Hydroponics? Go Fish.

Whee… late again.  I need to start writing these a few days in advance w/ delayed publish.

My family finally made it out the door a week ago on their 5 month RV vacation, leaving me to house-sit by myself!  This caused a whole bunch of work to fall on my head.  It was stressful, but it has borne fruit in an odd way that’s relevant to what I wanted to ramble about this week!

One of those strange childhood dreams I’ve always had has been to get a Hydroponic garden going.  Some of my earliest childhood memories are of a tiny backyard garden my mom had prior to a comical incident involving my dad, some anti-weed fertilizer meant for the grass, and, well, that was it for fresh winter carrots.  Before we got around to replanting it, the Military sent us somewhere else and the new house had a yard so small there wasn’t a point to gardening in it.  Not long after arrival, one day in the library I noticed a book on hydroponics that had been left out.  The science was mostly above my 6 year old brain, but I got the basics and for some reason the idea of growing a plant in large gravel seemed cool, and I missed the fresh veggies/fruit.

My interest drove my mother nuts – I’d go out in the back yard, scoop up a random weed, plant it in an applesauce container and put it in a lego greenhouse.  She’d find it while cleaning and throw it out.  The next time I had applesauce for lunch, I’d do it again.  This cycle repeated for a few months, until I discovered the Deluxe Paint 3 animation how-to VHS tape and spent the next few years creating horrible stick figure animations, painstakingly copying NES game sprites by hand, and imagining a mode 7 RPG, since I’d just discovered DraQue and FF1.

Ah, memories.

Of course, as I grew up, my understanding of what was required matured.  The more I learned, the more my thoughts shifted around to “That would be fun… but…  that’s a lot of work and plant nutrients are expensive…”  It also didn’t help that my family has tons of crap and didn’t want to devote the space to a hydroponic farm, and we have no back yard to speak of, so no greenhouse is likely.

A few years ago, one of my friends introduced me to Aquaponics.  Where Hydroponics exists as a system you have to keep adding external elements to, Aquaponics exists mostly as an artificial ecosystem.  It accomplishes this by mixing Aquaculture (farming fish in water tanks) into the mix, using fish excrement as fertilizer.  The fish excrete ammonia, probiotics in the system convert it into a form useful to the plants, and a cyclical pump system pumps the nutrient rich water into the grow bed slowly over the course of a few hours.

Once the grow bed fills up with a target volume of water, it rapidly drains back into the fish tank.  This rapid cycling has the effect of letting the plants serve as a natural filter, so the water going back into the fish tank is essentially clean water.  At that point, you just need to feed your fish.  As I understand it with what I know right now, you can usually accomplish this by planting some duckweed in your fish tank, but you might have to eventually bring in some external fish food every now and then.

There are some great videos and resources for Aquaponics online, it has quite a few evangelists who are excited for it’s ability to grow food in a small footprint.  Take this video, for example:

http://youtu.be/Fm0-gnDpkLE   (edit: Can’t seem to embed this.  Hmm.)

A note – This person is using Koi because he lives in Australia, which prohibits the import of White Tilapia.  Quite a few proponents will advocate White Tilapia, which are quite resilient in addition to their ability to grow and breed rapidly.  These traits are ideal in farmed fish, but they’re also quite the pest if they escape a farm and get into a local river, as they can completely displace/obliterate a native fish population.

After years of telling me “we don’t have enough space”, “It’s too expensive” and such, my family finally decided my argument about healthy food’s cost was a good one.

And then this week, a windfall came in, one of my customers mentioned that one of the local pet stores has a sale on fish tanks right now.  So, I hope to get by one tomorrow to get a good sized tank purchased for getting started on a system.

My plan for my own system right now is to start simple.  Work with a single fishtank, a small growbed, get the waterflow working right, get some goldfish, seed, and maybe some pre-started plants to get things rolling.  To start with, I’m going to work with Lettuce given that I’ve seen some really impressive lettuce farms and it has a short growing time in hydroponics systems.  From there I’ll branch out into carrots and broccoli, learn how to grow set up a bed big enough for potatos, and eventually, my ultimate goal, is to get a Grapevine.  I love fresh grapes.  I live in a desert that imports grapes from California and they’re about to go bad by the time they get here. 🙁

For right now, I will be happy with Lettuce.  Eventually, once I learn how to prepare and cook fish, I will probably start a Tilapia fishery.  At some point, if really successful, I might even see if I can import some Ayu fingerlings.  I have no idea if that’s even possible.

Anyway, I think I’ve rambled enough!  Off to do some remote support work before my friends bring their MC server back up.  I just discovered mining turtles run on Lua.  This could be very, very bad for server lag.

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