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Who were are and why we are so passionate about aquaponics

We love growing things. Plants with small yellow flowers that become tomatoes, plants with deep winding roots that become potatoes, plants which start with tiny leaves that grow to glorious bushes of bay. The Aquaponics Project comes out of this love of growing. We are based in Sussex on the South Downs, having launched our website in 2020 we hope to be selling our first product in the middle of 2021.

I first learned about Aquaponics while working in Malaysia. It is a very old technology, growing fish and plants alongside each other. The Aztecs were able to build their empire because of the ready supply of fresh vegetables and fish which the technology allowed them! The fish act as the fuel. As they metabolise their food, they excrete ammonia which is toxic to them. In aquaponics this ammonia rich water is pumped out of their tank and into a separate tank containing plants. They do not grow in conventional soil but in a grow media. At the Aquaponics Project we use hydroton. These are small clay balls with lots of tiny air pockets inside them. Inside these air pockets are naturally occurring bacteria which convert the ammonia, first into nitrites and then into nitrates. The plants then take up the nitrates to help them to grow. By the end of the process the water, which once had been filled with chemicals harmful to the fish, is now filtered and returns to the fish tank.

A diagram showing the inputs and outputs in most aquaponics systems

At the Aquaponics Project we have had great success with smaller scale home growing, so far mostly of herbs. We currently grow sage, parsley, oregano, basil, thyme and mint. It is genuinely one of life’s small pleasures picking our herbs fresh from one of our two prototype systems to use in our cooking. We have cooked hasselback potatoes with sage, thyme and oregano. Enhanced our pizzas with fresh basil leaves and drink fresh mint tea in the evenings. With two small children and a full-time job as a teacher I am not always the best at remembering to water our house plants. Our aquaponically grown plants kind of water themselves.

While in Malaysia I saw first-hand the power of human influence on our habitats. Massive areas of primary rainforest cut down to make way for palm oil and building development. With such pressure placed globally on our natural habitats the second reason we launched the Aquaponics Project as a business was to educate people about this more sustainable method of farming. While our systems are designed for homes, offices, schools and eating spaces, there are an increasing number of farmers who are using aquaponics to grow food on a commercial scale. On any scale, plants grown using aquaponics are grown organically, grow faster, grow bigger and need less space than using conventional growing. I have had a wonderful career in teaching in secondary schools, it therefore seems appropriate to bring these two loves in my life together. From November 2021 we hope to be marketing our products in schools and to grow the knowledge of alternative, more sustainable methods of farming.

The final reason for my passion for the Aquaponics Project is its inherent innovation. From the chemistry of nitrifying bacteria, to the balancing of pH levels aquaponics, it lends itself to experimentation. While I said it has a long history, it has really only become popular again recently. The University of the Virgin Islands began pioneering the technology using modern equipment in the 1990s. The fact there are so many different foods to experiment with is really exciting. You can keep the fish purely as ornamental or you could keep different species which can be grown for the plate. This chance for innovation and experimentation again lends itself to a school environment, newly developed exam courses which look at environmental science could be enhanced through our aquaponics systems education courses.

We are a small business, it is just myself with the support of my wife. We live in Sussex and would love to see this technology take off in people’s homes, schools, offices and cafes in the area. We would love to hear people talking about it. The lockdown period has been tough, but I am so grateful for the extra time it has allowed me to firstly spend at home with my family, but secondly for the time it has allowed me to invest in this passion. As people start to hug loved ones again, shops re-open and plants show their first shoots of Spring we hope the Aquaponics Project will be another 2021 success story.

Facebook: @theaquaponicsproject

Instagram: theaquaponicsproject

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