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Archive for November, 2016

A Very Simple Barrel System

A Very Simple Barrel System

I absolutely love Aquaponics gardening. Year after year, my Aquaponics system is the feature piece of my garden.  It’s a phenomenal, fun, way to mimic nature by creating a closed loop system that integrates aquaculture and hydroponics.  It’s also addictive.

What Aquaponics is not, however, the future of farming ,as many have labeled it. I am aware that this statement runs counter to many of the YouTube videos and local interest stories all over the internet, but I stand by my comments. I’m also aware that many of my Aquaponics posts seem to be negative towards a growing method I keep saying I love, but stay with me and I’ll explain.

First, Aquaponics is rather expensive to get into. Even a DIY backyard system is probably going to set you back several hundred dollars, while a kit will be at least $1200 and that’s for a small system.  Sure, a creative handyman can probably make something cheaper, but face it, most of us are just not that handy.

Secondly, they are fairly expensive to maintain, especially if you are going to try to grow indoors or all year round.  Growing in the winter, for example, is going to require heating the water, both for fish growth and for maintaining a strong colony of beneficial bacteria. Doing so comes at a price.  It you’re growing indoors, there is also the cost of lighting.

Someone will undoubtedly will suggest Solar power, and I’m all in favor of that. The thing is, a solar unit that will both operate the system and heat water is not an insignificant financial investment.

Our third limitation is the fish. They must be sourced, fed and replaced.  There are not many varieties that can be grown to market size in a single season without considerable inputs, thus reducing the profitability of the method. Tilapia, arguably the most popular fish for Aquaponics, is not cold tolerant and needs to be raised indoors or with heated water in the winter (in most parts of North America). Most cold hardy types require two or three growing seasons and must be over wintered.

Ornamentals, such as Koi,  and Bait fish, like minnows, are hardy options, but breeding them takes some practice and experience so potential profitability may be delayed.

Whatever varieties of fish we choose, they all require food inputs, and that’s another expense. Yes, it is possible, over time, to grow your own fish food, but that is another serious effort to accomplish.

None of these challenges are insurmountable nor are they meant to discourage an potential enthusiast. They certainly don’t discourage me. They do, however, demonstrate that Aquaponics is not the future of farming.

I write these articles to help newcomers have realistic expectations as they get started.  There are many thousands of healthy backyard systems operating all around the world. In some parts of the world, Aquaponics may be a part of a solution to the problems of hunger and water management. There are even a few profitable commercial operations, but the propagandists would have you believe that it’s a simple way to make a living growing fish and veggies together. Reality is a little different.

For those of you who have persevered and made your commercial Aquaponics profitable, I applaud you.  You have worked both hard and smart. As for me, I will stick to my seasonal backyard system that serves as an adjunct to the rest of my crazy integrated garden.

Aquaponics is indeed fun and can be worth the expense and effort.  It is not the future of farming, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon it. Not by a long shot. We simply need to be realistic.

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