Aquaponics is a symbiotic process of growing fish, fruit and vegetables. The system recycles the wastewater from the fish tanks to water the fruit and vegetables hydroponically.

The fish waste provides ample balanced food for the plants eliminating the need for chemical fertilisers. With the assistance of certain bacteria, the plants remove the nutrients from the water, effectively cleaning it for re-use by the fish. The fish remain healthy, and plant growth is fantastic.

Aquaponics is a low impact and almost closed system of food production. Virtually the only external input is fish food. The fish are partially fed worms (raised in worm farms) and other produce. We hope to eliminate in time, almost entirely, the need for commercial fish food as our worm farm capacity increases and we develop other food sources for the fish.

Aquaponics appeals to us because we are able to produce a wide variety of fruit and vegetables with the additional benefit of protein production. This system is centuries old, as it is based on what the Chinese still do in their rice paddies – grow rice and grow fish.  Although our system requires 240 V power, it is efficient and gentle on the land and the environment.

Prior to deciding to proceed with aquaponics, we had been researching how to use plants to clean water from a proposed aquaculture enterprise. We identified years ago the need to produce protein, and we considered fish and/or yabbies as a suitable food source, but we always questioned how we could deal with the dirty water they inevitably produce.

We had thought about building multiple dams and reed beds with pumps to return the water to the aquaculture dam. This would have been a costly venture both financially and environmentally.

Around that time, Sara saw a story about Aquaponics on ‘Gardening Australia’. A quick search on the internet turned up a few sites and we purchased Joel Malcolm’s DVD Backyard Aquaponics. After a visit to the Brisbane Garden Show, we engaged a Brisbane company to draw up a plan for a small commercial-sized operation. We did not, however, use the design they provided.

We searched again and found Murray Hallam who operates Practical Aquaponics - a company that sources and manufactures the best equipment for aquaponics, providing it in kit form for beginners like us. Murray knows which pumps will do the best job in specific circumstances, and which are the best value for money. He also includes battery back up with the kits so the impact of power outages is reduced. Living on Beechmont, this back up is vital for our project.

We purchased a ‘Homestead Kit’ from him.?Murray is honest, practical and has great experience in this field. He is generous with his advice and assistance, and produces a web-based newsletter called ‘Practical Aquaponics’ with many useful articles, personal experiences and advice. If you are interested in dong Aquaponics, we urge you to talk to Murray about your needs.

We had considered a number of locations for the grow beds, and finally built a small greenhouse for them facing North. The greenhouse also contains the fish tank.Our small aquaponics system was started in late 2009. The grow beds for the plants need time to ‘settle’, the gravel medium for the plants needs to be washed and as clean as possible, and friendly bacteria introduced and active in the grow beds before the introduction of fish. The first harvest of fish may be ready by Christmas 2010 depending on the breed. Some fish require twelve-eighteen months of growing before they are table size. The first vegetables should be ready to harvest within a few weeks of planting.

Beechmont Pantry

When our aquaponics system is producing goodies surplus to our family’s needs, we will market them under our name, Beechmont Pantry. Sara thought of this name some years ago and for us, it epitomises working towards growing as much of our own food as possible, in a low impact, sustainable way. It helps keep us focused on local, healthy, home grown food produced on beautiful Beechmont.

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