Aquaponics on 60 minutes

Please see below for a 60 minutes article and video link to last nights story.


For many Australian families, putting enough food on the table is a daily struggle. And things will get worse before they get better.

You see the world’s got too many mouths to feed and we’re fast running out of good farming land.

It’s being overgrazed, gobbled up by sprawling cities, or sold up to foreign interests.

The solution to this global crisis might just be the return of the humble vegie patch but on a massive, modern scale.

Entire skyscrapers, housing farms, not office workers. No soil, no sunlight, no seasons.

It’s a food revolution and it’s starting right here, in our own backyard.

To read about the Brooklyn Grange Rooftop farm visit the website.

To have a look at Rosemary’s restaurant in New York City go to the website.

To read more about Dickson Despommier’s vision visit Vertical Farm.

Aquaponics is great for the elderly

There are many benefits of an Aquaponic system that can benefit elderly gardeners. The most noteworthy benefits are the following

  • No digging in the ground is required to create plant beds
  • Very little watering is required for the system to function (save as much as 90% water)
  • No chemicals are used in the process
  • The system is sustainable
  • Production of 100% organic vegetables and fish

Aquaponics systems are self-contained and require no digging in the ground to prep the bed, heavy lifting of soils and mulches and even watering is at a minimum with the Aquaponic system.  Although there is a set-up that needs to take place with any Aquaponics system, once the system is in place there are many benefits that make it an ideal gardening system for the elderly.

Once the system(s) are in place they can generally be maintained comfortably from a seated position, making maintenance and harvesting of the containers easier for the elderly

  • Containers can be made so that those in wheelchairs can easily access them
  • Aquaponics use 90% less water, therefore watering of the system does not need to be done daily, or even weekly and can be accomplished when help is available
  • No heavy lifting is required once the system is in place. This includes things such as: hoses, watering cans, soils and mulches
  • Aquaponics systems do not require the system to be “tended to” on a daily basis. In fact they prefer not to be disturbed. This is ideal for those who cannot get out into their garden daily but still want to reap the benefits
  • Gardening in itself is therapeutic, many people report the same therapeutic effects from the Aquaponic systems as they had previously gained from their previous gardens
  • Aquaponics systems do not require much room and can be grown in a small backyard, on a patio or balcony or even indoors
  • Aquaponics systems can be grown at senior centers are part of their activity programs with little ongoing care/maintenance required, plus the residents get the benefit of the fresh vegetables
  • Fresh vegetables without having to go to the supermarket!!!

Aquaponic systems can be used to grow many varieties of vegetables and can even be used to grow flower beds. The satisfaction that comes from growing one’s own food is immeasurable. The system is being used in homes, senior citizen centers, community gardens and farms around the globe including third world projects in Haiti, Kenya, India, PNG and Mexico.

Think Eat Save Food Campaign Launched

Simple actions by consumers and food retailers can dramatically cut the 1.3 billion tonnes of food lost or wasted each year and help shape a sustainable future, according to a new global campaign to cut food waste launched by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and partners.

eat think saveWorldwide, about one-third of all food produced, worth around US$1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems, according to data released by FAO. Food loss occurs mostly at the production stages – harvesting, processing and distribution – while food waste typically takes place at the retailer and consumer end of the food-supply chain.

TheThink.Eat.Save. Reduce Your Foodprint’ campaign is in support of the SAVE FOOD Initiative to reduce food loss and waste along the entire chain of food production and consumption – run by the FAO and trade fair organiser Messe Düsseldorf – and the UN Secretary General’s Zero Hunger Initiatives. The new campaign specifically targets food wasted by consumers, retailers and the hospitality industry.

The campaign harnesses the expertise of organisations such as WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme), Feeding the 5,000 and other partners, including national governments, who have considerable experience targeting and changing wasteful practices.

Think.Eat.Save. aims to accelerate action and provide a global vision and information-sharing portal ( for the many and diverse initiatives currently underway around the world.

Part of the trigger for the campaign was the outcome of the Rio+20 Summit in June 2012, in which heads of state and governments gave the go-ahead for a 10-Year Framework of Programmes for Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) Patterns. Developing an SCP programme for the food sector must be a vital element of this framework, given the need to sustain the world’s food production base, reduce associated environmental impacts and feed a growing human population.

“To bring about the vision of a truly sustainable world, we need a transformation in the way we produce and consume our natural resources,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

According to FAO, roughly 95% of food loss and waste in developing countries is through unintentional losses at early stages of the food supply chain due to financial, managerial and technical limitations in harvesting techniques; storage and cooling facilities in difficult climatic conditions; infrastructure; packaging and marketing systems.

However, in the developed world the end of the chain is far more significant. At the food manufacturing and retail level in the developed world, large quantities of food are wasted due to inefficient practices, quality standards that over-emphasise appearance, confusion over date labels and consumers being quick to throw away edible food due to over-buying, inappropriate storage and preparing meals that are too large.

Per-capita waste by consumers is between 95 and 115 kg a year in Europe and North America/Oceania, while consumers in Sub-Saharan Africa, south and south-eastern Asia each throw away only 6 to 11 kg a year.

“Together, we can reverse this unacceptable trend and improve lives. In industrialised regions, almost half of the total food squandered, around 300 million tonnes annually, occurs because producers, retailers and consumers discard food that is still fit for consumption,” said José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General. “This is more than the total net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa, and would be sufficient to feed the estimated 870 million people hungry in the world.

“If we can help food producers to reduce losses through better harvesting, processing, storage, transport and marketing methods, and combine this with profound and lasting changes in the way people consume food, then we can have a healthier and hunger-free world,” Graziano da Silva added.


Aquaponic Vegetables- what can i grow?

Getting started with aquaponics isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Here are a few things to consider when choosing the plants for your aquaponics system.

Most people think that leafy green vegetables are the only plants that can be grown in an aquaponics system, but this is simply not the case. My experience is that almost any plant will grow including fruit trees, flowers and almost all other vegetables. Some things like potatoes and carrots will grow but are best suited to a wicking bed approach.

Most agree that grow beds with clay pellets or volcanic rock or similar media tend to yield better results. There are several different types of media you can use such as clay pebbles, gravel and pumice to name a few but you have to make sure the medium wont break down over time and that it wont change your water pH.  It is recommended that grow beds be kept at a depth of 350mm for good stability of the root zone. It is also important to take your climate and location into consideration before you decide which plants to grow.

Below are some of the more commonly used plants that i have grown well in my systems in Newcastle Australia:aquaponic cauliflower

 Asian Leafy Greens










 Zucchiniaquaponic broad beans








Fruit trees


Getting Started in Aquaponics

Getting started with aquaponics isn’t as difficult as it seems all you need is a little knowledge, patience and proper planning. Here are a few things to consider when planning your aquaponics system in your backyard .

Your Needs: One of the first steps before getting started with aquaponics is to decide how many people you intend to feed. An aquaponics system with one grow bed and IBC Aquaponics500lt fish tank could easily feed a family of 4 if done properly. It is also important to consider your location should your needs increase in the future or should you decide to expand your system.

The ratio of plants and fish in an aquaponics system is a reflection on the available filtration capacity or growbed size. In theory you should start with a 1:1 ratio- water in the growbeds should be equal to the amount of water available in your growbeds when your starting off, however after about 6 months you can increase the number of growbeds as your bacteria are well established.small baby pool aquaponics system

 Fish: Before deciding the type of fish for your system you should first consider what you intend to do with them. If you do not wish to harvest your fish to eat and or you are vegetarian you can use non edible ornamental  fish such as Koi or Goldfish. Depending on where you live will determine your fish species choices. In Australia you can use trout, catfish, silver or jade perch, yabbies, barramundi, murray cod  to name a few. All are excellent fish choices for your aquaponics system. It is important to note that too many fish in your aquaponics system will result in too much waste being produced so that the plants would not be able to consume it all. It may also lead to rapid fish death if you starve them of oxygen.

Plants: When it comes to plants, herbs and leafy vegetables are good first  choices. Your aquaponics system can provide you with an endless supply of fresh lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and many other fruits and vegetables. It is important that your plant to fish ratio be maintained for your system to produce the expected yield and thrive.

Planning Ahead:  At some point you may wish to expand your system. Before attempting this I strongly suggest that you first get familiar with what aquaponics is and how it all works before you embark on a larger sized system. With this being said you should take this into consideration before selecting your location as it will be much easier to maintain a single system vs. multiple ones. And always start small and increase it as your knowledge increases in time.

Spawning Goldfish or Koi in Aquaponics

Many people ask me if there goldfish or koi will breed in an Aquaponic system. The short answer is if conditions are right your fish will always spawn all by themselves without much assistance from you. That said, you can help to trigger them to spawn and if they do you may want to get ready for the thousands of eggs and young fry that will hatch.

It doesn’t really matter if your fish are in a pond or if they are in a fish tank or IBC tank as fish will spawn regardless. Just keep on eye on your fish. If you notice them swimming rapidly around chasing each other than at that point you can be sure they will be spawning within an hour or so. If you don’t want to keep any young then just let them do their thing and some may survive however the vast majority of eggs will be eaten and few if any eggs will survive.

 If your deliberately attempting to spawn your fish then there are a few basic principles you will need to understand to help your fish spawn and to ensure that the majority survive:goldfish fry in Aquaponics

Select healthy fish of the variety you want to breed.  Make sure that they are of high quality to make sure that they will spawn good quality offspring. Remember that the ideal months to start breeding is between October to March in Australia as the weather warms.

Size – The larger the fish the more offspring will survive. Ideally your fish should be about 25 cm (10in) in length to ensure that they are sexually mature. The ideal Koi or goldfish male for breeding should be 3 to 5 years old, while a 4 to 6 year old female is best, being at its prime. 

Specimens chosen for breeding need to be conditioned for a year.  The best combination is two males to one female, a “ménage a trois”.  You need to put them in a separate “spawn pond or IBC tank” to ensure good genetics. This also helps reduce the likely hood of other fish just eating the eggs as they are fertilised and deposited around the tank or pond.

Setting up the location. There are several things that the fish need in order to spawn successfully.  The following needs to be ready and in place as soon as the Koi or goldfish are ready to spawn.
•    Aquatic weed habitat or medium or a place where fish they can lay their eggs. Artificial medium can be used if water plants are unavailable. In Aquaponics I grow water cress in the water and fish seem to spawn on it quickly without an issue;
•    Privacy – the newly hatched fry, being unable to swim yet, need a safe and secure place where they can hide;
•    Top quality water and correct pond temperature. You don’t want the water to fluctuate too much. Adding a heater for a week will help the young fry to grow and hatch quicker.

Gold fish fry in AquaponicsEggs:  You need to separate the eggs from the parents because they can be eaten pretty fast.  After spawning, and after the Koi or goldfish have been removed, treat the pond or tank with malachite green to prevent fungus from forming on any infertile eggs. Or if you don’t wish to use it get some tweezers and pluck out all the unfertile eggs. Fertile eggs will be a yellow colour and unfertile eggs will be white and will develop fungus. Maintain the temperature at 23oC and wait a couple of days for the fry to hatch.

Hatching:  After hatching, let the fry pass without feeding for 3 to 4 days.  Afterwards, bring them a very good source of abundant food. I add a cup of algae as it contains micro nutrients they need. About 27 degrees is the ideal temperature for growing fry.

Feeding fry: Take note that they still do not have any developed taste buds, so they can only detect food by sight alone; thus, they need to have food all around them.  For the first day or so, hardboiled egg yolk is the ideal food but it may lead to poor quality water if it’s not all consumed. Another good food source is brine shrimp, especially when the fry are about a week old.  After that, you can start feeding them a mash diet of power fish food rubbed between your fingers.

Sustainable Aquaponics using pre used or recycled materials

The reason most people start in Aquaponics is to save money and be more selfsufficent. If you’re going to try your hand at growing vegetables or herbs using aquaponics to be more self sufficient then you should really go the extra step towards sustainability  and use recycled materials where ever you can in your aquaponics system design.

I know that there are an increasing amount of commercial aquaponic systems on the market and if you have the money to buy them I’m sure they will suit your needs.

But from a sustainability point of view, think about how much energy and green house emissions have gone into making that plastic fish tank or plastic grow bed. Also think about where the material was made and where you’re purchasing it from. Chances are that your new sustainable aquaponics kit has travelled 1000’s km to get to you and its full of embedded energy.small IBC aquaponics design

Now I’m not critical of commercial aquaponics kits, they are a great educational tool and also they are great to get you started growing fish and vegetables  really quickly. If however you can assemble your own plumbing and pipes and use a saw and you wish to be more sustainable in your gardening approach then I suggest that you use recycled materials. In this way you’re taking a once used and discarded product and using it for a second, third or fourth purpose.

To create an adequate size Aquaponics garden consider using IBC tote bulk containers for grow beds and fish tanks. They are available around the world and are easy to cut, move around your backyard and have a small physical footprint.

There are many methods and styles when using these IBC tanks. You could try some of the following:

  1. Chopping the top off and inverting the top. The large section becomes the fish tank and water is pumped to the growbed above. This is a great technique for those with limited space.
  2. Chop the top and base off. This will provide two growbeds. Use a second tank as a fish tank or use a fish pond and pump to the new growbeds. There is no limit to the number of grow beds you could use in this approach.

You could use many other materials like large tubs, old washing machines, old fridges, kids swimming pools, etc etc.

Look around, keep your eyes open and if it can hold water then you can most likely use it in your aquaponics project.

Why do i need Duckweed in Aquaponics?

Duckweeds is a group of aquatic plants which float on or just beneath the surface of still or slow-moving fresh water bodies, creeks  and wetlands. Duckweed has many uses in the backyard fishpond and it sure has its place in Aquaponics. Duckweed is extremely fast growing, and can double itself in just a few days. The fast growing plant utilizes excess nutrients duck weed in aquaponicssuch as nitrogen and phosphorus, thereby creating a healthier environment for pond inhabitants.

This humble plant is also a high protein plant, and make an excellent supplemental diet for aquacultures species such as Tilapia, koi, perch and even trout.  

Since the late 1960s, scientists have studied duckweed for animal and human consumption due to its high protein content. This tiny plant actually contains more protein per square meter than soybeans and is sometimes cited as a significant potential food source in many countries. Researchers are now tapping into the plant’s unique environmental benefits, from desalinating wastewater to exploring its potential as a viable starch-based feedstock for ethanol production.

Duck weed also provides shelter for timid species, and even provides a breeding medium for some fish. For all these benefits, this small plant species can also quickly become a nuisance to pond owners if its left unattended to. It’s perfect as a fish food if you have fish in the tank or pond but if you don’t this tiny plant can overtake a small pond in a matter of weeks, or sometimes, days. In this case duckweed blooms can deplete the pond of oxygen, resulting in stressful conditions for the livestock. Although propagating can be fairly easy, eradicating a population can be quite difficult.

Duckweed is also being studied by researchers around the world as a possible source of clean energy.  Yep that’s right- In the United States, both Rutgers University and North Carolina State University have ongoing projects to determine if duckweed might be a source of cost-effective, clean, renewable energy. Duckweed is a good candidate as a biofuel because as a biomass it grows rapidly, has 5 to 6 times as much starch as corn, and does not contribute to global warming. Duckweed is considered a carbon neutral energy source, because unlike most fuels, it removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is a promising area for the humble weed types

I suggest that you try and find some for your fishpond or Aquaponics system. I have it growing in all sorts of places like unused buckets, in the sump of my Aquaponics system, in containers, you name it I’m growing it within it.  If you would like some I’m happy to post it to most states or you can collect from Cardiff NSW. Just contact me for more info.

Trout in Aquaponics

There are three main species of trout that can be used in Australian Aquaponics systems including: brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout.

Rainbow trout are a cool water species of salmonid which are distributed widely around the world. They have been cultured and stocked into dams and rivers in every continent except Antarctica, and are possibly the best known fresh water sporting fish in the world. Rainbow trout prefer cooler water temperatures, with optimum growing temperatures around 13˚C (56F) – 17˚C (62F). They can tolerate temperatures as low as 3˚C (38F) and as high 24˚C (75F) but not for extended periods of time.

In locations where there are wide temperature fluctuations between summer and winter, like Australia, trout can be an ideal winter crop with a really fast growing time. In areas with cooler seasons trout make an ideal all year round fish species for aquaponics.

If your going to keep trout at home in the backyard- having a larger water volume in your fish tanks will help you with less water temperature fluctuations. As the weather starts to warm up this willassist keeping them longer. Smoothing out the daily temperature fluctuations in a system makes for healthier less stressed fish, and as such less chance of diseases becoming a problem. We have also found that shading a system with shade cloth in harsh weather conditions can also aid in controlling temperature fluctuations.

Rainbow Trout in Aquaponics SystemsThis year I have kept trout in my gravity fed Aquaponics system for approximately 7 months ( since 1 March till today 29 September 2012). Today the water temperature reached 22 degrees and there was nothing I could do to lower it so I decided that enough was enough and it was time to eat them. I had planned to grow them out a little longer however with the ever increasing spring temperatures its really difficult.

This decision didn’t come lightly and only after I added shade to the Aquaponics trout tank, additional airstones, insulation to the outside of the tanks and added ice to lower the water temperature.

If you decide to try trout remember that they are quite fast growing and if you get them at the end of summer its possible to grow them out to plate size before it gets too hot if you chill the water, have plenty of oxygen and have them in insulated tanks.

Trout prefer chilled water. It would be difficult to keep them in a tank without a chiller capable of bringing the water temp from ambient down to single digit figures. That said I have kept my trout successfully in water temperatures up as high as 15 degrees. After that they start to hover around the top of the tank and won’t do well.Time to Harvest Aquaponic Rainbow Trout

They need cool well oxygenated water and unless you live under a snowy mountains dam and had flow through system I would suggest that you will either need to eat them all like I did before summer. As the amount of oxygen water can hold is proportional to temperature I suggest you add a few air stones as the temperature rises.

As you can see in the photo my trout all grow at different levels. Although the trout were purchased as fingerlings, when harvesting its clear that they all grow at differnt growth rates even though they all have been kept in the same environmental conditions. I would have liked to grow my fish for another month if possible however my biggest fish were still plate size.

What if im a Vegetarian and dont eat fish?

In most cases you start an aquaponics system as you wish to reuse a waste product and harvest two food commodities- both fish and vegetables. BUT- I have been asked many times what do i do if i don’t want to eat the fish in my aquaponics system? My usual response is, well it just doesn’t matter- don’t eat them im sure the fish will thank you for it. When you think about it, we only need the fish for their “waste product”to provide nutrients to our vegetables. So if your a vegetarian or if you cannot quite bring Koi can be used in Aquaponicsyourself to catch and kill your fish for consumption then why not use ornamental goldfish or koi.

There are many really strong bennifits to using ornamental fish in aquaponics systems. Koi and goldfish look fantastic, they are really hardy fish, grow really quickly and produce a great deal of waste that you can use for your vegetables. Koi and goldfish are also very tolerant of pH and temperature fluctuations.

If your going to use ornamental fish you might as well dig a pond in your backyard for a great visual effect. Its great to use recycled containers for aquaponic fish tanks but in this case you really want to view the fish. A pond can easily form a really great feature for your yard.