Aquaponic Gardening

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I have been disecting Tanya sawyers amazing discussion on AP on a survival podcast (featured on this site). She mentioned that e coli aren't an issue in fish b/c fish don't harbor them in their digestive tract. Did I misunderstsnd her? True or false?

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Water wells, in theory, should be sterile.  Over the last 8 years I have seen hundreds of cases where e. coli was found in wells.  Why, because something was wrong with the well.  Just because it should be one way, does not mean it is.  

E. coli is what everyone is worried about for lettuce, because we have found it consistently in lettuce.  But sometimes the Ag industry spends too much time searching for yesterdays problem instead of a holistic view of the operation.  For instance, all of our food safety systems for cantaloupes were geared around salmonella.  Why, because time after time salmonella is found with cantaloupes.  So we spent all our time looking for solutions to salmonella in cantaloupes and what ended up being the biggest killer - Listeria.  

Food safety systems should be built around the potential "risks" of each operation regardless of the bacteria in question.

I'm not quite sure I understand the reasoning behind the statement "Water wells, in theory, should be sterile."

How so, what about the theory says it should be sterile?

Now I would hope that any well intended as a drinking water well would test safe of any bacteria that commonly causes illness in people from ingesting it.  Is that what you mean by "should be sterile"?  I mean there really isn't anything in the theory of digging a hole in the ground till you find water to indicate that the water will be "sterile".  There are plenty of places I know of where you chlorinate your well water for safety.  I would personally hate to live on a well that required that though.

Anyway, I agree, you are right that food safety should be built around the risks of the particular operation rather than hysteria over some particular bacteria.

So, food safety guy, how do you suggest our friend who discovered her wayward ducks in her aquaponics system recover from the situation?  Any ideas what might be appropriate short of killing everything, sterilizing the whole system and starting from scratch?  (I don't think I would personally go that farm myself but then again, I eat the eggs that come out of actual chickens rather than the ones that come out of the grocery store.)

Modern well practices have created capped well heads that keep the water free of bacteria. Occasionally, well heads break or other problems occur where bacteria, sometimes fecal Coliform (or poop Bacteria), is introduced to the well and the well needs to be repaired and "shocked".

For the duck issue. I would not advise any solution unless I knew all the problems. What I can advise is the following:

First, ducks should not be around the Aquaponics system.
Second, test the water for "generic e. coli" or fecal Coliform. These test should be supper inexpensive at any local lab.

If you do have e. coli than you have a potential issue or "risk". There are different solutions to irraticating e. coli. The best is to not have it to begin with, so move the ducks. :)

P.S. I had goats and chickens as well, that I allowed in my garden. The difference is I was using my garden for personal consumption not selling to the public. When you sell your product it has to be safe, not just "assumed" so.

Thanks TC for your comforting advise.  I felt so much better.  I DO think getting the water tested will be the only way I will really feel good about eating any of the uncooked produce from the system... which is MOST of it.  

I understand Food Safety Guy's sentiment that I shouldn't have ducks around the system.  I agree.  Didn't think I did... :) I will never get rid of them though. They are specifically for eradicating slugs (and many other) pests.  We used to have slugs here that would dent your car. Now, I can't think of the last time I saw one.  They had voracious appetites, and could mow down rows of lettuce overnight and it was heartbreaking.  I refuse to use toxic substances (at least not more than duck poop).  

I just added Nematodes to the system to handle my new friends, fungus gnats. Excited about that.  I do "vermiponics" and have tons of red worms in there too, and am hopeful that they will contribute to the journey back to safe bacteria levels. 

I am sort of a big believer in not being TOO sterile all the time, it makes us more vulnerable to sickness.  We drink well water that is so clear and sweet and good, and full of minerals.  I am CONVINCED that American cancer rates are directly related to chlorinated, flouride treated water being infused into our cells every day.

In any case, DARN THOSE DUCKIES! On a happy note, they don't appear to have eaten any fish, so I guess that's good. Thanks again for all your GREAT help. Very appreciative.

LOL, I've got fish that I think could eat ducklings.

Yea, trying to contain my ducks is sometimes a challenge

Well water def isn't sterile; esp if you are near farmers who raise cattle and what not. If it's a shallow well, it's pretty easy for pathogens to make it into well water. Then you have other things like Giardia, Cryptosporidium, and the new Cyclospora. Chlorination has little effect on cysts and protozoans like Cryptosporidium sometimes it's in public water supplies. It's pretty scarey stuff.

Then you have MRSA or “staph” that can live in the wateer. My friend got an extremely bad infection from
Mycobacterium marinum. He scraped his hand cleaning his aquarium. Luckily he had a good doctor that diagnosed it correctly and was aggressive in treatment. He only lost his finger.


What about people who buy too much feed and it goes rancid? Maybe they are raising a fish for the sushi market and people get sick from consuming a sick fish ...


Some of us get so caught up in the excitement of doing this, along with the lack of a long history of commercial aquaponics, people are going to die unless we make sure to address aquaponics best practices for safety.





     There are dangers in life, like if you have an open sore on your hand and you stick your hands into your aquarium water without gloves on............   If you get a skin infection definitely let your doctor know you deal with fish water!!!!!

I don't know of any fresh water fish that is used in sushi in an uncooked state.

All the uncooked sushi is salt water fish I believe?  Is it not?  And I don't know of too many salt water aquaponics applications at this point.

It is wise to follow good agricultural practices for aquaponics though there isn't really a best practices specifically for aquaponics written yet so you just have to kinda work with the ag and aquaculture regs as best you can.

While I support being careful (don't let your chickens poop in the fish tank)

I also want to discourage alarmist statements.  Aquaponics is no more risky than hydroponics or soil growing and in some respects, probably less so.  The beneficial bacterial diversity in an aquaponics system helps to keep any single bad bacteria somewhat in check which isn't the case in chemical hydroponics and chemical soil grown crops.  (I don't like the term traditional agriculture when referring to chemical agriculture since that doesn't seem like a good long tradition either!!!  Remember the Green revolution of chemical agriculture is really not that old.)

kinda an extreme statement. 

people are going to die unless we make sure to address aquaponics best practices for safety.

What are the "Aquaponics Best Practices For Safety" then?

If you go by certain regulations according to some labs, aquaponics "CAN'T" pass the best practices test since fish are animals and they and their waste is in the growing area for the plants.

Speaking of which, our high school in Mtn City TN was running a fairly large ap system until someone pointed out the danger of spreading E. coli thru the food they raise so they went back to separate systems and abandoned their ap op which they had enjoyed national recog over, My understanding is that E. coli only comes from warm blooded animals thus "don't let your chickens poop in your fish tank". I was floored when I called over there all excited last Jan before I had even broken ground on my system and was told that. As you can tell from my system pics I did not let them dissuade me.

It took very little research on my part to learn the truth. Besides if E. coli were that big a deal there would not be a single farmer left alive. We raise a large part of our own protein and vegies here and many a morning I just turn the fresh egg so as to avoid a poop spot as I break it into the pan. We handle manure nearly every day and have been for about 45 years, raised 2 kids, etc and have never been sick from the normal farming practices.  Want to stay healthy? go have a manure fight with your kids. On the other hand, if I have sick fish I do take precautions as to cuts, etc, Keep Peroxide around and use it. It's cheap. Common sense goes a long ways. I have joked with my wife during our sick start up fish period here lately in regards to "flesh eating bacteria".

We lived on Moosehead Lake for 7 yrs. leading up to our move here and I was surprised to hear that a friend had slipped on the rocks on shore, cut himself and damn near died from a flesh eating bacteria that came off the rocks. The terrible scars on his arm where the surgeons had to remove large portions of his arm tell the truth. Life is dangerous. Do take precautions and use common sense, and be aware of any sudden bodily changes. I take colloidal silver every day and have for years. It is supposed to be in our food supply, but like so many other things that are supposed to be, is it? My Dad spoke before Congress in the 50's warning them of "soil depletion" due to modern farming practices and how Americans are starving to death at a full dinner table. I directly attribute the obesity problem in the US to soil depletion. Hollow calories are now the norm here. Grow your own Blay, blah. Don't get me started! How about those chem trails lately? I'd be more worried about that and protect your system from rain by building it in a GH. I am. Two yrs ago I would have said that was crazy talk. Google it.

Thought this recent study might be relevant to this thread... might post it as a "top" header comment as well..


Study of Microbial Water Quality Related to Food Safety in Recirculating Aquaponic Fish and Vegetable Production Systems

Thanks for posting that Rupe!

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