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Thanks to Randy’s old Canon underwater camera, we can ‘observe’ our fish in our system in these YouTube videos even though we don’t have them in aquariums with glass walls. This will be helpful so we can observe fish behavior, stress levels, scratching, etc. We’re also working on building a viewing tube so we can get up close and personal with the fishies like we’re looking through a periscope.

These aren’t quite National Geographic quality but they are fun and it’s uncommon to see fish in aquaponics systems. As our system ‘ages’, we will have more tanins and organic material in the water so visibility may go down soon.

Our Peeps

Kevin and Randy are not alone in their quest to bring sustainable aquaponics farming to Santa Barbara and the Central Coast. If you think we’re doing cool stuff, then be sure to visit the websites of our mentors, friends, and business acquaintances who make sure we can do what we do. Peace.

Friendly Aquaponics  Randy took an amazing week long commercial aquaponics course with Tim and Susanne on the Big Island. Friendly has done more for aquaponics than anyone else we know of to bring down the cost, use energy more efficiently, and make systems that are functional. We want build on this approach of innovation and common sense as we scale down the important features of commercial aquaponics to the backyard.

Aquaponics Gardening A link to a very good aquaponics blog. Randy has a page here as well.

J and J Aquafarms Our source for channel catfish and also a place to buy fish pellets in bulk, aquatic plants, etc. John can ship catfish or other fish via FedEx overnight shipping.

Urban Grow Systems  The good folks at UGS have some of the best deals around on hydroponic supplies. This is where we get our net pots, soil mixture of coconut coir and hydrolite, hydroton, and Maxicrop. Jared’s got the aquaponics supplies you’ll need.

Santa Barbara Permaculture Network A community of locals committed to sharing the theory, practice, and art of permaculture.

Sustainable World Radio Podcasts and so much more on permaculture, urban farming, and the value of soil. Great stuff Jill!

Fairview Gardens  More good local Santa Barbara people who are trying to help spread the urban food movement. Keep up the good work.

Loa Tree Local heroes Dave Fortson and Eric Cardenas are helping promote eco and socially sustainable innovators, changemakers, and sustainable lifestyles.  Look out for Loa Living MagazineLoa Tree’s new quarterly magazine for a better world.

Aquatic Designs Brandon and his crew are there to help you from the aquarium end of aquaponics. Whether it is getting fish food, air and water pumps, or other parts, this is the place to go.

Santa Barbara Food Bank Let’s see; 5 million pounds of food donated to needy families in 2011. Yes, these are people and an organization to get behind. Donate proudly, your money or your time.

Edible Santa Barbara Magazine A quarterly publication celebrating the abundance of local food and wine throughout Santa Barbara County. We hope to someday grace the pages of Edible SB and help spread the word and bounty of aquaponics.

Breaking Ground


After a few months of planning, designing, and building, Santa Barbara Aquaponics is taking shape. We still have a lot to do but our fish tank, media bed, and trough are in place and we’ve planted our first 150 seeds. The water is flowing, mosquito fish are in place and we should be getting catfish next week, which will be our ‘engine’ for growing our aquaponics produce. We look forward to learning from our small demonstration system, which blends the efficiencies of commercial systems into a footprint small enough to fit into a backyard. Stay tuned and we will let you all know when we are going to have our first tour, where we can fill you in on all the details of what we’re building, why we won’t be selling fish, and how we can help you follow your passion.

Growing Methods and Media

One of the most interesting questions we get by those who are learning about aquaponics relates to how we can possibly grow food without using soil. Because aquaponics takes advantage of nutrient rich water recirculating through the system, plants can be rooted in an inert or soil-less media, and can readily take up all the nutrients they need from the water that passes by their roots. Since the plants don’t have to spend lots of energy pushing root tips through heavy soils, endlessly searching for essential nutrients, they can grow much more efficiently (i.e. faster) in aquaponics, despite having no soil. So what exactly would they be grown in again?

There are two main schools of thought for aquaponics growing media. The first is basically a gravel bed and the second uses a floating raft with holes where plants can send their roots into the water below. Each method has it’s advantages so we’ll talk about both.


media bed uses gravel or similar material which provides enough structure for it to set down roots to have a stable plant but also has good spaces between the rocks for air and water movement. For this, gravels which are 1/2″ – 3/4″ work great, not too small like sand where there is little space for air, but not so big that the seeds you’ll plant fall deep between the gravel. Many people, including us, use a formed type of expanded clay called hydroton or hygromite which is lightweight, easy to work with, and provides a nearly ideal balance between stability for the plant and air space. Most hydroponic stores would carry these ‘clay balls’ and while they are initially expensive, they last a long time and save your hands from the abuse of digging through sharp, heavy gravel.

Proper media beds are designed to flood and drain so the root systems don’t get too waterlogged and starved of oxygen, leading to root diseases. This is done by having a water pump on a timer or in a more sophisticated way, using a device called a ‘bell siphon’, a siphon which automatically starts and breaks, letting you flood and drain your media bed on a regular basis, all without any moving parts besides your water pump! There is a lot of information about bell siphons online, how to build them, what materials to use, etc. Just know, you’ll have to balance the flow rate being pumped in with the size of the outlet on the bell siphon; too much water pumped in and the siphon will never stop, too little and the siphon will never start. Try to size it the best you can and use a ball valve on your pump so you can make small adjustments as needed. Contact us if you have any questions; Randy has year’s of experience building and operating bell siphons, even creating waves within coral reef aquariums!

raft system typically uses thick styrofoam sheets floating on a body of water. Holes are drilled through the styrofoam with plants placed in small net pots in the holes so their roots can grow down and into the water column, where they are bathed in nutrient rich water. A small amount of inert media is placed in each net pot to allow the plant to set roots but it is the roots descending into the water which gives this method it’s big advantage. To be clear, most people use another type of media in net pots, coconut coir, or husks. These long fibers from the coconut shell were formerly a waste product but not provide a good planting medium for net pots. This wicks some water up into the net pot and allows the roots to easily penetrate through into the water. Raft systems must have two things to keep the plants from drowning though; they must be high enough above the water that the top is fairly dry and the water must have high oxygen levels so the roots can breathe. Rafts are easy to work with, can be drilled out to whatever spacing your plants need, but don’t provide a lot of support for taller or heavy plants. For these plants which need lots of support, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, or even corn, media beds are generally better than rafts. For many of the leafy greens and smaller flowering plants, rafts provide all the support they need. Which type is best? Well that is up to you and what you want to grow.

Since your aquaponics system is an ecosystem, you’ll be growing much more than just fish and plants. Both methods have a large amount of surface area for nutrient processing bacteria to grow, which is crucial to a stable aquaponics ecosystem. Well designed media beds with a regular flood and drain cycle can also host earthworms to help break down solid fish waste into a soluble and sought after plant super food. Small invertebrates such as gamarrus shrimp can also do this same function in raft systems as well but are more difficult to obtain than the ubiquitous earthworm. As we learn more about the benefits of both methods, many feel that a combination of the two growing methods offers some of the best of both worlds and lets you easily grow a variety of crops and have a healthy and stable aquaponics system.

Did you miss our latest newsletter? Want to go back and get some of our earlier helpful tips, hear our philosophy, and find out about aquaponics in the news? See our archived newsletters below and sign up for the next newsletter here. We’ll never share your email with others and won’t spam your inbox with anything other than the highest quality aquaponics news you can use.

November 2011

January 2012

February 2012

June 2012

October 2012

November 2012

September 2013

Aquaponics is a method of organic food production which combines the best aspects of aquaculture and hydroponics to create a highly productive living ecosystem. Santa Barbara Aquaponics seeks to bring aquaponics to Santa Barbara through the use of commercial and hobbyist sized systems to grow nutritious organic vegetables using the most sustainable agriculture systems available.

Today, agriculture is much different than that practiced by our grandfathers. Threatened by problems related to water shortages, topsoil loss, reliance on fossil fuel inputs, and a changing climate, the productivity and reliability of our food systems and ecosystems are at stake. Alternatives are needed which are more efficient in use of resources, are sustainable, resilient, and better mesh with our communities. Aquaponics is an agricultural technique poised to meet our current and future needs for locally raised, healthy and sustainable produce. Aquaponics has faster production cycles, increased planting densities, lower water and energy usage, and better tasting produce compared to traditional agriculture providing aquaponics many distinct advantages moving forward.

Santa Barbara Aquaponics goal is to grow healthy food for our region, optimize water and energy efficiency of aquaponics operations, demonstrate the commercial viability of aquaponics farming, and promote aquaponics as a sustainable alternative to existing food production systems. We will strive to educate others as we develop techniques that are scalable from backyards to large commercial farms in order to lighten the impact of modern agricultural practices. Care to join us? Sign up for our newsletter on the right side of our home page to learn about everything we’re doing and how you can be involved.

Our First Demo

Aquaponics Demo

This was our First Demo, rather spur of the moment.

We managed to get together some flyers and cards for handouts.

The response was very encouraging for the short time we was there.

The people we met really inspired us.

Kevin and Randy are looking for families in or around Santa Barbara who are interested in having an aquaponics system in their backyards. Want to grow your own food organically? Not have much space? Have poor soil? Aquaponics may be for you.   Please contact Kevin and Randy at to find out more about how we can help you install an aquaponics system at your home.

Channel Catfish

Aquaponics- A Sustainable Farming Method for the Future

Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics.  Fish and crops are raised in a symbiotic relationship with one another.  Aquaponics systems mimic natural systems.  Water from the fish tank is filtered by the plants. Fish waste, algae, and decomposing fish food (which would prove toxic to the fish )  is used by the growing plants as liquid fertilizer.   Aquaponics systems, done well, can save money on fertilizers, compost and water, as well as  lessen the burden on the world’s oceans and depleted fish populations.

Chinampas and Aquaponics in History

“Chinampas” were built by the Aztecs in Mexico City.  These were known as the floating gardens and had high crop yields.  Chinampas were built as island plots or rafts  in the lakes surrounding the city and fertilized with nutrient-rich lake water and mud.  As the plants on the rafts grew, their roots would dangle in the water.

In  China, some farmers grew aquaponically, using ducks, finfish, catfish, and raising rice and vegetables in a flow-through system.

In Peru, geese were used instead of ducks.

The hanging Gardens of Babylon are now believed to be an example of Aquaponic farming.

Aquaponics Today

Whether you’re doing a commercial Aquaponic farming venture or you just want to put something together in your own back yard, you will be richly rewarded with this fascinating subject.  Enjoy!

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