Today’s GROWING Trends

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There is a noticeable shift in society’s relationship with food and an increased appetite for organic and nutritious choices. People are realizing that they have somehow lost control of where their food comes from and knowledge of the growing process. Individuals are increasingly mindful of their role and responsibility in feeding themselves and their families and are looking for solutions that are in their control, local, and healthy. Food has a direct impact on us socially, economically, and environmentally. It’s important for us to understand our relationship with food today and for the future. Today’s growing trends are here to stay.

Hydroponic Micro-Investment

Investing in hydroponics supplies used to be costly and time consuming. Today’s growing trends have inspired the hydroponic micro-gardens which are great value and all-in-one systems.  Choose a plug-and-play systems that allow you to seemlessly integrate gardens into your lifestyle or a DIY solutions. These micro-gardens can be virtually any size, from table-top personal units, to industrial or commercial units.  The benefits of these growing methods are endless. The best way to ensure dividends, whether it be in profit or in produce, is simply to give it a go.

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Second Stage Investing

If you have the capital to invest in a more advanced system, the Urban Cultivator is efficient, stylish, and a micro-appliance that fits under your counter-top like a dishwasher. Incorporating units such as this in your home makes for a healthy home and educates families on the value and growing process of the food we eat on a daily bases. Other hydroponic systems are widely available online and in stores.

Know your numbers. Image Via SmartBee Controllers,

Know your numbers. Image Via SmartBee

Hydroponics Industry: Growing Trends

Agriculture, food production, is top of mind around the world. Therefore, those hydroponic innovators and controlled environment agriculture specialists have an extensive knowledge that can benefit growers. Farmers and traditional agriculture professionals are learning from hydroponic experts on the value of information technology. As business analysis recommend, know your numbers! Hydroponic and soilless method growers, know that knowing your numbers, through monitored environment and making necessary adjustments, maximizes yields. Collecting and sharing big data helps all growers and anyone who likes food.

The hydroponics industry is moving full steam ahead. We have the grandfathers of hydroponic to thank for its advancements. On a micro-level hydroponics can feed ourselves and our families, on a macro-level feeding entire cities. There is a vast amount of expert growers and professors that are happy to help you get started and the roster of consultants and courses is thriving.

 

Italian Think Tank Develops Advanced Floating Hydroponic Jellyfish Barge

It’s evident that the continuous trend of human population growth will lead to an higher global food demand in the coming years. With a projected increase in demand of 60-70% by 2050, greater food production will be required in a context where the raw inputs such as land and water, are limited.

Therefore, food sustainability, which implies a better utilization of these resources to ensure food security, will undoubtedly play a key role in meeting this target. With this said, innovation in the way we produce food is more important than ever. Take for example the advanced floating hydroponic jellyfish barge – one of the more ambitious food production projects.

Water Scarcity

Currently, many public and private institutions of all sizes, driven both by economic reasons and environmental consciousness, are pushing to implement systems to lower the use of the natural resources. The growing expansion of soil-less productions like hydroponics, as well as the constant interest in the development of water savings techniques, are good examples of how the agricultural sector is making significant efforts towards sustainability.

Floating Hydroponic Jellyfish Barge

A game-changing innovation has been recently developed by an Italian design think tank known as PNAT (Plant Nature and Technology). The group was founded by designers and biologists in affiliation with the University of Florence with the aim of merging plants, research, science and creativity. Their most recent – and strangely interesting – project is the floating hydroponic Jellyfish Barge.

Floating hydroponic Jellyfish barge. Image via domusweb.

The barge is basically a self-sustainable floating greenhouse, able to produce food without soil while minimizing water usage. The greenhouse uses a high-efficiency hydroponic cultivation method which provides up to 70% of water savings compared to traditional hydroponics systems.

To provide the required water, the floating module is supplied with seven solar desalination units which are used to replicate natural solar distillation on a smaller scale. In doing so, the solar units are able to provide up to 150 liters of clean water from brackish, salt, or polluted water each day.

Jellyfish Barge Construction and Design

The platform of the barge is equipped with an automated system for remote control and monitoring. In addition, the Jellyfish Barge is powered entirely by renewable energy generated by on-board solar panels, miniature wind turbines, and an innovative system that produces power from tidal activity.

The barge structure is made of a wooden base about 70 square meters, which floats on recycled plastic drums and supports a glass greenhouse for crop cultivation. It is built using simple, low-cost materials, but without sacrificing the attention to design. Indeed the structure, besides being useful, is also visually appealing.

Many resorts are looking at it as an excellent way to provide net-zero energy food to their customers. In fact, the Jellyfish Barge can produce up to 800 crops per month, which is enough to supply the needs of a typical restaurant.

Jellyfish barge: how it works. Image via domusweb.

This Italian agricultural project has had great success in Europe, being selected among the finalists of the United Nations prize “UNECE Ideas for change Award.”

The Jellyfish Barge will be docked until September 2015 at San Niccolò Bridge in Florence, and will be presented by the Region of Tuscany at the Expo 2015 in Milan – the Universal exposition with theme, Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.

According to PNAT’s CEO, Camilla Pandolfi, this big, complicated raft is going to change the way we cultivate fruits and vegetables. Surely their project provides an attractive, as well as concrete, solution to the resource scarcity issue. It may very well be a central part of the transition toward more sustainable food industry.Featured Image: Conceptualized Illustration of the Jellyfish Barge as a Hub for Cultural Activity. Image via Seeds & Chips.

Sylvia Bernstein, The Aquaponic Source

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Innovator, entrepreneur, teacher, gardener, and author Sylvia Bernstein is more than an inspiration in the world of aquaponics, she’s revolutionary. Bernstein has been actively involved in the hydroponics and aquaponics industry since 2003 and has definitely made her mark.

Bernstein, a graduate from the University of California, Davis has a degree in Agricultural Economics and also received her MBA from the University of Chicago. While Bernstein’s education is very impressive, her contribution to the aquaponics industry goes well beyond it. She’s a passionate and dedicated teacher who speaks excitedly about the potential of aquaponic growing. Sylvia and her husband Alan are also excellent role models to the industry with a prospering aquaponic farm in a greenhouse on their property in Boulder, CO.

For many years Sylvia was the VP of Marketing and Product Development for AeroGrow International, the makers of the AeroGarden.  She was one of their original founders and played a very important role in developing their plant growth technology.

In 2009 Sylvia Bernstein founded The Aquaponic Source, which has become the leading U.S. based company that is entirely concentrated on the home aquaponic gardener. The Aquaponic Source both develops and sources high quality aquaponic systems, supplies, and educational materials. Not only do they provide their customers with the best tools on the market for safe and successful aquaponic growing, but they personally test the products that they sell in their grow lab in Colorado. The products that The Aquaponic Source offers are available online at TheAquaponicStore.com and also at their retail store in Longmont, CO. Bernstein’s store is exactly as their slogan says “YOUR source for all your aquaponic gardening needs”.

Aquaponic Gardening by Sylvia Bernstein.

Bernstein doesn’t just share her immense knowledge with her staff and customers, she put it in print when she authored “Aquaponic Gardening: A Step by Step Guide to Growing Fish and Vegetables Together” for which she won a Silver Achievement Award from the Garden Writers Association for Outstanding Technical Gardening Book, and was also recommend as a Mother Earth News Book for Wiser Living. Bernstein’s book is available for purchase on Amazon.  She also writes a frequently updated Aquaponic Gardening Blog and produces educational videos on their Aquaponic Gardening YouTube Channel.

Sylvia Bernstein co-founded The Aquaponics Association (aquaponicsassociation.org), for which she is a former Vice Chairman, and today runs the largest aquaponic forum in the world, the Aquaponic Gardening Community (www.AquaponicsCommunity.com). Her desire for a sustainable future is the driving force behind the growth of the aquaponics industry and her aspiration to share her passion through education and outreach is what makes her a true visionary.

Feature Image: Sylvia Bernstein, Founder and President of The Aquaponic Source, in Longmont CO.

Supplement the Sun With HID Lighting for Indoor Gardening

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Generally speaking, an indoor gardening operation such as a sealed grow room, a vertical garden, or even a greenhouse will need supplemental lighting to ensure proper growing conditions for the crops in question. For many growers, it can be overwhelming when selecting the type of grow light. There are many choices available as well as new technologies to explore – like LED or plasma lighting. Yet, there is one type of grow light that is still the most commonly used in indoor gardens: the high intensity discharge lamp or HID.

What is HID Lighting?

High intensity discharge lamps are based on an electric gas-discharge whereby the tube of the lamp contains gas and metal salts. In HID lamps, a metal arc is formed which heats up the metal salts and creates a plasma substance. This plasma substance increases the intensity of the light being emitted while reducing the amount of power being consumed.

The reason HID lamps are the most commonly used lamps is because the ratio between the visible light that they emit and the units of electricity that they consume is better than fluorescent or incandescent lighting alternatives.

The greater intensity of HID lights means not only do you save on power costs, but you achieve more lighting coverage for your garden as well. The disadvantage however, of HID lighting is that it generates a lot of heat and consumes a lot of power.

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A metal halide HID lamp for indoor gardening.

Types of HID Lighting for Indoor Gardening

There are two types of HID lights used in indoor gardening: high-pressure sodium and metal halide. They each have their own sets of benefits when applied in indoor gardening.

Metal halide lighting emits a wider light spectrum. This includes more blue and violet light rays. Generally this is for a vegetative state of the growth cycle. If you’re growing foliage-producing plants then the spectrum emitted by metal halide is adequate.

High-pressure sodium lighting emits red and orange spectrum lighting. This spectrum of lighting is used during the flowering or blooming stage of a plant’s growth cycle. High-pressure sodium bulbs are also thought of to be more energy efficient and longer-lasting as compared to metal halide.

In many indoor garden operations that produce fruits, vegetables and flowers, a combination of metal halide and high-pressure sodium bulbs are used. This combination provides a well-rounded level of both red and blue spectrum lighting, and will generally produce healthier plants.

The Strengthening of Local Food Enterprise

With the recent announcement of the USDA’s commitment to a $78 million investment in local food systems many urban, peri-urban, and rural areas across the United States will feel the economic bolstering of opportunity in the complete industry of local food enterprises. This important pledge from the Federal Government only further solidifies the growing demand and attitudinal evolution we’re experiencing as a society when it comes to the value we place on our food.

To the nay-sayers: There are definite opportunities to form sustainable and profitable local enterprises in today’s marketplace. From food forests, food hubs, and farmers’ markets all the way down the supply chain to the distributors, the suppliers, and the sales and marketing support. A financial injection that promotes small to medium-sized business within a market that’s entirely health and socially oriented can only be considered a stepping stone towards a better future for those who are concerned about the business practices of the mainstream food producers.

The establishment of local food enterprises and marketplaces advances with it new innovation for agricultural research and development, opportunities for growing technology, and the demand for labor and a specialized workforce. Moreover, it gives consumers better options and allows them to take control of their health without feeling constrained by some injustices that the traditional industry has created.

Community Supported Agriculture is an important part of the local food system. Image via Frugivoremag.com

The Federal funding is now available to applicants of businesses or organizations that will:

1.       Provide employment;
2.       Improve the economic or environmental climate;
3.       Promote the conservation, development, and use of water for aquaculture; or
4.       Reduce reliance on non-renewable energy resources by encouraging the development and construction of solar energy systems and other renewable energy systems.

The funds may be used in the following manner:

1.       Business and industrial acquisitions when the loan will keep the business from closing, prevent the loss of employment   opportunities, or proivde expanded job opportunities.
2.       Business conversion, enlargement, repair, modernization, or development.
3.       Purchase and development of land, easements, rights-of-way, buildings, or facilities.
4.       Purchase of equipment, leasehold improvements, machinery, supplies, or inventory.

There’s optimism in seeing that the passing of the 2014 Farm Bill has brought with it the potential for real economic impact which will no doubt mean that ripples of better health and environmental practices will be felt in its wake.

What could this potentially mean for commercial hydroponic and soilless growing enterprises? For any of these organizations engaged directly with farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture, or any part of the local food distribution chain this could mean a slice of the pie. I guess the best way to find out is to apply, wait, and see! Applications will be accepted until June 20th, 2014.

With the increasing number of businesses entering this market it also makes one wonder if – given the broad spectrum eligibility for funding – it means not enough financial resources? Regardless of the investment’s total amount and reach, it’s definitely encouraging to see the incentivization of sustainable food production from a government standpoint.

Feature Image: Teresa Vanek and Brent Welch of Red Tail Farm in Jacksonville, N.Y. Photo by James Rajotte, New York Times.

Start Soilless Growing In A Small Urban Space

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Hydroponic Indoor Gardening

Hydroponics is a method of gardening that doesn’t use soil, but rather a rich nutrient solution that cycles through from a reservoir. Some systems can get quite complex but for a small urban space the process should be really quite simple. These automated soilless growing systems increase efficiency and maximizing space, leading to higher yields and potentially better quality produce.

Microgreens Production by My Yard Farm.

Regardless of how elaborate the soilless growing system is, what is most important is the end result: healthier and faster growing plants. Your vegetables may end up tasting better as well because of the rich nutrient and mineral solution that they are grown in.

Growing your own microgreens is a new hot trend among urban dwellers and the coolest way to do it is with hydroponic indoor gardening- a soilless growing system. Having a neat little row of basil, kale, and cilantro will make your indoor gardening experience more visually satisfying as well.

Building Your Own Hydroponic System

To build a simple hydroponic system that will be practical for a small urban space, you will need a few common supplies. A tray, a reservoir, a pump, and an air stone are really all you need if you’re keeping it simple. You don’t even need lights, but they are recommended depending on what type of plant is being grown. There are some energy efficient lighting systems you can opt for such as LED grow lightsHomeHydroSystems.com has a clear explanation and step-by-step process for more information about building the system.

Hydroponic System Products

If you’re not into the DIY approach to hydroponic indoor gardening then I recommend the following options which are pre-made soilless growing systems that require little time and effort:

The Urban Cultivator is a freestanding unit that looks attractive and is pre-programmable for any plant you choose to grow. This soilless growing system is not available on Amazon but they do have a link on their website that shows where the system is available.

The Aerogarden is perfect for a small urban space. It’s small enough to sit on your counter or table and they come in different colors and styles all of which are aesthetically appealing. The Aerograden is a fully automated and easy to use soilless growing system. You can buy them direct from aerogarden.com.

The Click & Grow system allows you to automatically grow flowers or herbs. You will need to fill the water tank and replace the plant cartridges every so often. But it is a good-looking system and they do sell it on Amazon.

The Future Of Hydroponic Indoor Gardening

If you’re still not sold on the value of hydroponic indoor gardening then I encourage you to check out this TED Talks video by the brilliant Britta Riley.

She created an open source project to promote the research-and-develop-it-yourself method of window farming. For more information on her company, Window Farms visit www.windowfarms.com. We also featured this product in our article on Vertical Gardening which is another fabulous way to grow indoors.

There are more and more ingenious ways of growing indoors. What are some of the methods you have tried? Did you build them yourself or are there kits available for purchase?

Photo Credit: Click & Grow, www.clickandgrow.com

Urban Farming Alternative: Soilless Farming in the Sky

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In heavily populated urban areas, growing space is where you can find it. In areas where space is taken up by residences and businesses, individuals and families have to find unique ways to produce fresh produce, whether it’s in pots on their balconies or in their apartments.

Where you once saw gardens growing in vacant lots next to buildings, you can now find soilless farming on rooftops, as more and more individuals take to the skies to grow their vegetables. To take it one step further is to incorporate the use of hydroponic systems, with no need for soil!

Rooftop Garden Project

Alternatives is an international organization based out of Montreal, Canada, and has promoted the use and conversion of unused spaces such as rooftops, terraces, and balconies into usable green spaces. In particular, Alternatives promotes the use of rooftops as gardens, especially in urban environments.

By utilizing these unused spaces, we can produce foods that are affordable, ecological, participative, and easily transferable. These urban production systems are a unique way to deal with food insecurity, especially in urban environments where you typically would not have access to fresh produce.

Rooftop gardens in Manhattan, New York. Image via PisaPhotography.

Rooftop gardens in Manhattan, New York. Image via PisaPhotography.

Alternatives describes the goals met when utilizing these rooftop growing systems, which include:

  • Producing their own organic fruits and vegetables
  • Beautifying the landscape
  • Encouraging the practice of productive physical activity
  • Mitigating heat island effects around the city
  • Putting organic waste to good use
  • Increasing biodiversity
  • Improving air quality

Soilless Sky Farming in Practice

An example of soilless farming in the sky, a commercial practice can be found in New York City in the West Village. A local restaurant, Bell, Book & Candle, uses their restaurant’s rooftop as a growing space where they produce a large portion of their fruits, vegetables, and herbs – and all without the use of soil.

Bell Book and Candle’s Chef, John Mooney, produces two-thirds of the vegetables that the restaurant requires to serve their customers. Mooney utilizes vertical towers that relies on hydroponic systems which provide the plants with food and nutrients.

Featured Image: An array of rooftop garden beds located in a dense urban area. Image via PHG.

Shedding Light On The Science Of Grow Lamps

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Many aspiring gardeners and growers, like me, live in built-up urban environments where having an outdoor garden is more than a luxury – it’s a pipe dream. For those of us that lack the ability to grow plants in the natural elements or want to grow our favorite seasonal plants year round, growing indoors under grow lamps is a practical and often essential option.

However, to be successful at indoor growing you’ve got to be prepared to recreate what Mother Nature does so well outdoors. You’ll need to take care of nourishing your plants with nutrients, comforting them with optimal temperature and humidity settings, and most importantly, bathing them in that all-important light so they can carry out photosynthesis and grow to their full potential.

Organic seedlings in natural window light. Image via Flickr user D. Sharon Pruitt.

Let there be light

Light is an absolute must for plants. Without it, they cannot carry out photosynthesis and produce the energy needed to grow and develop. Without enough light at their disposal plants will soon perish – and that’s something no gardener likes to see.

Luckily, science has taught us exactly how plants utilize and respond to light, allowing growers to create optimum lighting conditions in their homes and cultivate great plants indoors. This is the wonderful world of horticultural lighting – so let’s take a look at how we’ve learned to combine science with nature.

Natural and artificial lighting

Natural sunlight has grown amazing plants outdoors since the dawn of time. However, when the natural route isn’t an option, the artificial route will have to do. The good news is technology and science have given us the ability to grow amazing plants in an artificial setting such as inside your home. Taking our scientific understanding of how plants utilize light, the horticultural industry has developed specific grow lights that are designed to output the exact light plants need.

What light do plants need?

Plants can only utilize certain wavelengths of light emitted by the sun. This specific wavelength range, which is often referred to as Photosynthentically Active Radiation (or PAR for short) falls within the 400 nanometer (nm) to 700nm wavelengths.

All light emitted between 400nm to 700nm can be absorbed by plants and utilized for photosynthesis, with the exception of green light (that has a wavelength of about 510nm). Plants have no use for green light and instead reflect it, which is why our human eyes see an abundance of green out there in the natural world.

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Photopigments

In order to absorb light for photosynthesis, plants need the help of cells known as ‘photopigments.’ Plants have six photopigments but of these, the photopigments Chlorophyll A and Chlorophyll B are by far the most abundant and subsequently; the most important.

Both Chlorophyll A and Chlorophyll B absorb light with the highest efficiency in the blue (in particular 439nm and 469nm) and red (in particular 642nm and 667nm) wavelengths. Because of this, grow lights are manufactured to put out plenty of plant-usable blue and red spectrum light, boosting photosynthetic activity and ultimately boosting growth.

The effect of blue and red light

Although plants are highly efficient at absorbing both blue and red light, each spectrum has a different effect on plant growth. Blue spectrum light is best utilized by plants during the early and vegetative stages of development. It encourages healthy leaf growth and giving plants an abundance of blue spectrum light during the first few weeks of their life will spur vegetative growth.

Red light, on the other hand, triggers the plant hormones responsible for inducing flowering and fruiting. Bathing your plants in red light during their productive stage will increase the growth of flowers and fruits and will maximize your overall yield.

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Metal halide grow light. Image via Green’s Horticulture.

What does all this have to do with grow lights?

Equipped with the knowledge of how plants respond to light and what wavelengths they respond to during certain stages of development, horticultural lighting manufacturers have been able to make lighting perfectly tailored to growing plants.

The two types of high intensity discharge (HID) grow lamps, for example, are designed to emit primarily blue spectrum (metal halide lamps) or red spectrum (high pressure sodium lamps) light. Smart indoor gardeners will take advantage of this and use metal halide lighting for vegetative growth and then switch to high pressure sodium lighting to when it’s time to see those beautiful flowers and fruits.

Regular lighting, such as a kitchen light, bedroom light, or reading light, does not care for your plants or the light they respond to. It isn’t designed to help your plants get the light they need during different stages of development and therefore it isn’t that great for growing healthy plants.

Types of horticultural lighting

In this day and age horticultural grow lights come in many forms. The various lighting used for growing plants includes established types like HID lights, fluorescent / compact fluorescent lights (CFL), and relative newcomers to the market like light emitting diode (LED) lights, sulphur plasma lights, and induction grow lights.

Without getting into too much detail on each of these lighting types (we’ll save that for another post), they all serve the same primary purpose – to give plants the light they need to survive and thrive.

The science of photosynthesis is in your hands

So, when you want to grow your favorite plants all year round but can’t control the seasons, or when you want to grow any plants at all but don’t have the luxury of a garden, grow lamps can be an indispensable friend. With horticultural lighting the growing power of photosynthesis is well and truly in your hands.

Selecting Your Best Hydroponic Plants

Because of the controlled nature of soilless gardens and the ability to grow either indoors or outdoors, there are far more plant options for you to choose from. Different hydroponic plants do however, grow better in different hydroponic systems. Here’s a look at the different types of hydroponic plants you may want to consider as well as the method or system they seem to best grow in.

Hydroponic Fruits

  • Tomatoes
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries

If your system if vertically oriented then vine plants like tomatoes or strawberries grow ideally as long as they are given the proper support with stakes or cages.

Hydroponic lettuce grown in net pots with clay pebbles using the deep water culture method. Image via oocities.org.

Hydroponic Vegetables

  • Lettuce
  • Various salad greens (kale, spinach, rocket, arugula)
  • Micro greens
  • Carrots
  • Radishes
  • Cucumbers

Horizontal systems are more conducive to plants like lettuce, radishes, and carrots. Cucumbers and other salad greens however, can also be grown vertically. Lettuce is actually an ideal hydroponic plant because it’s lightweight and its root systems are not large, therefore the plants can float using the nutrient film technique.

Window farming - growing your own herb garden in your window space. Image via windowfarms.com.

Window farming – growing your own herb garden in your window space. Image via windowfarms.com.

Hydroponic Herbs

  • Cilantro
  • Basil
  • Mint
  • Parsley

These plants do not bear any fruit and therefore do not need their weight supported by stakes. Because these plants generally don’t take up much space, it’s quite easy to create your own simple DIY hydroponic herb garden using recycled bottles with any type of soilless grow medium. A basic drip system works well.

Space Saving Considerations

Of course the important thing to remember is how much space you have to work with. Assess your positioning near your windows and measure out how much space you can give up.

You should then determine how much you actually want to yield from your plants. Families will need to grow multiple plants and individuals will require fewer plants. So as to avoid food waste, we recommend starting with fewer plants and then adding more if need be.

What fruits, vegetables, or herbs have you grown hydroponically and what type of system have you found works best? Send us your system here.

Feature Image: Fresh salad ingredients. Image via mollotchka.blogspot.ca.

Scalable Aquaponic System Design

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Aquaponics is the practice of raising fish and plants in recirculating systems where the fish provide nutrients to the plants and to beneficial bacteria, which then cleanse the water of organic matter and nutrients and return it back to the fish. It’s a highly productive ecosystem with many extraordinary benefits, most notably its ability to conserve water using minimal, if any, discharge.

While there’s plenty of information out there about the benefits of aquaponics, let’s talk about some specifics regarding aquaponic system design that could be particularly useful in mitigating some of the risks and challenges often found in aquaponics. To provide some context and scale, I’m using my aquaponics facility, Flourish Farms, which occupies a 3,200 square foot greenhouse. However, these ideas are applicable to systems of any scale.

Decoupling the Aquaponic System

Our aquaponics farm is designed with the flexibility to run in a “decoupled” mode wherein the fish system can be operated independently of the hydroponic plant system. In normal operation, the water from the fish tanks flow through a series of filtration tanks and then out into the hydroponic system. A single pump returns the clean, filtered water back into the fish system.

In decoupled mode, water from the fish tanks flows through the filtration system as it does in normal operation, but it doesn’t pass into the hydroponic troughs, rather it returns back to the fish tanks via a separate line. The filtration, or life support, system (LSS) is designed to provide the proper mechanical and biological filtration necessary to support appropriate water quality for the fish.

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When the fish system is running on its own loop, the hydroponic system can also continue flowing via its own pump. In our farm, water is pumped from the last deep-water culture trough back to the first trough, maintaining a continuous flow through all four troughs.

Why decouple the system? Having the capability to isolate these systems is important for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it hedges against the possibility of a system failure, which could destroy a large portion of the fish population. I don’t know any fish farmer (amateur or experienced) who hasn’t lost a good majority of their fish at one point or another. Catastrophic fish deaths or illnesses can often be attributed to:

  • Power failures and a lack of good backup, monitoring and alerting systems.
  • Loss of water due to blockage, overflow, rupture or an operator error.
  • Poor temperature control and water quality management.

Variability in temperature can be highly stressful on fish, and if you’re not able to properly control temperature, fish may stop eating. This can affect the nutrient dynamics in your system. Fish disease can also creep up quickly if the temperature, water quality and health of the fish are not being regularly monitored, or if you’re not quarantining fish upon arrival from other sources.

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Deep Water Culture Troughs

Another advantage of system decoupling is that hydroponic troughs (DWC) can be run at their own flow rates if so desired. In other words, when the entire fish and plant system is running in normal operating mode using a single pump, the hydroponic pump could be used to circulate water at a variable flow rate through the DWC troughs as well. This requires the running of two pumps, but if the aim is to increase the flow rate through the hydroponic troughs, then the separate DWC pump and plumbing gives the operator the ability to do so. This could be beneficial if water flow rates through the troughs are too low.

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Deep Water Culture troughs, fish tanks and filtration system.  Image via Colorado Aquaponics.

Other reasons for having a decoupled system include the fact that you can cycle your fish system independently while growing plants in your hydroponic system. Or perhaps you started as a hydroponic grower and you wish to add on an aquaculture component later in the cycle. Another popular design is to keep your fish system in a separate facility, or “head house,” and your plants in a greenhouse. The two systems can still be hydraulically connected so that the fish water can be delivered to the plant system, but not necessarily be returned to the fish house. Water quality parameters can also be managed independently and optimized for each system. For example, fish tend to like a higher pH and plants like a lower pH. Temperature could also be managed independently depending on the location, environmental controls, fish species etc.

Mitigating Risks

When reconnecting the two systems, it’ll be important to ensure that the ammonia and nitrite compounds have been fully oxidized and exist at safe levels for the fish. Water temperature, pH, Alkalinity and other factors affecting water quality might not be properly aligned between the fish and plant system, so adjustments to these levels may be necessary to make a seamless transition and minimize stress on your fish. Other elements in the hydroponic nutrient solution could be problematic for the fish if found at certain levels. For example, we raise hybrid striped bass, which are sensitive to potassium.

It’s always important to do your homework when you’re considering adding something to your aquaponics environment. Diluting the solution or exchanging it with fresh water may be required to help reduce any potential toxicity, and to allow you to safely reconnect both environments.

As is often the case in commercial aquaponics, the majority of the revenue is in the plants, so having your plant system entirely dependent on your fish system creates a single-point-of-failure scenario, which can be avoidable in a decoupled system.

If you have an issue with your fish system for any of the reasons cited above, you can still continue to run your hydroponic system on an organic nutrient solution so that you’re able to maintain your production crop, your customers, and your revenue stream.

For upcoming classes and workshops, visit Colorado Aquaponics. For the latest updates and posts, like us on Facebook and Twitter.

Images via Colorado Aquaponics.Featured Image: Indoor Aquaponic Farm. Image via Colorado Aquaponics.