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Aquaponics and the Bacteria Farmer

February 23, 2010

“Grass farmers grow animals – for meat, eggs, milk, and wool – but regard them as part of a food chain in which grass is the keystone species; the nexus between the solar energy that powers every food chain and the animals we eat” wrote Michael Pollen in a description of Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms in the Omnivore’s Dilemma. In other words, in focusing on growing and managing the health of his fields the grass farmer “uses” his animals as inputs into his farming system, not just as the end result. They provide the fertilizer that stokes the engine of decomposition in the grassy plains that in turn explodes in nutritious grass that feeds the animals.

Will Allen calls himself a soil farmer. He creates alchemy with grocery store refuse, brewery waste and worms – lots and lots of worms. If Salatin’s animal workers produce meat and eggs, Allen’s slimy friends produce fertile worm castings. At Will Allen’s Growing Power the mantra is “if you produce good soil, the rest will follow”.

Both of these luminaries of the sustainable agriculture movement have learned that by focusing their farming attention one level removed from the end result – the grass, not the meat; the soil, not the produce – that they can partner with the power of the earth to achieve a more productive result than they would if they merely tried to harness and control it.

Following this logical thread, in aquaponic gardening we are bacteria farmers. The animals that fire our systems are our fish, but the engine of the system is the nitrifying bacteria that convert the fish waste from poisonous ammonia to nurturing nitrates. Without a healthy colony of bacteria the plants would have no food; the fish would die within hours. The most harrowing time in the life cycle of an aquaponics system is the first 2 – 4 weeks when the bacteria are being coaxed into creating a home in the media. The most productive time is after a system it is 6 months old. The bio-filter of the media bed ages like a fine wine. Bacteria should be cared for, prized, and shared with other aquapons. Love it, respect it and it will reward you mightily.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 24, 2010 12:07 pm

    Have you read Wendell Berry? If not, I think you’d like what he has written. A good place to start is to take a look at what Michael Pollan wrote in the Nation.

  2. Bright Dancing permalink
    March 2, 2010 8:48 pm

    In the aquarium hobby, we call it Precious Holy Goop, squeezed from the filter sponge of a friend’s tank, with prayers and incantations to encourage it’s growth explosion in our tank…

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