In a corner of a typical urban shopping centre tucked away in Florida sits what looks like a tiny service lane way. Except behind the timber gates is an entry into another world. Its been transformed into something else. A maze of pvc pipes run by a small pump and powered by goldfish is growing all kinds of aquaponic produce. Builder and designer Sahib Punjabi enthuses about aquaponics and especially Murray Hallam when we arrived to see his system.
Sahib reaches over and shakes Murray Hallam’s hand. “I want to teach this right around the world just like you do.” he says, “because thats the only way.”
Sahib has a hybrid mixture of floating raft and NFT running the length of this narrow corridor. An array of tote tanks line the side of the fence and from the ceiling dangle white pots growing a variety of herbs and lettuce. Visitors to his system delight in how he has managed to use every square foot of space to grow food. Any surplus of seedlings go outside and are planted in planter boxes around the car park that people are free to take home. Sahib sees aquaponics and permaculture as an excellent way to feed the planet.
We live in a very difficult environment to grow food.” says Sahib who explains that although Florida has ideal weather for three to five months of the year, the rest of the season can either get too hot or too cold to grow food.
“Believe it or not we get frosts here and it can also get very wet here.” he says. “The soil is a challenge because its sand – most of it.”
Sahib has also tried organic soil gardening but abandoned this method after experiencing soil contamination during heavy rainfall.
So Sahib turned to other methods of growing fresh food and discovered aquaponics. His passion turned into studying everything he could find on the subject.
“My wife said – you’re crazy!” he laughs, but the desire to learn all he could only drove him on. “I felt like I taught myself a (university) degree in this subject!”
Sahibs choice of fish to use in aquaponics is Koi because they are trouble free and easy to grow. His entire system is powered by a tiny 60 Watt submersible pump.
“This is something I learnt from Murray Hallam.” he says. “I’m using only one third of that pump’s capacity. Fifty percent of the pump’s water, I’m feeding back into the 1000 gallon fish tank, so that’s creating some aeration.”
Good aeration is critical to supply adequate oxygen flow in keeping your fish alive. Water is pumped the length of the yard to header tanks where the water is trickled back through the network of nft pipes and floating raft beds, returning back to the main fish tank completing the cycle.
Four Systems powered by one pump!
This one pump actually supports four different types of aquaponics systems. Floating raft, NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) in those long pvc pipes, a wicking bed media system which allows Sahib to grow tomatoes, peppers and flowers in them and finally his vertical hanging pots system. By mixing his systems, Sahib feels he can take advantage of his fish solids to directly feed his wicking bed system and the heavier feeding plants like tomatoes that require more nutrient.
And yet even in this small space, Sahib feels he can add more hanging planters and incorporate other methods of growing food. Outside his main fish tank he has coco coir stuffed into concrete blocks so he can manually divert water to this system to grow plants outside his system like strawberries.
“In derelict space I have tried to create something that can feed a whole bunch of people.” he says.
Sahib looks back at his system and smiles, “Its not commercial – but it could be if I wanted it to be.”