Technique combines fish farming, soil-less plants
Imagine growing vegetables and fish in the same space. That’s the idea behind aquaponics, a marriage of fish farming and soil-less plant cultivation in a single, sustainable closed system.
Supporters believe aquaponics can play a key role in alleviating food insecurity, addressing the problems of climate change, ground water pollution and overfishing.
Recirculating wetlands system
Aquaponics is really as old as nature itself.
“Aquaponics is really a recirculating wetlands system, so it’s happening right on the banks of our lakes,” says Sylvia Bernstein.
Bernstein was a hydroponic gardener for years – growing plants without soil using a water-soluble chemical fertilizer – before discovering she could use the waste water from fish to grow organic vegetables and fruits.
“Honestly, I was very skeptical and just couldn’t believe that something as simple as fish waste could become a complete fertilizer,” she recalls. “So I had to actually see a system that was in a friend’s basement. But when I did, it changed my life.”
That was three years ago. Bernstein built her first aquaponics system with her 15-year-old son on a concrete pad outside her home in Boulder, Colorado. In her greenhouse today, she mainly raises tilapia and trout – feeding them once a day.
There are no weeds in her aquaponics garden, and she doesn’t have to worry about watering. The plants are growing in containers at a table height for easy access.
“I, just this morning, pulled four radishes and some lettuce for lunch,” Bernstein says. “In my greenhouse right now, I grow all sorts of herbs, tomatoes, peppers.”
Bernstein started her own business, The Aquaponics Source, with an online store, her own YouTube channel and a blog. She teaches aquaponics at the Denver Botanic Gardens and recently published a book about how to set up an aquaponic garden at home.
According to Berstein, a growing number of people in the U.S. and around the world are doing it, and enjoying the results: a year-round supply of healthful, safe and delicious food.
Earth-friendly food production
The Internet is helping many aquaponic gardeners get connected and learn from one another.
“Aquaponics is a perfect thing to invest one’s mind and heart and elbow grease into,” says James Godsil, co-founder of Sweet Water Organics, a commercial aquaponics farm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
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