View of the trough. The plants are floating on rafts. Plants from the little seeding tray are lower on the page.
WE LOVE OUR CHANNEL CATFISH!
These seeds were put in around March. I also use an old cake container. I fill the containers about two inches deep with my Aquaponic basket mix. The mix is very loamy, so as to let the air circulate through the mix keeping it aerobic. I also wet the mix, but not saturate, just a feeling of dampness. The general rule is put the seed in as deep as physical size. I will generally take a hand full of my mix and lightly sprinkle all the seeds putting a little more on the bigger ones and a little less on the smaller ones. This creates the depth continuity. Lastly, put a lid on either tight on or with an air gap if theres high humidity. After a few days you will start to see some of the quicker germinating seeds show their heads. The mix can also start to dry as the seedlings start to emerge. I take a spray bottle and ever so lightly give them a quick water spray or depending on your judgement and experience spray a light compost tea. When the seedlings are up and running I put them out doors in the nursery raft area ready to go into the main system. Cold nights can make germination somewhat unpredictable, however indoors with controlled temps can sometimes yield more consistent results. Most of the crop that is in the system at the moment has been germinated much the same way. In fact it is really surprising the amount of seedlings that appear making a lot of transplants to an Aquaponic basket. The good news, you know how many plants you are dealing with so you can more accurately project the yield.
At the start of a new year, some of us will set resolutions, others will go on with business as usual. These are personal choices. In 2014, Santa Barbara Aquaponics set a resolution to help our community use water more efficiently. We’ll do this by walking the walk, but also by sharing great water saving tips, leading workshops on aquaponics (very water efficient if you didn’t know), and helping others with the sweaty part of getting stuff done at their own homes or community projects.
In regards to water, the new year is looking rather scary. California just experienced the lowest rainfall on record and officially declared drought this Friday. Santa Barbara is dealing with a range of water supply issues and also declared a County Drought Emergency the same day. Even the most awesome of locals who have gone to great lengths to collect rainwater for their gardens are coming up short, through no fault of their own. Yes, it’s on. We are by any measure, in a drought. So now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about what water will mean to you in 2014.
Lake Cachuma Boat Ramp, January 2014
I wasn’t living in Santa Barbara during the big drought of 86-91 but have learned a lot about it. Ask someone who lived through it and you’ll be shocked at what this community went through. Mandatory rationing, bans on watering lawns, people installing grey water systems all over town, and a few entrepreneurs even did quite well keeping lawns green- by painting them! Yes, the situation was quite dire and if not for the March Miracle, when over 12″ of rain fell in March of 1991 and finally brought much needed runoff into Lake Cachuma, it could have been the ugliest of summers and beyond. While this was the most extreme recent example, there were also droughts in 1977-1978, 2001-2004, and now, 2011- today.
Droughts are by no means a rare occurrence and by definition, occur across the globe. They are truly exceptional events that can shock a semi-arid community like Santa Barbara out of our status quo approach to paradise and start to make nearly everyone think about what they could do to save water. After all, in Santa Barbara circa 1990 when the cost of the highest tier on your water bill was 28 times more expensive than the lowest tier, people paid attention and did everything they could to keep their water bill lower than their mortgage. So the moral of this history lesson is; it has happened before and we’re likely in the middle of one that is potentially worse.
Climate Change and the ‘Ridiculously Resistant Ridge
A fairly solid climate change prediction is that there will be more extreme weather events, more floods and droughts, more heat waves and polar vortexes. Climate change has ‘loaded the dice’ of weather events, making it more likely to have persistent events that lead to too much of a good thing. Right now off the coast of Washington and British Columbia is the high pressure system dubbed the ‘Ridiculously Resistant Ridge‘, so named because it just won’t go away. It has been pushing normal winter storms north of us into the northern US and Canada.
The Ridiculously Resistant Ridge of High Pressure
Would this drought have happened without climate change? Maybe, but it likely worse than it would have been otherwise. Based on the record high temperatures in January, about-to-be-record low rainfall to date this winter, and a 2013 record low rainfall in California, things have changed and we have to admit its different now. So what can we do? Are we doomed? Not necessarily, but we’ll need to place a higher value on water so we can make what we do have go farther.
Drought Today- Unless the skies unleash some serious moisture in February or March, which isn’t predicted in the long term forecasts, this drought might continue till next ‘winter’ and beyond. Rapidly falling reservoir levels and lack of rainfall in Santa Barbara and up and down California will soon force our hand in demanding changes to how we manage water in our daily lives. This is especially true in the area we haven’t been paying enough attention, our own landscaping. At the residential level, most households (yes that likely means you) use more water on their begonias, daisies, and fescue than for toilets, showers, and all other domestic uses combined. In the arid west, landscape water use is usually more than 50% but often more than 70% of a household’s monthly water use. This is why when the call comes to reduce water use, the best place to find major savings will be outdoors.
Gone Tomorrow could be our ‘set it and forget it’ approach to irrigation. Landscaping watered by automatic irrigation systems CAN be efficient in providing plants the water they need and not too much more. However, many poorly designed irrigation systems will never be efficient and nearly all irrigation will never be efficient if they aren’t properly managed and maintained. This means looking for and repairing leaks and adjusting the watering schedule based on the weather and plants water needs, which the last time I checked, changes throughout the seasons. Thought you had a high water bill already? Just wait till water is really scarce and then don’t be surprised when we all learn the true cost of water, the one resource no one can do without. So please don’t complain if your water bill all of a sudden gets higher than your cable or cell phone bill. While some people THINK they can’t live without HBO or updating their Facebook status on the go, try living without water. On second thought, don’t try that since it would kill you.
Lake Cachuma Boat Ramp, January 2014
Aquaponics grows more veggies, Uses less water: While it may take a considerable amount of water to fill up an aquaponics system, in the end, it uses way less water to grow more vegetables than your grandmother’s victory garden. So think aquaponics, learn more about it, and contact Kevin or Randy at Santa Barbara Aquaponics to arrange a tour of our demonstration garden.
Many ready to help save YOU water: From local permaculture networks, to rainwater harvesting classes being offered by Santa Barbara City College and community groups like Sweetwater Collective, to professional landscapers and designers, to maybe even your neighbor, it’s not just local water providers who can help.
Start up a conversation with someone about water. Maybe they can help you, maybe you can help them. Either way, we’ll all need a little help and when it comes to a public good like water, we’re all in this together. So rather than making this a ‘turn in your neighbor to the water cops’ moment, let’s make it a ‘help out your neighbor’ moment. So Oprah, I’m offering to help you remove some of that 20 acre lawn. Feel free to call me and maybe we can use your upcoming lawn conversion as a feel good segment on a TV show or something….
Thanks for reading. Randy Turner, Kevin Childerley, and the Santa Barbara Aquaponics Team!
Off season produce anyone? Try Aquaponics!
Like the rest of the country, Santa Barbara has seen some below freezing temperatures lately. While this freak weather for a place famous for its absolutely stunning weather puts us in a chill while we’re working, our produce just keeps humming along. Air temperature the other morning at 7:30- 35 F, water temperature 60 F. Thank you solar hot water!
Here at Santa Barbara Aquaponics, we advocate for sustainable solutions to societies problems with food. We will readily admit that we’ve got a long way to go but one of the great parts about what we’re doing is working with solutions that try to reduce our impact on, well, everything. Since early this spring, we’ve had a solar hot water system installed that has done a great job of keeping our water temperature up so the metabolism of our catfish stays high, so they want to eat a lot, so they poop a lot, so a lot of nutrients are generated, so…. you get the picture. We could have installed electric heaters and gotten the temp up higher. Natural gas heaters weren’t really an option with no gas line nearby but we could have also looked into propane but we really don’t need it. The solar does a great job in keeping our water temperatures above ambient most of the time, and since channel catfish can survive low temperatures, unlike Tilapia, we’re ok either way. But since we don’t want water temperatures to be low, we’re stoked to have a significant bump up in water temperatures, thanks to our trusty solar hot water heater.
The tomato plants look great and are so far, no worse for wear from multiple nights of below freezing temps. We may be singing a different tune later this winter but for now, we will be happy that our hot water comes from the sun!
I’ll take this Turkey Day to give thanks to another critter deserving of praise, the Channel Catfish. The engine to our aquaponics system, we love how they quietly go about their business, eating the food we give them and passing on their waste to our plants. They are a pretty flexible species, able to withstand water temperatures that would make a Tilapia go ‘shiny side up’ and are fairly non aggressive.
Besides having our catfish in the IBC tote, we been experimenting with catfish also in our deep water culture (DWC) trough. While only 1′ deep, the catfish are doing great and don’t mess with the plant roots at all. It does get a little crowded in there but the previous ‘rule’ of separating fish and veggies can be broken. Now for those with Tilapia, that wouldn’t work because they would destroy the plant roots. Score one more for catfish!
Our next system design might very well take advantage of this experiment and be a single, deeper DWC trough. This approach would simplify construction, nearly eliminate plumbing, cut costs, and reduce potential points of failure. What’s not to be thankful for about all that? Aquaponics will evolve and we hope become something easier, more foolproof, more sustainable, and more productive.
So on behalf of my future self, I want to thank the venerable catfish as well as this current generation of aquaponics innovators. Lets strive to accomplish more with what we have and never stop learning how to do it better.
There are many ways to ‘do’ aquaponics. In fact, the concept itself is so broad as to cover everything from rice farmers who have fish in their paddies to high tech climate controlled greenhouse aquaponics. The core concept of polyculture and pairing complementary species like fish and plants gives us something with lots of possibilities. While it would be great to claim that the Santa Barbara Aquaponics model is the best, the best system for you needs to consider your wants, your location, and your level of involvement. Luckily, aquaponics is flexible enough to meet most people’s wants, location, and involvement.
Do you want a system big enough to feed friends and family or have a particular vegetable in mind? Easy enough.
Would you rather have a small system to grow herbs that fits on your patio? No problem.
Do you need a system that is automated for those long weekends away with the family? That’s possible too.
So understand, before you commit to an aquaponics system, think about what you want to grow, what space and sun conditions are available, and what level of involvement you want. Your answers are crucial to helping you or others plan and build your system the way that works for you.
System Size- The bigger the better? For some, that is yes. In fact, the economy of scale means making it twice as big sometimes only costs a little more. Balancing the system size with your needs is important. Knowing what types of plants you want to grow helps you plan for how much space you’ll need.
System Location- The concept of Right Plant, Right Place common to gardening holds true in aquaponics. If your aquaponics system will get lots of shade or is especially windy, you need to take this into account as well, just like in soil. If you’re on a moderate slope, there are even some fairly easy steps to nearly avoid grading.
System Involvement- How much do you want to tinker with your system? Do you want to feed them three or four times a day and keep it immaculate? Will you only have time on the weekends? These are important considerations and will affect how much automation and maintenance you should plan on.
Whatever you choose, know that Santa Barbara Aquaponics is there to help you answer these questions and design a system for you that meets your culinary needs, works within your space, and fits your schedule. What can we do for you?
By Randy Turner