Talking to my friend Darryl today about how well his aquaponic system is working. It's a pretty tough bet as to whether the systems provide an economical way to get fish and vegetables. Darryl is having second thoughts about it. He says he still considers himself to be in the "experimental" stage, so he's not bailing, but so far he hasn't been able to make the system economical.
It makes me revisit my goals for ag. It's more than just a hobby, though it's that too. So what am I doing and why?
- To promote backyard sustainability, to decrease my overall load on the Earth's resources. I'm a firm believer that people, especially Westerners, Americans in particular live an ecologically expensive lifestyle that is likely to make our lives, our children's lives, and the lives of the generations of people that come after, more difficult than ever before. I believe that backyard sustainability provides a permanent solution to a lot of the problems that are coming.
- To improve my health and lifestyle by motivating myself to eat healthier. I have heard the advice of many wise gardeners that you should focus on growing what you eat. Well, as far as I know, they haven't found a steak bush or prime rib tree yet. I need to change my eating habits, I need to eat more fruits and vegetables. Growing them forces me to do that, and opens up new food alternatives that I don't think I'd be willing to try under other circumstances.
- To save money by growing/raising as much of my own food as I can in an economical manner. Food is freaking expensive, good quality fruits and vegetables particularly so. $4.50 per pound for green beans? $2 for a bag of three tomatoes? $2 for a small head of lettuce. The stuff is expensive, and the variety available often leaves a person wanting.
- To teach my kids something about self-reliance. To teach myself something about self-reliance.
- To create a "survival garden." It's a crazy world, we have terrorists, global warming, peak oil, avian flu, all sorts of stuff. It makes sense to have an ongoing supply of food in case "troubled times" should appear on the door step.
To fish fit? That's a tough one. If they're expensive and tricky, then maybe not. Feeding them is expensive, running and maintaining pumps and airstones is expensive, overall start up costs are expensive. If they aren't economical and aren't sustainable, then they don't fit in.
But, like Darryl, I'm still in the experimental stage as well, though way behind him. Hopefully we can figure out some way to make backyard aquaponics economical, sustainable, and productive.
In the mean time, I may find myself following Darryl's lead, he's considering standard chemical based hydroponics. The fertilizers are cheap, and you can buy practically a "lifetime supply" pretty cheaply. The economics are there, though the sustainability may be lacking.
One thing I would really like to try is worm water hydroponics, and possibly chicken manure tea aquaponics. Both seem pretty sustainable.