I talk to a lot of people about backyard aquaponics through my blog Frosty Fish, at workshops and on forums. We are a bunch of characters, let me tell you!
Whether urban, suburban or rural, the creativity and resourcefulness of the aquapons I meet constantly inspires me.
Each of us tells a different story about what piqued our interest in this fun and fascinating hobby, but some common themes run through many of our stories.
Here I share the top 10 reasons I’ve heard, in no particular order.
Healthy, Fresh, Tasty, Organic Greens
When I come home from work, I drop off my bags, pick spinach and five kinds of lettuce, and eat a salad. If you design your system right and manage to avoid insects, you don’t need to wash your greens.
I do this in all four seasons, though winter greens taste the best. If you’ve never tasted a five-minute salad made from five kinds of lettuce, I highly recommend it!
In recent years, folks like Joel Salatin, Michael Pollan and the dirty dozen campaign have expounded on the risks associated with eating pesticides and herbicides every day.
Any poison, including most organic pesticides and herbicides, would kill your fish and wreck your system. Simply put, aquaponics = no poison.
Beyond the health and safety concerns, shipping produce around the world uses epic amounts of non-renewable resources.
For instance, the average store-bought tomato burns about a tablespoon of gasoline on its way to you. Products shipped around the world also require a certain shape, size and texture to pack and ship well. Breeding vegetables for these characteristics sacrifices taste. Anyone who’s ever eaten a farmers’ market tomato can vouch for this.
Healthy, Fresh, Tasty, Organic Fish
Three things improve the taste and texture of fish:
- Two days in clean, cold water
- Four days without feed
- Eating it extremely fresh (within an hour of harvest)
If you’ve ever ice-fished and cooked the fish right on the ice, you know what I mean. It’s a whole different animal. When I make a fish dinner, the fish part of the meal takes 20 minutes, including harvesting. Time waiting in line at the grocery store? Zero minutes.
Much of our farmed fish comes from China. Remember that Chinese baby formula scandal? If Chinese companies include toxic chemicals in their baby food, imagine what they put in their fish food. Simply put, be your own fish farmer.
Easy on the Back
Many older people love to garden, but let’s face it, as we grow old, our backs turn to rubble. Gardening is hard on the back. Aquaponic systems can be designed to ensure you never have to bend over to plant or harvest.
Lower Cholesterol Levels
You: Doctor, how should I eat to lower my risk of heart disease?
Doctor: Stay away from saturated fat, processed sugars, high-glucose wheat and chemicals.
You: But then what can I eat?
Doctor: Lots of greens and fish.
You: So you’re saying I should do aquaponics?
If the acronym SHTF means anything to you, I don’t need to say anything more. For the rest of us, let me just say that we live in a volatile world.
Stuff can go wrong, sometimes really wrong. Local grocery stores contain enough food to feed your community for three days. Beyond that, you’re on your own. You don’t need to be a prepper to take reasonable precautions against disasters, whether natural or man-made.
Cost-effective Food Production
I’ve done the math. A home-built, backyard-scale, cold-weather aquaponic system costs about $800. Expenses (electricity, fish and feed) add up to about $400/year.
Each year, an aquaponic system grows food that, when sold at a farmers’ market, would bring in about $1,300. That’s $900 in net savings per year. That’s a darn good investment.
A Chance to Tinker
This is optional. A professionally built system with a controller and a maintenance contract run according to the advice of an experienced aquapon requires zero tinkering. It just works.
But many of us like to make improvements and try new things. We try new plants, new fish, new control strategies, new gadgets. For us, it’s fun! If you like to tinker, aquaponics is heaven.
A Sense of Community
A few times a week, I come home to a half-dozen neighborhood kids asking to feed my fish and do the water-testing experiments. Other days, adult neighbors stop by for lettuce and leave money in the can.
Once I set up an aquaponic system, my little homestead became a hub of neighborhood activity, and I love it! Now my neighbors all know me. Even better, they know each other. The kids all love my greens and are learning how to raise their own healthy food.
Here in Wisconsin, psychologists call February “cabin fever month.” People go a little nuts after four months of winter.
But when you walk into a warm, sunny, lush greenhouse filled with growing plants and excited fish, it lifts your spirits out of the dark and reminds you that something beautiful and living still thrives.
Social science tells us that in the face of seemingly insurmountable social and environmental problems, doing something meaningful takes us from a place of fear to a place of hope. Feeling overwhelmed by all that seems wrong in the world? Do something. Do aquaponics!
Warm, Inviting Spaces
Many aquaponic greenhouses are Spartan affairs with little space for leisure or enjoyment. Mine is.
But many folks with more foresight than me designed theirs for pleasure and aesthetic beauty, in addition to production.
My next greenhouse will include a Zen garden, wood stove, comfortable table and chairs, and a hot tub, which drains into the aquaponic system when we’re done.
Where better to spend a Friday night than relaxing with your friends and your fish?