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Carey's multi trophic aquaponics system

Beijing Greenlink Institute LLC

Multi-Integrated Agriculture & Aquaculture Systems (BIMIAAS) 


The experimental farm of Mr. Carey Ma is part of an interdisciplinary team of volunteers, working on the development of integrated multi-trophic agriculture & aquaculture (IMTAA) systems AKA (multi trophic aquaponics).


The goal of IMTAA or MTAp approach is to create a balanced ecosystem management approach to land based food production integrating agriculture and aquaculture for environmental sustainability (biomitigation), economic stability (product diversification and risk reduction) and societal acceptability (better management practices).


The aim is to increase long-term sustainability and profitability per cultivation unit (not per species in isolation as is done in monoculture), as the by-products (wastes) of one crop (fed animals) are converted into fertilizer, food and energy for the other crops (extractive plants and animals), which can in turn be sold on the market. Feed is one of the core operational costs of food production operations. Through IMTAA, some of the food, nutrients and energy considered lost in finfish monoculture are recaptured and converted into crops of commercial value, while biomitigation takes place. In this way all the cultivation components have an economic value, as well as a key role in services and recycling processes of the system, the harvesting of the different types of crops participating in the export of nutrients out of the ecosystem. What goes out has to be replaced. It is quantifying this need that this institute was formed.


Contrary to monoculture, IMTAA takes advantage of organisms functioning at different trophic or nutritional levels. It is based on an age-old, common sense, recycling and farming practice in which the solution to nutrification is not dilution but conversion within an ecosystem-based management perspective. Production can, then, be diversified and remain environmentally responsible and economically profitable – thereby ensuring a sustainable food production. Multi-trophic integration appears to be the logical next step in the evolution of food production practices in Beijing and worldwide.


The Laboratory of Mr. Carey Ma works on balancing the nutrient components of the MTAp system being developed in Beijing, in Mainland China, taking it from experimental research, to development and scale-up commercialization (R&D&C from concept to adopted practice).


In a fresh water system my plan calls for Trout> Frog > Tilapia/ Carp/ Barramundi> Aquatic plants/ live breeders (guppies) > Crayfish> Snails. Trout require almost pristine water so come at the top of the nutrient cycle. Breeding frogs also require decent water but can fit almost anywhere in the top tiers. Tilapia/ Carp/ Barramundi would be the primary crop due to tolerance, marketability and an excellent conversion ratio. Niche market aquatic crops can be grown and sold. Algae or duckweed can be grown here to supplement green water feed. Oxygen can be produced as a byproduct for local use. Another advantage of growing high protein greens is to balance the N. Quick growing, low to zero input fish like guppies and mollies can be grown in the same tank and harvested either as cash crop or feed. Any uneaten food dropping to the bottom will be taken care of but the bottom trophic layer, which consists of crayfish, worms and aquatic snails. *( a siphon can leach a small amount of nutrient water to flow over a sheet of glass to grow algae to feed giant brown snails). Escargot waste goes to the compost pile.

From here there should be a balanced and potent nutrient soup capable of feeding heavy feeding, fruit bearing plants. When it comes time to fruit, I would first run the nutrient water through leafy green before the heavy feeders otherwise as follows.

First tier organic crops would include beans, chilies, melons, Spinach, strawberry. Using either soil based or hydroponic based grow systems can be used and with integration maximumizes efficiency. But unlike true aquaponics, which flows through in a continuous flow, our process’s layover may be as long as two weeks. In other words, each tier gets its own maturing period. Water is still recirculated in a close loop but each tier is gets to build up its potential for the next tire to use. Think of it as several closed recirculating system and each tank is allowed to mature (needing a water change). Instead of pouring to waste as is the practice is now, we empty this water into the next tank (trophic environment) and allow it to process (do its thing).


Plants in each tier are planted in patterns to segregated as prescribed by IPM integrated pest management so devastation is economically unfeasible. This can be achieved by using  color and symbol coded guides or pre “ printed” seed mats or sheets. These sheets can come in any size from 2 x 2 sq ft to 2 x 100 ft rolls. Imagine toilet paper with seeds attached at critical locations in between the sheets.


The next tier is rose, rosemary and eggplant. Followed by corn, lettuce, peas, Sage and Thyme. In the fourth tier I have Orchids, Parsley and peppers. By this time the nutrient load should be fairly light. At this point we may balance nutrient deficiencies before growing sprouts as a nutrient scrub, which should pretty much deplete the nutrients enough to flow through to begin the aquatic cycle once more or be diverted to a solar distiller to produce potable water.


Plants are chosen for their approximate needs, their market value and ability to be compatible companion plants. Other plants may be chosen to replace plants in the same trophic level or function.



Growing plants in controlled environments, using some hydroponic cultures that are fed from fish waste can produce up to three times the biomass compared to soil grown plants using industrial, chemical fertilizers in field conditions. This biomass is custom converted to high quality feed or supplement per species requirements. Custom hydroponic sprouts or grass are grown year round as the primary feed of rudiments and other grazing animals including fowl and rabbits. This allows for a more natural and balanced diet in limited “free-range” environments (pens/ runs).


I have a design that not only provides shelter but excersize as well but that is another thread.


Depending on social makeup of the community, different animals can be raised depending on need.


Fecal matters from herbivores are bio remidigated by feeding it to worms. Worm casting is put into the garden compost to balance and enrich the soil for the next succession of plants to use.


In order to truly make this system closed looped, I have now included gray and black water as a necessary, primary input. This would be best if considered in the form of small scaled closed societies or neighborhoods like planned or intentional neighborhoods, high schools, universities, retirement homes, corporate campuses, Embassies, behavioral modification/correctional institutes, military etc. Without input we have little output.

Omnivore solid waste (black water) is collected and goes through a three-stage compost process. The first step is through an anaerobic bio-digester to breakdown and extract methane. Methane can be routed to operate a generator or to the house for cooking and supplemental heating. Heating the home and greenhouse will be discussed in a different thread. The next stage of our three-step compost process is fast acting high heat aerobic compost, which should destroy most pathogens.  This is added to the non-contaminated garden compost. Contaminated compost is transported along with deliberately grown biomass to the pellet mill where it is made into pellets for heating.

Gray water is divided into two streams. The first stream is anaerobically processed in batches. This is periodically added to the hydroponic side of Ap. The other stream a much smaller volume, would go to the production of feed in a separate component part of the system. Out of the second stream, a third stream goes to liquefy poultry solids to "heat" or "charge" the aerobic compost.

Vertical growing or three-dimensional growing platforms allow for more efficient use of land,

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Comment by Rick Welland on February 11, 2012 at 8:39am

gracias amigo but no flattery intended..just true admiration for someone approaching the problems that we face  in a realistic manner.

"With communities like this where food, shelter and daily needs are more than abundant, personal accomplishments would be the new focus. Artists can preform. Scientists can experiment. Carpenters can build; all for the benefit of personal accomplishment, instead of personal wealth."

A DOUBLE AMEN TO THAT!!!! In designing laSenda as a 'as sustainable as possible' ecovillage we have uppermost in our minds off grid living that provides us with what you speak of above. Important also is that being freed from want puts us in the position of offering service to others in the surrounding communities, a very important aspect to remember.

To be a model of what can be achieved is we believe a very important aspect of this. The main question is how far 'down the tubes' do we have to go before we can begin the climb back up. (War with Iran, with perhaps Russia and China involved will in no way be a 'good' thing for humanity-certainly not moving forward on the path to Utopia.) We wish that there were millions of laSenda Ecovillages on the planet at this time- that would be a large step in a better direction we believe. 

Sorry to repeat myself but truly believe..."Without a sustainable path to the future we are lost." We must do all that we can to find that 'path'. ( Can't resist-laSenda in spanish means 'the path' )


Comment by Carey Ma on February 11, 2012 at 12:23am

@ Rick...A-men! Bless you with vision and a sweet tongue. Flattery would get you everywhere.

Yes, this is the path I envision on the road to eliminating Upside-down economics and restoring equality to the world.  My personal fantasy is to guide us to Utopia, through building true eco communities, ending with Hi-rise Farms that support ten to thirty thousand people each. I believe in the theory of critical mass. With communities like this where food, shelter and daily needs are more than abundant, personal accomplishments would be the new focus. Artist can preform. Scientist can experiment. Carpenters can build; all for the benefit of personal accomplishment, instead of personal wealth. What glory can man achieve then?

Comment by Rick Welland on February 10, 2012 at 10:29pm

WASTE- no such thing actually. Carey Ma's excellent thinking in effect does away with the concept of waste-i.e. nothing is wasted- and that is the thinking that humanity is so in need of at this time- to create closed loop systems that waste nothing. Our planet cannot afford much more in the way of  'waste'. Interesting that as our systems develope and are refined the concept of waste is done away with..and our survival becomes that much more possible. Carey Ma made the point recently that billions of Chinese grow food with human 'waste'- that makes the point that waste is only waste if you choose to view it as waste doesn't it? Carey Ma's approach to this is to me perfect- see the realities and potential- and design systems that eliminate the negatives. Presto- no such thing as 'waste'- thankfully. This is why as a Sustainable Community laSenda's systems will strive to eliminate the thinking that creates so called 'waste'. To be sustainable is not possible as long as waste is a part of the system. Without a sustainable path to the future we are lost. Aquaponics offers a step in that direction- thankfully. Carey Ma is describing a 'path' to the future - and AP is a step along that path. ( If I understand correctly...)  Cheers..

Comment by Carey Ma on January 26, 2012 at 12:31am

@ Paul S: Please open link:

Comment by Paul Smith on January 25, 2012 at 9:59pm

Hi Carey Ma,

I am very interested in your concept.  Would you please draw a diagram of your integrated system.  I know of a group in Haiti that are beginning a village concept that could use a system like yours. 

I think here in the States, we would have a hard time with such an integrate system on a large scale because of the various regulations required.  Also I could see that your complete system would be a series of sub-systems that could be started and added to the whole as they become perfected.

His Nd Your Very Grateful servant, Paul Smith

Comment by Ellen Roelofs on January 25, 2012 at 9:50am

You're right, I think, that we can't afford to keep treating sewage as waste and dumping it back into the natural environment. I will be very interested to read about your biomitigation processes when the project gets that far.  It's certainly a question that must ultimately be answered. When I was a kid I imagined NASA doing this sort of research, lol. Maybe not so much at this point, huh?  I do know that research on bioremediation of toxic waste has been making headway, so I don't see why the same questions shouldn't be asked about medical waste.  Have you found good reading on the subject? I am curious for more information.

Comment by Carey Ma on January 24, 2012 at 7:17pm

Yes Ellen, medical and other contaminants are of major concern. You are correct that Chinese use a lot more herbal remedies than western, patented medicines but two factors have to be considered.

One is that there are fifteen to eighteen million people in Beijing. Raw poop is already being used here so that's not an issue here. So if organic is better and what I do is better still, I think we're ahead of the curve.

Two: No matter how they are produced, they are bio and chemical compounds with general or specific functions which can be broken down.

Three: We cannot afford the loss of these nutrients.

Both black and gray water are processed (bio-mitigated)and gray water is driven through other biomitigation processes, but I am sure there are residual effects. I don't have the answers at this time but I believe future studies in biomitigation and filtering technologies may solve this problem.

My theory presumes clean/er in, clean/er out. Definitely worth looking into though. Thanks for your comment.

@ Vlad: You are welcome over anytime. However, I have to be honest. I do not have a lab at present. However, I am working with quite a few professors from different universities that think this a novel idea "hang out" as well as visiting farmers. This blog was in response to quires about my farm system picture as well as in my proposal (assumptive sales) of the new eco-farm project and attached institute I would like to build. Presently I have two pieces totaling less than three acres, two thirds of which are dedicated to raising chickens. The remaining third is my experimental garden with primitive comforts. But again, any and all are welcome.

Comment by Ellen Roelofs on January 24, 2012 at 12:55pm

oops, rocks (my socks).

Comment by Ellen Roelofs on January 24, 2012 at 12:54pm

Wow!  What an elaborate system!  The companion planting and trophy levels totally ricks my socks!  I am a little concerned about using human grey water in the system - I know China probably isn't as prescription drug crazy as Americans are, but the amount of drugs, chemicals and hormones we piss off is astounding.  I know I would make a terrible source of "input!"

Comment by Vlad Jovanovic on January 23, 2012 at 7:55pm

Wow...oh how I would love to volunteer/observe/study under you for a few years. Jesus, I'm gonna go back and re-read this...twice...Nice work Carey.

Much respect.

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