By Chris Reinolds
Green Right Now
Talk about eating locally.
It doesn’t get much more local than your own backyard.
A Georgia company is selling ‘Farm in a Barrel.’ It’s a self-contained eco-system that allows homeowners to raise organic fish an aquaponics, combines aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (growing plants in a soil-less system.) The fish produce the nutrients to feed the plants, while the plants and bacteria clean the water for the fish.
Earth Solutions‘ smallest system is about $200. Fish, such as tilapia, catfish, and bass live in the detached bottom half of the barrel, while basil, lettuce and strawberries grow in the top half. Tilapia is a hardy fish that produces a lot of ammonia – don’t ask – for the plants to grow.
Larger systems cost upwards of $2,500, but also produce a lot more organically grown fish and food.
A beginner’s kit comes with one-inch long fingerlings. It takes about seven months for the fish to reach maturity – or plate size. At that point, it’s up to you whether to eat one a week or have all the neighbors over for an old-fashioned fish fry.
For the squeamish, Earth Solutions owner David Epstein recommends putting the fish on ice to kill them.
“They just fall asleep,”‘ said Epstein, who is also a medical doctor. “You can cook them whole. Leave the head on, slice the belly and take the guts out.”
To keep the fish year round, use a greenhouse or a heater to keep the fish comfortable. If you don’t want to eat the fish, try hardy goldfish.
Epstein started building the units as a passion last summer and it’s taken off. The smaller sizes – about 2 by 5 foot in diameter – are used for educational needs and folks who want to start small.
“We do a lot of these in people’s backyards for a single family,” he said. The family size systems can support a 300-square-foot garden. Larger systems allow you to grow more variety such tomatoes, eggplants and cucumbers.
The water-loving plants go from seedling to bountiful plant in six to eight weeks. That’s about 125 plants in each 3-by-8 foot bed. Aquaponics enthusiasts say the system uses 90 percent less water than traditional gardens. What you save in water costs, may show up in your electric bill to run the pump and aerator – about $25 monthly. But plants grown in these systems are more productive overall.
You’ll also lower your carbon footprint by cutting down on frequent trips to the grocery store.
Earth Solutions also is exhibiting an aquaponics system at the Oakhurst Community Garden in Decatur, Ga., in the Atlanta metro area.