Reedley farmer finds success with aquaponics

August 29, 2013 8:47:32 PM PDT
The fascinating aquaponics farming technique combines hydroponics and aquaculture - proving farmers and fish don't always have to be at odds.

Dana Ritschel's backyard garden in Reedley is far from ordinary. It starts with a large fish tank full of catfish and carp. In this aquaponics farm the fish have a symbiotic relationship with the peppers and green beans growing in water.

In the video, you can see how healthy the root systems are under the plants.

Ritschel explained, "The way it works you feed the fish. The fish do their business. The bacteria converts the fish waste into usable plant food. The plants pull it out of the water and send fresh, clean water back to the fish."

The fish tank stays clear because the waste is filtered into separate tanks where bacteria and lava rock break down the by-product.

"The plants grow about one and a half or two times faster because they're in a nutrient rich environment," said Ritschel. "They're constantly being fed."

Ritschel said he was very successful last year growing lettuce this way but he's not certified so he can't sell at farmers' markets. "As far as feeding friends and family everybody's been happy."

Dana said his crops can drink up to 50 gallons a day so he must pump water back into the system. Still, he insisted aquaponics uses a 10th of the water needed for traditional dirt farming.

Sometimes Ritschel must supplement the water with calcium, iron and potassium but never pesticides. He said, "Whatever you put on the plants will end up in the water and you don't want to kill your fish. The fish is like the canary in the mine."


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