Occasionally, here at Sahib Aquaponics, we outsource the growing of our seedlings to our friends at a local hydroponic shop called Urban Sunshine Organic & Hydroponic Gardening. We do this because they have an indoor facility. It is much easier to start seedlings in a controlled environment without the risk of pests and harsh summer weather conditions (for example 90°F + and heavy rain).
Recently, we did a little experiment with two different growth media to see which would work best. The two media types were Oasis Horticubes and Rockwool. Both media are nutrionally inert and boast that their porous characteristics are the best for growing because air, water and any nutrients you wish to add call are easily supplied to the roots, without creating a buildup. The differences are that the Oasis Horticubes are a foam like material. The Rockwool is made from volcanic Basalt, which is heated and spun into a lightweight airy material not unlike steel wool.
In our little experiment, we were able to ensure that both trays received the same amount of lighting, nutrients, and water (thanks to our friends at Urban Sunshine J ). For an extra measure of control, we also made sure to plant the same seeds from the same sources in each tray. Curious about the results? Well, as they say a picture’s worth a thousand words. Below we have a few photos : Photo 1 is the tray with the Oasis Horticubes and Photo 2 is the tray with the Rockwool, and the rest are further comparisons of the two.
Amazing right? If you don’t trust our experiment for whatever reason, do your own and let us know your results! We love photos! 😉
June 1st Feed Hunger Now : Aquaponics Training Benefit Event
Friendly Aquaponics, one of the world’s premier Aquaponics Training Organizations joined Sahib Aquaponics on June 1st 2013 to provide the very best and comprehensive Aquaponics Training for the Benefit of Feed Hunger Now, a Florida Non-Profit Corporation. This Aquaponics Training took place at Sahib’s Aquaponics Research Farm located in Winter Park, FL. All donated proceeds (no fees were charged by either Friendly Aquaponics or Sahib Aquaponics), will go to constructing and operating an Urban Hybrid Aquaponics System for the benefit of economically disadvantaged local residents and their food needs. This Urban Hybrid Aquaponics System will also be used for ongoing training people to grow food themselves, thereby help reduce the hunger epidemic. Feed Hunger Now is dedicated to “feeding the villages” by teaching the disadvantaged people how to feed themselves using Aquaponics.
Here is an article that Ashley Isabell, one of our valued Interns at Sahib Aquaponics, shared with me :
Well, it has been a little over a week since our June 1st benefit, so let us take a moment to remember what we had covered! J
After hearing all about the beginnings of Friendly’s Aquaponics in Hawaii, learning a little bit about the economy of our food and what had sparked the interest for our very own Sahib, the importance of being able to produce food locally (and in an urban environment no less!!!) became a little clearer. For example, did you know that the leaders of Nestle believe that water is not a free a basic human right. .. wait, what?!
With all the horror stories we hear about threats to our food and water, it sure is nice to see one possible solution: Aquaponics. During our June 1st event, those who attended learned why Aquaponics works better than any hydroponic or aquaculture system. Essentially, with Aquaponics you are creating a balance of nitrogen. Can you say bio mimicry? … If you’re currently wondering how that nitrogen cycle works, you should have came to the class J
After learning why Aquaponics is so wonderful (plus a little about the biology behind it) the class learned a little about various Aquaponic systems (including the pros and cons of each) such as Deep Water Cultures, Nutrient Film Techniques, Media Beds, Vertical Systems and Shallow Water Cultures, just to name a few.
Now that we were educated about the various systems, we took a tour of Sahib’s Aquaponic farm, located here in Winter Park, FL. Sahib’s Aquaponic farm is a glorious display of most all of the systems blended together into a unique, hybrid Aquaponic farm. The interdependency of the farm is a wonderful representation of the interdependency of all ecosystems on earth. When something happens in one part of the system, the effects can be seen throughout.
Now hold on… what’s that over there? Well my friends, along the back lot here we have what is called the ‘zero lot’ system. This system is truly beneficial as because it can be implemented anywhere. If you want to see what I am referring to, please feel free to stop by the farm in Winter Park, FL. The ‘zero lot’ system is always available for the public to see.
Finally, our lovely friends from Friendly’s Aquaponics showed us how to set up a real life mini Aquaponic system that could if on your porch. Yes, YOUR porch.
At the end of this exciting, learning filled day, everyone went home, saying a temporary ‘aloha’ to the world of Aquaponics. But it’s not really the end. For those who made a donation to FeedHungerNow.org, they received their very own copies of Friendly’s Micro System package , Table Top Systems manual and Epoxy/Fiberglass/Plywood Tank Manual so that they may go forth and spread the benefits of Aquaponics.
We will try to make this an annual Aquaponics Training Benefit Event for Feed Hunger Now, just our way of giving back to the community. If you would like to help this cause, please visit the website feedhungernow.org and if possible make a donation – it is tax deductible.
Here is a post by Dave Hart, an experienced Aquapon who works with me at Sahib’s Urban Aquaponics Hybrid Research Farm. The lady at Lowe’s Dave refers to below is a Master Gardener and gives classes on Botany. She want to bring her class students and those of some of her Seminole County based Master Gardeners for a Farm Tour.
“This past Saturday, we were like a couple of drug dealers in the hood…. …but we were ‘pushing’ Aquaponics at a Lowe’s in Fern Park, FL.
Sahib goes into this one often and has gotten to know the folks in the garden dept. The lady that runs the dept asked if we would be interested in setting up an aquaponics display for their ‘100 days of spring.’
We got to talk about AP to lots of folks. I tried to mention DIY, to everyone I talked to. Hopefully, a little taste, has created some new ‘addicts’…
On one end of the table, we had a small raft system set up. The pump was a little big, so I added a spray bar in the fish tank.
On the other end, we set up a small demo of a bell siphon. The stand pipe was pvc, but the ‘bell’, was part of a clear soda bottle. That way folks could see the siphon actually working.
In the 1st picture, the green pop up tent was the scotts vendors tent. Boy, did we get dirty looks when they heard us telling folks that with AP, you don’t need to buy fertilizers….
If you want to get the kid’s attention, just add a large gold fish or two. Lots of kids sat right there and watch them.
Hopefully, it’ll be a ‘seed’ for them, later on in life…
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” – President Ronald Reagan
Tomatoes – actually to be more precise – Heirloom Tomatoes
Let me tell you that I am just crazy about eating tomatoes – I mean real good quality tomatoes that actually have taste and flavor. I cannot usually find these in most supermarkets and if I do, they are quite pricey but still leave something lacking in flavor and taste, usually because they have been picked before they have had a chance to ripen and usually have sat in storage and coolers, probably shipped in from some far away place. There really is nothing better than local grown and vine ripened heirloom tomatoes so they have had time for the full flavor to develop. Growing tomatoes in Aquaponics is easy and ever one who has an Aquaponics System can certainly enjoy them fresh. However, to increase the taste and flavor of tomatoes grown in Aquaponics, I have concluded the following during my research over the last three years or so.
First and foremost, try to only grow “Heirloom” tomatoes. So what is “Heirloom”? Seeds of plants that have passed down by families over the years (usually over 50 years), and those that have preserved the unique taste, flavor and character are usually referred to as “Heirloom”, sometimes also called “open pollinated” or “Heritage” (in UK). The fruits may not all look uniform and be of different size and shapes. To those who are interested in actually tasting their food, these are sought after and command a higher market price. As awareness is growing of the associated additional health benefits of eating such food, their demand is on the rise. You as a grower can certainly benefit from this “Niche” section of the food market. Yes it will take time and patience to locate the consumers who will appreciate your unique “heirloom” produce grown locally and naturally. Let me assure you that once they have tasted the produce, they will not be going elsewhere and will become loyal customers so long as you continue to grow such wonderful tomatoes.
Growing heirloom tomatoes in Aquaponics to attain the full flavor and taste, I have found that the best results are obtained when I grow them in pots filled with my own “soil mix” and place them either in rafts or recirculating media wicking beds. This allows the tomato plants to always have the effluent rich re-circulating fish water that is high in Nitrogen as well as allow “top-side dressing” by adding very small amounts of natural and organic material such as vermicompost, high phosphorus bat guano, bone meal and rock salts such as Azomite. As there is not “top” watering other that the occasional spray of Vermicompost Tea, there is very little chance of any significant leaks of such into the Aquaponics System water so as to harm the fish. I have found that we have a significant increase in the fruit yield of each tomato plant as well as enhanced taste and flavor. Yes there is one major disadvantage than growing regular tomatoes. These heirloom tomatoes require very careful handling. Many of them have thin skins and a short shelf life once picked. They are thus ideally suited to the small urban farmer serving the local customer – that would be you.
“Is it profitable?”
So what is the average selling price of a pound of Heirloom Tomatoes? I “goggled” this and came across a range from $1.00 to a high of $5.50, the average being $3.50. I was recently informed of a nearby Hydroponic grower getting $7.50 per lb! Well it is early in the tomato season. You can command a higher price at either end of the season as other local growers may not have the produce available for market – here a controlled environment such as a greenhouse /hoop house will certainly make economic sense. Growing them in Aquaponics can help you command 50c to $1.00 lb more especially if you can allow ”u-pick” as well as “mix & match” the varieties. The yield per plant varies depending upon the heirloom tomato plant variety and growing environment. In independent studies the range that has been seen is a low of 9lbs to a high of 19lbs. For our example we will use a low yield of only 14lbs per plant. You should space your heirloom tomato plants at least 15 to 18 inches apart if using a staggered raft formation and vertical trellising – ideally 2 feet if you have the space. If they are to be placed in re-circulating media beds I recommend a minimum of 2 ft distance in each direction and vertical trellising. You will have to keep ahead of the heavy leaf growth and may occasionally have to prune (be careful not to over do this), and ensure proper support of the vertical trellising. I try to mix and match the heirloom tomato varieties as some plants are more prolific than others. I must confess I also enjoy seeing the different colors of the various heirloom tomatoes. You also need to ensure that there is plenty of air circulation.
If you had a fifty foot long by 4 foot wide grow bed area (raft or media), so 200 sq. ft. space, and the heirloom plants were spaced at 2ft staggered, you should be able to plant at least 50 plants per growing season. Assuming that we receive an average of 14lbs heirloom tomatoes per plant and just the average price of $3.50 per lb, each growing season should provide you with a gross return of around $2,500. Now if you have a controlled growing environment, you may be able to command much higher prices at the start and out of the normal growing season. Here in Central Florida we experience at least two growing seasons, so could earn around $5,000 from the 200 sq foot of growing area allocated to heirloom tomatoes. In a controlled growing environment you may be able to stagger the planting so as to have virtually continuous growing thus substantially increase your revenue form the sale of heirloom tomatoes. Remember that you should grow multi crops to the niche market that you identify for your area and climate so as to maximize your revenues. There are other products you can grow in Aquaponics other than leafy greens and still make a profit – remember Okra, Eggplant, Hot Peppers, culinary herbs and so on.
I will request my daughter to include some Heirloom Tomato recipes on her Blog www.lovelaughmirch.com
As to whether it is “profitable” from a health point of you, this is going to be your decision. Let me help you a little. Growing them by aquaponics means ensures that you are assured the best natural taste. As I was quoted in the recent article in Cornell University Small farm Program Newsletter – the Urban Gardening section “This was a far superior way to grow it locally, grow it naturally, without having to resort to harmful pesticides and fertilizers and such, because if I did, my fish would die.”
I have listed just some of the health benefits of eating heirloom tomatoes in the following link: http://jenubouka.hubpages.com/hub/Heirloom-Tomato-Beginners-Guide
In future “What shall we grow today?” article’s I will write about some of the vegetables and culinary herbs that you can grow in Aquaponics. Please let me know if there are any vegetables you would like to grow in Aquaponics and know more about them.
Using Soil in Aquaponics – Sahib’s Urban Hybrid Aquaponics Systems Update
Sahib introduces you to his version of Sustainable Urban Aquaponics – using Soil and vastly increasing the range of what we can grow. I am always adding different growing methods and researching new and better ways to utilize our Aquaponics knowledge so as to increase the range of what we can grow. I also want to try to develop different Hybrid Aquaponics systems that can be used in numerous locations throughout the world and those that do not require a huge capital outlay. In the previous post that was written by David Hart who works with me, I highlighted some of the methods by which we are using soil in Aquaponics. I have taken three short videos of Sahib’s Aquaponics Research Farm so that you can see for yourself the results so far.
I am thrilled that I can now grow numerous root vegetables including potatoes in Aquaponics. This growing method also gives me the possibility of adding side dressing of organic based natural fertilizers (such as Bat Iguana), from the top for those plants requiring such. This will enable me to control the nutrient requirements of the numerous vegetables on an individual basis. I hope that what I am doing and my style of Hybrid Urban Aquaponics will help you grow your own food locally, naturally and without the need of harmful pesticides and chemical fertilizers
The Soil we are using in our Aquaponics systems mainly comprises of Coir, Vermicompost, Peat Humus, Perlite, Pine Bark, and aged quality compost (we have purchased some that is four years and seven years old). I supplements that mix with a very small amount (half a cup for 3 cubic foot). I will share with you our findings. We teach such in our Aquaponics training Workshops – I will be posting next years schedule soon. Hopefully you can attend some of them. You are welcome to share your ideas and designs by submitting them to firstname.lastname@example.org.