Given the wild weather that’s been thumping parts of the U.S. and the rest of the world, I wanted to share an article I found recently titled, “Sustainable Methods for Dealing with Drought” by Dr. Phil Wheeler. While the author is primarily focused on farm scale production, the advice is just as good for the home gardener trying to feed their family. I’ll include my notes and additional resources in italics.
What if I told you that you could catch fish for dinner right in your own backyard? And if you did, what if I told you that right up until you caught those fish, they were growing the veggies for the rest of your dinner? Would you believe me? You should! This is all within reach using a new style of gardening called Aquaponics.
What is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics is, at its most basic level, the marriage of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in water and without soil) together in one integrated system. The fish waste provides organic food for the growing plants and the plants naturally filter the water in which the fish live. The third and fourth critical, yet invisible actors in this symbiotic world are the beneficial bacteria and composting red worms. Think of them as the Conversion Team. The beneficial bacteria exist on every moist surface of an aquaponic system. They convert the ammonia from the fish waste that is toxic to the fish and useless to the plants, first into nitrites and then into nitrates. The nitrates are relatively harmless to the fish and most importantly, they make terrific plant food. At the same time, the worms convert the solid waste and decaying plant matter in your aquaponic system into vermicompost.
Each year I start several hundred vegetable, herb and flower seedlings. Almost all of them begin on the simple seed starting shelves my husband built over 15 years ago. I wasn’t blogging then (I started that around five years ago), so I didn’t snap any photos. Heck, I didn’t even have a digital camera back then. Photos or no photos, these indoor planting shelves have served me well, and are fairly inexpensive to make.
The lights are suspended from chains on hooks, so they can easily be adjusted up or down. Mounting casters on the bottom makes it a snap to move – even from one house to another. If you use standard 22″x11″ nursery trays with 72 cells per tray, there’s room for 576 seedlings under the grow lights, plus an extra 288 seedlings on the top shelf, if you have room for it in your greenhouse, sun room or very well lit room. Cross supports and water proof paint make it sturdy and durable. I pair it up with a fan on a timer, to help keep the seedlings sturdy, and I also use a timer to turn the grow lights off at night. Once the seedlings get bigger, they graduate to the greenhouse or cold frame, and then are hardened off (gently exposed to the elements over several days) and planted out into the garden.
On the Common Sense Homesteading Facebook page, one of the questions that comes up regularly is “How do you extend your growing season?”. I live in northeast Wisconsin, so I do use a variety of techniques to help add growing time in spring and in fall. I don’t do *everything* that can be done to potentially keep food growing here year round. From my perspective, it’s easier to spend time preserving some crops than battling the elements to keep them going outside. My favorites are the ones that hold “as is” with little or no effort. You can read more about these crops in “Root Cellars 101” and “Above Ground Root Cellars – Enjoy Your Local Produce Longer“.
The Planet Whizbang Idea Book for Gardeners: An eclectic selection of inspiring project plans, useful tips, and how-to advice for people who enjoy growing their own food by Herrick Kimball offers a great combination of tools, tips and stories to enlighten and inspire just about any gardener. From sturdy trellis systems, cloches and raised beds to biochar and Brix meters, this is one you’ll come back to year after year. (Yes, this is written by the creator of the Whizbang Chicken plucker.)
Sprinkled throughout the text are excerpts from old books, magazines and almanacs dating back to the 1800′s. So often we think we’re creating something new, when we are really rediscovering what was lost. Take this featured quote by E.P. Roe from The Home Acre (1886) about cheaper vegetables: