Aquaponic Gardening

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What good is aquaponics?

Greetings. I would like to engage you in a question that I think you may find interesting. We know that aquaponics allows us to grow a lot of food. But what else is aquaponics good for? To answer this question, just flip the script. Instead of focusing on the food, focus on what problems do the food we produce or the method we use to produce the food solve or address? Here are a few examples we all know well:

Big Picture:

STEM education
    Mitigating poverty/Food deserts
    Urban infill

    Nutrition/Food quality
    Reducing Water use/utility costs

So through this different lens, what do you see? What problems do we solve on all or any level? I look forward to your responses.

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Ooh, good question. This should be a fun discussion. Let's see:

Protecting the soil is one I can think of. The way we grow food now is destroying our world's soil. Tilling, pesticides, and monoculture all have an extremely negative impact on the quality of our dirt. Growing aquaponically helps preserve our dirt by not using it and not producing harmful waste products that need to be disposed of.

what is STEM education?

Good morning. Excellent question. 

STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. There are a number of related iterations as well:

STEAM Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.

STEAM Science, Technology, Engineering Agriculture & Math.

STEMM Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine

And the list goes on. However the Feds and State Governments use STEM. (

Hi, George.  In my own experience so far, I have not found aquaponics to be very useful for food production, at least compared to the other options I have available to me as a market gardener here in eastern Kansas.  However, I have found that the schools in this part of the world are stymied in their efforts to teach gardening and agriculture by the screwy school schedule -- just when the plants are getting productive, all the students leave for summer vacation, and by the time they get back, it's too late to start crops for fall.  Investing in a greenhouse helps a little, but not much.

So the schools badly need an option for growing stuff indoors during the school year, whether or not it actually produces useful food.  Aquaponics has promise for not only that, but for teaching about the pros and cons of a closed ecosystem.  Any mishaps along the way -- nutrient imbalances, pest infestations -- are learning opportunities rather than economic hardships.

For my money, I'm going to keep market gardening in soil, because a garden that is open to the larger ecosystem is (or can be made) more resilient to extremes of temperature, water, pests, etc.  But I'm teaching my first class in small-scale aquaponics this fall, and I'm donating my aquaponic system to the school that's hosting the class.

It's similar to vermicomposting, IMHO... that's another technology that is very educational and very useful if you don't have other options due to space and weather constraints, but if you do have any other place to compost, doing it outdoors in the larger ecosystem is preferable.  That's where I'm at with aquaponics.

Another beneficial thing about aquaponics is that it can be done on any scale, even with a small setup. Like having houseplants, only more attractive because you get fish. This creates a bridge for hobbyists or people with small space to learn about organics and growing their own food, which may in turn cause them to decide to pursue organic growing on a larger scale. So the simple, fun nature of aquaponics can act as a catalyst for creating interest in sustainable gardening.

Ben & Alex.  I had not considered the class scheduling vs teaching issues nor the scale aspects. Most interesting perspectives and greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Its striking similarity to hydroponics allows us to study the difference between growth in a sterile environment and growth in an environment that allows bacteria and other microbes to flourish.

It's a man made system with reasonable external inputs that might not fail, as opposed to the financial systems that have ever increasing external inputs to try and delay the inevitable systemic collapse.

Scalability and interesting research directions and implications there of. Great.

Here is my take on it. I am 69 years old and have lived on a hard scrabble farm in Texas a great part of my life. I sit on my front porch and look at a field that is my front yard and see a place that my grandmother made me a cotton sack out of feed bags and I was paid 25 cents a pound for cotton we picked.  I later lived the urban life (and still do somewhat). I still am working full time, but still want to eat the same type of pure non chemically enhanced food, but at my age cannot do the same thing I did even 5 years ago. I have gardened conventionally for many years, but still wanted to get away from chemicals and frankly all the hard work that I grew up doing to farm.

I started with a small outdoor system with a IFC tote and a couple of beds and 35 Dutch pots for my tomatoes. For the most part most of it was very productive and the thing I like most like is there are are no pesticides. Now, the downside is that it is outside and here in Texas we do have a grasshopper problem. If I had my  wish I would have a greenhouse and be doing this inside in a more controlled atmosphere.

That is my plan for the future, but even as it is, I have produced a bunch of tomatoes that I have canned and given away.

Scalability is a consideration, but there are many other factors that people should consider. I wish I had done it 40 years ago if it was known, or even 5 years ago. I love going out and feeding my fish and trying to do my work more efficiently every day.

I can do this at my age every day, and do not have to drive to town 15 miles away to buy a good portion of my food. The benefit is that I am not of welfare (never drawn an unemployment check or a check for unemployment check.).

Now an old saying is " I am not as I once was, but I am as good once as I ever was".

That was a good saying as I was growing up, and it should be what everyone preaches to everyone they come in touch with.

Thanks for a platform,

Signed an old codger!!!


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