I am very excited (“tickled pink” as my mother would say) about being invited to write a monthly column on aquaponics for The Growing Edge. Growing Edge is probably my favorite gardening magazine (now turned e-magazine) because it is the only publication I know of that gives serious, but always interesting, treatment to alternative gardening methods without any of the 20-something male, hot-rod look of typical hydroponic publications. They have agreed to let me reprint my articles here for you. The introductory installment is below – enjoy!
Over the past year and a half I have morphed from being a Hydroponics Professional to becoming an Aquaponics Evangelist. It’s been a fascinating journey. I’ve learned that in aquaponics, especially in an evangelist role, you must be prepared for all manner of visitors, including the raccoons who think your fish are mature enough to eat, no matter what their size, as well as people who are fascinated by the concept of growing fish and plants together. There aren’t many of us around, so there is a certain social obligation to share one’s experiences with wide-eyed future aquapons.
I entertained such visitors just yesterday. They were a young couple who found me through a connection with my graphic designer. The female made the connections, but clearly the male was driving the visit. He had been involved in LED lighting until recently when the Japanese took over the market. In his explorations with his partners on what to do next he said that “aquaponics just kept coming up”. He seems to be considering a commercial based aquaponics business of some sort, and is quite experienced in hydroponics, especially aeroponics. I love talking with hydroponic people because I relish the look of disbelief combined with amazement that sweeps over their faces when I tell them that I don’t worry about nutrient levels – WHAT?!? No EC meter? That’s right. Not only that, pH generally becomes very stable in a mature aquaponic system. And the best part is that I never, ever flush my tanks to replace the nutrients. Aquaponics is all about creating a natural ecosystem and standing back while nature takes over.
I am now a self-described Aquaponics Evangelist, but I wasn’t always that way. My relevant background was first as a long time traditional dirt gardener spanning 4 yards over 4 states. In 2003 I was hired by the newly forming team at AeroGrow International to do the plant research and development for the soon-to-be-launched AeroGarden. I stayed at AeroGrow for 6 years, managing the formation and operation of the Grow Lab and Plant Nursery which developed the nutrient, pH buffering, and other seed kit technologies on which many of AeroGrow’s patents are based. I then became the Director of Plant Products and assumed the responsibilities for the rest of the seed kit product line. By the time I left AeroGrow in October of 2009 I was the VP of Marketing, Innovation and Product Development. Why did I leave such an interesting job? In part, it was time to move on. AeroGrow had become a very different place than the company I had joined so many years ago. The main reason, however, was to pursue what had become a true passion – aquaponics.
You see, when I saw my buddy’s basement aquaponics setup about 1 year ago I became instantly convinced that this is going to become a very important growing technology. It solves the problem of chemical fertilizers in hydroponics. It solves the problem of waste removal in aquaculture. It solves the problem of excess water use in traditional agriculture. And for the backyard gardener, it solves the problems of weeds, under and over watering, fertilizing, and back strain. And sustainable and organic advocates are drawn to its lack of chemical inputs, mimicry of natural systems, low water use and waste recycling.
Since this epiphany I’ve started a blog, a community site and a company that brings aquaponics education, community and products together under one roof. My husband and I have designed an aquaponics system we are launching on June 23 and have many ideas for future products. I teach, I speak, and I have produced a video titled Aquaponics Explained. My goal is to evangelize aquaponics to any willing audience and to take it from an obscure technique that just a few of us are converted to into a world-wide movement. Are you with me?