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Labor of Love: Aquaponics at Kalani.
Editors Note: This entry is first in a special series of blogs that will chronicle the growth of permaculture at Kalani.
I’m Eric and I have the honor of being the very first Permaculture Design Specialist to work at Kalani.
Permaculture is a branch of ecological and environmental design and ecological engineering that creates both sustainable architecture as well as self-maintained agricultural systems – all taking cues from natural ecosystems. I know it may seem like common sense that our culture might follow nature’s cues on living and agriculture, but our current approach in modern society has strayed far from nature’s model. For example, did you know that an aquaponics system can produce as much as 5 times the output compared to traditional land agriculture?
With this first blog, I am very excited to share the progress we have made in this endeavor. Kalani’s aquaponics system was designed and constructed by former volunteer Jacob Tuft. Aquaponics is a system of aquaculture that grows plants hydroponically – waste from farmed fish is used to supply nutrients for the plants, which in turn purify the water. Its successful output was interrupted not long after Jacob left Kalani. A power failure on the property caused significant damage to the ecosystem, and most of the living Tilapia fish (an integral part of the aquaponics system) died. This caused the ecosystem to be adversely affected, and many of the plants either died or languished.
My first project at Kalani was to work with fellow volunteer Beth Messinger to reestablish the ecosystem. I am happy to report that we successfully revamped the aquaponics system, and we share our success with you here in this blog!
This is the aquaponics graveyard- parts and pieces of reclaimed material that had been saved for future projects. They were slowly being overtaken by the jungle.
Above: This is the trough net that keeps the baby Tilapia from entering the grow beds. The nets were torn, and the fish had found new homes in the beds and a new food source- our plant roots! PVC frames were constructed, and nets were made with existing screen material and some 50lb. of test fishing line.
Every float had to be removed, and the grow beds were netted to remove all of the misplaced Tilapia.
Beth “Bam Bam” Messinger, a force in motion.
Below: Meet Fred. He is our newest volunteer at Kalani. We stocked roughly 150 fish into our seven hundred gallon tank, and painted it black because the water was too cold for Tilapia. Since then the temp has raised to the ideal level, this fish are growing steadily.
Above: Beth painting our 700 gallon tank to raise the temperature, so our fish will eat more food, and then grow quickly to a harvestable weight. The tanks on the left are a hatchery system that will allow us to continually breed and manage our own stock of White Nile Tilapia.
With a freshly restocked fish tank, Tilapia out of the grow beds, nitrogen levels on the rise, pests managed, and hungry seedlings filling the troughs, it is very noticeable how quickly the system is starting to produce again!
Recruiting extra hands… Even our accountant breaks away for some soil production and seedling planting.
Some of our first harvested veggies. As I mentioned, it is said that aquaponics can produce five times the amount of vegetables in the space that soil can produce, due to the immediate availability of nutrients in the water resulting in a faster growth rate, and intensive planting arrangement.
Above: Success! Beth Messinger, Aquaponics Manager and Eric Ellenwood, Peraculture Design Specialist. Hauling in the harvest to our beloved kitchen crew.
So what is next in aquaponics? We are still streamlining our system, but are quickly getting back to full production. The upcoming projects will be setting up a fish hatchery system, and a whole new “ebb and flow” system using a 4,000 gallon water catchment tank. I hope to utilize this system to grow food trees that can be grown from saved seed, such as papaya.
What about permaculture? Now that aquaponics is back up and running, classes are being taught, and there are some very big projects on the horizon!