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There are many projects you can adapt that use sustainable agriculture to improve food security. Whether you plan to grow food for yourself or your community, or teach your community about sustainable agriculture, understanding farming systems is essential.

WHY DO WE FOCUS ON AQUAPONICS?

The Project Feed 1010 community favors aquaponics systems for their efficiency in cycling nutrients and water and for its accessibility in all environments. Aquaponics is a food production system that combines aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (growing plants in water).

 

The fish excretion (ammonia) is broken down by nitrogen fixing bacteria and eventually converted to nitrate, which provides nutrients essential to plant growth. The fish, therefore, serve as a natural fertilizer for the plants and in return, the plants help purify the water for the fish. This soilless system recycles up to 98 percent of its water, making it very sustainable option for cultivating crops and fish.

 

These sustainable food systems have been around for thousands of years in rural landscapes and ancient cultures; however, they have just recently gained popularity in the West. In an effort to optimize and scale them up for worldwide use, funding agencies and researchers around the world have been dedicating time and other resources to better understand these systems.

GETTING STARTED ON YOUR PROJECT

 

Designing your project will require thoughtful planning. As you read through this webpage think about how you would fill out this project proposal sheet. The majority of participants center their projects around aquaponics food systems because of their efficiency and adaptability to various environments across the world. You can also create a meaningful project that fights food insecurity through educating others or improving community food systems.

 

If you plan on building an aquaponics system, you will need to first consider what spaces are available to you. Finding the right location for your system is important for its success. You will want to ensure your location has:

 

  • Enough space for your system
  • Access to a power supply
  • Access to running water
  • Approval from your supervisor

Many ambassadors start with small, pre-designed systems while they are planning their projects in order to get the hang of balancing a system, as smaller systems can be more manageable. Good choices in this range include the 3 gallon Back to the Roots Water Garden and the 10 gallon Aquasprouts Indoor Aquaponics Garden. If you would prefer to build your own system, we have several blog posts you can consult for doing so within your classroom or home:

 

Want to Build Your Own?

Which System Should I Use?

Components of an Aquaponic System

Comparing Different Methods of Aquaponics Growing

 

Gathering details on your system’s future location can help you plan different features of your system like size, inhabitants, maintenance, and materials needed. After you have considered these factors, draft a project proposal and send it to your mentor.

GATHERING FUNDS

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It is important to gather funding early on in your project as it can take time for proposals to get approved and for fundraising momentum to build.

 

The funding available to you will depend on your location. School parent-teacher organizations and city grants are good places to start looking.

 

You can find a list of funding resources used by previous PF1010 Ambassadors here.

PREPARING FOR YOUR SYSTEM

 

Before you start to compile materials and set up your system, work with your mentor to create a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for your project. A SOP is a compiled document of protocols so that your project runs smoothly and issues are dealt promptly. Your SOP should include topics such as:

 

  • How often someone will check on your system (this should ideally be at least once a day)
  • How and when measurements will be taken
  • Best care practices for the organisms in your system (fish, plants, snails, etc)
  • Plans for equipment failure and electrical issue scenarios (power outages, fires, etc)
  • In case of emergency contact information

 

Once you and your mentor have agreed upon an SOP, review and revise your materials list as needed.

SETTING UP AN AQUAPONICS SYSTEM

 

Though the set up of your system will be unique to your project design and location, you will want to determine a strategy for cycling your tank to ensure that you have a balanced system with essential bacteria. You can learn about tank cycling with fish here and tank cycling without fish here. Always refer to and update your SOP throughout your experience.

TROUBLESHOOTING AND FAQS

 

Even with careful planning and following your SOP, you will likely face unforeseen issues with your system throughout your project. Below are the most common issues ambassadors faced. Here you can find a more extensive list of aquaponics FAQs.

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Consider implementing organisms that consume algae into your system, such as snails and shrimps

Cover sides of your tanks which are receiving direct sunlight, which is usually responsible for algae growth.

Consider moving your system out of direct sunlight and use an LED grow light as the light source. LED grow lights are also very useful in maintaining optimum plant growth during the winter/rainy months when there is less sunlight.

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Fish can show that they are unhealthy in many ways. You might notice a lack of appetite, slow/disoriented swimming, fin rot, or a bacterial or fungal infection. If you notice any of these symptoms, you will first want to check the water quality in your tank. Uncycled and unbalanced tanks are the top instigators of unhealthy fish.

You may also need to add medicine to your tank. Always check with experts before doing so.

If you have any fish die in your tank, remove them immediately to avoid risk to your other fish.

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Gnats are attracted to decaying plant matter and moist surfaces. Wipe down any exposed damp glass and remove any decaying plants. If gnats persist, you might want to relocate your fish and use aquarium safe cleaner on any damp, non submerged surfaces in your tank.

You can also create a homemade trap to prevent gnats from persisting around your system.

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Mold thrives in damp environments with decaying plant matter. If you currently have mold, remove affected plants and scrub affected areas. You may need to remove fish and and use aquarium safe cleaner. If there is mold present in the growth medium you’re using (for example, the growstones in a Back to the Roots water garden kit), take it out and rinse it carefully under hot water, before putting it back into the system.

To prevent mold from reoccurring, make sure you place established plants in your system rather than vulnerable seeds and seedlings. This will prevent the risk of decaying plant matter.

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Visit our collaborate page and learn how to connect with the PF1010 community as you build your project.