Aquaponic Gardener Profile – Eileen Herzog

By: JD Sawyer

Q: Where are you from? Tell us a bit about yourself.IMG_3153

A: Cincinnati, OH, retired CPA. I am married to an avid golfer, and wanted another hobby (I started knitting last year) but a hobby that would challenge me and produce something I could learn and build on, have fun with it, and just do something so totally different that would also add value and accomplishment to my efforts.

Q: How did you get interested in aquaponics?

A: I started receiving emails from survivalists groups, but was not interested in building a bomb shelter! Then one of them mentioned aquaponics, so I started looking at You Tube DIY’s, googling and discovering a lot of resources, blogs, companies selling systems and so on. Then I discovered a hydroponics store a few miles from my house, went in and asked about aquaponics. He sold me Aquaponic Gardening by Sylvia Bernstein, and gave me the name of a plumbing company whose son of the owner was setting up aquaponic systems as a new branch of the company. I ordered Murray Hallam’s DVDs and I was hooked. Since we were wintering in SC, I contacted Paul, the plumber’s son and asked about designing a system for my basement as we live in a Home Owners Association Community and could not put up a green house, and I did not want an outdoor setup anyway. Over the next few months Paul and I tried various designs on paper given the size of the unfinished portion of our basement.

Q: How are you currently working with aquaponics? Home setup, community greenhouse, etc.

A: On April 1, 2015 we returned to Cincinnati and immediately started clearing out one side of the basement shelving etc, and moved everything to the other side. I then painted 4 coats of white paint on the 2 adjoining walls where the system would be placed.

Q: Tell us about your system. Geek out a bit and tell us all the specs.

A: On April 10, 2015, Paul built our system: I have two 150 gallon fish tanks, each one maintaining 125-130 gallons of water. Each tank has a 4′ by 4′ grow bed sitting on top, thereby covering about 75% of the fish tank, and making it possible to access the plumbing of the pumps, aeration, access to fresh water run through a dechlorinater, and be able to walk completely around each tank and reach every plant. The rest of the tank is covered by a slated wooden cover, with space in between the boards for a little light to the fish, but it also flips up like a toilet lid for feeding the fish, and maintaining the pumps, cleaning the filters and accessing all underwater tubes etc.

One grow bed is the float system with 11 types of lettuce, 2 spinach, and various herbs. I put 13 Hybrid Bluegill (3-5 in) and 4 Channel Catfish (4-6 in) in this tank. The other grow bed is a media bed with 1/2 gravel and 1/2 Hydroton clay pellets. I put 16 Channel Catfish 4-6in) in this tank.

Q: What plants and fish have you had the best luck with? And the worst?

A: I started losing Channel Catfish, about one a week, so I bought and added 6 new Hybrid Bluegill as they were so active in the other tank. This was a big mistake as the HBG never ate for over a week, and my daily water tests were hitting all the right numbers for pH, Ammonia, and Nitrites. All of the fish in this tank died in one day. I removed 50% of the water, refilled it, added Stress-Zyme, and checked my water tests. I waited 2 days then bought 3 lbs of Tilapia (5-10in). This was yesterday, I have lost 3 Tilapia, but 1 died in the bag, and 1 a couple of hours later. The hatchery replaced the 2 before I discovered the 3rd. The jury is still out on the Tilapia as they are still adapting, but I will not get anymore HBG when I have to replace them. I do not have this problem solved yet, and I am rereading sections of the book and other resources.

Since some of the seedlings were taking too long to sprout, I purchased some strawberry plants, and some herbs from a local nursery. I used buckets of fish water and thoroughly and painstakingly cleaned every bit of dirt and miracle grow from the roots of these plants. It took several days, and I made certain the roots were smooth and free of any contaminants. The only purchased plants that went into the media bed were the strawberries, and all of those fish died. But all of the roots of the herbs were as clean as the strawberry roots, and no fish died under the float bed. So I don’t know if this was the cause of the massive fish loss or not.

The lettuces have exploded beyond belief and I am sharing with 3 neighbors! And the herbs are ready to harvest, especially the basil, I have regular, lemon and cinnamon!

Q: What do you like most about aquaponics? Least?

A: I like waking up every morning and going down to see my fish, feed them, and see the change in growth each day. We put up a trellis on 3 sides of the media bed, but all plants are easily accessible as the holes are 5″ by 7″, and I am also using bamboo stakes and clips, so it is a joy to assist them as they grow taller. I have had to loop the snap peas vine several times as it wants to grow up over the light! And my first strawberry is turning red today. I can see now that starting in mid-April has set me back in harvesting, but I know that for me this is a year-round endeavor, so there will be no down time for seasonal changes.

Q: What do you think the biggest misconception about aquaponics is?

A: What I heard from other people was that the humidity from all of that water would damage the structure of our house, that I should hang heavy gauge plastic around the system, that I should seal the basement ceiling rafters in plastic and so on.

Others thought the whole house would smell fishy!

Q: What are your future aquaponics goals?

A: I want to keep an ongoing system running healthy and vibrant for both the plants and the fish. After I build my confidence that I know what I am doing, what to do when things change, take the correct action, and not lose fish at the rate that I have been, then I will feel successful. I would like to share my knowledge and challenges with others, and maybe help others to set up their own systems. There is a new Aquaponics store a few minutes from my house, that will officially be opened in a month. I told them I would like to volunteer my help in exchange for learning from them. They are very agreeable to my offer!

Q: What do your friends say when you show them your system for the first time?

A: WOW! Followed quickly with “Where are you growing the “good stuff”? Well, since I remember the 60’s, I never knew the “good stuff”. Then they get serious and ask how I ever heard about this and why am I doing it?

Q: What is your next big gear purchase going to be? What about your next small one?

A: I have already purchased and will install an addition to the media bed, a 1′ by 3′ bed hooked into the flood and drain pump (by me!) so I could plant 8 more tomato plants, as I had run out of space. I already overplanted the media bed, but am keeping it all horizontal for now.

I used to can tomatoes and Bread and Butter pickles when first married, we had a big garden 7 houses ago. I will be canning again in August, so I have to go buy the equipment again, originals long since donated!

Q: What’s the best recipe you’ve ever had/made, based around something you grew in your system?

A: Bread and Butter Pickles, a recipe given to me by a neighbor. No matter how long they were on the shelf, once opened they were just as crisp as when made. And once the jar was opened, all was eaten in a day or two. God bless Margaret.

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