Aquaponics: Is this the farm of the future?

What exactly is Aquaponics?  Aquaponics is the combination of recirculation aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants). It is an integrated system in which you grow plants and fish together.

aquaponics graphic

photo: aquaponicgardening.wordpress.com

The plants provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in, and in return the fish waste (converted by beneficial bacteria) provides a food source for the plants, creating a sustainable ecosystem in which both the plants and fish can thrive. The origin of aquaponics dates back as far as the Aztecs. From the late 1960’s to now, the system has grown and been perfected to what it is today. According to The Aquaponic Source, interest in modern aquaponics is taking off because it is a way to solve drought and poor soil conditions that many regions on the planet have to contend with.

The Two Primary Methods of Aquaponic Growing

  • Raft Based Growing System: This system is more appropriate for commercial aquaponic farming.  It consists of plants that are placed in holes in a raft with their roots left dangling in the water. The raft floats in a channel of fish and water that has been through filtration to remove any solid wastes.
  • Media Based Aquaponics: This system is more appropriate for the home grower because no pre-filtration is required. It gets its name because plants are grown in inert planting media, such as clay pellets or gravel.

Advantages of Aquaponic food production:

Aquaponics is the combination of recirculation aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants). Combining the systems eliminates the drawbacks and capitalizes on the benefits of each.

  • If you are growing in a greenhouse or if your climate permits you can grow food in an aquaponic system year-round.
  • Soil borne disease is eliminated by eliminating the use of soil in plant production.
  • You cannot under-water or over-water.
  • You cannot over-fertilize or under-fertilize.
  • No water is wasted or consumed by weeds, resulting in the use of only about 1/10th of the water used by traditional field production.
  • Plant spacing can be intensive, allowing you to grow more plants in a given space.
  • Aquaponics provides a natural, organic form of nutrients for the plants.
  • The cost and time involved in mixing traditional hydroponic nutrients is eliminated.
  • Nutrient rich water from aquaculture that would have been wasted or needed to be filtered would be utilized.
  • Fully scalable from indoor systems to backyard family systems to full commercial systems.
  • It has eight to ten times more plant/vegetable production in the same area and time.

Types of plants and fish for Aquaponic systems:

For better chances at creating a successful system, it is best to choose plants and fish with similar pH and temperature needs. Generally leafy crops like herbs and lettuce and warm water fish will do the best. However, you can be successful with “fruiting plants” like peppers and tomatoes in systems heavily stocked with fish.

  • These breeds of fish have been raised with the best results: blue gill/brim, crappie, fancy goldfish, koi, pacu, sunfish, and tilapia (The most popular fish used because of its rapid growth, large size, and because it tastes great. Tilapia are also easy to raise.). In smaller systems ornamental fish like angelfish, guppies, and mollies may be used.
  • This is a selection of the plants that can do well in most aquaponic systems: arugula, basil, chives, kale, leafy lettuce, mint, pak choi, swiss chard, watercress, and even many common house plants.
  • Plants that will only do well in a heavily stocked system because they have higher nutritional demands: beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, peas, peppers, squash, and tomatoes.

After the initial set up, aquaponics can be a much easier way to grow food. It is less expensive than a fish aquarium and half the work of a dirt garden. You can grow under conditions that you control without all of the hard labor. Aquaponics is also good for the environment as it is free from pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and growth hormones. With its ease in use, environmental benefits, and solution to poor climate and soil conditions aquaponics is growing in popularity and may well be the farm of the future.

Local Resources

Here is a list of some of the Aquaponic stores, farms and resources in Arizona

Other Resources

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Arizona Food Favorites, the Burrito

There are many legends about the origin of the burrito. My favorite suggests that the wrapped sandwich, traditionally of seasoned meat and beans, came from Mexico with miners who hoped to strike it rich during the California Gold Rush of 1849.

Hearty Chorizo Breakfast Burrito

The burrito supposedly takes its name from the rolled packs of miner’s gear that decorated the back of every burro going north to the gold fields. As almost every Arizonian knows, the suffix “ito” means “small” (for example, “mi hijito” is “my little boy”).

Curiously enough, while burritos are the most popular examples of Mexican food in the United States, in Mexico itself they are only popular in the northern part of the country. In Culiacan and Mazatlan (at the entrance to the Gulf of California), south as far as Mexico City, burritos are called tacos. In the south, notably the Yucatan Peninsula, they are called coquitos.

In Arizona, as elsewhere in the U.S., the burrito gradually morphed into a meal in itself. You can find a recipe for the original – beans, beef, and tortillas, among Fill Your Plate’s recipe pages.

A recipe for tostados, contributed by Arizona Farm Bureau Staff, demonstrates the burrito’s evolution, from simple food to exotic flavors. A tostado is a tortilla, fried instead of heated and flat instead of rolled. The difference – except for traditional beef and beans – is fresh, sweet Yuma County lettuce, sun-ripened tomatoes, tangy cheddar from the area’s dairy industry, and locally made salsa. And these make all the difference in the world!

While there is as yet no official state food, the CheckYesForChimi (CYC) campaign continues to build a head of steam in the state senate, as backers attempt to add the chimichanga to Arizona’s list of attributes like the Cactus Wren (state bird) and the Saguaro Cactus bloom (state flower). The chimi, as it is fondly known, is – like other Mexican originals – sometimes this way and sometimes that. For example, a tostado is a chalupa, and a chimi is a deep-fried burrito. Except when they aren’t. But at least we all know what tacos are. Don’t we?

Below the recipe, on every page of Fill Your Plate resources, is a list of farmers and ranchers who offer the needed ingredients, in season, at the peak of quality and at affordable prices. Next time you or your family have a hankering for burritos, bypass the fast food and make your own.

You can even make your own refried beans! Use a pressure cooker and make them fast, or a crock pot and slow cook for even more pervasive flavors. If you want to enjoy the taste of Yuma’s freshest seasonings (cilantro, onion, garlic, and oregano), but none of the fat, substitute heart-healthy olive oil for lard.

Get even more creative and go for what fast-food outlets call the Seven-Layer Burrito. Beans, of course, and beef. Rice is nice, brown rice even better, but you can use cooked quinoa or barley instead. You can even “rice” lightly steamed cauliflower for a real taste treat. Then add some local cheese and some very local lettuce (local to Yuma County, that is, the nation’s winter salad capital)! Sour cream, of course, and diced tomatoes, but perhaps also avocado/tomato relish, or corn and black bean salsa.

You can stop at seven, but why should you? Experiment with fresh-cut corn, celeriac, leeks, even grated kohlrabi, or beets. If your family turns their noses up at such non-traditional ingredients, serve them the next day in a fabulous salad.

All this creative cooking has benefits beyond nutrition. In fact, the act of preparing fresh food, serving it, and sitting down as a family to eat it fulfills one of the ideals of the Slow Food Nation. At each stage, you can start a conversation, ask a question, listen to a story. Life is hectic, but we could all use some quality time getting in touch with the people who matter most.

 

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Fun Facts about Clementines

“Oh my darlin’ Oh my darlin’ Oh my darlin’ Clementine,” Go the words of an old song dedicated to an 1849 gold miner’s daughter.

Clementines In A Box

The song isn’t American, but Mexican, made popular by south-of-the-border immigrants during the Gold Rush. The name is actually French – the feminine form of Clement. But the fruit, a small, orange hybrid whose parents are tangerines and bitter oranges, is Arizona-sweet.

A member of the mandarin orange family – the canned sections that form an essential part of Ambrosia fruit salad – Clementines are a notable citrus crop in Yuma County, which is one of only four citrus-producing states in the nation. In fact, Yuma County is now one of the largest citrus growing regions in the state. Yuma is also known as the salad bowl of Arizona (and in fact the entire nation) during the winter months of November through March!

Legend has it that a French missionary, Clement Rodier, discovered the natural hybrid in West Algeria in the 1900s. Others say Father Rodier – who named the fruit after himself – may have accidentally created the hybrid from Mandarin orange seedlings he had planted. If so, he never made the connection.

Father Rodier did, however, pay particular attention to his discovery, going so far as to promote it in an era when the word “marketing” meant simply selling merchandise over the counter or off the back of a wagon.

During the California Gold Rush (1864), and later, when the Arizona Canal was completed (1889), miners and laborers relied on local citrus to prevent scurvy. Because this crop ripened earlier in Arizona than in California, by 1895, Yuma-area groves comprised more than 1,500 acres!

This production had nowhere to go but up, and by 1970 the area had 80,000 acres in citrus. But over time, and because Clementines never reached the peak of popularity achieved by “real” oranges, the gradual influx of sun lovers and retirees from the Northern tier of states created a housing boom that diminished citrus acreage.

By 2014, citrus production had declined to about 20,000 acres. Today, Clementines – also called Algerian – begin ripening in late November, and are available from December through March. Other varieties include “Fino”, “Clemenules”, “W. Murcott”, and “Tango”, a truly seedless type.

If you live in Yuma County, you can buy your sweet Clementines fresh from the tree.

If Ambrosia salad isn’t quite your cup of tea, visit Fill Your Plate’s individual citrus recipe page for other ideas using oranges. Once you find a combination that makes your mouth water, scroll down the virtual page for area growers and their offerings.

Clementines are typically seedless, with easy-to-remove skins, easily separated sections, and a characteristic flavor. Almost identical to Cuties (another mandarin species), both varieties are favorites of children, not just for their mild sweetness but also for their ease of operation!

What could be sweeter?

 

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Arugula, the Healthy Little Green

Arugula is the spicy, peppery little leaf with the funny name. Some say it tastes bitter, others describe the flavor as ‘earthy’. However you describe its taste, this little leaf – with its intense green and its dandelion-leaf shape – is a powerhouse of nutrition.

arugula

Also known as Salad Rocket, the leaf pairs nicely with podded or snap peas, apple or pear wedges, roasted beets, and feta or goat cheese. You can even dress it up with toasted mushrooms and/or pistachio nuts, sprinkle with Parmesan, and top with balsamic vinaigrette or vinegar and olive oil. The oil is not only a dressing, but neutralizes the peppery bite of the arugula.

Arugula; the name comes to us from Greece (roka) via France (roquette) and, finally, England. But it’s much more fun to say it as the ancient Romans did, ‘ar-uu-gu-la’ (even if they did spell it somewhat differently, as Arugola).

Whatever you call it, arugula (with or without the initial capital letter) is not only a very timeless vegetable, but has some interesting – and unsuspected – characteristics. It is low-calorie and flavorful, as well as a great source of vitamins A, C and K. The first, from sunshine, is often sadly lacking in people who live in northern regions. The second, the so-called ‘sunshine vitamin’, is essential to skin, the heart, and stamina. In fact, this vitamin is so important to health that people who spend their days indoors, hunched over computers, can develop all sorts of ailments.

As for vitamin K, which is also abundantly present in arugula, medical professionals now think that this newly discovered supplement may be the “new vitamin D”. K is known to play a role not only in blood clotting and longevity, but also in heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer prevention, even dementia. Vitamin K is available by prescription only – or more readily in leafy green vegetables, especially arugula.

Even if you have trouble saying the word, you can savor its unique flavor by visiting regional farms or farmer’s markets and selecting the small, vividly green leaf with the strange name.

If, having once purchased some, you find yourself reluctant to eat it plain, try one of the recipes on Fill Your Plate. Or invent your own salad, pairing ingredients listed at the beginning of this article with some of your personal favorites. Arugula – the spiciest member of the same ‘family’ as kale, mustard greens, and cauliflower – goes well with almost anything, adding an aromatic, tangy (but not overpowering) flavor.

Arugula is a summer cooler, thanks to the same peppery flavor contained in mild to moderately hot peppers. It is also high in trace minerals like iron and copper. However, the one unexpected benefit – and the one that surprises people the most – is its reputation as an aphrodisiac!

Yes, arugula leaves and seeds are a love potion. The ancient Romans, who first added the seeds to olive oil as a flavoring, soon discovered that those who used the oil and ate the leaves had more stamina in the bedroom.

The Romans are gone, but arugula’s reputation remains. In fact, some cultures around the world combine it with lavender, rose, and chicory to enhance its romantic effect.

If you just want it for its nutrition, don’t forget you can also add it to sandwiches, Panini’s, burritos, and pitas for its lively flavor. Put a few shredded leaves into a cream-based soup, or make your own salsa or pesto, and watch your friends and family “rave the flav”!

 

 

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Root Crops, Some of Arizona’s Best Produce

Root crops like potatoes, rutabagas, and turnips are probably the reason humanity has survived into the 21st Century.

Before there were cultivated roots, humans dug, stored, and ate roots, notably the roots of lilies like Trout Lily and daylilies. In the case of the latter, all parts of the plant are edible. Cooked with the roots of wild carrot, more commonly known by its flower as Queen Anne’s Lace, the dish would reportedly inspire even modern cooks. Add wild leeks, or alliums, for an even more unique flavor treat!

Colorful Root Vegetables

When these various roots were domesticated, and regularly harvested, they were sometimes referred to as “keeping vegetables”. Dug before, or during, winter and stored in cool cellars, these crops were sometimes the only thing that prevented starvation. The Irish Potato Famine is a perfect example. Beginning in 1845, blight wiped out the potato crop – the mainstay diet of the poor. By 1851, Ireland’s population had been reduced by about three million; one million dead and two million immigrated to America.

Storage life for root crops varies. The hardest roots, turnips, rutabagas and carrots, can last all winter if properly stored, and provided a lifeline for America’s settlers. In fact, Scots-Irish settlers brought with them a traditional dish,neeps and tatties, that combines cooked rutabagas and potatoes for a zesty, satisfying winter meal.

For modern American tastes, we suggest Deanna’s Potatoes Deluxe, which combines potatoes, a “comfort food” with the combined flavors of onion, sour cream, and cheddar cheese. Not merely delicious, but warming inside and out!

Though there are distinct differences between roots, tubers and corms, it isn’t necessary to know them in order to appreciate some of Arizona’s most flavorful root crops. The sharp winter frosts and cool growing conditions combined with strong winter sun produce some of the sweetest carrots and parsnips in the nation.

A note from experienced chefs: if you are going to use your root vegetables within a few days, do not refrigerate them. This alters the sugar/starch balance and may ruin the sweetness you have come to expect. Further advice includes buying root vegetables with some green leaves or stalks attached, to determine freshness. If you can’t find carrots with tops, judge the weight of the bundle (or individual tuber) in the palm of your hand. Lighter means the root is already drying out – never a good sign.

Some roots tend to retain their flavor even when cooked for hours, as in soups or stews. Parsnips, celeriac, carrots, beets, and turnips are examples. Milder root crops – potatoes, for example – are better served as a side.

Today’s potato varieties include the “Russet” (or Idaho, which is more brown than red), white, and “Red Rose”, a truly red potato. Russets are low-starch and make wonderfully crisp, homemade French fries. White and red are good halved or sliced and baked, providing all the starchiness humans crave in winter. For more potato recipes, visit Fill Your Plate’s recipe section.

While there, be sure to check out local growers, from Chino Valley to Eloy, or area farmer’s markets, for the very freshest, sun-ripened Arizona produce. Mortimer Family Farms in Dewey, for example, offers everything from farm-fresh beef to on-site, homemade pies, salads, sandwiches and wraps, as well as a variety of fresh produce in season. Take a field trip, or visit their seasonal pumpkin patch and corn maze. Mortimer’s even has a nursery and landscape division!

Another good choice when buying potatoes is Pinto Creek. A family-owned business in Queen Creek, the farm grows red and gold potatoes and sells, direct from the farm, in 50-pound lots. Available from May through June, and disappearing like the proverbial hotcakes, buy a bag and split it with friends and relatives for enough potato salad to last the summer!

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