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It seems like more and people are turning to using aquaponic systems to grow the food they need for themselves and their family.
One such family is the Crowthers.
The Crowther residence in Brattleboro Vermont displays the trappings of an aquaponics system. This is a symbiotic system that is closed to the outside used to grow vegetables and fish for their family’s consumption.The whole process is centered on the nitrogen cycle. Fish secrete ammonia, which is a nitrogen compound, which when bacteria consumes emerges as nitrates which plants need to grow.Basically the fish and plants live in a closed system that allows them to exchange nitrogen and they benefit each other. The end process allows the farmer to harvest both fish and vegetables.
BRATTLEBORO—For visitors to the home of Mark and Susie Crowther, the blue plastic barrels can be the elephant in the room.
What are those barrels doing in a room of their own, people wonder, and why do they keep emitting sounds of rushing water?
They’re aquaponics systems — closed, symbiotic systems in which the Crowthers can efficiently raise plants for their consumption and fish, using recycled materials and water.
Aquaponics is gaining traction on a larger scale as an alternative to traditional methods of produce and fish farming. In developing countries with a limited water supply, people like aquaponics guru Travis Hughey are introducing the concept as a way for individuals to grow their own food while making the most of their limited resources.
Thanks to some research, seeds, water, fish, and a bit of creativity, Mark Crowther has become an avid aquaponics hobbyist, and he is working with the Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center (BEEC) in West Brattleboro to host two workshops in May.
Aquaponics has been used for centuries, as far back as the Aztec empire, when engineers from Tenochtitlan created floating islands of reeds on which they planted seeds for fruits and vegetables.
These days, though, the systems can be as large as lakes or portable and small enough to fit on a tabletop indoors.
To Crowther, the key to creating these systems is to tailor them to the space available; each one of his systems is built from several 55-gallon blue plastic barrels, one sitting cylindrically on the floor as a tank for the fish, the other half-barrel placed perpendicular on top of the other, as a larger plant bed.
There’s a large hole in the bottom barrel above the waterline so that he can access the fish (in Crowther’s system these are golden shiner minnows, “because they were available at the local bait shop,” he said).
The top half-barrel is full of expanded shale, which is Crowther’s “grow bed media” into which the seeds were planted.
This grow bed media is essential in any aquaponic system because it houses those bacteria that enable the plants to absorb the nitrogen. He chose the shale because it’s lightweight, porous, and local.
“But the grow bed media can even be free,” Crowther said. “You can just go down to a brook or river and pull out a bunch of pebbles.”
The final key component to this system is a small electric pump that brings the water from the fish’s bottom barrel to water the plants on the top barrel. A simple bell siphon then flushes the water back down to the fish tank once it fills to a certain level. To read the rest of Hooked on aquaponics click here.
Getting excites about growing your food with an aquaponics system? Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts on the subject. I look forward to hearing from you.