This past spring and summer Ashevillage Institute set about the task to create an urban aquaponics system in the garden. Completed in July, it is now producing tasty sustainable vegetables, right in the heart of Asheville!
Aquaponics is becoming popular as an alternative food production system, and the ability to successfully do it within a small urban area, such as ours at the Ashevillage Institute, is an exciting prospect to further increase our food security at home.
Aquaponics is a combination of hydroponics and aquaculture – hence the name: aqua-ponics. Aquaponics is proven to be a more productive system than standard hydroponic systems, the practice of growing food without soil. Growing both fish and plants together in an integrated, soil-free system closely mimics those ecological systems found in nature. The waste from the fish provides a great organic food source for the plants, which meanwhile act as a filter for the fish water. And so the fish feed the plants, and the plants clean the fish water in a helpful relationship that benefits our food production. By producing fish food onsite in the form of Soldier Fly larvae incubated in organic waste the nutrient cycle can be closed completely. Although we are not currently at that point, yet, we are experimenting with it!
Ash, our site coordinator and engineer by training, led the project. He was aided by volunteers and advisors during the project’s creation and it was completed in July! He said “It is really important to experiment with new technologies such as aquaponics and demonstrate their viability to produce food in urban centers on a mid-scale”. Our aquaponic system is inside a polytunnel allowing us to grow tasty, organic vegetables year round, and it is already producing leafy greens! The water system is fed with storm and rain water run off collected onsite, and we stock Tilapia in our waterbeds – Tilapia like to live in tight shoals, which is perfect for smaller pond space like ours. Educating our visitors about how aquaponics works, the theory behind it and its prospects for the future help to share ideas about alternative food production systems.
Take a look at some images of the aquaculture system in progress here!
In the future we would like to create a gravity-fed drip irrigation system throughout the garden. As water supplies are becoming a cause for concern globally, it is increasingly important that we explore the means and methods by which we can efficiently harvest, store and use the urban run-off for irrigating our food. Effectively collecting and storing the water onsite until it is needed will help keep our plants green and lush all summer long without the requirement for frequent summer rain. If you have knowledge in drip-feed irrigation engineering and construction, or would simply like to come along and learn with us, then please get in contact!