As many of you may know, I spend a lot of time behind the wheel for my job. Since I think I have heard every song that has been played on the radio EVER, I resorted to listening to podcasts. I have many interests so and there is a podcast for everything so it seems. This brought me to a few podcasts that have to deal with homesteading and survivalism. One of these is called The Self Sufficient Homestead www.sshomestead.com , and the other is called The Survival Podcast www.thesurvivalpodcast.com . These two podcasts have filled my head with ideas on ways to grow food and basic homesteading in general.
One of the most interesting ways I have learned to produce BUSHELS of my own food cheaply is called Aquaponics. Maybe you have heard of this type of farming but I sure never had until Johnny Max and his wife The Queen (The Self Sufficient Homestead podcast) brought it up on one of their earlier episodes.
If you have never heard of aquaponics, maybe you have heard of hydroponics. This is basically growing plants in a media where the roots have a constant supply of water. With aquaponics you do the same thing except you also grow fish. Let me explain.
The idea is to have a fish tank filled with a type of fish that you enjoy eating. It really depends on how fast you would like to have these fish ready to eat and the temperature of your water. It is impossible for me here in MN to grow Tilapia through the winter without the use of a water heater, because these are a tropical fish and they basically die in any temperature under 70 degrees. Just as it is impossible for me to grow trout in the summer without a way to chill the water as they die once the temperature gets too hot. I think I have decided to go with sunfish as they are hardy in the cold MN winter water temps and the hot summer also, plus they are EASY to please food-wise.
So....we have a fish tank full of sunfish, now what do we do? Next you need to get a tub of some sort to grow the vegetables in. I wouldn't go too deep, probably about 6 inches. Now you need a media to grow these veggies in. The most commonly used media would be small river rock. Another option for this is a product called Hydroton http://www.planetnatural.com/site/hydroton-grow-media.html. I think this is the media I will use. Ok, so now we have a fish tank, fish, a tub, and media to grow veggies. Lets get going!
The whole idea behind aquaponics is you grow fish and cycle their water through your tub filled with plants and media. The fish waste is taken up by the plants as a nutrient, cleaning out the water. Next the water is replaced back in the fish tank with a lot of splashing to replenish oxygen for the fish. Depending on the amount of area the vegetables are taking, this can usually be done with only the use of one pump.
One of the hard parts of this method, is finding a cheap way to feed your fish. Lots of people in the aquaponics game feed their fish duckweed. This is that slimy green stuff that collects on the top of stagnant ponds. Actually, it's not slimy it just looks that way. These tiny plants are actually the smallest flowering plants on our planet, and they are FULL of protein. I'm not sure if this alone will meet all the nutritional needs of my fish, but there is research all over the internet for me to search out. Apparently some third world countries are devising ways of cultivating this to feed swine http://www.mobot.org/jwcross/duckweed/practical_duckweed.htm. I also plan on using this as the main diet of my chickens-after their bugs anyway. Duckweed can also be used as a kind of secondary filtration in an aquaponics setup. Just another stop for the water on the way back to the fish tank. If you have been to my house in summer or read one of my first blogposts, you know I have a pond. Last summer around August, this pond looked like a putting green with all the duckweed. I tried netting it off but that took forever and two days later the pond was covered again. Duckweed actually double its size every day, which could probably feed the world if more countries knew of its benefits. I don't think you could BUY a better solar panel than a gallon full of duckweed on a pond. I devised a better way to harvest this plague, or crop, whatever you would call it. A SHOPVAC. I am going to tie this to a tree so it doesn't make it's way into the pond while im in there by the way. I do not recommend trying this at home kids!!-but I'm going to. Duckweed also makes a good mulch and green manure in compost heap. Personally I think it's a wonder plant. Here is a little video that shows a massive Aquaponics system in use. See I you don't get as fired up about aquaponics as I am after watching this! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAKtufVLRko