Dear Fellow Survivalist;
How are you enjoying your summer? Personally, I could do with a little less heat. I’m actually looking forward to winter. But then again, I’m trying to get the most out of my garden before the cold weather hits. I’m hoping to be able to can a fair amount this year, getting my money’s worth for the time and effort I’ve put into it.
As I was talking about the garden with a shooting buddy the other day, he asked me why I didn’t use aquaponics for my garden. He’d apparently read something about it and was intrigued. I’ve read about it as well, enough that to be honest with you, I’ve gotten past the point of being intrigued.
The idea of aquaponics is being sold to preppers and survivalists everywhere as a means to feed their family in a time of crisis. While the manner that some people talk about it isn’t totally up and up, the truth of the matter is that it is a very efficient way of growing both animal protein and vegetables to feed your family. I love how the fish and plants naturally help each other out, and to tell the truth, I like the idea of planting and harvesting without having to dig around in the dirt.
But aquaponics isn’t without its problems; not that they aren’t insurmountable. However, those problems do affect how you build and operate your system. If you do it right, aquaponics is great. But if you try and cut corners, you’re going to have nothing but headaches.
First of all, the larger the aquaponics system, the easier it is to balance. Lots of people talk about doing a single plant bed and tank, or even a combined one. The problem with that is balancing the number of fish to the amount of plants you are growing. If you don’t have enough fish, the plants grow slowly; but if you have too many fish, the plants can’t filter the water and the fish can die. Balance is everything in an aquaponics system.
The solution to this is to have a huge aquaponics system. Don’t try and do one bed four foot square bed with a dozen fish (that actually balances out pretty good, if you’re using tilapia), go for a couple of 30 foot long by four foot wide beds and 180 fish. That way, minor changes in your fish population or harvesting a few plants to eat won’t throw your system out of whack.
Let me show you what I mean. In that four foot square system you need 12 tilapia to keep things in balance. But you want to be able to eat your fish too. So, you take four fish out to feed your family and your plants suddenly lose a third of their nutrition. Better plan on them growing reeeaaaalll slow.
Let’s pull the same meal out of a system where we’ve got 60 feet of planters and 180 fish. In that case, the four fish account for only 2.2 percent of your fish population. If you are able to discern any difference in the growth of your plants, it will require some pretty accurate scientific examination and measurements.
You see why I say big is better with aquaponics? Hey, the whole idea of having a vegetable garden, a fish pond or an aquaponics system is to feed your family. So, you may as well set things up in a way that will allow you to do just that. Otherwise, you’re not accomplishing your goal. The larger system will allow that.
The other big issue I have with aquaponics is that it takes so darn long to get it up and running and then your growing season is ending. You end up having to harvest all your plants and either kill or figure out some way of winterizing your fish. To me, that cuts waaay into the efficiency of the system.
There’s an answer to that problem as well. All you need to do is turn your gardening operation into a year-round one. That means building yourself a greenhouse that is big enough and well heated enough to keep growing all year long. While the fish’s metabolism will slow in the colder weather and you probably won’t be growing as many plants, at least you’ll still have a working system. When spring comes around, you’ll have a head start.
Remember. Greenhouses are the original passive solar structures. They are designed to keep things warm, even when it’s cold out. The very first ones ever used were in the ancient Roman Empire, to grow cucumbers for one of the Caesars who had to eat cucumber every day for medical reasons. Rome is at about the same longitude as the central United States. So if they could do it back then, we can do it now.
All you need to do, in order to grow produce in your greenhouse year round is to add more passive solar heating capacity to it. This can be done a number of ways, but the easiest is to fill up some black plastic barrels with water and place them in your greenhouse. The sun will warm the water in the barrels, which will in turn radiate that warmth into the greenhouse.
So, if you are thinking of trying out aquaponics, I’d recommend taking these two steps. Granted, that means a pretty big operation. But if you’re serious about feeding your family from your garden, you’ll need one that big anyway. So, you may as well make it more efficient and get the most out of it.
Well, my garden is calling me. I need to do a bit of weeding. So, until next time, keep your powder dry and your survival gear close at hand.