Aquaponic Gardening

A Community and Forum For Aquaponic Gardeners

I'm an old fart, but not a mean old fart. I'm a fat guy, but not too jolly. Being retired gives me a lot of time to think, to read, and to research on the net.

You can get a lot of good training watching the YouTube videos, and reading blogs. I've really improved my cooking as I read and then put into practice the teaching and the recipes I've downloaded. I find myself looking at other stuff as well. Peak oil, restoring the soil, permaculture, worm composting, family semi-independence, and so much more.

Living on a fixed income means that there is no overtime, no flexibility to the paycheck. But, I do have a paycheck; and I'm thankful for that. But, there's a real inflationary time coming, and I expect oil and oil-related costs are going UP! But retirement incomes will slowly fall behind. That means that my income will fall behind. I'm raising my grand-daughter, who, as teenagers do, wants everything advertised on TV and eats enough to embarrass me and I'm the fat one. (She, however, is a skinny teenager; something I never was.)

My mother gardened using what are today called 'organic methods' and what she called 'common sense'. Her parents raised a large garden, maybe an eighth of an acre and survived the Great Depression just fine. They also had a small herd of guernsey cows, a specialty cow then, due to its milk having a high fat content like 6%, but people wanted that fat back in the day, and what her family didn't consume themselves, they traded for things like flour, pork, bacon, rice and oatmeal.

What she did in and with her garden, we would likely call organic or permaculture now. Any uneaten vegetation was composted. Compost was used to dress the garden in the Spring, as well as the flower beds. All Dad's grass clippings were added to the compost, and she turned it about once a month, unless I was required to work-off demerits. (Demerits were much less painful than discipline, so I opted for demerits every time.)

She did plant in rows, but they were short and she was always re-planting what she last harvested. She did a bit of canning, but mostly fruit jellies, jams and tomato sauce. However, we (or I) did dig up carrots, potatoes, and beets way into the Fall. She introduced me to Chard, varieties of Lettuce, different salad greens (we even eat young dandelion leaves in the Spring in our salads, sometimes), different onions, chives, leeks, tomatoes (four or five kinds). She did make a relish called piccalilli from green tomatoes, onions, etc. And she did all this in 3 different suburban eighth-of-an-acre households.

In researching the web one day, I discovered aquaponics. It uses fish to feed the vegetables, and the growing vegetables clean the water for the fish, worms grow in the beds converting fish solids into additional nutrition for the vegetables, and ultimately for me. I wanted to do that!

But, I live in the American Maritime NW climate. Although moderated from serious heat or cold by the proximity to the ocean, the sunshine is seriously impaired by the clouds that regularly cover our skies. Geographically, we are on the same level as Maine, we don't get their serious cold Winters, or prolonged snow layer. But they get 30% more sun, or more, than we do. And that light is what makes the difference between what they can grow in the Winter and what we can grow.

I have decided to build a greenhouse, mostly from recycled materials, using family labor. It is not professional, as none of our family have ever built a greenhouse. It goes in fits and starts as materials needed are found, or the money accumulates enough to buy what is needed. In my case, plywood and Polygal and some of the insulation.

This plan grew out of an article in the Seattle Times, that stated that a 10 by 20 foot garden could grow about $2000 worth of food for a family in one season. I figured that if I grew my garden in a greenhouse, I should be able to grow much more as I could extend the season both early and late in the year. That meant that I could probably get the money I spent on the greenhouse back in the vegetables I grew that I didn't have to buy. Probably pay me back in 2-4 years, which seems reasonable.

And if I used aquaponics, I would be able to feed on protein out of the fish tanks at least once a week, saving even more money. This looked like a Good Idea! So I researched more on greenhouses, aquaponics, state laws about raising fish, selling food, and much more. Then I found Aquaponics sites like Backyard Aquaponics, Practical Aquaponics, and the Aquaponics community hosted by Sylvia Bernstein. The vegetables that are pictured on those sites are dramatically bigger than what I'm used to and reportedly are tastier than what is in the stores.

Inside that community, I found the NW Washington Aquaponics Group on her site. And I began to learn more and more from local guys, growing in the NW. People like Jeb Thurow, Rick Stillwagon, and Don Stark. They are actually doing not just flood and drain aquaponics, but wicking, thin film, deep water cultures, and D I R T. Now we have our own NW Forum.

I'm not a purist, I'm a practical man; I'll use what works best for me, and feeds my family. I want to feed my family about 50% of our food, and buy the rest. I won't have a herd of cows, and I won't be growing fields of golden grains. But I am starting to gather food preservation tools like a dehydrator, canning jars, extra lids. I'm looking for a pot designed for canning, I'll probably find one by Spring, or not, who knows. I'm thinking about growing fruit trees in my suburban yard.

Once the greenhouse is done, I'll be growing what I can and keeping records and posting them. Why post the results? There is no data on growing food in a aquaponics greenhouse in the PNW. NONE! Jeb Thurow and I have been talking about how to track our data, and we are developing forms and spreadsheets.

So, here I am in retirement, now with a purpose and a plan. It feels good to have a purpose, and a plan.

I'm semi-retired now; and, I have work to do!

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Comment by Paul Schooley on November 5, 2012 at 2:44pm

You have several items on your agenda.  Sounds like you will be busy.  I am also retired and wanting to put a system in my backyard.  I wish you success!

Comment by Chris Carr on October 24, 2012 at 6:08pm

Good luck on your backyard adventure.

Comment by Don Stark on October 15, 2012 at 9:10pm

So good to hear what you are doing, how are you progressing, ready to battle the winter?

Comment by George on October 15, 2012 at 1:38pm

I subscribe to much the same philosophy.  Good luck with all of your plans - plan for the worst and hope for the best.  Even if the worst never happens, you'll eat well and keep busy.  Rest is good in moderation but it's important to have purpose and stay moving.  Regards. 

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