Bioponics, Aquaponics, Hydroponics
By Michael Wardle
The journey to Bioponics has been a long and interesting one for me spanning 15 years.
In what seemed almost a lifetime ago I was interested in the idea of hydroponics as a way that a huge volume of food could be grown in a small space to help feed the world. While we never quite achieved the goal of feeding the world, we did however manage to grow a large quantity for ourselves. While this may have sounded like a good thing, there was always something that bothered me with Hydroponics in that an industrial chemical was given to the water as a means to provide nutrient to the plants. To cut a long story short, there was no life in the system at all and that the addition of the hydroponic mixture to the water over time meant that the salt build up in the same waters would have to be flushed out at least once a month, but those same waters and salt levels meant that the water could not be used in the garden or elsewhere. Needless to say to this showed the system was not a closed looped one and that there was a huge waste and nutrient density issue.
Feeling unhappy about the level of investment I had put into something that ultimately was not what we were looking for lead me to delve further into the possibilities and this lead me to Aquaponics. My first encounter with aquaponics was a conversation I had with my then father in law who was concerned with the future. In his own words, he was getting older and he worried about the future for his family. We lived in an area that had little rainfall due to being in a rain shadow and we were looking at adding tour food security. During the course of that conversation he handed me a copy of the local ‘big’ paper (The courier mail) which that week and published an article about someone called Murray Hallam who was working on something called aquaponics. The combination of growing fish and vegetables in a loop system providing both protein and greens using a minimum of water.
While we both talked about going to one of Murrays courses, we never got around to it. I did however manage to attend a couple of other courses and did start to spend time researching and playing around with various ideas and concepts.
We eventually ended up moving from the property we had to our current abode. While the distance between to 2 was not far all the infrastructure for the old system was left behind as we were not certain if we would continue the journey with aquaponics. A couple of years later I finally met Rob from Robs aquaponics and back yard farm which re-sparked my interest in aquaponics and I invited him to come run a workshop. After some thought he agreed, but was uncertain as he had never run a workshop before and would appreciate my help. We built a new system here and this lead to the running of two workshop over a couple of years.
Oddly enough, this is when I started to wonder about aquaponics. Due to the nature of what I do with consults and education, there are times when I am not here and while I did leave instructions with my children on what needed to be done with the predictable “yes Dad” that goes with it, I was finding upon my return that while the fish had been fed there were other things that were not done which lead to more work than what I was prepared to do.
For any who have done a workshop with me or had me come to consult, there is one thing I always say “Limitations set design”
Looking at the limitations of aquaponics and the time frame I had available to manage the system showed that while it is a brilliant way of being able to grow your fish and vegetables together, for me there was always buffering issues, the need to check the PH morning and night (hard when I was not here) the constant purchase of food (I have heard of people using black soldier fly larvae and mealy worms to feed their fish, but I found the fish never took to them for long and again I needed to be here to manage yet another level of complexity to the system), weighing the fish to make sure there only got what they needed so that there was not a nutrient build up in the system etc etc etc. While I was home all the time, it was not an issue, but when I went away then it became one.
This leads me back to before I received my fish for the current system. There was a delay in the fish arriving and rather than wait I started cycling my system with different brews that I had that was used in other areas of my design here at home. It took 4 months for the fish to arrive (honestly I had given up) finally and in a subsequent conversation with Rob I mentioned what I was doing, and he laughed and said I should TM that. (A quick google search killed that idea as I discovered it was not a new one – Thanks Rob ;))
I spent the next 3 year looking at the various way of closing the loop here at home, and as a baseline, I looked at soil and its mineral and nutrient cycling to give me some guide into how it might work, so I experimented with different combinations.
While you can have fish, oysters or redclaw etc. in your Bioponics system, you do not have to make it work. I have found that since switching to this particular model that the growth rate may be slightly less than aquaponics, it is still healthy and lush (many people have commented on the taste and quality of the parsley)
Recently we held our first workshop on Bioponics. While it was not our intention to workshop it, I was teaching at an urban farming workshop when I first started experimenting with it, and I happen to mention that I was. One of the participants at that urban farming workshop spent the next 3 years asking me to run a seminar on it and I finally ‘caved in’ and did so. It was terrific, and with a full house, we spent the day in a hands-on environment so that people could not only learn about it but have the confidence to go home and do it themselves. I have been happy to hear that many did so even to the point of stopping into local hardware stores to pick up what they needed on their way home on the day of the workshop itself.
"The workshop was fabulous. So much information. Loved the hands on as you remember it better and it makes the process so much easier" - Workshop Participant
I have since learned others are now starting to look at the possibilities of Bioponics and have been experimenting with it for the last 6 months, and I can see others running workshops or videos soon. I love the evolution of the process and look forward to pushing the limits of it further I the future
About the Author
Michael began his permaculture journey 25 years ago when he first picked up a copy of Permaculture One and the Introduction to Permaculture.
He has applied the ethics and principles of permaculture to his personal life and is now enjoying the wonderful opportunities of being able to apply them in his workplace and community. He enjoys learning about the many different facets of permaculture and design. Through his learning, he has also come to love teaching. He has completed 4 PDC's, Permaculture Teacher Training with Rosemary Morrow and Nick Ritar. Dynamic groups Dynamic learning with Robin Clayfield, he has also completed the Advanced Permaculture Principle workshop with David Holmgren and the Advanced Permaculture Design with Dan Palmer, Edible Forest Garden Design Intensive with Dave Jacke and the REXonline with Darren Doherty and many others.
He hopes to be as inspirational and effective as his teachers. He continues to run workshops, designs and consults through his own business - Savour Soil Permaculture and continues his learning journey to advance his knowledge and to increase the value he provides in his teaching, projects and consultations.