[permaculture] pc aquaponics

KAKerby at aol.com KAKerby at aol.com
Tue Oct 9 12:50:54 EDT 2012

Koreen, my Dad grew up in Florida, after moving their as a boy from  
Illinois.  He lived on both Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and we've been there  many 
times to visit extended family who still live in the Ft. Lauderdale  area.  
I, on the other hand, grew up along the Front Range of the Rockies,  where 
water was such a scarcity, all the time.  I remember my first trip to  
Florida, and I didn't even marvel at the beaches or the sun or the warmth.   But 
rather, the greenery and the WATER.  Oh, you folks seemed wealthy in  water!  
Only later was I to learn that water is actually as precious in  Florida as 
it is just about everywhere else.
There was a brilliant man named Maynard Murray, MD, who in the  mid 20th 
centuries got to wondering about using seawater for agriculture.   He started 
doing experiments on the side, bringing in railroad cars of seawater  to his 
native Ohio and applying the seawater in varying amounts, at varying  
concentrations and dilutions, straight to farmland.  His theory was that  
seawater is the great receptacle of nutrients (good, bad and otherwise as we  have 
since learned).  His work as a physician exposed him to a tremendous  amount 
of nutrient deficiency and the health issues that arise from nutrient  
imbalance in the human body.  One of his leaps of brilliance was that we  
shouldn't be fertilizing the plant, but rather fertilizing the soil.  A  subtle 
but crucial difference, which has since been seconded and built upon by  other 
brilliant people.  Another leap of brilliance on his part was that  the 
human body has much the same preferred ratios of nutrients, that seawater  has, 
in terms of nutrient ratios in combination with each other.  Other  
scientists of the time (and even now) were looking for that magic bullet to  solve 
all the problems, or looking for single answers to solve single  problems.  
He was one of the first to document that when you provide all  the 
nutrients, in the correct ratios to each other, even at very weak dilutions  overall, 
the body rises into a state of health previously only dreamt of.   But his 
genius didn't end there.  He knew from his formal scientific  training that 
no one would ever believe his theories even with the research he  was able 
to do on his own.  So yet another brilliant notion he had was to  engage the 
assistance of the various land grant universities in his upper  midwest area 
(and eventually throughout the USA), to test his ideas right there  on the 
farm.  Without going through the whole thing, farmers across the  board saw 
better yields, less disease, less pests, greater livestock health,  
dramatically reduced incidence of pregnancy loss, newborn weakness, and failure  to 
grow.  Things like "the runt of the litter", which is such a rule in hog  
husbandry that folks just generally assume it'll happen (even today), 
basically  evaporated under his nutrient supplementation guidelines.  And it was 
both  plants and animals, not just this-or-that crop or animal or particular 
disease  issue.  
Now, why he didn't win a Nobel for that, I have no idea.  He already  was 
centuries ahead of his time, and even today 70 years later a lot of folks  
have never heard of him.  But he wasn't done yet.  He was using more  and more 
water, shipped to him in railcars, that he eventually simply moved to  
....... FLORIDA........... to continue his research.  And when there, he  
grabbed onto the brand new idea of hydroponics as a stellar new way to bypass  the 
mistakes made by generations previously, and just jump right into building  
healthy, diversified cropping systems, right from the get-go.  So the rest  
of his career was spent working with and perfecting hydroponic methods, 
based on  sea water as a source for most of the nutrients.  He wrote a single 
book  about all his experiences, called Sea Energy Agriculture.  It went out 
of  print for awhile but Acres USA brought it back, and it's still available 
through  them.  When I read his little book (non-technical and can be 
easily read in  a weekend) I remember thinking "why isn't everyone doing 
this?????"  But  alas, some of our best pioneers call to us and amidst the din of 
life, we don't  hear them.
Now, right about the time I was looking to reading his book, I was also  
starting to hear mention of this thing called aquaponics.   And it  seemed 
like a really interesting idea to me, because the strength of Dr.  Murray's 
approach was to bring ALL the trace nutrients, in the correct balance,  into 
the equation.  But what about the macronutrients?   His book  doesn't talk as 
much about that.  Yet here's aquaponics, where the fish are  providing a lot 
of the mactronutrients, but perhaps need the trace nutrients to  balance 
out the approach.  It seemed to me a match made in heaven, because  this would 
be nearly a perpetual motion machine, as someone else mentioned  aquaponics 
is sometimes marketed as.  But this time, the ingredients aren't  merely 
showing up magically out of thin air. Instead, they are all around us,  
covering 70% of the earth's surface, provided by the motion of the planet and  the 
living systems already in place.  All we have to do is marry the two  
I'm sure it's a lot more involved than that, and I would dearly love to  
spend an inordinate amount of time fussing with it to see if I could get it to 
 work.  To my knowledge, no one has experimented with this enough that  
they've worked out all the kinks, then made that information public  knowledge. 
 Sadly, this is where the trail went cold for me  personally.  I did follow 
up with Dr. Murray's research, and apparently a  relative (son, brother, 
something along those lines) took his research into the  marketplace, and 
<sadly, or even tragically> protected a lot of the last  30 years' worth of 
research as proprietary information, which folks can buy via  their product 
line.  But as for information in the public realm?   Nope.
So that's as much information as I have on the topic of marrying seawater  
to crop/livestock nutrition, whether in soil-based or soilless media  
systems.  It seems to me there is tremendous potential there, but I don't  know if 
anyone is looking into it.  One of the things I love about the  
permaculture culture (if I can call it that) is the notion of shared information  for 
public benefit.  I think if there was ever a community of folks to take  this 
idea and run with it, it would be the PC community.  I wish I could  grab 
this idea myself and really work it through its paces.  I'm sure I'll  play 
with it on a small scale at some point.  But I think this is at least  one 
potential bright shining dawn.  An end to mined minerals from  Location A, 
then shipping them to Location B, to put them right back into the  ground 
again.  We'd still have to ship the minerals from the coast to the  inland areas, 
but perhaps there are kinder gentler ways to do so?  And in  what 
proportions?  All those discoveries await.......
Kathryn Kerby
Snohomish, WA
In a message dated 10/9/2012 4:52:40 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time,  
cory8570 at yahoo.com writes:

Thank  you for sharing Kathryn and Pierre. I live in Florida where much of 
the "soil"  is in fact sugar sand. Even in relatively old forests, the sand 
content of the  soil is significant. One of the problems we deal with here 
is finding plants  that 1. are palatable and 2. have nutrition that can grow 
in sugar  sand. 

Most of us in the state spend a lot of time and effort  building soil 
artificially, above the sand, and figuring out ways to prevent  it from sinking 
into the sand and disappearing in our baking hot summers. We  use 
hugulkulture, biochar, lots of organic matter (like wood chips, which come  from the 
"waste stream", as they would otherwise go into the landfill) of  (often) old 
growth trees cut down in our city. We take seaweed off the beach  for 
minerals, and the impact is minimal, but again, at some point, if urban ag  gets 
big enough, we will impact ecosystems if we continue to do that. We  scrounge 
for manure, in cities where keeping farm animals and chickens is  closely 
regulated or illegal (and humanure is a huge solution here, in one of  the 
most densely populated counties in the US, but there is a lot of  resistance 
on personal and policy levels still).  

Beached seaweed  in Florida is almost an ecosystem in its own right, with 
various creatures,  including migratory birds, dependent upon it. Those of us 
who are looking from  a systems viewpoint are asking questions about how we 
are going to produce  enough fertile soil, using only our local organic 
matter without imports, to  feed our populations in Florida.

We are surrounded by water and ocean  fish, but the seafood populations 
around here have already been severely  depleted. We are fortunate to not have 
to deal with the Corexit poisoning or  "Dead Zone" created by Midwest 
agriculture in the Gulf - the ocean currants  keep that away from us, for the most 
part. But other coastal areas in the Gulf  have quite a problem on that 

Going fishing is a short  term, small solution but not a long term solution 
for the whole population. We  do have dozens of lakes and ponds in the area 
and could explore systems that  integrate with existing pond ecosystems, 
like islands (I'd love to talk to  someone who is doing that successfully).  

We have some  experimental ocean fish farms happening in the area (fish 
raised in protected  cages in the ocean), which makes sense if you're going to e
nclose fish. They  get all their minerals and some of their food naturally. 
If the farms get too  big, they will impact the coastline ocean ecosystems. 
The Eritrea system  sounds wonderful on many fronts - I like that they are 
staying away from the  coastline which is such a vital and productive edge 
in many places when left  to Zone 5. 

Kathryn, is anybody using nutrients from seawater in  aquaponics, and if 
so, how are they removing the salt and other things that  don't work in the 
system? I've heard that there is some saltwater aquaponics  occurring which 
might make a lot of sense near oceans where the minerals could  be easily 

I feel that it is vital that permaculturists  influence aquaponics. The 
people I've spoken to are open to that. I attended  the aquaponics conference 
in Florida last year, to see what it was all about,  and there were many 
dedicated people working to improve the technology. I  didn't meet anybody who 
was totally closed off to the idea of integrating  permaculture principles 
and a number of them had heard about permaculture and  were trying to use it 
in some fashion. The head of the International  Aquaponics Association told 
me that she is aware that they need to work on the  nutrition area to reduce 
footprint (the fish food is ), and is interested in  doing so, as an 
Association. I think we need to reach out, not draw back, and  bring the principles 
to the subject to make it as workable as possible. We  need a diversity of 
solutions and aquaponics makes a lot of sense from a  number of angles, in 
cities especially. 

There is one situation -  if we figure out how to feed dense populations in 
high rises, and if we figure  out how to produce renewable energy in high 
rises or locally (like algae  fuels, hydrogen/solar combos, etc), judging by 
history, we will continue  propagate and expand until the whole planet is 
covered with us. But the fact  that permaculturists might see the downside to 
that is not going to stop the  Aquaponics Association or the "free energy" 
people from looking for those  solutions. 

All of which make me feel that it is vital to continue  to educate people 
and raise their ethics level and consciousness so we have  more people in all 
sectors who can make "whole systems" decisions. And thank  you again 
Kathryn for sharing with us information and viewpoints that help us  to better 
make those decisions. Sharing these viewpoints with each other will  only make 
our systems stronger, ultimately. I love doing team designs for that  reason 
- inevitably, someone on the team thinks of something that no one else  did 
and the design is the better for it. I'm thankful for permaculture email  
lists where this kind of conversation can happen. 

Best,  Koreen


From:  Pierre Marx <pierremarx at ymail.com>
To: permaculture  <permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org> 
Sent: Tuesday, October 9, 2012  12:02 AM
Subject: Re: [permaculture] pc aquaponics

Oops, should have  read Kathryn's response first before chiming in. Well 
said  Kathryn.


Pierre  Marx 

>From:  "KAKerby at aol.com" <KAKerby at aol.com>
>To:  permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org 
>Sent: Tuesday, 9 October 2012 12:45  PM
>Subject: Re: [permaculture] pc aquaponics
>OK, I've  been gone for a number of hours, a bunch of emails on this topic 
>have come in, and I'd like to address some of these statements  in  turn.  
>But it'll be in summary form, so hopefully no one  takes  offense that I'm 
>just trying to answer things as quickly  as possible.
>First, aquaponics is most definitely an aerobic  setup.  The claims  made 
>about faster growth are precisely  because aquaponics is MUCH MORE aerobic 
>than standard soil-based  farming.  The roots are exposed to much greater  
>and  volumes of gas exchange, so poor gas exchnage is no longer a   
>bottleneck for plant growth rates.  That exchange rate can be  varied  
depending on 
>both the system design and the cycling  rate.  One of the three  major 
>hydroponic and aquaponic  methods, known as flood-and-drain, features  a 
container of  
>planting media and intact plants which is repeatedly flooded,   then 
>drained, then flooded again, at whatever cycle is appropriate for  the  
plants.  So 
>you could have system conditions ranging  from near-saturation  to 
>near-desert rates of moisture for the  root zone, whatever the plants  
need.  With that 
>system,  each new influx of water fills the container, thus  driving out 
>atmosphere (mix of O2, CO2 and N2 and trace elements) from the   root 
>That "flood" stage is generally the shorter of the  two  phases.  The 
>"drain" stage draws atmosphere back  down deep into the  root zone, for a 
>dramatically faster gas  exchange rate than would ever occur in  
>growing.   The other two most popular setups, Nutrient Flow  Technique and 
>Floating Raft Technique, generally feature part of the root mass   
submerged, and 
>part of the root mass in an extremely high-humidity  but  non-submerged 
>atmosphere.  So again, there's no  drowning or  anaerobic conditions.  If 
a hydro- 
>or  aquaponics system ever goes  anaerobic, something is very dramatically 
>Second, I concur wholeheartedly that soil is a  precious commodity, and  
>should be treasured as such.  So  the comment that someone was turned off 
>seeing a photo of an  aquaponics system in the foreground, then very tidy  
>inedible  landscaping in the background, is a philosophical objection I 
>share.  However, I have to point out that it wasn't a valid   indicator on 
>whether aquaponics can or cannot be part of a  sustainable  setup.  
Rather, it 
>was merely an indication of  that particular person's  taste in 
>You could  take that same setup, and put it in a poor  village in some 
>poverty-stricken nation, and perhaps feel better about  the fact  that 
>feeding everyone in the village.  Same system.   And  there are countless 
>variations on that system to match up  with needs all around  the world.  
So if 
>some aquaponics fan  had a front yard that didn't meet up  with your 
>preferences for landscaping, that's hardly an indictment  against  the 
>approach as a whole.
>Also on the topic of soils, I  would point out that merely having access 
>soils does not  guarantee that folks can grow what they need, as much as 
>they   need, and when they need it, on those soils.  Or even if they could 
>what they need during ideal years, conditions might be so  unpredictable  
>that they couldn't count on those soils to produce  what they need, year 
>year.  We live in one of the  most productive agricultural areas of the  
>world.  We are  greatly blessed that we can work with both forested and 
>fertile floodplain soils.  We have a mild climate, with a nice  long 
>season.  But even here, there are things we  can't grow reliably, 
>staples like corn and  alfalfa.  Try feeding 100 head of livestock without 
>those  two staples, and you'll be up at night trying to balance your feed  
>ration  with whatever you can scrounge instead.  Been there,  done that.  
We  are 
>very fortunate to be able to go out and  buy those materials when we can't 
>grow them.  But other  families and other farms in other places aren't  
>that  lucky.  They must eat from whatever they can grow.  Even  when  the 
>soils are just right in terms of fertility, tilth, moisture,   temperature 
>solar exposure, one storm, one flood, one early frost  or late  frost or 
>other combo of "bad luck" events, can wreck  the crop.  In some  fortunate 
>parts of the world, that's not  a big deal.  We buy in what we  need to 
>what we  lost.  Other folks aren't so lucky, and they go  hungry.   
>removes a lot of that variability.  That's why  we  want to use it here.  
>would be our backup for those  crops which are iffy  at best even in our 
>prime agricultural  area.  And it will allow us to grow  some critical 
>which, despite our near-ideal setup, we still can't grow   here.
>The question of equipment and volunteers and employees is  a complication, 
>which ironically makes aquaponics shine even  brighter.  We are in WA 
>USA.  It might surprise  folks to learn that we CANNOT have farm 
>here.   It's against state law.  We can either have interns, that must  be 
>enrolled in a public school and taking a class for credit in which we  are 
>formal part of the curriculum, or we can have employees,  paid at least 
>minimum  wage, and fully insured under our farm  insurance coverage plan.  
And now 
>proposed federal law, which  didn't pass this year but very well might in 
>the  future, states  that family members must be "immediate family", ie, 
>spouse,   children and parents.  Cousins and aunts and uncles and   
>grandparents/grandkids, etc, would not be considered family, and thus  
would be  required to 
>be hired, for at least minimum wage, with  full insurance coverage.  So as 
>neat as it sounds to have some  big farm in the family, working that  farm 
>requires some careful  thought because manpower is no longer quite so easy 
>OK, so if we can't have lots of people,  let's get some large-scale  
>machinery in here instead.   Sadly, that's not very practical  either.  A 
>tractor,  and all the implements listed in a previous  post, would cost 
more than  
>our house is worth.  We have a 20 hp tractor  that was  manufactured the 
>year my dad was born.  Our haying  equipment  was made when draft animal 
>power was still in use in  the USA, and that equipment  can be drawn 
either with 
>our small  tractor or a team.  We shopped very  carefully for that  
>equipment, and saved a great deal of money, by buying smaller   than 
everyone said 
>we'd need.  We didn't finance any of it.   Yet  it still set us back quite 
a bit 
>financially, and we still  have repairs to make  before any of it is field 
>ready.  So  yes, a lot of folks are having serious  problems getting into  
>farming, because even if they have access to land they  need  either 
manpower or 
>machinery to work it, and both of those options are  not  nearly as easy 
>come by as they used to  be.
>Which brings us to aquaponics.  Because machinery and  manpower are  both 
>expensive here, we have to make the  absolute best use of our  time, at a 
>scale that we can reasonably  accommodate without either equipment or  
>employees.  One of  the major questions we're facing right now with this  
>farm, is whether we want to take on all that extra work, knowing  that  
we'd have 
>to have employees (thankfully, we'd have access  to their machinery  
>of buying it ourselves).  But I  can produce the same products via  
>aquaponics that I manage by  myself, as I can with field crops requiring a 
lot of  
>expensive  equipment and/or hired help.  That's because of two things.  
>it is so much more productive per square foot than any  soil-based  
>Second, it allows for harvests in small  batches, rather than  one 
>all-or-nothing harvest.  I've  known of growers who raise just enough  
feed for their 
>animals to  last one day with aquaponics.  They plant one  tray per day, 
>harvest one tray per day.  The rest of the trays are   growing and don't 
>need to be messed with other than watering.   The manpower  is minimal, 
>they're doing the work I'd have to  have machinery AND manpower  to 
>harvest in the  field.  And that's only if the weather  cooperates.  If 
>weather doesn't cooperate, or the machinery breaks  down, or the  manpower 
>quits or is busy or sick or otherwise unavailable, that   harvest rots.  
>that's too bad.  And most years, at  least one  of those issues comes 
>Try telling your family  that they don't get  to eat because the tractor 
>blew a hydraulic  seal.  Aquaponics has its own  list of woes, but they 
>tend to be quite so dramatic, so costly, or so  all-or-nothing in  scale.
>Finally, I know a lot of folks will puzzle about this  next question, but 
>believe it is utter folly to farm with anything  less than profitable  
>outcomes.  We subscribe to the theory  that for any farm to be truly  
>sustainable, it must meet the  Three E's: Environmental, Ethical and  
>Sustainability.  So everything we do here, is for the love   of the land 
and love 
>of the life, but it's also how we pay the  bills.  If  we can't pay the 
>for instance if we  borrowed money to buy all that nice  big machinery, we 
>won't be  farming very long.  And then all this nice talk  about 
>this-n-that goes right out the window.  The next guy  comes  along and 
>converts all this wonderful farmland into condos.  Or  a  junkyard for old 
cars.  Or 
>a landfill.  Or  whatever.  I know some  folks farm because they want to.  
>Some folks farm because they have to,  since they can't get food  
>We farm because we feel called to do  so, but we  must meet those 3 E's in 
>order to continue doing so for any   length of time.  Again, aquaponics 
>a lot of the  harvest  uncertainty, and thus the financial uncertainty, 
>this gig called  farming.  That means it's not merely a nice  tool in the 
>toolbox.  For  us that means it's borderline  essential.  Farming without 
it is 
>riskier  than it needs to  be.
>I guess after all this, I would suggest that folks can  decide they're not 
>interested in aquaponics, and that's  fine.  They can decide they don't 
>to use aquaponics,  and that's also fine.  They can decide wow there's 
>here than they realized, go learn about it, and maybe implement it or  
>not,  according to their own needs and interests.  All  that is fine.  
>I tend to get twitchy, is when folks hear  the term "aquaponics", and they 
>only  know a little about it, and  they start making assumptions about it, 
>and then  they start  making opinions and decisions based on those 
>Or   worse, start advising people based on those assumptions.  I would  
>strongly  encourage folks to learn about this approach before  forming 
>about  it.  Don't just go with what you've  seen in the headlines, or on 
>Youtube,  or heard someone say that  someone said that someone said that 
it's just 
>a bunch  of  hooey.  Either learn about it, and speak from a position of  
>knowledge  and experience.  Or simply say "well, I've heard  about it but 
>know  much about it, so I can't really  say."  That's all I ask.
>Kathryn   Kerby
>Snohomish,  WA
>In a message dated 10/8/2012 2:23:18 P.M.  Pacific Daylight Time,  
>dhondt at eircom.net  writes:
>My  problem with aquaphonics is not just  disolved chemicals aka 
>Soil is an ecosystem  consisting for at least ten % out of microorganisms  
>often a lot more. To a large extend these soil organisms are  aerobic.  It 
>as good as impossible to maintain a large  aerobic community in  water.
>> On 10/7/2012  9:52 PM, Scott Pittman  wrote:
>>> I too have serious  misgivings about aquaponics.  It is  always 
>>> as
>>> some kind of perpetual motion   machine that provides for all its needs 
>>>  within
>>> the  system, which I doubt.  I also do not  believe that it could  
>>> have the  nutrients necessary for providing wholesome and   nutritious
>>> foodstuff.  We are talking about the  primary  nutrient source being 
>>> dung
>>>  in this closed  system, where does the selenium, calcium and 
>>>  come
>>> from?  The co-evolution of  plants with soil organisms  and minerals has
>>> created the  human nutrition story and without  soil I think the  actual
>>> nutrient content will be woefully   inadequate.
>> I would never try to grow food for myself  in an  aquaponics system 
>> its nutrients came from  extracts of  soil-based systems (don't quite 
>> how that  would work given the  anaerobic aspects of aquaponics systems. 
>> did find through a Google  search a site with pictures of a  soil-based
>> aquaponics system but they  were growing  ornamental aquatic plants in
>> submerged perforated barrels   with a soil mix in them. The root crowns 
>> the plants were  slightly  above water level.
>>> I would love to  see some data on  nutrient content of hydroponic vs 
>>>  based  vegetables.
>> There is probably no  comparison with the nutrient  dense food crops 
>> in  enriched soil with balanced nutrients and   minerals.
>>> I would also point out that both the  rice paddy  system and chinampa 
>>> systems
>>>  are soil based systems  with a lot of water to maintain growth they 
>>> not
>>>  by any means hydroponic or  aquaponic. You might also throw in the  
>>> disappearing  mangroves as an example of aquaponics but again  you 
>>> wrong.
>> In Eritrea they are  developing  an array of sustainable farming systems
>> that use  sea water, They  impound water in lagoons and grow shrimp in
>>  them. That nutrient-rich  water is released down stream to fertilize  
>> irrigate salt-tolerant  land based crops. These crops are  used to human
>> as well as livestock  feed and to make rope or  cloth. They are also
>> propagating, planting  and harvesting  mangroves for firewood, livestock
>> feed and construction   wood. They are not reducing the populations of
>> mangroves along  the  coastline where their project is located. There is 
>> PBS  documentary  about this well worth watching, maybe viewable online  
>> for $$$ for  the dvd.
>>  LL
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