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The Aquaponics Debate

November 29, 2008

Goldfish, originally uploaded by chi liu.

Recently, N. and I (J.) began a discussion regarding aquaponics. For the most part, the debate has revolved around whether or not an aquaponics system a) is economically feasible for us b) produces crops that will work for us c) is aesthetically pleasing.

Let me start by saying that I have no real intention of winning this argument with my wife, but I do plan on making a very good case for what I believe to be a fantastic system of food production. Not having actually seen one, let alone worked one, this opinion is simply conjecture.

So, what is aquaponics/ how does it work? These guys can explain it much better than I can:

Here are the reasons why I feel that an aquaponic system would be a major plus for us:

1) The system produces a good mix of healthy protein from fish, and organically grown vegetables
2) Fish produced by this system have far fewer toxins than the fish produced in fish farms or captured at sea
3) An aquaponic system has much less of a permanent footprint, and in theory can be moved to another location.

A) Is an Aquaponics System economically feasible?
An aquaponic system that produces 116 pounds of tilapia, and up to 1150 of lettuce each year would leave us with an initial cost of just over $3,000 (US). According to a Minnesota site, prices for Tilapia per pound in March, 2008 were $2.00-$2.10 per pound. Thats $243 for the fish, if all were sold, or a savings of $243 per year if they were all consumed. If a 1 lb head of lettuce cost $1.79, then you could potentially produce $2,058.50 in lettuce annually…or save that much. Add that up: $2,301.50. production value or savings annually.

With a $700 first year deficit, and given our current financial position, I would go ahead and say that an aquaponics system is do-able. Not ideal, but would could manage the initial cost in cash, and by the second year the cost could be recovered. This is, or course, production under optimal circumstances, and does not take into account, that I (like many men) have difficulty following written instruction.

I’m not really a proponent of selling food that we produce. Why? Well, we have enough going on without carving up a bunch of tilapia, and taking them to China Town twice a week. However, I do love tilapia:)

B) Would an Aquaponics System produce crops that will work for us?
In short, yes. I feel that an aquaponics system could produce crops that would work for us.
According to the above mentioned site, the following crops can be produced: basil, chives and cilantro, tomatoes, egg plant, melons, beans, cucumbers, etc… you get the point. That’s in addition to the greens that we know the system can already produce. Again, these crops can be produced under optimal conditions and spacing required for the individual plants.

C) Is an aquaponics system aesthetically pleasing?
Well…as a work of art, no. Not really. However, when housed in a greenhouse I don’t see why anyone would really have a problem with it. It would be a really long greenhouse for a residential neighborhood, but it would still be inside.

The footprint for the system I’ve been using as a baseline is approximately 12×20 feet. A major minus for my argument at this time is the fact that we don’t have any real estate upon which to place a large aquaponic system.

So, that’s my case. Let us know what you think.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2008 10:15 am

    I would love to have an aquaponics system, but we don’t have the space for it either. Right now, I’m “making do” with my six 8’x4’x16″ raised beds, an indoor repurposed fish tank that I grow lettuce and herbs in, and random pots. For livestock I have one rabbit (she provides fertilizer for my garden).

    Eventually, I’d like to move out into the country on 40 acres and have goats, sheep, rabbits, chickens, a large hoophouse, greenhouse, aquaponics system, and more. I grew up in the city and never thought I’d be interested in “farming,” but at some point it has grabbed me by the heart.

  2. November 29, 2008 1:46 pm

    I’m going through the same debate- not so much with DriftingWife, but definitely with myself. I believe the part of me that wants to keep things relatively simple is winning out as I’m pretty settled on a modified ‘Barrelponics’ system, where the bottom fish barrel is replaced with a more aesthetic fish pond. But if you haven’t seen this Barreloponics design, you should check it out, as it looks like a great way to ‘ get your feet wet’, as they say. Or your hands. The designer, Travis Hughey, has made a huge pdf of instructions open source.

  3. November 30, 2008 8:39 am

    Very interesting.

    Given our current workload we could probably not do this. I would rather purchase from someone else who does it.

  4. December 3, 2008 5:21 am

    I have been a fan of Aquaponics for a very long. I would love to see a commercial aquaponics and urban aquaponics taken more seriously.

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