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Teaching Aquaponics

March 22, 2010

“Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.”  ~John Cotton Dana

I’ve had the privilege of teaching 3 aquaponics classes in the past 14 days. Two of the classes have been through adult education programs, including the Denver Botanic Gardens, and the third was as a guest lecturer at Naropa University. The two adult education classes were both 4 hours long, and both were sold out. I’m teaching a fourth class a week from today for a permaculture seminar.

The unique challenge in teaching aquaponics is that one must become facile in a variety of subjects, and be prepared for such diverse questions as…

  • “I’ve heard there are a lot of issues around fish feed…”
  • “Do I need a greenhouse? If so, which one do you recommend?”
  • “Can I convert my swimming pool?”
  • “Can I use volcanic rock? Crushed granite? Pea gravel?”
  • “How long do the fish live?”
  • “Can I grow carrots?”
  • “How much power does it draw?”
  • “How much money do I need to spend?”
  • “Where can I find catfish fingerlings around here?”
  • “How many gallons are in a typical bathtub?”

You need to become a renaissance person of sorts, specializing in:

  • Hydroponic plant growing, including starting seedlings and cuttings, plant nutrition and how to identify signs of deficiency, and IPM (integrated pest management)
  • Aquaculture, from both ornamental and food fish perspectives, including fish varieties and their temperature, dietary, oxygen, and pH requirements
  • Chemistry, especially with regard to pH and water chemistry
  • Biology, especially with regard to the nitrogen cycle
  • Physics and engineering, especially with regard to lighting spectrums, liquid siphons, and flush valves
  • Environmental studies to understand and be able to communicate the incredible potential this growing technology has to address the global issues of overfishing our oceans, water shortages, and unsustainable agricultural practices
  • Aquaponics, including its history, current applications, central luminaries, and future direction

I hope this doesn’t read as whining – In fact, my view is quite the contrary. To those of you who have studied the Strength Finders survey (a personality assessment that identifies your top strengths from a list of 34 themes) let me explain myself through my unique strengths – my #1 strength is Input (“you love to collect things, especially information”), #2 is Learner, and #3 is Restorative (“you love to solve problems”). I am clearly passionate about aquaponics (duh) and the fact that aquaponics is a rapidly developing, cross-disciplinary area of study is icing on the cake for my personality mix. Further, to teach aquaponics is the ultimate thrill because it gives me an excuse to dive even deeper into a huge range of topics, and love every minute of it.

So this post is meant as a show of appreciation for the opportunity I have had to teach a subject that I love and that inspires me and to thank all those wonderful students I have had the pleasure of meeting over the past two weeks.

  • To the guy who told me that he is in trouble with his wife because he now stays up until 1:00 a.m. every night researching aquaponics
  • To the guy who is on fire about building Growing Power style systems in orphanages around the country
  • To the woman who is looking to somehow re-enter the workforce by studying aquaponics and permaculture after being a stay-at-home mom
  • To the young man who ran up to me after the Naropa class and asked to become an intern
  • To the woman who collects greens for her chickens from Vitamin Cottage, and is now looking forward to feeding some of those greens to her tilapia
  • To the older gentleman who is considering retiring in Costa Rica and setting up aquaponic systems there

You all inspire me, and your new-found passion is a fuel that keeps my passion burning fresh. Thank you for the profound gift of allowing me to introduce you to aquaponics.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. petoskystone permalink
    March 27, 2010 7:38 am

    🙂 this post is a wonderful way to start my morning!

  2. March 28, 2010 3:00 am

    Hey, thanks for all of the posts! I am interested in this and am hoping to add to some of my solar greenhouse projects. One thing I stumbled on is the Tilapia Omega 3/6 ratio issue. It looks like if they are fed commercial grade foods that are high in corn, it could be an issue for those looking to eat the fish… Have you heard of a better diet that improves the ratio on these fish? Cheers, it is great to see your system progress! I am out of the country right now, but would love to see it in person sometime if that would be ok! Cheers- Zach

  3. Bob Segraves permalink
    May 29, 2010 7:01 pm


    I took the time to read the article in you link. T H A N K Y O U!! Both as a cardiac patient and as a budding aquaponics gardener I appreciate the value of such research. The link is one that I have added to my favorites list and will be sure to pass on to everyone I know who might benefit from it. I happen to be in the area near Wake Forest and will try to contact one or more of the researchers to work on an idea I have for a follow-on study. The WF article implies that the corn based diet of the farm raised fish is at least in part to blame for the level of Omega – 6 fatty acids found in the fish. Another study shoud be undertaken to evaluate different feed for Tilapia and compare the levels of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids that result from the different feeds. This would give those of us who focus on “First Do No Harm” a better insight into how to raise Tilapia without putting the health of ourselves and our clients at risk.

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