Growing Cheaper And Healthier Vegetables Using Aquaponics

Submitted by Ready Done

Damian Hinkson demonstrating to St. James secondary students an Aquaponics System at work

If you ever thought you were paying to much for vegetables, keep reading.

We pay unjustified amounts of money for vegetables just because it is more convenient than finding the time and energy to grow our own. There is a solution for those of us that don’t want to pay so much for vegetables, don’t care enough to garden yet want the benefits of fresh, chemical free vegetables?

It’s called Aquaponics: The next time you and a friend are near a fresh water fish whether its in an aquarium or a pond we all now have and idea worthy of a conversation. Getting these ideas to the people willing to use them is what will make healthy cheap food a reality.

The simplicity of the technology is deceiving, after all it is really a miniature river ecosystem held in a man made container. Using fishy water to grow plants sounds very basic because when you feed fish all the water born waste builds up and you  have to clean it eventually. Usually we water soil-based plants with the dirty water. What makes Aquaponics so convenient is the fact that you can use plants to clean that water and return the very same water for the fish to dirty it up again making a never ending cycle.

To make this relationship work efficiently you would need to make some minor adjustments to the conventional way we farm. I will list them below.

  • The biggest change is getting rid of the soil. This is because the plants roots will be submerge in fishy water majority of the time and the soil does not drain fast enough. It is replaced by coconut husk which is lighter, drains faster and has no weed seeds or soil borne diseases or parasites.
  • There is also a need for electricity to power a  small pump that circulates the water between the fish and the plants. The movement also oxygenates the water so that the fish or plant roots don’t suffocate.
  • Because it is a modification of a natural process maintenance is minimal, You don’t have to water or fertilize your plants (that’s the fish and pump’s job) and you don’t have to clean the fish water (that’s the plants job).
  • The nerd explanation; the fish waste contains ammonia nitrate that is converted by the aerobic bacteria culture of nitrosomas into nitrites that the plants then uptake tough the roots.

You don’t have to find the cure for all the problems in the agriculture sector we just stay informed and keep spreading the ideas that can make a difference. There are two cutting edge Aquaponic farms in the Caribbean one in Barbados, St. George (Suga Water Farms), it’s run by Baird’s Village Aquaponic Association (BVAA) and funded in part by UNDP. The other is at the University of the Virgin Islands.

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23 Comments on “Growing Cheaper And Healthier Vegetables Using Aquaponics”

  1. David January 9, 2011 at 6:30 AM #

    Congrats ready done. We talk alot but it is good to see you are doing.

    Like

  2. The Scout January 9, 2011 at 9:59 AM #

    Ready Done
    I’m VERY interested in finding out more about aquaphonics. I would like to contact you through BU to get some future information. Will try reaching you tomorrow.

    Like

  3. Rosemary Parkinson January 9, 2011 at 10:03 AM #

    This is an amazing-sounding programme. I will try and see if I can get in touch with someone with regards to adding them to my book. First have to find out if they are actually in production. So many of these programmes fall to the wayside because grants are not enough etc. etc. I sure hope it is up and producing. David…do you have any contacts…if you do can you message them to me on FB? Thanks! Such good news…the joys of hearing what we can do and that some are actually trying it out.

    Like

  4. David January 9, 2011 at 10:56 AM #

    @Rosemart & The Scout

    Will pass your info to ready done, the local aquaponics guru.

    Like

  5. Raw Bake January 9, 2011 at 11:08 AM #

    Now tell me why I cannot see a feature on this projec, on Welfare TV.
    They have five hours to kill on Saturday afternoon and all they can find to fill that time, is repeats of Day Of Our Lives shown during the week.

    There is a show call Healthy Living, that airs on the same Welfare Tv after the news, but I cannot remember which night at the moment. Ready Done should contact the producer of that show and try to get his project introduced to a wider audience.
    My only fear is that some businessman with deep pockets might see this as a viable venture and start a company supplying these systems for less than Ready Done can.

    Like

  6. islandgal246 January 9, 2011 at 11:45 AM #

    The late Colin Hutson had mentioned this system to me when he first came to visit my garden. I had seen this group’s demo at Arbour day exhibition in the Park. I have also seen behind Disney where they grow most of the food used in their restaurants by hydroponics and aquaponics. I had never seen so many huge fruits and vegetables growing in sand, just plain sand and many others in soil less medium. This is indeed a fascinating project. Fish farming can be incorporated with this system, I even checked out raising crayfish in a similar system. The biggest input is electricity and water and this is an excellent way to utilize solar to power the pumps. Coconut husks are thrown away so the cost is minimal. Gravel is another medium that can be used and reused. Another adaption was floating islands in ponds growing crops like lettuce and leafy crops. I have been meaning to visit these guys and now reading this post I will make it my business to do so. The knowledge is out there we just have to use it. Here a some videos to watch about the many methods one can use to produce food.
    http://videos.howstuffworks.com/discovery/31024-discovery-earth-disney-gardens-ditch-dirt-video.htm

    Like

  7. islandgal246 January 9, 2011 at 11:55 AM #

    Here are some more links

    Like

  8. islandgal246 January 9, 2011 at 2:10 PM #

    Aquaponics can be easily adapted to backyards. Many fish keepers can easily add to their existing setup. Here is yet another link to help you do that. I have been thinking about this for a while, I just need that kick in the rear to get going. The high food prices is just the kick I needed. http://www.howlingmoose.com/09-resource-fair-presentation.pdf

    Like

  9. Hants January 9, 2011 at 4:40 PM #

    I just went in de supermarket and I can’t believe how much food duh got in dey.Nuff nuff Yam,cassava,eddoes, sweet potato,pawpaw,pear,breadfruit and duh even sellin a 4ft long piece a cane fuh $2.99.
    South amurcan farmers too love Canada eh!

    Like

  10. islandgal246 January 9, 2011 at 4:56 PM #

    @Hants

    And I bet it cheaper than here too.

    Like

  11. Hants January 9, 2011 at 5:23 PM #

    Islandgal246,
    I have not done a price comparison but West Indian food is now available all year in Toronto and affordable.

    Barbados cannot compete in quantity buying with Canadian supermarket chains so food security must become a priority.

    The South american countries also grow “Canadian fruit” peaches plums etc. so they have a massive established market for everything they grow.

    Like

  12. readydone January 9, 2011 at 7:47 PM #

    Any one interested it aquaponics in Barbados can contact me through facebook, Just search for damian hinkson. While your at it you can suggest I “friend” any one you know that may be interested people that keep fish, potted plants even a kitchen garden.

    Majority of information on the internet will be geared for a different climate. I have been doing this since 2000 in Barbados.

    Like

  13. Lalu Hanuman January 10, 2011 at 3:10 AM #

    The need for cheap vegetables in Barbados is self-evident. Having cheap vegetables [and fruit!] would certainly make for a healthier population – it has been shown by numerous studies that a diet rich in vegetables and fruit reduces the chances of cancer , diabetes, hypertension, etc.

    However, given the cost and space requirements involved in establishing aquaponic systems which puts it out of the reach of most Barbadians, and given that fruit trees cannot be grown in such small ponds -[to say nothing of the cruelty aspect involved in fish farming !]- and given the bountiful supply of cheap fruits and vegetables in Guyana and other neighbouring Caricom countries, it would make more Caricom integration, and economic, and health sense, for the Barbadian Government to invest in a small refridgerated ship to bring such produce to Barbados on a regular basis, rather than the promotion of aquaponics… Lalu Hanuman, Barbados.

    Like

  14. Terence M. Blackett January 10, 2011 at 1:37 PM #

    Like

  15. Terence M. Blackett January 10, 2011 at 1:38 PM #

    Time for BARBADOS* to be self-sufficient – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxvPj-pESWU

    Like

  16. Terence M. Blackett January 10, 2011 at 1:43 PM #

    Like

  17. Ready Done January 11, 2011 at 6:35 AM #

    Aquaponic vegetables are not cheap, they are free. Free of cost and chemicals.

    @Lalu Hanuman, Aquaponics is not about growing food in Guyana, spraying it with all types of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers, picking it young(before it has a chance to produce any useful nutrients), freezing it, shipping across the ocean and then gassing it with hormones to force ripening it then more pesticides to get through the port, let it sit on a shelf (for everyone to squeeze up and more chemicals for when they clean the supermarket)for days……… till you buy it and take it home to put in back in the refrigerator, peel off black spots then use.

    That method of food production is the root of the health problem you talk about. Consuming a little bit of chemicals with every meal is what is killing us. Conventional food production is all about making money and not about producing healthy food so you find that all efforts are made to prolong spoilage until the sale. Nature makes things spoil for a reason, because they are unhealthy to eat yet we continue to buy food from supermarkets simply because we don’t know how to produce or own.

    Aquaponics is about healthy fresh food from the plant to the plate. Aquaponics is now taking over developed nations the idea has reached Barbados very early, all over America people are realizing that they don’t need lots of space or money to set up these systems a quick look at the recent flood of youtube videos will confirm this.

    You say that aquaponics needs lots of space then say it is too small to grow fruit. Which one is it? You should do some research before talking! Aquaponic systems are perfect for a small backyard or a patio. Aquaponics is about bringing food production back into the household, where the home owner can be responsible for their own food and no harmful chemicals have to be involved. Fish farming is not as brutal as the other protein farming like pigs or chicken, you don’t even have to eat the fish! You can keep them as pets like most people do.

    Like

  18. Lalu Hanuman January 14, 2011 at 1:06 AM #

    There is no need to be arrogant/insulting. Totally uncalled for. The costs I am referring to are the initial set up costs, which are over $1,000 B/dian I understand. Which places it well out of the reach of working class Barbadians. Of course middle class Barbadians have that sort of money to spend, as well as the private gardens/patios where such systems can be readily established. Most Barbadians, however, live in chattel houses or even just rooms, and have no private yard/patio – if they could afford the set up costs [and electricity running costs, assuming that the system is not a solar one] and also had the yard /patio space- how long do you practically think that the fish/vegetables would survive in the tank for, before they get stolen anyway?!!

    Re fruit trees- pawpaws and such like can grow in aquaponic systems, but certainly not mango/sapadilla/tamarind trees etc etc!

    I am also totally opposed to chemical fertilisers and pesticides, not just for human health reasons, but also for environmental reasons. Organic fruit and vegetables have been grown for thousands of years in the soil. There is such a thing [as you would know] as biological pest control.

    Keeping fish in tanks is cruel. Aquaponic battery farmed fish are also not exempt from diseases. It is a battery fish farming system, by another name.

    Like

  19. islandgal246 January 14, 2011 at 8:11 AM #

    @ Lalu,
    Many poor people who live in chattel houses already keep fish as a hobby. Many use old refrigerators and bath tubs as containers. Many have pumps running to oxygenate the water. What we are saying that they can start their own food production by incorporating aquaponics into their existing systems. Melons and certain vine fruits and vegetables can be grown successfully. If everyone who keep fish try their hand with this type of food production they will be helping to bring their food cost down. I do have the space and the infrastructure is already there with three large fish ponds. The problem is getting my produce to market at the time of harvesting. Yes creative ways of getting customers is the key. I am working on it and perhaps we one day we can all meet to see how we can make this work. Many do not see fish keeping cruel like you do, since that is the only way to do this on an island like Barbados.

    Like

  20. Imogen May 26, 2011 at 2:37 AM #

    Lalu Hanuman, you such an idiot.

    Like

  21. C. Adjodha May 28, 2011 at 7:35 PM #

    I am newly interested in hydroponics and came across this online dialogue on aquaponics. I feel that there was potential for more critical and instructive debate following on Lalu Hanuman’s concern over the accessibility of this technology. In the Caribbean context, as someone who has been working in the ‘development’ field for some time, I have found that any innovation involving food production must address: poverty reduction, environmental sustainability and should build the capacity of individuals and communities to increase their resiliency to poverty and ill health through accessible and sustainable technologies. Forgive the rhetoric, but you get my point.

    The research that I have done so far on aquaponics all note the skill required to successfully run these operations, as LH pointed out, there needs to be a ‘bridge’ in order for this to be a sustainable solution (leaving aside for now the issues of the fishes, as I am vegetarian). I am finding it repeatedly said that
    “The technology associated with aquaponics is complex. Modern aquaponic systems can be highly successful, but they require intensive management and they have special considerations.” source: http://www.attra.org/attra-pub/aquaponic.html

    “In the commercial context, it has been noted that there are high capital costs, moderate energy costs and intensive management” … not quite the ‘fishes in the bathtub at home with pumps’ environment previously mentioned. Also, persons here also have noted the challenges they are facing. When living in poverty, the time to trouble shoot is difficult to find.

    Fundamentally many of us would like to support these ‘types’ of innovations, but require care and attention paid to our concerns for how we apply knowledge to sustainably improve our lives. Advocacy requires that we are also able to teach. Where do we go from here? How can this technology be made more accessible? Thank you for putting it forward, let us continue on together.

    Like

  22. Breu September 26, 2012 at 5:58 PM #

    The attra link previously mentioned is the only one I’ve seen that states aquaponics is “difficult”. All the rest, written by individuals who have successfully set these systems up in their home or yard, explain it’s rather simple. I have seen a 15 foot tall mango tree growing from a bed, no reason you can’t as long as you have some form of vertical support.

    Yes there is an initial cost to purchase several plastic containers (I’ve seen many systems that are made from 3 plastic barrels, 55 gallons each), some hoses, a single pump, and gravel. Maybe 300BBD, it all depends on where you can find containers that aren’t contaminated and a reliable pump.

    A marine bilge that runs on 12VDC could be charged by a solar panel if reliable electricity isn’t possible. You could also use an old electric motor attached to a stationary bicycle to charge the battery since solar panels aren’t cheap. If you don’t eat fish, you can keep goldfish (very hardy) as pets. If you think fish roam the wild care-free and loving life, you are naive regarding the reality of nature. You don’t have to pack fish in tight either, a larger container gives plenty of space or you keep fewer fish.

    Several families could pool resources to set up a shared system, and as their food costs are reduced those savings could expand it until they each have their own system supporting the entire family. Further expansion begins to create income. But without someone willing to think creatively about overcoming obstacles, nothing will happen to change the norm.

    Like

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    Like

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