Q: Where are you from? Tell us a bit about yourself.
A: I am from Syracuse NY. Syracuse is located directly in the center of NY and is the snow capital of the world. I am a public school music educator and a published composer and author of several books on music. I am married and we have one son named Jack and two furry children named Bella and Kitka.
Q: How did you get interested in aquaponics?
A: I became interested in aquaponics when I had reached the end of my patience with hydroponics. From the minute that I read about it I was hooked. The other driving force behind aquaponics comes from my nearly 20 year battle with Bipolar II disorder. A combination of meds and zen-like occupations like aquaponics helps to keep my unquiet mind quiet. It gives me something to think about and keep my mind occupied!
Q: How are you currently working with aquaponics? Home setup, community greenhouse, etc.
A: I currently have two systems. I have a small outdoor setup and a much larger setup in the basement.
Q: Tell us about your system. Geek out a bit and tell us all the specs.
A: My larger indoor system utilizes a 110 gallon fish tank with four grow beds made from 55 gallon barrels cut in half and framed in with wood. I use a flood and drain system that runs on a timer. This is a change from my first attempt (which has been completely replaced) that relied on a bell siphon. The beds are filled with a combination of lava rock, gravel, and a top layer of hydroton. I have a 250 gph pump in the tank that feeds the four grow beds. I have 25-30 fish in the system. The fish include very large comet goldfish (cost me $.28 a fish and they are now huge!) small tilapia, and three butterfly koi that are visiting for the winter from an outside pond.
Q: What plants and fish have you had the best luck with? And the worst?
A: Goldfish!! The best fish ever. You can’t eat them, but then again I don’t think that I could ever eat the fish that keep my family supplied with fresh produce. They are tolerant of everything…warm temps, cold temps, clear water, cloudy water (when I switched to my new system, they basically lived in a mud puddle for three days.)
Plants that I have had great luck with are: lettuce, kale, basil, peppers (yellow hungarian), yellow beans, cucumbers, tomatoes (outside only).
Q: What do you like most about aquaponics? Least?
A: Like the most: The uniqueness of it, the constant challenge, the ability that it offers to be a creative out-of-the-box thinker, the reaction of people that see it for the first time, the free food, the quiet that it brings to my mind.
Like the least: Silicone, bell siphons, the ridiculously large pile of PVC parts I’ve accumulated, fish poop in my hair (be sure to not yank a plant out too hard.)
Q: What do you think the biggest misconception about aquaponics is?
A: That it’s easy! There is nothing easy about aquaponics. The videos on youtube and the books you can read spell it out clearly for you, but it is another thing to bring it to life.
Q: What are your future aquaponics goals?
A: Right now I have submitted a grant to an education foundation in my district that funds unique and innovative educational opportunities. My plan is to bring a greenhouse and a fully functioning system to be student driven at the school where I teach. I want to try to establish it as a community garden and a project that our students can be really excited about and proud of at the same time.
Q: What do your friends say when you show them your system for the first time?
A: “Seriously that works?”, “fish poop??!!??”, “wow!”, “I want one!” “so how does that work? do you whack the fish and then bury them in the garden?”…all things that I have heard by the garden.
My favorite is when the repairmen come to the house. I have had two utility guys, two plumbers,two engineers and an electrician in the basement in the past three months. They have tons of great questions. We spend more time talking about the garden than we do about whatever they are trying to fix. I love the reaction from these guys! I love the looks on the faces of other technically-minded people as they try to wrap their heads around the ins-and-outs of aquaponics.
Q: What is your next big gear purchase going to be? What about your next small one?
A: Probably a new place to live if I try to add any more to the new system that took me much longer to build than what I originally planned on.
Q: What’s the best recipe you’ve ever had/made, based around something you grew in your system?
A: Pesto!! The entire house top to bottom smelled like fresh basil. Fried green tomatoes were pretty tasty too.