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Backyard Eco System

Backyard Eco System

By: Chad Hudspeth

 
 
My name is Chad Hudspeth, founder of Endless Food Systems (www.EndlessFoodSystems.com).  We started manufacturing plug & play aquaponic kits in September of 2012 that are easily shipped across the continental United States.  These kits are shipped complete, ready to go and contain EVERYTHING a person needs to get going with aquaponics.  All the plumbing is pre-cut & simply slips together & our kits even include a year or more of heirloom seeds in 20 varieties.

 

 

I first heard about a guy growing fish & plants together in a symbiotic relationship around 2009 and I was immediately intrigued.  The thought of being able to mimic nature in a simple sustainable way was amazing.  I immediately began to research it and try to discover more about it only to find that there was not much information out there and what I did find at the time often conflicted.  My father also had a high interest in it and we began experimenting and building our own systems. I finally found out it was called aquaponics and is the combination of aquaculture (growing fish) with hydroponics (growing plants without soil). These systems solve the problem common to aquaculture & hydroponics which is having to change out the water frequently & adding chemicals to keep them going.  In aquaponics, the water never needs to be changed and you can’t add chemicals since it would kill the good bacteria.  In fact, changing out the water or growing media would hurt the system!  It takes about 6 months or more for a system to mature and contain most all the good bacteria needed.
 
In aquaponics, you are actually growing 3 things: bacteria, fish & plants.  The fish & plants are pretty obvious, but the magic that makes it all happen are aerobic bacteria that convert the fish waste into a perfect plant food.  Fish live in their own tank and the water is constantly being pumped from there into a grow bed full of gravel or clay pebbles. Bacteria living in the grow bed begin converting the fish waste into a perfect plant food called nitrates.  The plants soak up the nitrates and the water is returned clean to the fish again.  The process can continue on forever & very few other inputs are needed to the system.
 
Since the water is simply circulated and never has to be changed, the only water lost is to evaporation.  These systems use about 95% LESS water than a regular garden.  The other main input needed is fish food. While you can use regular commercial fish food very cheaply, they all contain GMO (genetically modified organisms). I wouldn’t trust fish food that says “organic” on it either, it can be organic but still contain GMO’s.  Other alternatives are to purchase a specific non-GMO fish food from websites such as www.FishKis.com or you can grow your own fish food.  If you use Tilapia, a hot water fish, they will eat just about anything: algae, plant scraps & clippings, worms, etc.  You could also hang a light over the fish tank at night to attract bugs!  As for other inputs to a system, occasionally some lime is needed to buffer the pH.
 
While aquaponics is a fairly new concept to America, the small backyard concept has been used in Australia now for over 10 years.  I have learned a lot through experience and more through studying blogs and conversations with others here in the USA & Australia. About a year ago I embarked on a difficult task of designing a backyard system that could be duplicated, shipped via freight and was pleasing to look at.  I truly did not realize it would be so difficult!  I have designed products before & at the beginning of this I figured it would be a piece of cake- but not so.  Fast forward to today & the hard work has paid off.  I believe we finally have an attractive modular system that is easy to assemble & can be shipped across the nation.

   

The main focus was first on functionality.  It had to work flawlessly and be very versatile.  What we ended up with is actually a hybrid system that works very well!  It uses media beds (clay pebbles) that act as a bio-filter & the water is then fed by gravity through the raft tanks.  Eventually the water returns clean again to the fish tank & the process starts over.   We have had success growing everything in these systems with the exception of potatoes. They will grow other root crops- beets, onions, radish, you name it, just not potatoes.  I think it has something to do with the pH.

An aquaponic Endless Food System can be used outside in a greenhouse or inside using a spare bedroom, basement or garage.  To grow outside requires some climate control such as misters or fans in the summer & heaters in the winter depending on your climate.  Inside growing would require some type of lighting. For those looking to be more independent & discrete, you could install a sola tube above each grow bed & use a solar panel to run the pumps.  You can find out more at www.solatube.com.  Our Endless Food Systems use between 25-50 watts of power depending on what size system you use so it is very easy to be off the grid.

The performance of an aquaponic Endless Food System in comparison to a conventional garden is awesome.  As a general rule, a mature system will produce 10 pounds of produce annually per square foot and plants grow twice as fast as a standard garden.  This is due to the fact that the plants are constantly watered with highly oxygenated water.  Also, the nutrients are in the water " not the soil so there is no competition with other plants.  It seems that often a plant will begin producing fruit very quickly, before it even seems large enough to fruit.  This could be because it is not stressed and trying to set a super large root structure, since it is getting everything it needs, it can produce fruit faster. 

Insects are always an issue in any growing environment but what we have found is that most of the time a healthy plant is not attacked by bugs but an un-healthy one is.  This could be due to the fact that most insects cannot digest a complete protein. They can only digest an in-complete protein which is readily available in a weak or struggling plant.  We use lots of organic insect control methods: Diatomaceous Earth, Molasses-Water-Chili powder, neem oil, and safers soap.  By planting what is naturally in season & keeping an eye out for bugs, it is generally pretty easy to grow aquaponically.

Our goal at Endless Food Systems is to empower anyone to be able to have success with aquaponics and become food independent as quickly as possible.  I know of no other growing method that generates the abundant produce in such a quick & efficient manner as aquaponics. The other big factor is the simplicity of it all, a person with absolutely no gardening experience can still have success!  The elevated grow beds are easy on the back and growing a fish like Tilapia is super easy. They usually reproduce on their own with no help so you have a perpetual source of fresh fish to eat as well as vegetables, herbs and fruits.  It is my hope that you will help me spread the word about aquaponics so that in time the people of our nation can be individually food independent & the whole world fed!

 
Chad Hudspeth is the founder of Endless Food Systems. Visit his webpage at EndlessFoodSystems.Com

 
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