How we make our Soils for use in Aquaponics – Sahib Aquaponics Urban Research Farm
Following my initial article on Nov 19, 2012 and the follow up on Dec 10, 2012 re using soil in Aquaponics, I have received numerous requests for sharing how we make our own soil. We cover this in some detail in our workshops and provide numerous possibilities. In this article, I am going to share with you two of Sahib’s soil mixes, one for seed starting and one for the base potting soil. I have used these mixes for some years now and find that they vastly increase the range of what we can grow in our organic sustainable hybrid Aquaponics systems.
This growing method gives me the possibility of adding side dressing of organic based natural fertilizers (such as Bat Guano and Manganese Sulfate – Epsom salts), from the top for those plants requiring such. This enables 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
Why make our own soil?
I find that most commercial potting soils contain non-organic synthetic chemical fertilizers and other ingredients that I do not want to use in my Aquaponics systems. Those that are certified organic (ORMI Listed – The Organic Materials Review Institute), usually tend to be pretty expensive. The main components of the potting soils tend to be Coir, Peat Moss, Perlite, Vermiculite and Compost. By purchasing the individual components separately I can make my own soil mix(s), that are Organic and suitable for my Aquaponics systems – soil that will not kill my fish!
Note: All mixes will be for a 5-gallon container – adjust accordingly to your needs. See below for photos of various products.
Sahib’s Seedling Soil Mix:
3.5 gallons Coir
1 gallons coarse Vermiculite
0.5 gallons Worm Castings (Vermicast)
Mix well and use in seedling containers to germinate your seeds. Once you have transplanted the seedlings, empty the remaining used seedling mix into your Worm Compost Bin or Sahib’s Base Soil Mix.
Sahib’s Base Soil Mix:
2 gallons Coir
1 gallon Peat Humus
0.5-gallon coarse Perlite
0.5 gallon aged pine fines
1 gallons Worm Castings (Vermicast)
Soil Amendments & Fertilizers added to this base mix (all organic and where possible, fish based):
1/3 cups – Bone Meal, Blood Meal, Kelp Meal, Azomite, Dolomite, Epsom Salts, Prosperous, Rock Phosphate, Organic All Purpose Fertilizer such as Bio-Organic and Espoma Garden Tone.
Mix well and use in your choice of containers (article to follow). Top dress as required for the specific plants such as Espoma Tomato Tone for tomatoes. At the end of the growing cycle, I will clean the base mix by removing all dead roots (put them in Compost Bins), and then add this to a new mix (about 50 to 60% usually remains). This way, we are building our soil and retaining numerous micronutrients for better growth and increased fruit yields.
Please note that following photos are for illustration purposes only. I do not endorse or am I paid by any company for listing such. You should use organic products available in your area.
So here you have two of Sahib’s soil mixes. I do add some other soil amendments and feeding to maximize plant health and fruit growth – we teach such in our Aquaponics training Workshops. Hopefully, you can attend one of them. You are welcome to share your ideas, designs, experience and comments.
Sahib Aquaponics – What’s Eating My Plant Roots? As we entered summer here in Central Florida, I started to notice stunned growth in the Deep Water Culture (DWC), rafts of a number of the leafy greens that normally grow well in the heat. The Mint was growing leaps and bounds but the Basil plants looked weak and small compared to previous years. The Swiss Chard plants also started to have stunted growth. I performed all the usual water checks and confirmed that all was in order. The pH balance was around 7. Nitrates and Nitrates were where they were supposed to be and the plants were not showing any major nutrient deficiencies. Still I added a little Chelated Iron and a cap or two of Maxicrop with Iron. Let’s see if it is because of the stormy weather we have been having. Well the situation did not improve, it got worse! I knew that there was a faint possibility that perhaps some Tilapia had escaped or found there way into the DWC and were having a field day with the roots. I honestly did not want to believe that as I had done a major purge last year and introduced screens on return water pipes. I had found almost 40 Tilapia then (2 inches to 6 inches), and honestly thought that the issue has been solved. Last year I had failed to place screens on the return water pipes from the Tilapia breeding tanks (tied to my overall Aquaponics system in Phase 1 so as to provide a larger volume of water to encourage the Tilapia to breed). One hot afternoon as I was checking the breeding tanks and the fish I noticed lots of little black fry and saw that the filter on the return outlet from the tank had been knocked off allowing the fry to be swept to the DWC. I waited a couple of weeks and then worked with friends to drain the DWC and fish out the small Tilapia fish. I thought we had done a thorough job and had caught all the Tilapia. Last month I pulled out a few net pots and was shocked to see severe root damage. What amazed me is that in the 3 inch net pots, there were no roots left on the Tomatillo vines (see picture). Well now I was convinced that perhaps I had not removed all the Tilapia – so today along with one of our Interns and helpers I decided to “go Fishing”. I removed all the rafts and started to drain the water to storage tanks. No one really believed me when I said that there was ”something eating the plant roots”. There’s nothing here Sahib? Really! I designed a Fish Net Screen and one of my helpers along with one of our Interns started a systematic sweep of the DWC. About 10 minutes later, “Got it!” There was a 12 inch or so Tilapia hiding behind the floating Mint. We checked the rest of the DWC and did not find any other fish. Well we found what was eating the plant roots…one big Tilapia almost plate size. Lucky for this Tilapia that we decided to let him live and added him with the Koi.
There it is
So now we are ready for the late summer and early fall planting. I will share pictures of the new growth soon as well as continue with the Blog articles “What shall we grow today?” In addition to some common vegetables, the following are some other less known such as Bitter Melon (Kerela), Fenugreek (Methi) and Moringa (Drumsticks). Please let me know if there are any vegetables you would like to grow in Aquaponics and know more about them. God bless
It was a pleasant October morning during this farm tour. The hot days of summer are behind us with nicer days a head. Sahib had out of town visitors to the farm this morning. In this gallery you may see all the fall plants that will continue to grow well in fall weather. Sahib introduced Phase 3 to the wasteland plans of his urban farm. You can see those images below. Enjoy!
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.