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Aquaponics at Greenacres

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This year the Garden Education department, along with members of Starfire, has been constructing an aquaponic gardening system. Aquaponics is a method of growing fish and plants in a symbiotic system that marries aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil).
In Greenacres’ system, water from a goldfish tank is pumped into a bin where plants, like basil, peas, broccoli, and coleus, are growing in a soilless medium. Bacteria convert the ammonia fish waste into nitrate fertilizer that the plants’ roots then take up as nutrients. Water flows back down into the fish tank, providing clean water and oxygen to the fish.
Though Greenacres’ aquaponic system is small, many people are now using large aquaponic systems to produce vegetables and fish for food, like tilapia and bluegill.
Not only is exploring aquaponics a great way to learn about an innovative food-producing technique and apply scientific ideas, it’s also an entry point to talking about the history and culture surrounding fish and agriculture. For example, native people in America taught early European colonists how to grow corn, which often included burying fish under the soil as fertilizer. Aquaponics also reflects a tradition of integrating fish and rice production in a large-scale cropping system in places like Vietnam.
Back in July, Starfire members started seeds for the plants that now inhabit the system. They now test water quality (especially pH and ammonia levels) and perform other necessary maintenance on the system.