In the fall of 2012, a 3,250 space at The GrowHaus was renovated with a grant from the Colorado Health Foundation. We boot-strapped our farm expenses and launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to crowd source the majority of funding to build the community aquaponics system. The produce grown here travels less than 5 miles to the customer and everything is harvested within a few hours of being consumed. In addition, this system provides a great opportunity to gather a tremendous amount of information in our effort to develop economic, social and environmentally sustainable food production systems.
The aquaponics system at The GrowHaus is a hybrid design, combining raft culture with media grow beds, producing fresh fish , as well as salad and cooking greens, culinary herbs, and fruiting vegetables year round. The nutrient rich water from the fish tanks provides an abundant fertilizer for the plants. The plants in turn, clean and filter the water that returns to the fish tank. Aquaponic farming uses about 10% of the water consumed by traditional soil-based agriculture without any chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and produces zero waste. The system design uses solar thermal equipment to heat the water during cold weather, gravity to move water, and energy efficient air and water pumps to minimize energy consumption. The GrowHaus aquaponic system includes:
- 300 sq. ft. of media beds that grow squash, zucchini, cucumbers, several varieties of tomatoes and peppers, eggplant, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, beans, and strawberries, all companion planted with nasturtiums, cilantro and marigolds to help with pest control. New additions to the media beds in grow out pots include a Meyer lemon, red bananas, kumquats and a fig tree with over a hundred year lineage.
- 1,200 sq ft of deep water culture raft beds (DWC) which every week produce roughly 800-1000 heads of lettuce, kale, tatsoi, chard, mizuna, mint and basil and a wide variety of other salad and cooking greens. We have tested over 65 different varieties to find the ones that produce the best in the DWC, can be grown year-round in a greenhouse, are heat tolerant, fairly pest resistant and of course taste great. The DWC system alone will produce over 20,000lbs of lettuce annually. This same quantity of lettuce produced commercially emits roughly 7,760lbs of CO2e in emissions tied to production, transportation, and waste. With local aquaponics and minimal food miles to our customers, emissions and the overall carbon footprint are dramatically reduced.
- Vertical towers grow the majority of the culinary herbs in the system– thyme, basil, dill, cilantro, parsley, sage, stevia, rosemary, mint, and lots of the standard greens. We love how customers react when they see towers hanging at the farmer’s markets and get to harvest their own fresh herbs.
- Self watering nursery beds grow all the seedlings, microgreen flats and wheatgrass. Chefs love the micros for their intense flavor and lovely visual appeal, while we all enjoy the great nutrient density these powerhouse plants contain.
- Wicking beds are coming on-line shortly to allow for root crops to be produced. NFT troughs are also integrated into the system to demonstrate growing using this method. A multi-tier fodder system will be built soon to demonstrate growing plants for animals such as wheat, alfalfa and barley grass.
- An air powered compost tea brewer allows us to remove solids from the clarifier and remix them into an outstanding fertilizer solution for use in soil based gardens, lawns, compost and even as a foliar spray.
Fish and bacteria make up the rest of the system. This system is home to Blue Nile, Mozambique and Rocky Mountain White Tilapia. A population of Koi live with the Tilapia in the system. Water quality improved once the two species began cohabitation. Once outside temperatures begin to drop, Rainbow Trout will be introduced into the system.
We are also in the process of integrating a solar thermal system which will be used to heat the water, greatly reducing if not eliminating the need for consuming natural resources. The system utilizes gravity for water flow wherever possible, and the pumps and aerators consume minimal energy. Sustainable and intensive food production can be achieved with a thoughtfully designed aquaponics system using integrated renewable energy systems coupled with energy efficient buildings.