“Aqua-Poo-Nics”

Aloha Friends,

We would like to tell you about our revolutionary new growing system that we playfully call “Aqua-Poo-Nics” 

 Yes, that’s right, not “Aquaponics” – “Aqua-Poo-Nics!”    *Poo = Animal Waste,  for the purposes of this story.

Here we simplify the story of our explorations into greenhouse growing- specifically how we investigated hydroponics and aquaponics, and created a system that is simpler and way less expensive to implement while still growing plants wonderfully!

History:

 

Some time ago, we fell in love with the idea of growing food in greenhouses instead of outdoors – it feels great to be in a  greenhouse, the plants have a safe pest-free place to live.

Of course, greenhouses are expensive, unless they can pay for themselves somehow.  We considered hydroponics, and so we got certified in hydroponics.  Soon we learned about aquaponics, and thought that was even better, so we became certified in aquaponics.

Next we had to move to a place where we could put together a system…   and we came to Aloha Farms, and it was time.

Since greenhouse growing operations require a whole lot of effort, money, time, and devotion to create, we started with a small aquaponic growing system.

 

Aquaponic System
View of the aquaponic system setup in portable greenhouse. The idea is to use the fish waste to feed the plants, and use the plant roots to filter the fish water. So fish and plants can grow together in a closed-loop system.

 

Growbed filled with Hydroton baked clay balls.
Initial set-up: Growbed filled with Hydroton baked clay balls. The flexible tubing you see coming into the re-purposed bathtub/ growbed, is conducting water from the fish tank into the grow bed. In this picture we have placed some filters under the water to filter sediment from the fish tank.

Aqua-poo-nic system water tank

Feed trough used as fish tank with rocks on the bottom for passive heat
Feed trough used as fish tank with rocks on the bottom (for passive heat), and ABS pipe with holes returning water into the fish tank from the growbed. After 6 weeks of daily testing the water for the correct pH, temperature, and nitrate/nitrite levels, and filtering out chlorine, our water was ready for use.
Aquaponic Growbed with Corn and Tomatoes
Corn & tomatoes grew well in aquaponic system and had great color and fruit
Aquaponic Strawberries in Winter
Aquaponic Strawberries in Winter

Now to the revolutionary part of our story!!!

By the end of 2015 we had gained 2 1/2 years of perspective about using the  aquaponic system.   Keeping the fish alive proved to be very stressful and difficult because our city water is too alkaline and has too much chlorine.  For the fish to thrive the pH and the water temperature had to be monitored and adjusted continually.  One time, we lost all of the fish in the tank at once because the air-bubbler stopped working in the middle of the night due to an electricity failure. There’s only a certain amount of electricity from the solar power system and it isn’t enough for winter-time, with all the darkness.  We replaced the fish and tried again several times.  We worked on adjusting the pH, filtering the chlorine, adding ice in the summer and adding warm water in the winter, and covering the tank to insulate it, but in spite of all efforts, every fish eventually died!

Every time a fish died, we felt frustration, failure, loss, guilt, and shame.

Successful aquaponic systems grow edible fish, like tilapia or catfish, but for us that would require a lot more attention and investment.  During this  time we began to give more focus to covering the land with raw organic material and less focus to greenhouse growing.  So, not wanting to kill any more fishes, we ran the system with no fish just to keep the plants growing.

We began to consider the underwater snails who live happily in the tank regardless of the pH, chlorine, or water temperature. Surely they would provide some waste to feed the plants. 

Then inspiration hit  –  we have an unlimited supply of our own farm grown turkey poo – the fertilizer that works great on our land!  Wouldn’t it work great as a fertilizer in the greenhouse growing system too?  Of course it would!   

Beginning in 2016, we tried out our theory. The turkey waste didn’t harm the snails at all, and it was easy to collect and add to the water tank as needed.  Voila! As it decomposed in the water tank, it created plant nutrients for the plants in the growbed. We’ve been using this very method all this year, and it works better for us because it’s simple and less demanding of our attention.  We just add more “poo” if the plants start getting less green, just as you would with any fertilizer.  We still use the system for plant cuttings and seed starting and as a nursery for plants whose roots have been partially damaged by gophers! Also lettuce and tomato have grown to be over 2 years old in this bed and are still alive.

Our system is tiny, but it works for growing plants.  The concept of Aqua-Poo-Nics could be used on much larger systems just as well.

Welcome to aquaponics without the stress – it’s Aqua-Poo-Nics!

Papaya plants recovering from gopher damage in Aquapoonic growbed
Lettuce going to seed, Papaya recovering from gopher damage, Fennel and elephant food in background.

Hanging over the water tank is a 1 1/2 year-old tomato vine that continues to produce tomatoes today – updated as of 04/04/2016.  That is a long-lived tomato…. After having tried both aqua-culture and food-forest growing, we absolutely say food-forest is so much more successful and requires so much less effort.  We have tomatoes growing all over the food forest as well, and sometimes they even survive the winter.  The growbed still grows many different cuttings and seedlings that change over the seasons.

This tomato vine has been living in the aquaponic greenhouse for a couple years. It’s scraggly, but still hanging on!

 

Pomegranate Cutting Growing in Aqua-Poo-Nic System
We still grow cuttings in the grow bed, like this pomegranate tree cutting that has taken root and is growing in the growbed, Summer 2016.

 

Aqua-Poo-Nic Growbed with Lavendar and Rosemary Cuttings
Aqua-Poo-Nic Growbed with Lavendar and Rosemary Cuttings Winter 2017

Aqua-Poo-Nic Water Tank with Duckweed Growing
Aqua-Poo-Nic Water Tank with Duckweed Growing, Winter 2017

After all this, in May 2016, we discovered one single fish living in the fish tank!  It’s fins are turquoise with a  red dorsal fin and tail, and a gray body with a dark gray stripe down the sides.  We could hardly believe it when we saw this fish swimming around in the tank, and we figure it must have hatched from an egg laid long ago, although it doesn’t look like any fish we ever had!  We gave it some store-bought fish food, which it didn’t eat, so now we don’t feed the fish or do anything for it, yet it continues to swim around in the tank.  As of February 2017, it’s still swimming around in the tank!

We hope you enjoyed this post and that it inspires you to dream big and try new things 🙂

Aloha 🙂


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