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Backyard aquaponics as self-sustained farm in (sub)urban LA

Southern California it’s tough because I mean the the value of the land the value of the real estate is is so high the houses are sources of consumption purely I mean you kind of have to work with what you’re given I think I mean yes your I this is a suburban neighborhood this is whisper farms which is actually my backyard part of the experiment was could you potentially have I know I mean your typical family two working adults children could you make a small lot like this and this is 8,000 square feet produce enough to eliminate the need for one of the parents to go to work someplace this is an aquaponics system and as the name would suggest you can tell it’s a it’s kind of a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics this is a very efficient way to grow things in a small space and it also provides a protein source in the form of fish and these are tilapia the tilapia produce ammonia essentially in their waste and that waste gets converted by a series of naturally occurring bacterias into nitrate ultimately and the nitrates would feed the plants this is watercress for example I don’t grow this on rafts I just kind of let it sit in here this is kind of its natural environment it’s like a pond so the plants pick up that material and then they filter the water back to the fish so you’re recreating a little ecosystem the rest of the stuff has grown on these rafts and they’re quite honestly it’s a it’s a styrofoam roofing insulation with holes drilled in it and so the roots just sit down the water and this is what’s called referred to as a deep water culture system and that the water the roots are always in the water so the nutrients from the from the fish gets pumped from that tank back there to the to the top of this trough and it just gravity feeds back to the fish you have the benefit of the efficiency of hydroponics and that the nutrients are directly available to the roots of the plants because they’re all grown in water this uses probably between 15 and 20 percent of the water that you otherwise use it’s a recirculating system so essentially just reusing that water over and over again so all you’re really replacing is just what’s lost for evaporation and what’s taken up by the plants the only inputs are sunlight in fish food none of this stuff has you know any pesticide or anything like that because we’re relying on the balance of the bacteria in the water to convert the nutrients we don’t want to alter that we don’t want to do anything to the plants that can potentially jeopardize that so no sprays if you do introduce things like that into your system you’re very likely to crash it and lose the fish the system is pretty simple currently there’s two air pumps each about 45 Watts and then there’s a submersible water pump it’s a little oversized but it’s 80 Watts so I mean 80 plus 90 so 1.7 kilowatts you know probably runs maybe between 20 and 30 cents a day it’s not a lot however one of the challenges is to keep the water warm especially when you’re growing fish like tilapia which are tropical fish or subtropical fish so if you start to heat things either using natural gas or electricity that kind of throws the model throws the budget kind of out the window so I’ve been heating with passive solar and it’s it’s kind of messy but it’s just water going through blacktip irrigation tubing heats up during the day this is 3/4 inch plywood that’s covered with fiberglass and resin and then I’ve just taken the same raft material and just put it all on here to insulate it helps it’s probably on the order of maybe one or two degrees in temperature saving but every little bit counts the materials are you know you’re kind of average things you can find it at Home Depot got the fish here doing their thing you could use pretty much any fish I mean all fish are going to eat and poop essentially but obviously if you want to have sort of the complete system where you have a protein source you want to raise a fish that you meet I know people up north they use bass catfish bluegill problems with salmon and trout and things that they require a lower water temperatures in particularly trout and they need a lot more space than eat raceways the tilapia are their prolific too so it’s one of the reasons why it’s a common fish used in aquaculture and aquaponics is that you can maintain a stock pretty easily the challenges with tilapia are the water temperature you know they’re most efficient in processing and metabolizing their food when the water is 82 to 86 and in the summer that’s no problem but the plants are really excited about water in the 80s so you’re constantly trying to balance the – one of the challenges is to keep like lettuce and stuff in the summer from bolting and so yeah you got a you got to have the shade cloth plants for example like a more acidic environment in general the fish more alkaline so we settle on a neutral pH for against the goals to get to neutral you kind of have these incongruent C’s that you have to mitigate somehow you have to try and figure it out so heating the water is one is one option I’ve chosen to use a different fish I’ll just show you the breeder fish that have within two months this garage is going to be converted into you I’m going to convert the tilapia growing into pure aquaculture not aquaponics but I’m going to run the aquaponic system on the food source for the fish this soon is going to be converted into actually more storage for fish actually tanks but at the moment this is kind of a temporary setup for the breeders but I have a male and a couple females over there so I’m going to convert all the tilapia production just to strictly aquaculture I’m going to run my aquaponics system on minnows that I’m then gonna feed to the tilapia I can manage their environment indoors a lot better I can maintain an adequate growth rate while feeding them all natural stuff so no hormones no antibiotics which is a common practice like to keep up tilapia that’s grown and commercially they pretty much prophylactically administer antibiotics in the food because with that stocking density that’s so tightly packed those animals yeah I mean one contaminated animal can spread to your whole stock on a small scale that’s not necessary I can use the fish to the minnows to power the aquaponic system and I can also feed those minnows to lock it this is something cool I’ll show you though this is um this this spring I’m going to have a lot of these and this is what I’m actually putting into the garden it’s called Moringa and it’s being used in the developing world to ease famine because a it grows in crevices this thing will be 15 feet tall but in this summer it’s like thirty eight or nine percent protein and you could survive eating it this is it’s meant to more just be an experiment to see what’s possible in a very small space in a in a you know a modest size family home in a suburban neighborhood so that’s why we started with the aquaponics system to demonstrate that a fair amount of things I mean this could feed probably four families you not that you would eat tilapia and lettuce but potentially you could stuff in the front because basic things some leeks some daikon radish there’s carrots there’s beads and then upfront I mean I I got some plugs for free for this verónica cauliflower I mean there’s some arugula that’s it’s flowering it’s still we still eat it I guess the idea was that the front yard really wasn’t landscaped with lawn or anything but it still I felt that if I was going to expend the water I might as well be using it for things that I can eat these I don’t think you’d get any thicker ordinarily these would be bigger diameter vent Pasadena you know has some restrictions I mean I think really what it is if you get along with your neighbors everybody kind of looks the other way and I’m not really aware of them all but I know that you can’t keep more than you know four or five hands I don’t think you can keep goats or anything like that it’s not that restrictive I mean it’s pretty much you can do what your neighbors tolerate you know my neighbors probably weren’t too excited last year when I had a 15 foot long pile of compost in my front yard for a month but I think just with a little neighborly communication that all that stuff can be kind of dealt with I think you just have to take a look at what you have in front of you and it doesn’t have to be perfect it’s incremental I think it really is more of a mindset if you start to just kind of raise your awareness of really what you can do personally whether you’re interested in kind of offsetting you have some of the cost that you have or increasing your income or if you’re concerned about your food supply all of these things you can do a great great many things in any environment someone was throwing this out I just grabbed that I have a little project that I’m doing at a all-girls school I’m going to use this for their little system outside their classroom but again it’s kind of like they’re there you can scavenge so many things and you can create an aquaponic system very inexpensively I mean it’s cheap to run you can do it in really small spaces currently I’m selling stuff to to a couple restaurants in Pasadena selling to restaurants or private individuals or buyers clubs and stuff or Community Supported Agriculture or CSA boxes is unregulated at the moment but one of the problems for small-scale growers is that you know you have a lot of bureaucratic costs associated with selling at the farmers market I mean they’re not really really expensive but when you’re not you know have a huge volume of revenue it does it’s a higher percentage so the farmers market is deemed to be kind of in the public so you have to get certified by the Los Angeles County Department of Agriculture weights and measures and what they do is they come through and they expect your facility see what you’re growing and record that and then they issue you a certified producer certificate which enables you to sell at any farmers market in the county the majority of farmers markets in the LA area are supplied by growers from the Central Valley two three four hundred miles away sometimes you do want this issue why do like no good hoping like rooibos just water this thing I would really like to see farmers markets selling a higher majority of locally grown things it wasn’t as a demonstration this kind of at least proves that you can grow enough to have some to sell at a farmers market in an urban area like this let’s miss oral try that yeah you like the Zorro mission part of the experiment was could you make a small lot like this produce enough to eliminate the need for one of the parents to go to work someplace you know and we’re approximating that I mean it’s difficult it’s just because of the scale I only have one hand here so that’s just it’s just one coop I built it from kind of scrap materials that I found lying on the side of the road I’m kind of vacillating I think really what I want to do is convert this space to race quail the feed conversion ratio is much better they can reproduce at an earlier age one of the things that we’re going to work an experiment with soon is wasabi this is the little sorrel keikis it’s sustainable in the sense that we’re exceeding all of our costs making a modest amount of money every month but it certainly isn’t enough to live on though that’s kind of the ongoing thing I don’t think it will take more than a year with the addition of the fish that we’re going to be able to sell and the effect of the cooperation from other farms it’s as you could tell I’m having a really good time struggling so yeah this is this is a I’m incredibly blessed to have this opportunity but in terms of putting it out there as a model for other people to try and do the more we try and the more that we cooperate with one another to help absorb some of those costs I think the faster we’re going to get to that place where people could really make their properties work for them you

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