Fish and plants symbiotically growing together

Fish and plants symbiotically growing together

By Deanne Converse         This article in whole or part may not be copied or transferred without permission from the author.

****   After reading the article below, you will find more aquaponics related information in the dropdown menus above. There are also helpful links to the other articles at the bottom of this segment.

What is aquaponics? Why does this seem to be the ‘new trend’ in agriculture?  It actually is neither new, nor is it a trend.  There is historic evidence that aquaponics was used in ancient China, and by the Aztecs.  Due to awareness and economic need to raise healthful food sustainably, there seems to be a re-discovery of aquaponics rushing over the globe.  Aquaponics is raising of fish and plants together in a symbiotic system.  Forget what you know about aquaculture or hydroponics. While there are similarities of these two in aquaponics, AP cannot be successfully done if it is operated with either discipline as the framework.  Aquaponics has its own set of parameters which must be met.

On our farm we feed ourselves  using aquaponics.  But at this time I’d like to focus on a more important application of Aquaponics..

We have been called to serve. We have worked on aquaponics projects for and with several benevolent groups.  We are available for planning, construction or consultation, for your project or if you group just needs a boost/advice in the right direction, or just plain need the work done.  Not only do we plan, build and start-up aquaponcis systems to meet the individual project needs, we also provide thorough training and on-going support (as needed)  for projects once underway.Below you will find some projects we have been called to work on.

In 2016 we have begun work with anther benevolent group based out of the USA that has projects going in Honduras, Philippines, Bolivia.

In 2014 and 2015 we consulted with at King’s Kids Orphanage in Belize.

Internationally, our call began in Honduras:

An orphanage in  Tegucigalpita, Honduras, WWH2H Children’s Village, has 96 children in its care, has its headquarters not to far from us in the USA.. 1186781_639858716036396_1346474534_n I became aware that due to the economy,  WWH2H has met with challenges of dwindling $$ donations needed to reliably provide the children in their care with nutritious food.  They knew they needed to become self-sufficient.  Spring 2012, I brought the concept of Aquaponics to the president of WWH2H. We sat on her porch and discussed the possibility over lemonade. She arranged a meeting in the summer of 2012 with me and some of the Village Staff/administrators who would be in the USA summer 2012 to meet at her house in Carson, WA..  The meeting went well, and the question was just $$.  We began praying in earnest for this provision, and it did appear in a most surprising way!, Then began a months of conversations, meetings and planning.   The Lord has led the way for this project. The ground work began April 2013 with the building of the greenhouse onsite.

Fast Forward to the completion of our work on the project there January – June 2015: Our family returned to Honduras and stayed at the orphanage Jan. – June 2015. The aquaponics system was providing fresh produce daily for the  children at the orphanage and the  staff.  We also got a Sustainable Agricultural Management Plan underway so the Village was able to feed the fish, 80 chickens and a herd of swine with the food they would be raising. You can see more on the sustainable ag. project on our website here at:   Here is a peek at the aquaponics system as of June 2016:     The greenhouse is 72′ X 22′, and has 4500 gallon fish raceway filled withView of AP system May 2015 tilapia.  One end of the raceway contains fish just about ready for harvest. at that time  At one end a screen separates juvenile tilapia from the adults.  We ran into a challenge, in that before we returned in January, someone at the orphanage allowed a large number of fish to be harvested, ignoring the fact that the fish provide the ‘gas’ that makes the system work.  It has been a struggle to get the administrators to wait until the fish are mature and reproducing, to provide replacements for any fish  harvested AND maintain the pounds of fish needed in the system to support the plants.10341639_916686665057158_8079967135593754733_n

The photo above right shows a view from one end of the greenhouse.  The plants in the foreground are chaya, a highly nutritious and versatile food plant. At right is one early harvest of chaya leaves.  By the following week these leaves will have been replaced Vegetable Amaranth transplanted to beds May 2015by more ready to be harvested for the kitchens!  The greenhouse was also filled with sweet vegetable amaranth!  Yum! There are young  vegetable amaranth plants in the photo on the left. This plant grows tastey leaves that work like salad, and do exceptionally well in the tropical heat. It was a wonderful Amaranth growing in the gwbeds Jun 2015salad source. The leaves are picked and the plant just keeps putting out more! On the right is a close up of the plants growing and ready for harvest to begin. This was a favorite of the children!

We also had a huge variety of other 10622746_869648426427649_8678543051862008503_nvegetables harvested for the kitchens: peppers,Banana Peppers on vertical towers May 2015 cucumber, tomatoes, peppers, toy choy, cabbage, moringa, basil, lettuce, purslane, honduran spinach, water lettuce



Looking back at mid-May 2014: The vertical aquaponic towers that were installed in the greenhouse in April (see paragraph below) are beginning to produce!  Here are some photos of what it looks like mid-May:

20140514_161039One of the young men we are training to take over the daily operation of the greenhouse AP system.20140514_161211

Looking back at April 2014:  The greenhouse is producing well.  Tomato, cucumber, toy choy, lettuces, spinach, radish, squash, mustard greens, beet greens, onion, carrot, herbs, beans, vegetable pear and on and on! DSCF0737The move to fresh harvested meals has begun for the orphanage.  We harvested large tilapia, that the children got to eat in celebration of Resurrection Day weekend!  We set up a tilapia breeding colony.  The we installed about 70 vertical growing towers, which increased the growing area for the greenhouse by half!

Over 40 vertical towers hang over the fish raceway. This adds valuable growing space and aeration for the fish.

Over 40 vertical towers hang over the fish raceway. This adds valuable growing space and aeration for the fish.

Vertical towers were installed which increased growing capacity by half!  This will allow for most all the grocery produce to be grown by the staff,

30 + vertical towers here drain back to the fish raceway via large PVC pipes. Vertical towers allow for more plants to be grown per sq.ft. of space.

and also allow for a small cash crop to be produced as well!  Vertical towers were installed suspended over the fish raceway, and over a small floor space as well.



Back to Jan 2014…Here is where the project was as of Jan: There is a stark contrast in the veggie growth from Jan 2014 seen below, and April 2014 seen above!

Food is growing! Tomatoes, peppers, bush beans, Swiss chard, Lettuce, cabbage, basil, lemon balm!

Food is growing! Tomatoes, peppers, bush beans, Swiss chard, Lettuce, cabbage, basil, lemon balm!

In Jan 2014 we returned to WWH2HCV to give a few upgrades.  What we found was Plants already growing to the point of harvest.  While it is not yet producing any where near capacity, this is a huge encouragement.  We ate a few bush beans,and there was lettuce harvested while we were there and swiss chard ready.  In April 2014 we will again return with a team to add vertical aquaponic growing units too.  The real hero of the aquaponic system is Elizah Stephens, who lives at the Village and is seeing to the planting and harvesting and feeding of fish on a daily basis.  The photo above left shows food production underway in Jan 2014.

The following has a little bit is how the AP system was built.  In all of this, the Lord’s hand is clear.

In April 2013, the building project began with the installation of a 72′ X 22′ Greenhouse (see photo with van). 942135_10152835994205454_258117178_nIn May  the main parts of the Aquaponics system arrived, and in Sept./Oct  2013 we went to WWH2H Children’s Village to install the Aquaponics system that would be capable of producing enough food to feed 100 people a day.  With God in the lead, the Converse’s invited a team to join them for the 10 day whirlwind trek to build and install and get the system operational.  Up to this point the team assembeled had not worked together, except to pack to leave for the trip…Different people from different walks of life all on the same mission!

The team assembled by God: Tim, Paulette, Madison, Larry, Simeon, Deanne (kneeling)

The team assembled by God: Tim, Paulette, Madison, Larry, Simeon, Deanne (kneeling)

When we arrived in Sept 2013, the greenhouse was a shocking 120 degrees! The first item of business was getting the shade cloth installed, so we could survive the coming days working in the building (soon followed by getting the fans working).  Paulette was the lead on the shade cloth  task, and by the way if anyone ever needs a get-in-there-and-get-it-done person working with them, I fully recommend Paulette!  Wow! From the get-go, it was obvious that she was a blessing to this project.

First thing done was installation of shade cloth. It was 120 degrees in the greenhouse when we arrived!

First thing done was installation of shade cloth. It was 120 degrees in the greenhouse when we arrived!

She , Madison and Simeon got the shade cloth up (balancing on ladders and stacked bins) while the rest of us evaluated the resources for the project ahead.

A Huge thankyou to Larry who facilitated locating the missing inverter, and got the fans wired and operational!

The next item of business was positioning the IBC totes that would eventually become the growbeds,

Positioning IBC totes for the growbeds.

Positioning IBC totes for the growbeds.

evaluate the health of the tilapia that had been waiting for us in the 4500 gallon raceway, and begin shaping the aquaponic system.  We had to do some quick re-designing when it was discovered that the shipping container that had the materials we needed to complete this project would not be released from the Port at Customs…..Here is what we did captured in photos below:

Simeon and Larry punched 12 holes in the cement lip of the fish raceway to accommodate our changed plans for draining the growbeds back to the raceway. Easier said than done! DSCF0111This meant we had to move all the positioned growbeds again! Next came the task of plumbing the

Working in the hottest part of the greenhouse building the Flush Tanks.

Working in the hottest part of the greenhouse building the Flush Tanks.

growbeds in system. All the while Tim spend many days working on the flush tanks for the system. The rest of the teamDSCF0233 concentrated on assembling parts and plumbing the growbeds, and evaluating local feed sources for the fish (moringa, duckweed, water lettuce, water hyacinth, black soldier fly larva, and even crushed cornflake cereal!)..  Look at that picture with all the gravel along the wall…all of a frenzied pace.. gravel had to be shoveled into the growbeds after the 994926_638958906126377_1021635636_ngravel guards were fashioned and installed over the automatic siphon hose were installed in each bed.  Madison used her years of experience shoveling on the ranch to get into the job..Chris, who came with another 20131004-201312mission team at the time, came over to help in the greenhouse…What a great sport he was to work in these sweaty conditions!  Thank you1378010_638956546126613_710069296_n Chris. The boys and girls living at the children’s village even helped us fill the growbeds.  The gravel had to be washed, so of course a water fight ensued! The rest of the plumbing was cut, fit and assembled. And then we tested the

Success! We have water!

Success! We have water!

system. At this point we had DSCF0229precious little time left in Honduras, so we quickly  timed and adjusted the water flow.  Then worked with Elizah, of H2H, planting some tomatoes and peppers. Then it was time to leave.  Mission accomplished!  All the glory goes to God!  Each of us  on the team gained more than we gave, and also left a bit of our heart back at WWH2H Children’s Village.DSCF0183I would like to extend a very special thank you to Gary and Sylvia Thacker!  They kept us safe, fed and on schedule while in Honduras. Gary made supply runs for us and navigated traffic that required angels as bumpers! These two are amazing servant leaders.. They were also great teachers for us in being able to navigate the waters of a new culture.  This was immensely helpful and carried us through the many times we returned to work on our own for 6 months.

 **** For more information on aquaponics and other closely related information, here are links to other articles on our website:

++  “Aquaponics Basics” found here :

++  Want help building/designing an AP system? Look here – we can help:

++  How can Aquaponics be a successful component in a sustainable farming/gardening effort?  Here is the article for you:

   ++  Yes, Aquaponics can truly be sustainable and fit in any situation…Look here:







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