Aquaponic Gardening

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Nutrient Cycle The BIG Picture


At some point, and sooner than later, we will have to face the fact that we are the biggest producers of nutrient dense waste.  We desire to eat nutritious food, often eating it to excess.  Our bodies only use what it can in that moment and the rest passes through.  So, with our rich diets comes an abundance of nutrient rich waste.

For centuries, and even today, human waste is used for agriculture.  You may have even purchased some of it without realizing it.  Many retail "garden center" outlets sell processed human waste for use on lawns and flower gardens.  It is usually discouraged for use on food crops.

In our ever increasing pursuit for sanitary and sterile living environments we have sought out ways to separate ourselves from our waste.  Our success in doing so has reduced diseases connected with unsanitary environments dramatically.  In fact, we have created such sterile environments that we now face increased sensitivity and allergies to everyday natural substances.

At the same time we are finding our farmland soils are becoming so depleted that the produce we seek is less nutritious than that what was grown decades ago on the same ground.  The connection is obvious.  We bury our waste in septic fields far from our croplands, and our dead go in hermetically sealed boxes in beautiful cemeteries.

Thousands of years from now our descendants will find these incredibly nutrient dense pockets of ground that they will be able to grow fantastic produce. Provided we haven't destroyed everything before they get a shot at it.

So, those minerals and nutrients are still out there, we just don't want to use them.  Unless we start looking at our antiquated practices and making changes that we are technologically capable of.  We are terribly afraid of nasty pathogens that cause very uncomfortable and debilitating illnesses.  But these can easily be dealt with as it is already being done in our sewage treatment plants. 

"The Living Machine" is another excellent example of water and human waste that is first used to grow vegetation in an effort to separate the nutrients from the water to reclaim that water.  But they are currently not allowed to grow food crops of any sort, that is, here in the US.

Many other countries have found creative solutions to reclaim those nutrients that we do not use and get them back into the food chain.  Where we, for a large part, sequester them in the ground for future generations to discover, I guess.

Food for thought.  We are concerned with "nutrient dense" food.  We eat that nutrient dense food. We deposit our waste where it is largely inaccessible. Then we want more of that food.  But we are not completing the cycle.  It has been a linear system for too long.  It needs to become a circular system again if we want to truly change things.

I have made several points here that I hope will stimulate a discussion.  Please respond with your thoughts and opinions.  I believe to begin change we have to start with a change in popular opinion.  "Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized In the first it is ridiculed, in the second it is opposed, in the third it is regarded as self-...

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Comment by Rick Stillwagon on May 31, 2013 at 11:27am

Thank you Carey and Alex for your thoughts. It is an interesting subject.  The few projects I have seen here that are addressing the issue are: "The Living Machine," (water reclamation) "HESTIA's Biogas anaerobic digester" (biogas production) and "Milorganite" (bio-solids fertilizer made from sewage / water reclamation.) 

Related, is my goal of an anaerobic / aerobic digester for the processing of my distillery waste.  I understand it is a bit more difficult to process due to the BOD and COD of the effluent.  In India, they have found a way through anaerobic digestion and an aerobic process that alleviates the biological and chemical oxygen demands to be able to apply it topically as a fertilizer.

My thought was if processed with solid waste, this process might be less complicated.  My waste has been deemed acceptable for the local wastewater treatment center, but at a cost.  I would rather process it myself and use it or make it available to local farmers.

The effluent I will be producing is all organically composed: molasses, brown sugar, yeast, and water.  Fermentation and distillation removes the sugars in the form of ethanol, leaving behind all the minerals, residual sugars, protein, and etc.  But because of the state it is in directly after distillation, it is considered a hazardous waste. Once the BOD and COD has been addressed, the effluent is then a useful fertilizer.


Comment by Carey Ma on May 29, 2013 at 11:03pm

Hi all,

As an Ecolonomists, I am a strong advocate, supporting recycling ( the extreme). We must do everything we can to rethink our position on "waste". Almost everything that is a byproduct can be utilized for something else.


So, with this understanding, I certainly agree that we should begin.... somewhere.

However, I am not sure where and how to start. My personal residence was "closed down" by the county because they found out I took my septic system offline, then demanded that I chunk-in a huge sum of money and connect to city sewer in order to qualify as a livable residence. What was frustrating was that I had three independent labs test my bio-waste (processed feces) and showed that there were less harmful microbes in it that front yard soil. This was more than a decade ago yet there has been no change in attitude.


Since then I have only intensified my research (in communist China ~ if I enjoy more freedom here, what is America? Has it truly become the tyrannical New World Order?…something to think about). Anyway, it is my current conclusion that every single family home with a yard big enough to do septic should recycle their own bio-waste right on premises and the city should provide collection and distribution of excess compost back to the farms.


Besides society’s emetophobia (fear of bacteria), there are a few inherent difficulties with recycling human excrement. The first being how to get of or destroy harmful microbes (pathogens). The second is that we lack the technology to bioremediate the different types of medication we consume as well as all the rest of the chemicals we (individually as well as collectively) use for different reasons on and around our property.   


Please read “The Humanure Handbook” and “Holy Shit”. Also check out “Pee Ponics” and gray water recycling.

Comment by Alex Veidel on May 29, 2013 at 2:55pm

Sorry, I don't know why I threw the phrase "When the populace creates a usable waste product, then let's talk about harnessing it" at the end. My break at work ended and I needed a way to close out what I was saying. I didn't mean let's not discuss harnessing human waste, because I talking about ideas. I guess I just meant before we go and build a huge setup to process human waste by the tonne, let's make sure we actually have a useful and viable form of human waste to fill up that setup.  (And just to clarify, I'm just having fun by checking for holes in your argument to see what you'll say in defense. Hence: discussion)

Do I believe every single person on this planet eats poorly? No. I was making a blanket statement. (which I was careful to put a couple "drafts" into) But the paragraph I quoted makes it sound as though there is a current problem of "an abundance of nutrient rich waste"; I don't believe there is. But that will likely be a problem in the future if the "good food revolution" has its way. But the fact that it's called a revolution proves my point. defines the word revolution as the following "an overthrow or repudiation and the thorough replacement of an established government or political system by the people governed". Since we say there IS a revolution and not there WAS a revolution, that would imply that this is still in the process, not a victory already won.

Comment by Rick Stillwagon on May 29, 2013 at 12:17pm

Thank you for your thoughts.

I guess that's the point though.  We need to talk about it, if we are to make a change.  As far as the value of that waste goes, obviously, garbage in - garbage out.  But, if that is the case where is the future? If as you say, everyone its poorly, then where does all the good food go?  Or do you believe there is none to be had? If this is the case then do you believe the future is completely hopeless?

I believe there is a solution to every problem.  Unfortunately, this problem is complex.  It has to be addressed on several fronts: socially, culturally, commercially, politically, medically, and ecologically.  It has to start somewhere and sometime.  There are efforts to make change out there. Often, they are on the fringe of society.  If there is to be a real change it has to be mainstream.  Grassroots efforts on all socio-economic levels and pressure on industry by the consumer.  This means the consumer has to want something different.

Industry follows consumer trends, and tries to nudge those trends towards their products.  If that doesn't work, then they try to tweak existing products to fit the trend.  Finally, if that does not work they introduce new products.

It starts with a conversation, then a discussion, followed by constructive arguments, eventually opinions and practices develop, fads emerge and fade, markets evolve, lifestyles change, traditions begin, finally the "change" is  the new institution.  Much like what we see happening with aquaponics.

Comment by Alex Veidel on May 29, 2013 at 11:44am

Good concept. I definitely agree with the idea of letting waste return to the evironment and not sealing it up. Same thing with the average kitchen garbage bag. Why on earth would you want to take your food waste, wrap it in plastic, preserving it for an eternity? And all because we don't want to deal with the smell. Or the clutter. Or the "EEEWWW". Well, if you learn to dispose of things properly, none of those things happen.

"At some point, and sooner than later, we will have to face the fact that we are the biggest producers of nutrient dense waste.  We desire to eat nutritious food, often eating it to excess.  Our bodies only use what it can in that moment and the rest passes through.  So, with our rich diets comes an abundance of nutrient rich waste."

I don't really agree with the above statement however. I just don't think humans eat nutritious food anymore. (correction: Americans. Well, the average American anyway. You get my drift regardless) My impression of how our digestive system works today is as follows: eat a bunch of chemically-laden, processed (but oh, so delicious :/) foods which travel to your stomach, get broken down, and then travel to your intestines. Then, your intestines start yelling at you "What are you thinking? You expect me to work with this crap?" and it all goes out the other end, leaving a nutrient depraved individual. The way people eat nowadays, I don't think we should use human waste to grow food. When the populace creates a usable waste product, then let's talk about harnessing it.

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