Aquaponics: capturing the power of the natural world in your own backyard

Aquaponics: capturing the power of the natural world in your own backyard

 A Guest Post by Andrew D Berner

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I reached one of those “ah-ha” moments several years back.

I was thinking about the theory that says, Mother Nature is the world’s best engineer.  The idea that the natural world, operating at the microscopic level and trickling up through to the greater ecosystems of the planet, appears to calibrate, cooperate, orchestrate, and synthesize in perfect harmony.

Think about it. The world is not a static place, it’s a dynamic and messy collection of interests and competition that has billions of moving parts; trying to manage it as a single shareholder is unimaginable.  Some how, the world keeps turning and life continues.  This theory does not suggest that there are no struggles, but within the greater perspective of the operational guide to the natural world, things continue to hum along and when they break, the natural world adapts.

This is not a new concept.  Many native cultures have been in tune to this idea since the age of the hunter-gatherer.  Listening to the natural world and paying attention to the subtle changes within the surrounding environment increased survival potential and grounded cultural views.  The concept is simple; why fight your environment when you can embrace it, channel its energy, use it to your advantage.

In modern day applications, this field has expanded throughout the science and engineering communities.  Applications of ‘biomimicry’, ‘bionics’, and bio-everything seep into our daily lives with little to no acknowledgement. From solar panels to wind turbines to compostable coffee cups to highly efficient structures and building materials, everything we categorize as “sustainable” has its’ origin in efficiencies already built into natural processes.

Enter my ‘ah-ha’ moment. Aquaponics: a closed, recirculating system, that under the right conditions produces food with little inputs and zero waste. Sounds too good to be true? In some ways it is because aquaponics is not a perfect system but it has proven it self over thousands of years of application. The beauty is that it harnesses the power of a natural system and only requires intervention when that system becomes disrupted.

After some free time (read: an uncomfortable stretch of unemployment), research, and a little extra money and ambition, I built my own aquaponic garden, housed in a greenhouse in my backyard.

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Andrew’s Backyard Greenhouse
Ventura, California

So what is aquaponics? Simply, it is a method of food production that cultivates fish and plants together in a fabricated, recirculating ecosystem, utilizing natural bacteria cycles to convert fish waste to plant nutrients. It captures all of the wonderful parts of hydroponics (the raising of plants in a water-based medium) and aquaculture (the raising of fish for harvest) and tosses away many of the pitfalls (waste, artificial inputs, space).   By doing so, it serves as a model of sustainable food production by following these simple principles:

  • The waste products of one biological system serve as nutrients for a second biological system.
  • The integration of fish and plants results in a polyculture that increases diversity and yields multiple products.
  • Water is re-used through biological filtration and recirculation.
  • Local food production provides access to healthy food and enhances the local economy.
A peek inside: basil, greens, eggplant, tomatoes, and more...

A peek inside:
basil, greens, eggplant, tomatoes, and tilapia (in basins behind plants)…

Furthermore, aquaponics uses less physical space than conventional agriculture, uses less water and energy and produces less waste than conventional terrestrial-based aquaculture, and uses no chemical inputs while turning yields over faster with a higher nutritional content compared to modern agriculture.

By no means a ‘silver bullet’ solution to our modern food dilemma, aquaponics does achieve more bounty with less resources by harvesting fish and vegetables together.  As a result (and despite the fact that you probably haven’t even heard the term ‘aquaponic’ before), this method food production will likely become a crucial piece in feeding the worlds growing population all by replicating what nature already does.

Basil Bounty

Basil Bounty

In the year and half that I have been actively raising fish and vegetables in my own fabricated gardens, I’ve harvested 30 pounds of fish and well over 250 pounds of vegetables.  It has taught me to cherish the food I grow, think about my food selection choices, and value local produce, It has taught me botany, biology, chemistry, and ecology.  And it has taught me how to grow my own food with no prior knowledge upon how to do so…. all by letting nature be the engineer.

Eat: Balance the Minerals Broth

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Trace minerals are important in keeping our nerves functioning properly.

An excellent source of TM’s? Veggie broth.

During my year living in South Korea, a broth-based soup was served with every meal, including breakfast.

Let me tell you, I’ve never felt healthier than during that year.

Try making this easy broth on a Sunday evening to keep on hand so you can sip throughout the week.

Pour into a mug on the way to school or work, add the broth to a heartier soup for a meal, or sip as a warming tea in the evening.

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Bottoms up for Trace Mineral Balance!
courtesy of Chef Beach Girl

To boiling water add:
Chard leaves and stems
Celery stalks
1 white sweet potato
1 red sweet potato
1/2 onion
3 clove garlic
A few carrots and their greens
1 Beet
1 turnip
Whatever other veggies you’ve got on hand!
Herbs from garden (I used rosemary)
Optional: Himalayan Pink Salt to taste
Optional: chicken or chicken bone for protein and/or flavor

Simmer for a few hours and voila! Mineral broth. Eat with veggies for extra fiber or without. Mmmmm.

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Capturing Your Essence: Dubu Kimchee

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The past few weeks I’ve been seriously missing Asia. The landscape, the people, the inability to understand the conversations going on around me, the 24-hour markets, the endless hours wandering the streets exploring, the freedom

Recalling how healthy and energetic I felt, actually preferring Asian food at times (oh, and getting sick of it plenty, too…kimchi and I had a love/hate relationship), I looked up the nearest Asian market in Oxnard and proceeded to stock up.

A wise friend and Naturopath commented that subconsciously, I’m beginning to channel the essence of myself that I happened to find in Asia. The free spirited me.

A cartful of tofu (Korea calls it ‘dubu’), kimchi, gochujang (Korean Chili Paste), and ‘gim’ (seasoned seaweed), I came home and made a Dubu Kimchi meal on the stove.  How? Sautee kimchee and tofu, add some sesame oil, soy sauce, and sesame seeds, add in some gim, and you have yourself a healthy meal of fermented vegetables and quality vegetarian protein.  Yum!

Also in the cart from East Asia? Dried Black Fungi (aka Anti-Cancer MEDICINE in Chinese Medical Wisdom) and dried wakame (a type of seaweed, good for the female system) to add to soups, and an enormous tub of Miso. I didn’t stop at Korean goodies, either. Capturing my essence, of course, I foraged flavors of Thailand and India (a land I’ve yet to explore, but have a feeling I will find some of my future ‘essence’), as well. Panang Curry Paste, Coconut Milk, Curry Powder, Tumeric…warming spices that  which Mother Ayurveda would highly approve. Next blog!

Lemon Ginger H2O

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Mmmmm…lemon ginger-y goodness. Refreshing and detoxifying (although it’s good enough to add a dash of libation if it’s party time 🙂

Blend fresh ginger in a hand blender *
I do this once a week and keep a Tupperware full of fresh ground ginger in the fridge.

Add fresh lemon juice and ginger to water.

Sweeten with sweetener of your choice. *I prefer stevia for it’s zero effect on blood sugar, plus it doesn’t cause tooth decay. But any natural sweetener will do!

Shake or stir, and enjoy.

Kidney Detox Smoothie

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Lanikai Community Garden Bounty

Bottoms up to clean kidneys and no undereye circles!

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Parsley, Lemon, Ginger for kidneys, Lilikoi for fun, Kale for protein, enzymes, and it’s phyto-greengoodness, papaya seeds for digestion, H2O, ice

Be Beautiful, Naturally: Crushed Papaya Seed Facial

Nothing wrong with taking a day off to stay at home all day, refuse to feel guilty about forgoing the Hawaiian beach in order to nibble on fruit, sip tea, and give myself a facial. Yes, today’s been an at-home spa day!

Crushed Papaya Seed Facial

*CAUTION: this does burn. It’s the Alpha Hydroxy Acids munching dead skins cells. Take good care to stay in the shade for a couple days after this one, you have exposed fresh baby skin! Hat and SPF! You’ve been warned.

Papaya for sale

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Eat papaya. Save seeds.

2. Crush papaya seeds in blender until seeds look like rough sand.

3. Apply to face, neck, chest. Leave on 1-10 minutes, or however long you can stand the burning sensation. If you like, use the seeds as a scrub, as well.

4. Rinse.

5. Follow up with a nourishing mask, preferably a cooling one, such as rejuva-blue mask by ecrin (my friend Erin McGowan’s line).

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6. Rinse mask after 15 mins, apply lotion, and lots of SPF!

Peace, love, Aloha