Aquaponics? What's that??
Aquaponics is the marriage of aquaculture (growing fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in water). In a nutshell, it's a system of raising fish and vegetables in a symbiotic relationship. Fish naturally produce lots of waste, which would be a problem in normal aquaculture- requiring lots of complex equipment and filters to remove it. However, with the help of naturally occurring bacteria in the aquaponic system, the wastes break down into a nutrient rich solution that the plants can use. This solution then replaces the mineral salts (which are often a petroleum-based product) that normal hydroponic systems use; the plants are then able to pull as much nutrition from the water as they'd like, which makes for some very healthy, very nutritious vegetables. The results are beautiful plants, healthy fish, and a happy farmer.
The aquaponic system here at Lone Duck Farm is a University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) raft-based system. This means that we have large, rectangular tanks that are covered with smaller polystyrene “rafts." These rafts have a gridwork of holes that perfectly fit our growing medium- allowing the plants to sit directly in the water. Each raft then makes its way down the tank, with seedlings on one end and ready-to-harvest plants on the other. It's a great system backed by a lot of research and testing, though we're already looking forward to tinkering with it to add even more products! (That's your "hook"- check back later for more updates!)
Permaculture is a design concept that just makes sense (unless you're a computer spellcheck program). It is a phrase developed in Australia as a portmanteau (combination) of the words "permanent agriculture." Here on our farm, we're using some of the design principles to create a tree-centric polyculture high in biodiversity, with multi-functioning crops that fit all the needs of the farm ecosystem. Whew- what a mouthful! In short, we are looking to grow lots of perennials (trees, shrubs, plants, and mushrooms) that do multiple functions. Take the goumi (an Asian shrub), for example. It's a fast growing shrub that quickly covers the soil, gives shade and wildlife habitat, provides lots of flowers for bees, and bears tasty fruits for fresh eating, jams, and for hungry wildlife, as well as fixing nitrogen in the soil. It's about as multi-purpose as they come!
By using plants like the goumi (or native oak or hazelnuts, etc.) and orientating them correctly around the farm, our goal is to create a bountiful ecosystem with as few inputs and as many outputs as possible. Permaculture is about finding the right balance, so everything has what it needs and nothing takes over. If we can do it right, the farm chores gradually change from the continual maintenance of conventional gardening (i.e.- tilling, weeding, watering, harvesting, etc.) to more of a laid-back management role, where the plants do the work and the people get to harvest, watch, and enjoy.