Today, anybody who is looking can see the cracks forming in the wall of modern civilization. More and more people are turning off the TV and thinking of ways to ensure their family is fed in the coming years.
As you may know, I’m a big fan of home “survival” gardening. Whether corporate agricultural collapses or an economic depression leaves people unable to afford food, you should still be able to plant seeds in your own backyard and get some food in return.
Yet, as anyone who has seriously tried to live off their green thumb knows, farming ain’t easy. Until you get the hang of it, you’re probably looking at low yields in return for plenty of backbreaking work.
On top of that, many people live in apartments without land. Others live in climates that only produce favorable conditions 3-6 months of the year.
Hence, there’s a growing revolution emerging — to find new ways of growing food. In New York City, for example, there is a growing group of “window farmers” who use hydroponics to grow salad fixings in hanging plastic bottles year-round.
Hydroponics. Not so yummy. We’ve all probably bit into a big, fat, juicy hydroponic tomato and discovered it doesn’t taste much better than tap water.
Now, hydroponic enthusiasts might argue it depends on the type and quantity of fertilizer used in the irrigation system. This is probably true. But hydroponics also has the reputation of costing a small fortune in plant food — after all, you can’t compost your kitchen scraps into your hydroponic pump.
Well, the Aztecs actually had a better idea. 3,000 years ago, they’d grow plants on small man-made “agricultural islands” (known as chinampas) in shallow lakes in present day Mexico. Chinampa farms ringed Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital, producing 50% of the city’s food (including squash, beans, corn, amaranth, tomatoes, and chili peppers).
Now the Aztecs appear to have relied on human waste from nearby cities as fertilizers. Southern China and Thailand took it to the next level by raising special fish to help fertilize the water used in their rice paddy fields.
But it wasn’t until 1961 that formal scientific study began into the idea of creating a symbiotic system between fish and crops. Today, with six billion people to feed and threats to our food supply being very real and imminent, the science of “aquaponics” is of great interest to both the farming industry and the urban survivalist.
You see, other than producing tasteless produce and costing a fortune in plant food, hydroponics looked pretty promising: Hydroponics requires no weeding. It can be done indoors or outdoors. It uses less water. Doesn’t require soil. And it produces more food with less effort (sometimes as much 10 times as much food).
But now proponents of aquaculture are saying they have discovered how to get the best of both the hydroponic world and the old-fashioned grow-it-in-the-dirt world. How? By growing your food in a fish tank.
Ever had a fish tank? As you know it doesn’t take long for the water to get murky with the fishes’ waste products (mainly ammonia and minerals).
Well, with the help of a bacteria colony, the ammonia can be converted into nitrates, and the nitrates and minerals can then be absorbed by plants which produce food you can eat! (Apparently, fish excrement produces tastier tomatoes — go figure.)
This arrangement works great for the fish as the plants naturally stop the fishes’ own waste products from building up to toxic levels. The plants also help oxygenate the water for the fish.
Aquaponics does come with a big disadvantage — when it’s working, it works great. When it fails, it can fail big.
A blocked pipe or an electrical failure could kill off the fish stock. A small design flaw can lead to overuse in energy or an imbalance in the delicate environment. So you need to know what you’re doing.
That said, many people report that it takes only a third of the time traditional gardening methods take and probably as much know-how. One good source of how-to information I have found on setting up your own mini-aquaponics farm in your home or backyard is: Aquaponics 4 You — Guide and DVD (click here).
Finally, a practical purpose to owning fish as pets. Plus, you won’t have to clean out the fish tank — your bean plants will do it for you.
Don’t be scared. Be prepared.
P.S. For another alternative to growing your own food, check out this previous article and video: How to Grow Food Without Land