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.

What’s on Your Life Plate? A 45-45-90 Triangle

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Last night, I was blessed with quite the insightful dream.

 

This weekend, I found myself calling out another girlfriend for her non-stop motion, then caught myself realizing what I really needed to do what check in with the RPM of my own wheels. After all, I’d written last week about how when we see someone else’s darkness or flaws, oftentimes it’s a mirror reflecting a similar issue in ourselves (works the same way with their light and beautiful side, by the way 😉

I retired to bed by 9:15pm last night, asking the Universe to send me a dream for clarification regarding my life plate. What can I handle right now? How much can I do without losing focus, burning out, or squandering precious time family and social relationships right here, right now?  We talk frequently about what’s sustainable for the planet; what’s sustainable on a personal level?

Interestingly enough, an intuitive friend in real life made a cameo in my dream world. As I attended some sort of outdoor dream wedding where guests wore bikinis, sundresses, and board shorts, my friend appeared. She didn’t say a word, but passed me by with a brief smile and left in my mind the image of a typewritten “45 squared-45 squared- 90 squared”.

After jotting down notes from the dream, the puzzle of dream images started to piece together. The trigonometry that’s been so crucial in my study of physics lately came to mind. A 45-45-90 degree triangle has two legs of the same length while its hypotenuse is a little longer. One big angle with two smaller angles of the same size. Find any side of a triangle by using the Pythagorean Theorum: A squared + B squared = C squared. Each angle and leg affects the other angles and legs of the triangle.

Metaphorical Triangles have made their way into my life as well lately. A love triangle or two, yes (just say no!). More relevant, however: a friend of my Father’s mentioned last week (in real life) that it’s best to have three things going on in your life, on your ‘plate’. Any more than three, we discussed, it’s simply difficult doing anything well and your relationships tend to suffer. Any less, well you just aren’t applying yourself.  A life triangle of sorts; A trio which belongs on one’s Life Plate.

So, I drew out a little 45-45-90 triangle, symbolizing my ‘output’ in the world. At 90 degrees, I wrote in my largest focus: school. The other two angles, each 45 degrees, get equal attention, and luckily in my case, overlap: “work” and “creativity”: yoga and writing. All support one another, forming a nice little triangle to fit on a maneagable, stimulating, well-rounded, yet not overtaxing life plate.

Dreams are such blessings; I encourage everyone to scribble even a few words upon waking to stimulate dream recall. The subconscious has much to tell us about ourselves, and I think it takes getting to know yourself well enough to know what should–and should not– make it into your triangle. That is, if you are a triangle person. Perhaps you are one of those people who can fit a square or even a hexagon onto their lifeplate…

What’s up on your triangle? What’s your 90-degree focus, and what are your 45-degree angles supporting it? Or are you balancing a square or hexagon on your plate? Maybe you’ve chosen one focus, a circle? Please comment below, would love to hear your thoughts!

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

Crazy? Who, me?

Trusting the unknown.

The Feeling is now familiar, almost comforting…Not knowing what’s next (or having a rough idea as in a Permaculture internship, home to California for the holidays, then an opportunity in SE Asia, perhaps grad school, or perhaps back to California for a while…we’ll see how it all flows…)

but knowing what is “right now” is coming to a close.  A dear Seoul Sister put it perfectly: listening to the heart and adapting accordingly.

It’s a bit of a natural high. With a bit of anxiety, second guessing, and resisting giving in to fear. And the hardest part is this Waiting-for-it-to-actually-begin phase. (for you are just joining me and would like the backstory leading up to this leg of the journey, check out Beach Girl Abroad @ Blogspot)

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Selling the car, giving away heaps of clothing and books, catching up with everyone before going, and I’m down to a backpack and some essentials (NOT taking 2 huge suitcases this time–I’ve learned over the past two and a half years that less is truly more–aparigraha (that’s non-hoarding in yoga)…

Am I crazy? Maybe a little. Am I trusting God and the universe? Absolutely. Am I grateful? Yes yes and yes. Thank you, yes, and more please. Keep it coming.

Would love to hear about how you “let go” and trusted things to work out…please share in the “comment” form below!

A Little Bit of Inspiration Lately, says the Universe

photo @ Kalani Oceanside Retreat, Pahoa, Hawaii.

..you know when you just know…

you’re no longer where the universe wants you to be?

“Okay, your work here is done, 

the lessons you needed to learn are learned.

you met who you need to meet.

that little part of your soul is healed.

yes, I did hear you pray.

and here is the next step”

 

An itch in the bones, 

a sudden burst of energy, 

a sudden desire to start downsizing, 

clean out the closet, give things away…

it’s been brewing about a month now…

no longer feeling like hermitting in Lanikai…

suddenly thrown into limbo 

just when I thought things were settling into a nice little routine…

feeling like going out into the world and doing something.  

something.

something sustainable.  something fresh.  

something where you don’t need much but some good people, 

knowledgable people to learn from,

nature, 

and ono grindz (that’s Hawaiian for “good food”).  

  yes yes.  that’s where we’re headed… 

 Amid the limbo, I randomly hopped on a plane for a week of feeding the spirit at Kalani Oceanside Retreat, 

an intentional community off-the-grid on Big Island,

where one year ago participated in a one month intensive training that I’m sure has changed my life, 

yoga practice, and course to the most positive…

 Surprising a dear friend from last year’s training, Winnie, 

who I found out just a couple days before was visiting Kalani from far far away on the mainland,

 I just knew I had to go…again, in my bones…

and with a synchronistic week off work, originally intended for Kauai,

I rerouted straight to off-the-grid Pahoa.

(we proceeded to camp in the Kalani jungle together in a tent with wi-fi, giggles, 

and of course very serious discussion us yogis tend to have), 

photo @ Yoga Sutras Philosophy Discussion

Sadhana Pada (2nd Chapter)

“Action Plan” for breezing through life as a yogini

(go ahead, read it!)


…hung out and participated as a fly on the wall for six days of asana and philosophy with my teachers 

and their new class of 20 amazing souls (mahalo Alicia and Oliver!),

 Painted, swam, and just talked story with our teachers’ daughter, the coolest 4 year old ever and def the lil’ sis I always wanted…

learned a bit about the aina (land), plants
permaculture, and aquaponics from Horticulture specialist, Barcus, @ Kalani
leaf from the Autograph Tree

As this shift is happening, a wonderful gift from my little Bro 

–who’s not so little at 6’4 and built like a linebacker 

and will indeed kick your ass if you mess with his sis 😉 —

popped up on my Facebook wall.  

It indeed came at just the right time, a reminder of where we come from 

and to risk following your heart, your dreams, speaking your mind

to communicate authentically

to persevere

to dream

to not just try, but do

no matter what adversity…

and 

that everything always works out…

 

Green Korea 2010 (+ Bus Explosion)

On a random sunny Sunday a few weeks ago, I stumbled on a pretty darn cool thing.

Green Korea!

Guess Korea is trying to clean up it’s polluted act by going Green.  Sweeeet.  There’s a whole museum type expo going on in Downtown Seoul dedicated to it.

I had some fun lighting up a lightbulb with just the energy my body produces…

and learned a whole lot about new developments in Green transportation, housing, etc…and how the K-government is supporting alternative transportation like riding bikes to work and school by creating more bike paths.  This is good stuff!

simulating real bike riding…this shows Seoulite’s where all the bike paths in Seoul are (out of the PC Bang (translation: video game room, latenight hangout for many young Koreans), and into the real world and nature, yay!)
geothermal heating and cooling = very cool idea
A 3D graph showing Korea’s projected decrease in reliance on fossil fuels projected from now-2030
I’m quite happy that this place is cleaning up it’s act.  I’ve been blessed to have spent my life breathing pretty clean air (despite LA traffic…the smog in LA has nothing on Korea’s Yellow Dust, and a deep breath in Ventura is just pure, clean air).  I never appreciated clean air so much as I do now.
Actually, my first impression of this place was, “gee, I want to hose this place off”.  In the city, everything just looks as if there is a layer of filth.  You can see it down to Korean’s pores…this place’s air is DIRTY.

Oddly enough, coincidence, I picked up a newspaper on Tuesday and on the front page…one of these Green bus’s fuel tanks blew up on Monday, severely injuring many passengers, and leaving one 27 year old woman without feet (this tidbit made me nauseous, imagine one second, going about your day, walking to the bus to go home from work, only to get off that same bus never to walk on those feet again–puts things into perspective and makes one grateful for their working body).  Guess going Green still has some work to do…technology is not perfect…yet.

Reading this I was shocked and got the same icky feeling that came over me when I had been at King’s Cross Station in London just 12 hours before the terrorist bombings in 2005.  Same icky icky feeling, but just as in London during that Summer of ’05, “carry on” is the mentality here in Korea, and there are no empty buses in sight.

from the Joonang Daily

The intra-city bus #241B exploded near Haengdang station in Seongdong district, Seoul yesterday around 4:55 p.m[Monday]. The police speculate that the compressed natural gas in one of its seven tanks at the bottom of the bus exploded due to the heat wave. 17 passengers and pedestrians were injured. [Yonhap]

Anyways…good intentions, some scary news…more work to be done….