Sustainable Housing Project

Friday, August 30, 2013

Aquaponics: It works.

I’m as surprised as anybody.

Carlos harvesting vegetables growing in an aquaponics
gravel bed.
     Several years ago when I was introduced to the possibility of raising plants and fish together in a symbiotic system, I was a skeptic. As a farmer, I knew that it couldn’t be possible to grow plants in gravel saturated with fish waste. Even if the plants grew and the fish lived, the barely edible plants would surely taste fishy.

     Just like Carlos, I became a believer.  I have seen the fish and plants grow well, and I have tasted cucumbers that taste like cucumbers. I expect that the fish will still taste like fish, too.

     An Ohio State University team of student engineers, which was led by a professor, came to Choluteca and installed our first practical aquaponics system a few months ago. We chose to do our pilot project with Carlos because of the location and layout of his property. We needed a secure location with access to electricity to run the pump. There had to be enough sunlight to grow the plants.

     We also anticipated that Carlos was our best known opportunity to be an “early adopter”, or someone who had a reasonable chance of success with the project and held a good enough standing in the community to convince others to adopt the new technology.

     Neighbors stood around and watched as the fish tank and grow bed were installed in a corner of Carlos’ property. There were several comments as the grow bed was filled with marble sized gravel. No one encouraged Carlos that the crazy idea had any chance of working.  In fact, several tried to prepare him for the inevitable failure that was expected.

     Just 55 days after the system was turned on and seeds were planted, the first cucumber was ready to taste. It looked healthy and there was plenty of suspense as Carlos peeled the cucumber and offered the first bite to one of the strongest doubters. That’s all it took to convince a community. Now everyone in the “7 de Mayo” community wants to have their own aquaponics project. The mayor of Choluteca wants to see similar projects all over the city.

     Aquaponics is a fascinating concept that is sustainable in the community. Aquaponics combines fish farming, or aquaculture, with hydroponics, which is cultivating plants in water. The aquaponics system is efficient in water use by recycling the water.

     Fish provide an important option for protein in the Honduran diet. Vegetables are important for adding vitamins. Both help alleviate hunger. The system will produce about 6 pounds of edible fish per week.
Action Steps:  An aquaponics system for an 800-gallon fish tank and a 128 square foot grow bed costs about $500 to construct.

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