Aquaponic Gardening

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There has been some (much?) chatter on other AP forums about using redworms in your media beds to "process" your solids.  I love this idea!  Not only are the solids removed, but the plants benefit from the vermicompost.  I added about a pound of worms in my six beds a few weeks ago, and I'm hoping that they are happily going to town in there.

So here are my questions...

Do you use worms in your system?  How many to use per square ft of bed?  When do you add?  Do you feed them something (food scraps) besides the delicious fish solids?  

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Thanks for all the tips. I actually harvested and replanted a bunchof towers the other day that I'd put worms in. Because I was just replanting, I didn't want to take any of the worms out, but I still opened up the inserts and laid them down on my pulling table. with the media starting to dry, and the light, all of them moved very quickly to the bottom of the inserts. I think that if they were left out for 5 or ten minutes on a thin layer of peat or wet newspaper, they'd all be out of the inserts and in the moist bedding within 10 or 15 minutes. Kind of interesting. . . I'm still experimenting though- I'll let you all know how it goes. . .

Nate
Glad you started this discussion, Sylvia. Some great ideas here for worms as solids filters. Recently, I got very excited about "vermiponics" when I learned about the experiments Jim Joyner was doing. He has a system running that has no fish in it and he shared his experiences on the S&S aquaponics listserv. Bentley Christie wrote an informative blog post about Jim's work here: http://www.redwormcomposting.com/gardening/vermiponics/

My own vermiponics experiment has been running since April and is based on this information, but uses instead a vertical approach, with a succession of buckets filled with clay ball media and plants that are watered with a solar powered pump on a timer. One bucket is full of media and worms. I feed them a pound of kitchen waste, plus a cup of rabbit poop and a handful of shredded newspapers each week. There are a couple of guppies in the 8 gallon water reservoir, which I put in there just to keep mosquito larvae from populating in there. So far, so good - no other fish needed, no fish food, no aeration and no solids filtration needed in this system.

The attached pic shows my current setup. I'll be making a larger one in Denver, Co for an exhibition that opens at the Redline gallery on July 5. More info and pics here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/amymyou/4727997718/in/set-721576242157...
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Amy, the photos at FLICKR are great! Looks like it would be easy enough to add a bucket of worms in any system. I will give it a try. thanks!
Thanks Greg! I have not yet added a worm bucket to my existing aquaponics system, but I've been meaning to. Let me know how yours goes. I put 1/8" holes in the sides and bottom of my bucket, but I think 1/4" might be better since I see some of the holes are getting clogged. I used the Rubbermaid Brute grey bucket, because it is "food safe" and also super sturdy.

Greg Hershner said:
Amy, the photos at FLICKR are great! Looks like it would be easy enough to add a bucket of worms in any system. I will give it a try. thanks!
Amy could you share with us the S&S list server link. I couldn't find it on the S&S site.
Thanks. I really love you river. ZenAquaponics in action. Beautifully Simple.

Amy Youngs said:
Glad you started this discussion, Sylvia. Some great ideas here for worms as solids filters. Recently, I got very excited about "vermiponics" when I learned about the experiments Jim Joyner was doing. He has a system running that has no fish in it and he shared his experiences on the S&S aquaponics listserv. Bentley Christie wrote an informative blog post about Jim's work here: http://www.redwormcomposting.com/gardening/vermiponics/

My own vermiponics experiment has been running since April and is based on this information, but uses instead a vertical approach, with a succession of buckets filled with clay ball media and plants that are watered with a solar powered pump on a timer. One bucket is full of media and worms. I feed them a pound of kitchen waste, plus a cup of rabbit poop and a handful of shredded newspapers each week. There are a couple of guppies in the 8 gallon water reservoir, which I put in there just to keep mosquito larvae from populating in there. So far, so good - no other fish needed, no fish food, no aeration and no solids filtration needed in this system.

The attached pic shows my current setup. I'll be making a larger one in Denver, Co for an exhibition that opens at the Redline gallery on July 5. More info and pics here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/amymyou/4727997718/in/set-721576242157...
To subscribe to the S&S listserv, send an email to: aquaponics-request@townsqr.com and in the body of the message type: subscribe. Here is the webpage and archives of the S&S listserv http://www.i55mall.com/aquaponics/ but things are really out of date there. Still, it is a great list and I've learned a lot from the members.

Michael Cosmo said:
Amy could you share with us the S&S list server link. I couldn't find it on the S&S site.
Thanks. I really love you river. ZenAquaponics in action. Beautifully Simple.

Amy Youngs said:
Glad you started this discussion, Sylvia. Some great ideas here for worms as solids filters. Recently, I got very excited about "vermiponics" when I learned about the experiments Jim Joyner was doing. He has a system running that has no fish in it and he shared his experiences on the S&S aquaponics listserv. Bentley Christie wrote an informative blog post about Jim's work here: http://www.redwormcomposting.com/gardening/vermiponics/

My own vermiponics experiment has been running since April and is based on this information, but uses instead a vertical approach, with a succession of buckets filled with clay ball media and plants that are watered with a solar powered pump on a timer. One bucket is full of media and worms. I feed them a pound of kitchen waste, plus a cup of rabbit poop and a handful of shredded newspapers each week. There are a couple of guppies in the 8 gallon water reservoir, which I put in there just to keep mosquito larvae from populating in there. So far, so good - no other fish needed, no fish food, no aeration and no solids filtration needed in this system.

The attached pic shows my current setup. I'll be making a larger one in Denver, Co for an exhibition that opens at the Redline gallery on July 5. More info and pics here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/amymyou/4727997718/in/set-721576242157...
Do you all know about worm castings serving an antibiotic purpose for the fish? I had never head of it, but in the LA times online, I just read about this guy making an large aquaponics business: "Castings from worms in nearby bins, Newman says, will be added to the system to serve as an antibiotic for the fish and fertilizer for the plants." In this article: Fish farm could soon revive empty greenhouse on Central Coast
Great system Amy, but I have a word of caution. You are adding a possible disease vector to your system by feeding your worms rabbit manure. All warm blooded animals have the potential to carry and transmit ecoli bacteria through their manure. You might want to get your water tested before eating and sharing your produce.
Chris

Amy Youngs said:
Glad you started this discussion, Sylvia. Some great ideas here for worms as solids filters. Recently, I got very excited about "vermiponics" when I learned about the experiments Jim Joyner was doing. He has a system running that has no fish in it and he shared his experiences on the S&S aquaponics listserv. Bentley Christie wrote an informative blog post about Jim's work here: http://www.redwormcomposting.com/gardening/vermiponics/

My own vermiponics experiment has been running since April and is based on this information, but uses instead a vertical approach, with a succession of buckets filled with clay ball media and plants that are watered with a solar powered pump on a timer. One bucket is full of media and worms. I feed them a pound of kitchen waste, plus a cup of rabbit poop and a handful of shredded newspapers each week. There are a couple of guppies in the 8 gallon water reservoir, which I put in there just to keep mosquito larvae from populating in there. So far, so good - no other fish needed, no fish food, no aeration and no solids filtration needed in this system.

The attached pic shows my current setup. I'll be making a larger one in Denver, Co for an exhibition that opens at the Redline gallery on July 5. More info and pics here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/amymyou/4727997718/in/set-721576242157...
Thanks Chris, I had always heard that rabbit manure was a safe manure to use on garden plants and in aquaponics, but I never checked into it myself. So I did some reading today and learned that there certainly are some unknowns about e coli and rabbit manure, but I don't see anything alarming for my situation. If I had rabbits living with cows or sheep, I would worry though. Here is what I've learned: while rabbits have e. coli as part of their digestive system - so do we. The type we worry about is the one that makes us sick 0157:H7. And about rabbits relation to this dangerous type, I found this in an article that is published by Iowa State University's Center for Food Security & Public Health:

"Ruminants, especially cattle and sheep, are the major reservoirs for EHEC 0157:H7. Bison and deer can be infected. This organism can sometimes be found in other mammals including pigs, rabbits, horses, dogs, raccoons and opossums, and in birds including chickens, turkeys, geese, pigeons, gulls, rooks and various other wild birds. In some instances, it is not known whether a species normally serves as a reservoir host or if it is only a temporary carrier. For example, rabbits shedding EHEC O157:H7 have caused outbreaks in humans, but most infected rabbits have been found near farms with infected cattle." The full article is available in this online PDF: http://www.cfsph.iastate.edu/Factsheets/pdfs/e_coli.pdf

So, I guess there is a chance that the dangerous type of e. coli could exist in my pet bunnies, but it sounds pretty unlikely. I'm no expert, but my estimation is that I'm more likely to get sick from e coli coming from the wild birds, raccoons and opposums who poop in my backyard garden.

I'd love to learn more about this though, am I wrong to not be worried here? If anyone has more info, please share!
I want to make a few comments here with the topic of e. coli coming up. Yes there are particular strains that are the "really bad" ones that are known to cause big outbreaks that can kill people and make many people very very sick at least. These are the ones that get all the big news press of course.

Like you said, we all have e. coli of some form or another in our bodies, it's part of our digestion. While this is all right and good, if such thing gets into the wrong part of our bodies in too high a number, we can still get sick or have discomfort. Just ask anyone who has suffered a urinary tract infection. Such infections are often simply too much of a bacteria from one part of our body getting to the wrong place in too high of numbers.

So, while the normal e. coli that we or rabbits may carry and excrete might not normally cause much issue, it is probably still wise to take steps to be sure that such things are not put in contact with our food in high concentrations in an environment that may promote such bacteria to proliferate. With types of plants that are always cooked it might not be an issue but salad crops are very common in Aqauponics and no amount of washing is going to get rid of bacteria that is in the water that has been taken up by lettuce.

In Soil gardening most manures are composted before use around plants. Bunnie berries are often the exception because they are not so high in nitrogen as to burn the plants but that doesn't necessarily make it a wise thing to mound about your lettuce and carrots. Luckily, e. coli doesn't persist terribly long in soil which is why many people often get away with doing things that are not necessarily good practice. Also, in soil gardening, it isn't nearly as likely for the bacteria to turn into a soup in water and be taken up by the lettuce.

So I personally would recommend a certain aging or composting time period before putting vermicompost material containing warm blooded animal manure (including rabbit) into an aquaponic system.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against manure. I humanure compost and I've done Pee Ponics. There are just some basic precautions that should be taken to make sure you are not encouraging pathogenic bacteria to proliferate in your aquaponics system. Manure should be composted and Pee (from a healthy person) needs to be sealed up and aged until the pH reaches 9 which kills off any e. coli.
I added worms to several media beds three weeks ago as an experiment because the water flow had slowed down ( I think due to a detrius build-up ) , have not seen any results yet but they had a big cleanup job to do so I am keeping my fingers crossed. I am using volcanic cinder and am amazed that the worms can navigate around the sharp edges.
Great discussion!

I first read about this here, http://www.theaquaponicsource.com/aquaponicgardeningblog/2010/08/02...
but had the same questions as are being raised. Well, nothing like trying it out. Worst case, maybe they end up as feed for the fishies....

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