Aquaponics gardening can offer water-saving solution for food growth

Phillip Palmer Image
Friday, August 12, 2022
Aquaponics gardening can offer water-saving solution for food growth
Want to grow your own fruits and veggies, but don't have space for a garden? Just add fish! It's a solution called aquaponics.

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- How can you have a garden with fresh fruits and vegetables when space and water are limited? There is a solution and it's called aquaponics.

"I don't even think I understood what it meant, but I've always been interested in stuff like this," says high school senior Jordan Karambelas.

Jordan will be a senior at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, and her aquaponics system on campus is meant to show classmates what can be done to creatively grow food. With help from Mike Garcia, a South Bay landscape contractor, Jordan used a school courtyard where traditional gardens sit unused, as the site for her Permaculture Club's 4X6, two-level structure. It's one that could easily fit in your front porch or apartment balcony.

"You can do much more simple versions of this, just put it in your house and stuff like that. Even stuff like that can start helping. And the part that even helps more than doing it is at least you're spreading it to other people," she explains.

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The amount of water you can save at home is a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things, but agricultural users are responsible for an estimated 50% of total water used in California, so if they can reduce, it would be noticeable.

Garcia understands that aquaponics needs some explaining.

"In this type of system, people have a hard time understanding the concept. It's like wait, we're not using water once, we're not using water twice, we're using it hundreds of times over? People are having a hard time fathoming it," Garcia said.

Every 15 minutes, water is pumped from a lower level -- where dozens of goldfish live and fertilize the water -- to an upper level where the water nourishes not soil but recycled food-safe plastics.

"Pretty much they compressed gum wrappers and recycle them into this pellet form, which can be used in a lot of different agricultural uses," says Karambelas.

The recycled water does not absorb in the smart gravel. It drenches the plant roots and then drips back into the fish tank, keeping the water aerated for the fish. The only water lost is through evaporation, and when needed, a water bobber automatically allows water to be replaced.

Garcia puts it this way: "It's kind of a fish pond, that instead of growing water lilies, you're growing food that's fit for human consumption."

Most of the materials were donated, but the out-of-pocket expense would have been roughly $1,500. The food remains uneaten by classmates for now, but the ideas that will grow from this effort could change the future for a generation of young people who have grown up during a drought and climate change.

"It's all over the news, a lot of people are like, climate change, drought, stuff like that, so I feel like if they just got a glimpse of the possibilities, then there'd be a lot more interest in it," says Karambelas.

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