Many people are familiar with hydroponics, the method of growing plants in mediums other than soil, often under artificial light. A well-balanced hydroponic system can produce large amounts of produce, and not surprisingly, many amateur pot farmers are dedicated hydroponic enthusiasts!
Aquaponics adds another element to these systems, live fish, so not only are you growing produce with their important nutrients and micro-nutrients, but you’re growing fish as well for a continual source of protein.
Fish serve a vital purpose in the aquaponic system because their poop serves as a fertilizer for the plants as the water is pumped from the fish tank and then filtered by the plants in their grow bed. The plants take their turn in this synergistic system by cleaning the water that is then returned to the fish tank. It’s 100% win-win for the fish, the plants, and the lucky people who harvest and enjoy the produce.
Just think. You could sit down to a delicious meal of tilapia, flavored with herbs and accompanied by steamed veggies and a fresh salad, all grown in your aquaponic system! You’re in complete control when it comes to selecting the types of produce and fish that are grown.
If you’ve been worried about serving your family GMO crops or have been concerned about pesticides and other chemicals used on America’s large commercial farms, an aquaponic system will bring peace of mind.
A simple solution for long-term survival
Is an aquaponic system something you could set up in your home or backyard? Definitely!
Aquaponic systems range from small tabletop systems to those that utilize a backyard swimming pool!
The backyard swimming pool system may look impressive, but it isn’t the most efficient use of water, space, and resources, not to mention the expense of building the pool in the first place and the cost of running the large pool motor 24/7 and replacing large amounts of water lost to evaporation.
I can tell you this. If we had a backyard pool, I sure as heck would want to use it for keeping the kids entertained during the summer and not as a home for fish! (You’d have to live through a few summers of 115o Phoenix heat, cooped up in the house with kids, to fully appreciate my sentiments!)
Putting together a smaller system, then, is the far more practical approach for most people.
I’ve seen many DIY systems online and in YouTube videos, but when Chad Hudspeth of Endless Food Systems invited me to take a look at his designs, I was impressed. His systems are simple to put together and designed for maximum efficiency. In a worst case scenario, water and energy will both become luxuries. Chad told me that an Endless Food System uses about 90% less water than a conventional garden and in a grid-down scenario, the system could be operated by a solar panel system.
In fact, once set up, an aquaponic system requires very little maintenance on a daily basis.
This sounds too good to be true!
The overall concept is very simple, but putting all the pieces together so the right balance is achieved and maintained between water, fish, and plants does take a bit of doing.
From Chad Hudspeth:
“Aquaponics is a simple theory: the water from the fish tank is pumped into a grow bed where it is filtered and used by the plants. In reality to jump out there and build a system can be challenging.
I am a pretty mechanical person and have a history of building all kinds of devices. In addition, I love to research and so when I decided to create and mass produce aquaponic kits, I really thought it was going to be a piece of cake. As I began to go deeper into it and figure out the true parameters it became much more complex.
I had to figure out things like safe levels of dissolved oxygen, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, how to control the levels easily, water volume ratios, pump size, aeration pump size, structural concerns, space requirements, cycling a system to get it started, worms, diseases and a lot more.”
In spite of all this experimentation, Chad told me that not a single fish has died under his care, other than those on his dinner plate!
What about DIY systems?
When I visited with Chad and learned about his Endless Food Systems, I liked everything about it but wondered if it might not be possible for a fairly handy person to just make their own. He says,
“There are a lot of “tote” systems out there. Totes are cheap and available but very ugly and hard to work with. I wanted to offer a very easy snap together system that would look attractive.
Another big issue to assembling a system the right way, is that there is not one place you can go to get everything you need. At a minimum it takes parts from big box hardware stores, pet stores, and many specialty parts online. So after approximately 6 months of research and building prototypes, we came up with our finished product and we are very proud of it.”
However, if you’re ready to tackle this project on your own, Endless Food Systems offers an ebook with detailed instructions for building your own system. They are happy to provide not only the plan designs, videos, and all they have learned from working with aquaponics, including an online forum for their DIY customers. To my knowledge, this is unique in the world of hydroponics and aquaponics.
This option will be most viable for the person who is not only handy but lives in an area where the supplies are easily available.
Does a more expensive system pay for itself?
Whether you select an energy efficient system from Endless Food Systems, use their plans to make your own, or venture into aquaponics on your own, the materials to build the system, fish, plants, and other supplies will range anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a few thousand.
Keep in mind that the system is a one-time purchase unless you decide to expand it in the future.
How quickly it provides a return on your investment depends on several factors:
- Whether or not you stick with it long enough! Let’s face it. A lot of us jump into one hobby or another and it eventually becomes a money pit. An aquaponic system will eventually save you money, but not if you lose interest. At least keep it running for the sake of the fish!
- How you currently eat. If you normally purchase more expensive organic produce or expensive cuts of meat, then you’ll see a return on your investment more quickly. If you are already pinching grocery pennies, then it will take longer.
- Whether or not you actually eat, or at least preserve, what you grow. We’ve all seen the slimy remains of formerly fresh produce in our refrigerator bins. If you allow your homegrown produce to suffer the same fate, then you’ll be losing money, not saving it. Be sure to grow produce you and your family will eat!
- Will you be preserving the extra produce? If so, you can plan on extending your savings far into the future.
- Might you be able to sell your extra produce? Once your aquaponic system begins to really produce, you may very well be able to set up a table at a farmer’s market, making your system a producer of food and revenue!
Answers to frequently asked questions
Q: I don’t have much space in my home. Will that be a problem?
A: An aquaponic system can be as small as a couple of large pots hooked together with a small pump. A set up like this would be great for growing a selection of herbs indoors and having a few fish for an occasional meal. It will only need the proper type of lighting to thrive.
The Genesis 12 system by Endless Food Systems requires a minimum space of 6’x6. This could easily be kept on a small patio, in a garage or in a small spare room. (This particular system, however, cannot be expanded.)
Q: My kids don’t care for tilapia. What are my other choices?
A: Tilapia do very well in hot climates in the southern part of the country. Depending on where you live, you may want to grow catfish, crappie,or large mouth bass. If you truly don’t like fish but still like the idea of aquaponics, you can grow goldfish, koi, or other ornamental fish.
Q: I’ve heard these systems can produce huge amounts of food each year. Is that true?
A: According to Chad,
“There are a few DIY e-books out there making extraordinary claims such as a 300 gallon system will produce 700 pounds of fish per year. This is complete insanity and but there is really no central authority established yet for people to get accurate information, and a lot of dis-information is floating around.”
Based on his own research and personal experience and for comparison purposes, this is what the Endless Food Systems are capable of producing.
1. The Genesis 12 system can grow produce and fish as a supplement to one’s diet but is not large enough to fully feed someone.
2. The Genesis 36 can perpetually feed one person or provide supplemental food for a family. This particular system is expandable and has 32 square feet of grow space.
3. The Sanctuary series can produce enough food to completely feed 3-4 people perpetually with its 128 square feet of grow space.
An interesting note about this numbered system is that it represents not only the number of square feet in the system but when multiplied by 10, the number of pounds of produce the system is capable of producing in a year.
For example, the Habitat 32 system has 32 square feet of grow space and can grow up to 320 pounds of veggies per year.
A 300 gallon fish tank is capable of producing up to 100 pounds of fish per year.
These ballpark figures should help you calculate what you and your family or group might need.
Q: I’ve seen these systems online and it seems that all I need are some plastic containers, a pump, and some PVC pipe. Why are the Endless Food Systems so expensive?
A: A quote that I’ve come to trust and appreciate is, “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” A few plastic pieces may not cost much, but will they produce a non-stop food supply and how much trial and error will go into finally getting it right?
The concept of aquaponics is simple, but quickly establishing a food producing system, not so much.
It’s possible to amass plastic totes, some lumber, and PVC and construct something on your own, but the ready-to-assemble systems offered by Endless Food Systems are simple to put together, come with difficult to find parts and pieces, and come equipped with a long list of supplies.*
One thing you might consider is joining with another family in the purchase of one of the larger systems. Since all but the Concept 10 is expandable, the original purchase could be divided, but two families could reap the benefits of this high quality system.
The average family of 4 spends around $500-600 per month on groceries. This amount doesn’t include meals eaten in restaurants. That comes to well over $6000 per year, and it’s easy to see how an aquaponic system might pay off in a fairly short amount of time.
This post is sponsored by Endless Food Systems. I visited their company and saw, first hand, their dedication to designing a high-quality aquaponic system and bringing these life-sustaining systems to homes around the country.