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.

Capturing Your Essence: Asian Superfood Soup

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Continuing to channel the good juju cultivated during my stay in Asia, I’ve created another Asian dish. Superfood veggies such as red cabbage, chard, and kale make up the bulk of this soup. Dried black fungi are a cancer-fighting superfood well-known in Chinese Medicine. Fermented Miso gives a little protein, satisfying umami taste, and healthy probiotics. Avocado and toasted sesame oil add omega-3 fats for a happy brain, and a whole egg adds additional satisfying protein and choline for brain health.

You’ll need:

1 cup dried black fungi (find at Asian market)
1 egg
2 cups-ish Swiss chard, chopped
1 cup-ish Kale, chopped
1 green onion, chopped
1/2 avocado
4 tbsp miso
1.5 tbsp Toasted Sesame Oil

Bring water to a boil, add chopped veggies (including dried black fungi) and let veggies cook until tender.

Add egg, allow to boil until egg looks cooked through (can leave whole or break it up in pieces).

Turn stove off. Add miso and sesame oil to pot and stir. Serve in bowls, add avocado to top of soup.

To your health! 🙂

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!

Veggies Veggies, lots of Veggies!


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Now, I’m by no means vegan, but 99% of my meals end up vegan- by -default. What can I say…I love veggies!

In Ayurvedic Medicine, also known as the Ancient Indian Medicinal side of Yoga, Winter is a time to focus on root vegetables and warming spices to stay in physical and mental balance (to learn about your specific constitutional type and foods/lifestyle tips, check out http://www.yogajournal.com/health/2630 to find out if you’re Vata, Pitta, or Kapha AKA Wind, Fire, or Earth).

Chilly temperatures in Ventura County this December leave this Vata-Pitta craving warm, winter vegetables like squash (Turban Squash eaten above), steamed kale, and sweet potatoes, topped with EVOO by Bragg’s, and Trader Joe’s Sea Salt and African Smoke Seasoning.

Yum!

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Ladies and gentleman, the Turban Squash! I believe this was about $2 at Trader Joe’s…it’s huge and can feed a family of 4 or more. High in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and fiber. Plus, the Turban Squash looks so festive that my roommate had me buy a second one just for holiday decoration.

What does your bod crave in the Winter?

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

my cooking…a food post…homesick for the USA…culture shock…

okay, it’s cold…i’m spending lots of time indoors during this sub-zero South Korean wintertime…and i feel like blogging my thoughts…a lot…this week.

i lost interest in tofu about 2 months ago.

gone are the days i was able to enjoy a meal of tofu and veggies for less than $3 in korea.  i’d rather starve at this point.

i’m not a big fan of kimchi at the moment (i’m convinced it rots ur pearly whites), and i don’t even see white rice (so i’ve been trained not to eat ‘white empty calories’ from an early age).  it’s like it’s invisible to me.

sushi, my favorite food since i was 6 years old, has no appeal anymore (and i haven’t even touched the stuff since california, but i think korea’s proximity to japan may have something to do with it).

i just went to thailand for 11 days, and only ate thai food once.  the rest of the time i ordered salads with fresh veg, fruit, and cheese.

indian food is suddenly a craving like never before. maybe it’s the cold weather.

peanut butter, celery, apples, and other fruit has been a mainstay dinner lately.

i’ve spent $12 on feta just this week.  and i’m not talking a big block, but 2 measly jars of the stuff soaked in oil (ill post a pic one of these days).

and no, i’m not pregnant.  (this is the year of single-ness, remember?)

but i just now came to the realization that i can’t /forgot how to cook.

the only thing i make well (these days) is
1) runny eggs, sometimes adding in fresh veg and salt.  sometimes a little curry seasoning or cinnamon if im feeling really wild.
2) salads.  chopped up lettuce + fresh/dried fruit + canned beans + canned tuna/chicken (used to add sauteed or plain tofu).  avocado will be my long lost friend in california.  t-6weeks till avocado and reasonably priced feta!

everything else is a mishmosh of crap.  or one vegetable, such as the kabocha squash, that steams really well.

i don’t know how to grill.

i haven’t used an oven in a year…how do you make cookies again?

i’ve never used a food processor.

maybe this is the apartment with no windows + 1 electric hotplate talking.  but man, i don’t know if i remember how to cook.  i think i used to enjoy that.  once upon a time.  i did make pumpkin pies, i do make a mean cranberry sauce, i have made a mean salmon, medium rare.  what has happened?!

maybe i should put “cooking classes” on the to do list for california lady of leisure time.
that is, if i can find the time since i’ll be maximizing the outdoor time like no other!  homegirl is in serious need of vitamin d….

Mmmmm…Kabocha

fall is in the air.  which means PUMPKIN cravings for me.  i will eat this stuff out of the can (ya libby’s for making unsweetened, pure pumpkin).  i love it so much.  fiber, vitamin A, versatile…mmm.

luckily, tonight i didn’t have to resort to a can…but fresh, fresh amazingness.  

tonight busted out the plug-in stove top (it was hidden in my closet) to make my first cooked meal in months.  seriously, since March.  That’s 5 months if anyone’s counting.

picked up a baby pumpkin at the produce stand across the streamed, steamed that sucker, and mashed it up–skin, seeds, and all it’s goodness–with some fresh nigari dubu and flax seeds.  the flesh is so full of bright orange vitamin A goodness that it almost hurts to look at.  

Kabocha Squash…yep I went on a google hunt for this baby.

protein, fiber, omega 3’s.  

although i’ve been eating a big percentage of my diet as raw as can be all spring and summer long, in Ayurveda, it is recommended to begin eating hearty winter squash such as (cooked) pumpkin as the weather shifts from warm to cool.  

it was a nice mushy, warm dinner (did i mention i went to the dentist earlier? no? well i did.  mush, mush) and it will make the perfect lunch for tomorrow’s yoga saturday…maybe pack some sliced cucumbers and eat it like a dip.  

 excellent friday night in.  

Dongdong-ju and Makkeoli

Now if you know me,

you know I’m not a partyer.

Rather, closer to a 35 year old Soccer mom most of the time.

I appreciate being home by midnight and getting a good night’s rest.  

Love waking up early to seize the day, maybe go for a walk, do some yoga before real life takes the day over.  

I enjoy grocery shopping.  

I budget.  

I indulge in creating healthy recipes.  

I crave silence, solitude, and serenity.  

I wear my SPF, as well as sunglasses and a hat.  

I’m responsible (and boring) for my age.  

I love James Taylor music for crying out loud.   

 But once in a while, 

I really like knocking a few back.  

Maybe even going out till all hours dancing.  

This wild side (ha, ya right, wild…) 

comes out every once in a while…

 and in Korea it’s come out in the form of really liking Dongdongju and Magkeolli. 

enjoying Dongdongju in Insadong, like really enjoying it.

 

Makgeolli is a fermented rice wine…it’s unfiltered (you shake the bottle to mix the rice sediment with the liquid) and it can range from bland rice tasting to super sweet.  Alcohol percent is about 7%.

 Dongdongju is similar to Makgeolli but I think it’s made from glutinous rice instead of just rice.  I’ve been researching the difference between the two and just got frustrated and gave up…but I know I like both!  I’ve had it served with an ICEE consistency, which makes it even better…kinda like ice cream or an alcoholic icee.  

 Drinking is social event.  

It’s also an eating event here in Korea.

one eats some yummy Korean bar snacks 

(popcorn, pretzels, giant fruit loops…ya…) 

and traditional food with this stuff–like pajeon, a korean pancake, or dubu kimchi (tofu with fried up kimchi).  

 Usually a massive bowl of Makgeolli or Dongdongju is served in the middle of the table in big bowl with a soup ladle, then you serve friends and yourself into smaller bowls.  

It’s a lot of fun.  

You should try it.  

Even if you are boring and quiet and responsible.

makgeolli tasting for 2,000 won at “h” makgeolli bar in my ‘hood of Haebangcheon, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
5 different makgeollis from 5 different regions of Korea.

But…
don’t come to me complaining about a hangover.  This stuff doesn’t feel good the next day (or two).  You been warned!