely, growing healthy vegetables requires the regular addition of nitrates, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and a host of other micronutrients.  These are added in the form of fertilizer in a soil garden, or in the solution in a hydroponic system.

In aquaponics, the fish provide the nutrients for the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish – nature’s perfect balance, just the way God created things to work.

So, instead of adding more pumps and reservoirs, I simply engineered my system to take the water from my existing pump (which fortunately was much larger than I needed to run a waterfall) and circulate it through my grow towers, which drain into my grow beds, which drain back to the pond.  The towers have water splashing around in them, oxygenating the water.  The grow beds are filled with expanded clay media which provide a massive home for the bacteria which convert the ammonia to nitrite and then to nitrate which the plants use and remove from the system.

Small Beginnings - Our first aquaponics system

Small Beginnings – Our first aquaponics system

I added 60 tilapia to the system (along with a few bluegill and a small largemouth bass) to increase the amount of nitrate produced so I could add a couple more grow beds and another row of towers.

Before Aquaponics System Install

Before

2 Month Old Aquaponics System

After – 2 Months Old

The entire system is now capable of growing over 100 plants and it only takes up about 2 feet of space along 16 ft of the border of my lanai.  Of course, the pond takes up the entire corner, but now it’s got a lot more fish to enjoy and soon we’ll be eating fresh tilapia along with our home-grown, organic veggies.

2 Month Old Aquaponics System - Panoramic View

2 Month Old Aquaponics System – Panoramic View

Addiction

I discovered another little truth along the way.  Once you set up your first aquaponics system, you start thinking about how you can expand it and grow even more because this stuff is fun, rewarding – and contagious.

We are currently looking at expanding our lanai out both sides and covering the top with a greenhouse covering which will provide us additional growing space and recapture the paved patio space now covered with the pond.  We will double our grow bed sizes, add a dutch bucket system along the back wall, triple our fish capacity and begin a tilapia breeding program so there is a continuous supply of fresh fish and veggies.  We will do all of this in about 350 square feet (growing beds and fish pond/tanks), which is about the space of a typical spare bedroom or car port.

Planned Expansion of Patio Aquaponics System

Planned Expansion of Patio Aquaponics System

The output from this system should be enough to provide us with 5-6 pounds of fresh fish per week, and hopefully, all the lettuce, tomatoes, swiss chard, cucumbers, beans, peas, peppers, chives, etc. that we can eat, can, or give to our friends and neighbors.

December Update

Here’s a progress update to our story.  We FINALLY completed our new lanai project (concrete, screen room with Solex® greenhouse roof), moved and enlarged the pond, and of course, our new aquaponics system, installed and growing food.  Here’s a picture of the grow section of our completed project, planted and growing food.  We’ll update you with more pictures and videos later.. it’s time to launch this new website already!

IMG_3494

Conclusion

It takes one heck of a lot of time and energy to learn how to properly build and maintain a successful aquaponics system.  But with someone to show you the way, it’s actually pretty easy.  We are building custom systems that just require water, fish, seedlings and a few nutrients to grow an abundant amount of food in a small space with a minimal amount of space and effort.  We provide everything you need (or tell you where to buy it at the best price), and are available to answer your questions and ensure your success.

If you’re really serious, we can help you get started in your own commercial growing operation where you can not only feed your family, but produce a nice income feeding other families healthy, nutritious food as well.

Contact us and let us help you get started in this exciting new field of aquaponics, and join the food revolution!