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Australians, Americans and Home Aquaponics

February 12, 2010

This morning I had the pleasure of being ribbed through email by one of my favorite aquaponics gurus, Joel Malcom of Backyard Aquaponics. He said “Gotta push this a bit, no offence, but you Americans have to get a bit motivated about this. You guys have been doing it for so long, yet it’s just never really caught on like it has here. You need to shake things up Sylvia.    :o).” Joel, I hope you don’t mind my quoting our email exchange – it is just too fun and engaging of a topic to pass up.

Joel Malcom's aquaponics system

Joel Malcom's aquaponics system

Now to say that the Australians are ahead of us in bringing aquaponics to the home is something of an understatement. Joel’s Backyard Aquaponics systems are being installed throughout Perth. His forum is widely considered one of the best, if not the best, source of aquaponics information in the world today. His magazine, Backyard Aquaponics, is the only magazine that I know of focused entirely on the home-based aquaponic gardener (US-based Nelson and Pade’s excellent Aquaponics Journal has a more serious, academic, commercial systems focus). Then there is Murray Hallam who also has a thriving home based systems business, engaging email newsletters, as well as an excellent video, and forum. Then there is Geoff Wilson who is very active in urban agriculture and rooftop gardening and is a consistent contributor to the Aquaponics Journal. There’s Grow Fresh Aquaponics, Bundy Tanks, The Aquaponics Shop, and the list goes on.

Murray Hallam dining with his aquaponic systems

Murray Hallam dining with his aquaponic systems

So here is a shortened version of my response to Joel.

  1. The “problem” being solved by aquaponics is more acute in Australia. In much of the country they have poor soil and drought conditions, so the ability to garden at all is in question. Not so in most of the U.S. The problems aquaponics solves here are slightly more removed from a pain standpoint. While we can garden, that gardening involves weeds, too much or not enough water, veggie eating critters like deer and bunnies, and back breaking dirt work. All solved through aquaponics.
  2. Next throw in that through much of Australia they have a climate that allows them to grow year-round. The ROI on a major investment in a large aquaponic system that grows a significant portion of your produce and fish can really make sense. Not that we can’t do this in the US, but we have to start being more creative about our seasonality.
  3. Then consider that in my experience on the whole Americans tend to be more bound by tradition than the Australians (I apologize if this offends anyone…) so I think our ties to the “dirt = gardening” dictums are going to be harder to break. For evidence of this, note my past post about the USDA’s issue with certifying soil-less gardens as organic for no other reason than they are…without soil.

I think we can get there, though. Aquaponic gardening just makes too much sense not to become an integral part of the U.S. home gardening scene. Keep an eye on us, Australia.

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